Mexican drug cartels may be adopting the use of weaponized drones with remote detonators and even machine guns.
On October 20, Mexican police pulled over four men in a pickup truck near the city of Salamanca in Guanajuato state, discovering an AK-47 rifle and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) outfitted with a “large explosive device” and a remote detonator in their possession.
Although Mexican authorities did not say whether the four men had ties to drug cartels, Robert Bunker, a fellow with Small Wars Journal, said that Guanajuato is considered to be a contested area, with several drug gangs, including the Sinaloa cartel, Los Zetas, and Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) operating in the state.
The discovery followed by two weeks the seizure, during a drug raid, in Medellin, Colombia, of a large drone outfitted with a machine gun.
The use of weaponized drones by drug cartels is not surprising, given that some cartels are known to have previously used drones for surveillance purposes and to smuggle drugs. “This has been expected for some time now,” Bunker said.
Rival drug cartels have also reportedly used “potato bombs” – hand grenade-sized improvised explosive devices, or IEDs – in attacks against each other and against the authorities. According to Bunker, the explosives found by the Mexican police in the pickup truck along with the drone in Guanajuato, are “consistent” with potato bombs. In other words, the drone could likely have been equipped with the explosives to be used in attacks.
“That cartels would weaponize [drones] is simply an expansion of the battlefield,” says Peter Singer, author of Wired for War. “The technology is readily available and is getting cheaper. If a criminal organization has the resources – and drug cartels certainly do – they will develop new killing systems.”
According to some experts, drug cartels could also take a leaf out of Amazon’s delivery drones and use UAVs to potentially deliver explosives to their targets. “As both Islamic State and Amazon have shown, small drones are an efficient way of carrying a payload to a target,” Nick Waters, an independent drone expert and a former British Army officer said. “Whether that payload is your new book or several hundred grams of explosive is up to the sender.”
The drone found in Colombia is more troubling, experts say. “The gun was mounted on a modified commercial drone with an eight-foot wing-span and had a sophisticated shock-absorbing system to allow it to fire without disturbing the drone’s flight,” said weapons experts Harvey Adams of Janes Defense Weekly. “Without aggressive law enforcement, drug cartels could even soon acquire or build drones similar to those used by the U.S. in the Middle East. They have the money.”
Although most experts doubt an imminent outbreak of drug sky wars, others say it could happen sooner than we think. “Twenty years ago, there were almost no drug-carrying submarines and today there are dozens of them plying the Pacific waters between Peru, Colombia, and Mexico, and up to the California coast,” says Adams.
Sources: International Business Times, Janes Defense Weekly