Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #35

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #35:  Weaponized Drone/UAV/UAS Seized in Valtierrilla, Guanajuato with Remote Detonation IED (‘Papa Bomba’) Payload

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

An improvised explosive drone (‘dron bomba’) was interdicted by Mexican Federal Police/Policía Federal (PF) in Guanajunto in Central Mexico at daybreak of Friday, 20 October 2017. Four men were arrested following a ‘high-risk’ vehicle stop on the Salamanca-Morelia highway.  The discovery of an improvised Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)—also known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)—is the latest example of cartel weapons evolution. The IED is consistent with recent papas bombas (potato bombs) employment by the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG).  Guanajunto is currently contested by several cartels including the CJNG, Los Zetas, and the Sinaloa cartel.

Key Information: “‘Dron bomba’ listo para detonar a distancia.” AM. 20 October 2017, https://www.am.com.mx/2017/10/20/sucesos/dron-bomba-listo-para-detonar-a-distancia-385808:

(REDACCIÓN. SALAMANCA, GUANAJUATO.) Los cargos que podrían tener los detenidos pueden llegar a ser por terrorismo.

See the 0:59 minute video embedded in this article at “Hallaron gran carga explosiva con detonador a distancia” and Interceptan ¡dron bomba!

El Procurador de Justicia del Estado, Carlos Zamarripa Aguirre, confirmó que el dron asegurado a cuatro hombres cerca del municipio de Salamanca contenía una gran carga explosiva con un detonador a distancia.

El hecho, que ha sido único en Guanajuato, ocurrió la madrugada de hoy en la autopista de cuota Salamanca a Morelia donde elementos de la Policía Federal Preventiva detuvieron a cuatro hombres que tripulaban una camioneta y dentro del vehículo los policías federales encontraron el dron y un arma larga AK47.

El Procurador de Justicia del Estado, dijo que tras ser analizado el dron, se comprobó que el aparato contenía una cantidad importante de explosivo y que está preparado para ser detonado a distancia.

Los cargos que podrían tener los detenidos pueden llegar a ser por terrorismo.

Las autoridades ministeriales investigan si los detenidos pertenecen a un grupo criminal dijo el Procurador.

Key Information: “¿Tomar video? Dron con fines terroristas.” AM. 21 October 2017, https://www.am.com.mx/2017/10/21/local/tomar-video-dron-con-fines-terroristas--386171:

Entre los usos de un dron, están para entregar una pizza, ser como un taxi, pero también hay usos maléficos.

Drones con explosivos han sido utilizados por el grupo terrorista Estado Islámico (Isis).

En octubre del año pasado en el norte de Irak las fuerzas kurdas que peleaban contra el grupo terrorista lograron derribar un pequeño dron de cuatro rotores. 

Inicialmente pensaron que se trataba de uno de los tantos enviados por Isis para monitorear las zonas de guerra y reconocer las áreas.

Sin embargo, cuando comenzaron a revisarlo el artefacto estalló y mató a dos combatientes.

Se informó entonces que al aparato había sido activado mediante una señal de radiofrecuencia, un mecanismo similar al que tenía el dron descubierto ayer, según informó el procurador Carlos Zamarripa.

Fotos de militantes del grupo extremista mostraban a sus combatientes con drones comunes, como los  que se pueden comprar en tiendas e Internet, pero con la carga explosiva incorporada.

Ayer en un hecho inédito en Guanajuato, policías federales detuvieron a cuatro hombres que llevaban un droncon un explosivo montado.   

 “Se trata de un dron... me acaban de corroborar hace un momento que se trata de un artefacto explosivo, con un detonador remoto y una gran carga explosiva”, confirmó el procurador del Estado Carlos Zamarripa Aguirre.

El descubrimiento se produjo en la carretera de cuota Salamanca-Morelia, cerca de la comunidad Valtierrilla.

Key Information: “Viajaban en auto robado: les hallan un dron y explosivos.” El Debate. 21 October 2017, https://www.debate.com.mx/mexico/Viajaban-en-auto-robado-les-hallan-un-dron-y-explosivos-20171021-0007.html:

Cuatro sujetos fueron detenidos en Salamanca, además traían una cuerno de chivo y un detonador para el explosivo; los podrían acusar de ‘terrorismo’

Los sujetos traían un 'cuerno de chivo' y explosivos.

Foto: Policía Federal

Guanajuato (El Universal).- Elementos de la Policía Federal capturaron en Salamanca a cuatro hombres que tenían un dron con una carga de material explosivo y con detonador remoto, así como un arma larga conocida como “cuerno de chivo”, informó el Procurador General de Justicia del Estado, Carlos Zamarripa.

