Criminal groups in the state of Michoacán have unleashed a concerning new weapon: a drone dropping bombs on their enemies from the sky.
Footage recorded on January 10 showed locals and members of the National Guard in Tepalcatepec, a municipality in the western state of Michoacán fleeing bombardments as a drone released military-grade C4 explosives from above. This reportedly followed several hours of clashes between armed groups, reported the Mexican press.
While no deaths were reported as a direct result of this bombing, the explosives appear to have damaged around 20 buildings, according to those same press reports.
While no group has formally claimed responsibility, the attack was widely presumed to have been carried out by the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG). The group has been fighting the rival Cárteles Unidos organization in Tepalcatepec, and across much of Michoacán, for several years and it has steadily increased its use of weaponized drones.
In 2014, reports of drones being adapted to custom purposes by criminal groups in Mexico began to surface, especially concerning their use for delivery of drugs. In 2018, two drones carrying explosives were used to target the house of a senior public official in Baja California. Both fell into his garden without causing damage.
But it is their use by the CJNG in Michoacán that has been most controversial. Of the eight recorded instances of criminal organizations using weaponized drones in Mexico, three have taken place in the southwestern state. Most famously, in April 2021, two police officers were hurt in a drone attack in Aguililla, another hotspot of violence in the state.
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As in previous cases of drone use by cartels, the shocking footage has sparked broad concern over the sheer firepower available to the CJNG. And while no lives are yet confirmed to have been lost to this tactic, the use of drones is becoming bolder and more frequent.
Monday's bombing did demonstrate an evolution in the apparent arms race taking place throughout Mexico's more violent states as it is the first recorded instance of explosives being dropped from a drone.
The advantages that armed drones can bring to bear are profound. Cheaper, smaller and eliminating the need to risk the lives of individual hitmen, these tools enhance accuracy and hide from radar in an area already under heightened aerial surveillance. Despite these benefits, the technology is still more suited as a scare tactic for the moment due to a lack of lethality. However, if this cartel arms race continues, casualties being caused by these drones may only be a matter of time.