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Mexico’s drugs cartels are as rich as some small countries – and some of that wealth is being invested in increasingly sophisticated weaponry.
As well as using submarines for smuggling drugs, and armoured “technicals” for pitched battles with rival gangs and even law enforcement, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel appears to have developed flying bombs to take out their enemies.
Already this year there had been reports of small bombs being dropped from conventional manned aircraft by the cartels, now the drugs gangs have shifted to using weaponised drones.
In late July a cartel vehicle with a very unusual cargo was seized by a Mexican civilian defence militia.
Inside were some 20 or 30 quadcopter-type drones loaded with blocks of C4 explosive and boxes of ball-bearings designed to rip through flesh when the devices exploded.
The haul, in Tepalcatepec, in Mexico's southwestern state of Michoacan, has been linked back to the New Generation Cartel.
A similar seizure was made in in the city of Puebla, to the southeast of the capital, reports Drive.
Small drones loaded with explosives have been used by ISIS for some years now. The Russian HQ at Khmeimim Air Base in Syria has suffered regular drone attacks and a similar device was recently intercepted near the US embassy in Iraq.
The idea has spread to other outlawed groups around the world – in Japan, the fearsome Yakuza gangs have taken to assassinating their rivals using drones and a group opposed to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro narrowly failed to kill him using a weaponised quadcopter drone.
U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, says that these devices are the next step in urban warfare: "I argue all the time with my Air Force friends that the future of flight is vertical and it's unmanned," he said in June.
"I'm not talking about large unmanned platforms," he continued, "which are the size of a conventional fighter jet that we can see and deal with, as we would any other platform.
“I'm talking about the one you can go out and buy at Costco right now in the United States for a thousand dollars, four quad, rotorcraft, or something like that that can be launched and flown… and with very simple modifications, it can make made into something that can drop a weapon like a hand grenade or something else."
There are currently very few effective countermeasures against these relatively low-tech weapons once they’re in the air. The US military has been experimenting with frequency jammers to block the devices’ control systems as well as “ray guns” firing lasers or high-powered microwave beams.
They're in a race against time. With drones so cheap and easily obtainable it’s only a matter of time before other terror groups and criminal gangs start using them regularly.
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