Los sujetos fueron detenidos la madrugada de este viernes a bordo de un camioneta Mazda con reporte de robo, cuando circulaban en la autopista de cuota Salamanca-Morelia.

Foto: Policía Federal

Los agentes federales precisaron que fueron trasladados al Cereso de Irapuato y puestos a disposición del Ministerio Público, bajo la identificación de Christian N., Ángel N., Eduardo N. y Marcos N.

Zamarripa Aguirre informó que la fiscalía estatal realiza las investigaciones en contra de los detenidos por el vehículo reportado como robado, a efecto de determinar la procedencia de la camioneta encontrada.

Explicó que se hará un desglose al Ministerio Público de la Procuraduría General de la República por el dron y el arma con que se les encontró, pues son de uso exclusivo del Ejército y constituyen delitos de competencia federal.

Key Information: “Dron explosivo: Último artefacto del crimen organizado en México.” HispanTV. 21 October 2017, http://www.hispantv.com/noticias/mexico/357219/incautan-dron-crimen-organizado-violencia:

Autoridades mexicanas incautaron el viernes un dron con explosivos a cuatro delincuentes presuntamente vinculados al crimen organizado en Guanajuato (centro).

Elementos de la Policía Federal mexicana capturaron en Guanajuato a cuatro hombres que tenían un dron con una carga de material explosivo y con detonador remoto, así como un arma larga conocida como “cuerno de chivo”, informó el Procurador General de Justicia del Estado de Guanajuato, Carlos Zamarripa.

Según el funcionario, en otras ocasiones ya se han detectado artefactos explosivos de este tipo, pero nunca instalados sobre un dron. Las autoridades no han podido investigar el lugar en el que los criminales pretendían sobrevolar el dron de marca Fly 3DR.

“Tanto el explosivo como el arma son de uso exclusivo del Ejército”, por lo que se hará lo necesario para que los acusados sean procesados “en consecuencia”, comentó Zamarripa.

Los detenidos están presuntamente vinculados al crimen organizado y se trasladaban a bordo de un vehículo robado muy cerca del municipio de Salamanca, en una carretera que conecta con el vecino estado de Michoacán, informaron los agentes federales desplegados en la zona.

Zamarripa informó que la fiscalía estatal realiza las investigaciones en contra de los detenidos por el vehículo reportado como robado, a efecto de determinar la procedencia de la camioneta encontrada.

Desde principios de año, los episodios de violencia ligados al crimen organizado se han venido multiplicando en Guanajuato, estado que no hace mucho era considerado entre los más apacibles de México.

La semana pasada, varios cuerpos aparecieron desmembrados en el municipio de Celaya (un modus operandi clásico de sicarios de cárteles), mientras que las autoridades arrestaron a numerosos cabecillas de bandas criminales.

Guanajuato es disputado por los poderosos cárteles Jalisco Nueva Generación, Los Zetas y Sinaloa.

Who: Four individuals (Public Ministry IDs: Christian N., Angel N., Eduardo, N., and Marcos, N.) were arrested by Mexican Federal Police/Policía Federal (PF) in a stolen vehicle in what would be equivalent to a ‘felony’ or ‘high-risk’ stop in the United States.

What: In the back of the stolen vehicle inside the hatchback/rear cargo area, a 3DR Solo Quadcopter in an open case with an IED (‘Papa Bomba’) attached to it with a sling rope and a remote RF detonator was seized. An AK-47 variant assault rifle, 2 magazines, 13 7.62mm bullets, 3 smart phones, 1 texting phone, and 3 black caps (1 with Guanajuato on it) were also recovered.    

When: The stolen vehicle was pulled over at dawn by Federal Police on Friday 20 October 2017.

Where: Near the community of Valtierrilla, along the Salamanca-Moreila highway, in the state of Guanajuato which is about 304 km (189 miles) northwest of Mexico City via roadways.

Why: A weaponized drone/unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)/unmanned aerial system (UAS) with a remotely detonated IED allows for a precision strike to take place against an intended target. This form of IED can be utilized against a point target for assassination purposes or against an area target—such as a grouping of individuals—for anti-personnel purposes. In addition to using such a drone/UAS for assassination or tactical action purposes, it also offers ‘narco terrorism’ and/or ‘narco insurgency’ potentials depending on the intent of its use.   

