Armored vehicles, sonic cannons and other gear could be used by Hong Kong police to control any upcoming mass demonstrations.
Two black Unimog U5000 armored trucks were spotted crawling through clouds of tear gas in Mong Kok district on Monday evening after fierce skirmishes between anti-extradition bill demonstrators and the Police Tactical Unit (PTU) and riot squad.
The four-wheel-drive trucks, seldom deployed since they were purchased in 2009, prowled through the popular shopping district after police called in reinforcements from neighboring districts. Officers were seen riding on top of the Mercedes-Benz vehicles with weapons drawn.
PTU Commandant David Jordan, one of several British citizens in senior positions in the Hong Kong police, was also seen coordinating the trucks’ movement outside the Mong Kok MTR station.
Aside from conventional anti-riot and crowd control gear, the vehicles are also equipped with “sonic cannons,” or Long Range Acoustic Devices, which are used for dispersing crowds. According to Chinese newspapers, the devices have an effective range of about 300 meters but this could be higher in the densely built-up streets of Mong Kok where the sonic blasts could bounce off surrounding high-rise buildings.
Police did not get a chance to test the devices on Monday night as most protesters had already left when the trucks arrived.
Police bought the vehicles a decade ago for HK$6 million (US$765,300) each. The trucks were armored by Centigon, a French armored vehicle manufacturer. In a press release circulated at the time, police said the trucks provided outstanding ballistic protection that could prove helpful in emergencies.
Replying to media inquiries, the police stressed on Wednesday that these trucks were primarily defensive vehicles for use as armored personnel carriers. They could also be used to clear debris from roads, in particular barricades and objects placed by rioters.
A spokesperson said standard police vans and SUVs were vulnerable to attacks and vandalism under chaotic situations. The armored vehicles – thanks to their high ground clearance and off-road capabilities – were better suited to safely deliver officers and supplies and transfer injured personnel.
The sonic cannons, he added, were part of a system that could be used to broadcast warnings and other information over a long-range in noisy situations. If used properly, he said they would not cause hearing impairment.
Water trucks spraying dye
There have been reports that anti-riot vehicles equipped with water cannons might be used to clear protesters this weekend.
One of these water cannon trucks was seen spraying water during a test at PTU headquarters, before being driven on nearby roads. The police bought three of these vehicles in 2018.
There has been speculation in the Chinese press that police might add dye to the water so that officers can identify protesters after they have dispersed.
Critics have cautioned against deploying the water trucks in narrow, crowded streets as protesters might be thrown against metal railings by the sheer force of water, causing serious injuries.
The Hong Kong government says the protests have become more violent, while police resources have been stretched thin by the drawn-out battles.
Beijing hopes local police can control the chaos as officials work out plans to defuse the tension so that PLA troops stationed in the city will not have to be called in.