International arms makers have gathered at a convention center in the northeast of Paris to show off their latest gadgets at Eurosatory 2016 — the world's largest defense and security trade show.
The exhibition, which runs June 13-17, is a chance for weapons manufacturers to unveil the latest in military equipment and police gear —from Kalashnikovs to tanks, via new, hi-tech solutions for crowd control.
Showcasing their wares alongside industry giants like Thales, Dassault and Lockheed Martin — who make everything from missiles to fighter jets — are a bunch of smaller industry players, whose aim is to revolutionize law enforcement in a town near you.
Issues of crowd control are particularly relevant in France today, as the country enters its fourth month of protests over the government's much-contested labor bill. Tension has escalated over the past few months, as protests have turned increasingly violent, descending into clashes between demonstrators and the police.
In fact, several of the expos demonstrations Monday appeared to emulate scenes of violence witnessed in the streets of France during recent protests.
During riots, one of most popular weapons used by law enforcement is the Flash Ball, a non-lethal weapon that shoots out rubber balls. The problem is, the weapon is known for its imprecision, and has often cropped up in cases of police brutality. In April, a student in the northwestern French city of Rennes lost an eye after being hit by a flash-ball launched from an LBD40.
Other weapons on display at the trade show — including stun grenades and tear gas — have come under fire in recent weeks. On May 26, a 28-year-old man was plunged into a coma when he was injured shortly after police launched a stun grenade during a protest in Paris.
Several of those showcasing police gear at the trade show said that their companies were developing safer alternatives to these weapons.
French startup Redcore unveiled its latest "less-lethal" projectile, the FLEM, which is designed to "restore order during riots and temporarily incapacitate potentially dangerous individuals."
"The FLEM has a larger contact surface than a Flash-Ball projectile, and doesn't bounce. This minimizes the risk of penetration," said a spokesperson for Redcore. The spokesperson explained that the company has been testing out its new projectile by firing it at phone directories, and then "counting the number of pages that were punctured."
The company's technical director, a former gendarme, explained that the FLEM is designed to minimize injury when launched at close and very close range (between 16 and 50 feet). Made from a polymer composite, the FLEM is equipped with a stabilizing fin and can be used with a hunting rifle or a shotgun.
Redcore also produces its own version of the Flash-Ball — the Kann44 CLR. "The Kann44CLR is equipped with a rifled barrel, which makes it much more precise thanks to the gyroscopic effect," the company's technical director explained. "The projectiles come out much slower than with a Flash-Ball."
"The objective is really to make [these weapons] less lethal," he concluded, adding that cops in France "no longer want" to use the models that are currently available in France today.
At a nearby stand was a box of PepperBalls, which burst burst when they hit skin or a hard surface, releasing an irritant that resembles pepper spray.
"It's a product that achieves the same objective as tear gas and Flash-Ball combined," said a spokesperson. "If you're hit by a PepperBall, you'll get a bruise, but you'll also feel the effects of pepper gas, and feel disoriented — even if you're wearing glasses or a mask." Despite emulating the effects of other riot gear, the spokesperson added, PepperBalls are nowhere near as dangerous as FlashBalls.
According to the spokesperson, PepperBalls already have a strong following in Germany, Italy, Spain, and in the US, where they are manufactured. A group of French gendarmes who stopped by the stand earlier were so impressed with the products that they promised to return Tuesday "with their boss."
The makers of PepperBalls claim that three cops equipped with PepperBalls can push back dozens of protesters. "If they had this in Marseille, things would have been different," the spokesperson said, alluding to clashes between soccer fans over the weekend.
In another booth, video-surveillance equipment manufacturer Evitech — whose slogan is "Our Eyes Never Close" — is showcasing its new solutions for "peaceful crowd control."
"Our systems are capable of detecting suspicious behavior such as sudden acceleration, crowd movements, or gatherings — all of this without any operators," a spokesperson for the company said. "An alarm goes off and alerts those on the ground."
Evitech also claims that its system can provide accurate crowd size estimates during protests, thus putting an end to the frequent discrepancy between official figures and figures released by protest organizers.
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