Analysis: This significant incident represents the crossing of a Mexican cartel technology and TTP (tactic, technique, and procedure) use firebreak with drone/UAV/UAS ‘weaponization’ now taking place. It suggests additional cause for heighted concern related to the evolving Mexican cartel security environment.  This weaponized drone seizure follows a human shield use incident taking place in Palmarito, Puebla in May 2017 linked to an armed criminal group[1] and a recent national homicide report in September with 2,564 homicides taking place, putting this year on track to be the most deadly ever (21,200 so far) recorded in Mexico during its ongoing criminal insurgency.[2]

The IED drone recovered is indicative of the fusion of two recent technology use trends taking place within cartel groups in Mexico. The first trend is the use of drones/UAS for primarily narcotics smuggling purposes. The cartels have been using drones since 2010, with possibly 150 UAS intrusions into the U.S. between 2012 and 2014 according to an unconfirmed Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) report. In addition to smuggling missions, the use of cartel drones for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) has also been noted.[3] The second trend is the use of ‘papas bombas’ (potato bombs) also known as Papabombas or Bombas de impacto IEDs by organized crime groups, with the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) specifically identified as using them. These IEDs have been utilized by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) with their use spreading to CJNG and possibly other groups in the states of Michoacán and Guanajuato in Central Mexico. These IEDs are composed of a sphere-like mass of explosives tightly taped together with the inclusion of nuts and nails for a shrapnel effect. The initial explosive mixture utilized in these devices was potassium chlorate, sulfur, and aluminum powder based. Their use or possession in Mexico has been identified in at least four cases since at least February 2017, two in La Piedad (with one detonation), one in Santiguito, and one near Cerrito de Ortiz, all in Michoacán.[4]   

IED (‘Papa Bomba’) Based on FARC Model

Source: Andrés Becerril, “Narcos copian bombas de FARC; Cisen alerta de explosivos tipo ‘papa.’” Excelsior. 21 July 2017, http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2017/07/21/1176937#imagen-1

Conceptually, commercial drone IED weaponization is by no means new, and in fact, has become institutionalized by the Islamic State (IS) in its recent operations in Iraq and Syria. Such use is well known and has been identified in IS tactical actions taking place as early as December 2015 in Tishrin, Syria and June 2016 in Khan Touman, Syria.[5] Such actions and later ones most certainly have contributed in some way via ‘TTP diffusion’ to the creation of the weaponized cartel drone recovered. Specific concerns expressed over such “Mexican cartel UAV evolutionary potentials” have been noted since August 2014 with “weapons payload use for small arms and IED attack capabilities” foreseen as one eventuality. [6]

Islamic State IED Drone in Manbij, Syria

Source: @SDF_Press_1. “Syrian Democratic Forces #SDF fell down #ISIL Military Drone.” Twitter. 10 July 2016,

https://twitter.com/ SDF_Press_1/media?lang=en&lang=en [Archived]

An image analysis of the IED drone recovered in Valtierrilla, Guanajuato suggests that it is a 3DR Solo Quadcopter. Such drones which first appeared in about 2015 can be presently purchased for less than $250.00 USD (less than 5,000 MXN) online. This drone has a flight time of about 20 minutes while carrying a payload of up to 420 g (0.926 pounds). It can achieve a top speed of 55 mph (89 km/h) with a range of about .5 miles (.8 km).[7]

 

3DR Solo Quadcopter with IED (Front View)

Source:  @On_Point_Skillz, “Tál vez a @AbraxasSpa le pueda parecer interesante.” Twitter. 20 October 2017, https://twitter.com/On_Point_Skillz/status/921521786768056321

 3DR Solo Quadcopter with IED and Remote Detonation Switch (Side View)

Source: “Interceptan ¡dron bomba!” REDACCIÓN. Am. 20 October 2017,

https://www.am.com.mx/2017/10/20/leon/sucesos/interceptan-dron-bomba-385781

The above images of the recovered drone suggest that it is in operational condition. The IED (‘Papa Bomba’) payload is secured to the drone by means of a white rope slung underneath it. No evidence of metal fragmentation components can be seen on the surface of the IED, however, they may have been formed into an outer shell of the IED with additional binding and taping layers built up over them. Underneath the drone a remote control transmitter can be seen although the specific type is not identified—it may be either a 3DR AT10A or AT11A series unit. Two related rectangular components that are next to the drone are not identifiable—possibly they are the controller top piece and a 3DR battery module. Duct tape has been secured to the top of the drone to hold down an unidentified component that is not organic to it—this can be seen with the triangular-like protrusion on the top of the drone under the tape. Speculation exists that this may be the RF detonation receiver for the IED. Yellow electrical wires can also be seen to emanate from the IED. It is further speculated that these yellow wires would be connected to the top RF receiver unit by means of connecting them to RF receiver wires leading down to the underside of the drone. This connection would be made only during the pre-mission arming phase with the yellow wires wound around the white rope securing the IED to the drone. What is assumed to be a detonation control RF emitter unit with 4 toggle switches and a pullout radio antenna can also be seen in one of the images of the recovered IED drone.

Of further note is the imagery of three of the four men arrested in this incident. They all appear physically fit and manifest short military-like haircuts suggesting that they may have either military or law enforcement special operations backgrounds.

