The US Department of State has filed a request to initiate a project that – if carried out – would deploy commercial drones to spray poison on illegal coca crops in Colombia at the base of the country’s booming cocaine production.
The paperwork was filed earlier this month, and seeks industry feedback on drones and other equipment that would be provided to Columbia’s police forces to oversee the aerial coca eradication effort. It lists an array of specifications and requirements for craft performance, including both manual and automated flight modes, obstacle detection and avoidance tech, and surveying and data gathering capacities – not to mention the ability to carry pesticide reservoirs and spraying mechanisms.
The objective of the initiative is evident: use multi-functional drones to remotely identify, then kill coca crops in Colombia – which are often protected by guards, perimeters of explosives, or even wild animals – with reduced risks to humans involved.
“Coca cultivation in Colombia remains at record highs and eradication operations
in Colombia remain dangerous,” the request said. “(US International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs) Bogota is seeking to bolster the (Colombian police’s) capability to increase coca eradication rates and minimize the risk to the police personnel in field.”
Both the sensitivity of the operation being planned – as well as miserable US-China relations and growing numbers of Chinese tech companies being added to official US government blacklists – explain why even if preferred country origin of drones proposed for the Colombian coca campaign wasn’t stipulated, one top UAV producer was singled out.
“The system cannot contain major hardware (e.g., flight controller) flight control firmware, or mission planning software manufactured in China,” the request noted, shifting to all-caps to stress that prohibition. “THIS REQUIREMENT CANNOT BE WAIVED.”
According to the document, the drones would be used to identify and gather survey data on coca crops across Colombia. Once that information has been crunched by software to determine the spraying process, the craft would be deployed over areas of up to 16 hectares, either on their own or in swarms.
In the latter case, spraying UAVs must rely on their obstacle avoidance tech to steer clear of trees, power lines, or other flight risks. In addition, they would be backed up by drones flown exclusively for detecting hazards for communication to pesticide-aerating craft.
“Satellite imagery that is recent enough and high-enough resolution to draw safe spray area
boundaries and buffers around obstacles is not guaranteed in this operational environment,” the request noted.
Authorities now await input from both large and small drone businesses willing to provide information and material for the coca eradication operation in Colombia, at which time the department will request final approval to take to the skies.
Photo: US Department of State