Guanajuato is presently plagued with the highest violence levels in the state’s history with the following cartels operating in it are “La Familia Michoacana” and/or “Caballeros Templarios”, “Cártel del Golfo”, “Zetas” and “Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG)”.[8] Full scale narco warfare has essentially broken out in this state between competing cartel factions. The latter three cartels are known for actively recruiting cartel enforcers having military and paramilitary backgrounds with CJNG directly linked to recent ‘Papas Bombas’ IED-type use.  

If the IED drone recovered was ultimately intended for use within the state of Guanajuato, in Morelia, Michoacán, or somewhere else in the state of Michoacán is unknown. What is known is this weaponized drone cost less than $300.00 USD (5,700.00 MXN) to procure—with IED construction costs factored in—and represents a significant escalation in the criminal insurgencies taking place in Mexico. The drone can be flown against its intended target with precision and a high rate of speed and remotely detonated for assassination, anti-personnel, and/or narcoterrorism purposes. It represents another terrorist TTP firebreak crossed in Mexico this year and is indicative of the spiraling levels of narco violence now engulfing wide regions of that sovereign nation.             

Significance: Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación; CJNG links (Probable), Cartel Technology, Improvised Explosive Device (IED), Papas Bombas, Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs), Weaponized Drone, Weaponized Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)

Sources

“Caen cuatro hombres que transportaban un dron acoplado a un artefacto explosivo en Guanajuato.” Proceso. 20 October 2017, http://www.proceso.com.mx/508237/caen-cuatro-hombres-transportaban-dron-acoplado-a-artefacto-explosivo-en-guanajuato/amp.

‘Dron bomba’ listo para detonar a distancia.” AM. 20 October 2017, https://www.am.com.mx/2017/10/20/sucesos/dron-bomba-listo-para-detonar-a-distancia-385808.

“Dron explosivo: Último artefacto del crimen organizado en México.” HispanTV. 21 October 2017, http://www.hispantv.com/noticias/mexico/357219/incautan-dron-crimen-organizado-violencia.

“Interceptan ¡dron bomba!” AM. 20 October 2017, https://www.am.com.mx/2017/10/20/leon/sucesos/interceptan-dron-bomba-385781.

“¿Tomar video? Dron con fines terroristas.” REDACCIÓN. Am. 21 October 2017, https://www.am.com.mx/2017/10/21/local/tomar-video-dron-con-fines-terroristas--386171.

“Viajaban en auto robado: les hallan un dron y explosivos.” El Debate. 21 October 2017, https://www.debate.com.mx/mexico/Viajaban-en-auto-robado-les-hallan-un-dron-y-explosivos-20171021-0007.html.

End Notes

[1] Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #33: Terrorist TTP Firebreak Crossed - Criminal Group Utilizes Women and Children as Human Shields in Palmarito, Puebla.” Small Wars Journal. 11 May 2017, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-33-terrorist-ttp-firebreak-crossed-criminal-group-utilizes-wom.

[2] Centro Nacional de Información, “Informe de víctimas de homicidio, secuestro y extorsión 2017.” SEGOB/SESNSP. Octubre 2017, http://secretariadoejecutivo.gob.mx/docs/pdfs/victimas/Victimas2017_092017.pdf.

[3] John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 18: Narcodrones on the Border and Beyond.” Small Wars Journal. 28 March 2016,

http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-strategic-note-no-18-narcodrones-on-the-border-and-beyond.

[4] Andrés Becerril, “Narcos copian bombas de FARC; Cisen alerta de explosivos tipo ‘papa.’” Excelsior.  21 July 2017, http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2017/07/21/1176937

[5] David Hambling, “ISIS Is Reportedly Packing Drones With Explosives Now.” Popular Mechanics. 16 December 2015, http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a18577/isis-packing-drones-with-explosives/ and @green_lemonnn. “#Syria Sayed Hakim, Fatemiyoun deputy in Palmyra KIA in Palmyra days ago. Reportedly hit by an IS suicide drone.” Twitter. 9 June 2016, https://twitter.com/warreports/status/740970884798746624.

[6] Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #21: Cartel Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).” Small Wars Journal. 1 August 2014, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-21.

[7] “Solo Specs: Just the facts.” 3DR. 4 May 2015, https://3dr.com/blog/solo-specs-just-the-facts-14480cb55722/#.

[8] “Guanajuato ranked top ten in violence rate nationwide.” San Miguel Times. 17 March 2017, http://sanmigueltimes.com/2017/03/guanajuato-ranked-top-ten-in-violence-rate-nationwide/.

Further Reading

Cartel Drones/UAV/UAS

Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #21: Cartel Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).” Small Wars Journal. 1 August 2014, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-21.

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 18: Narcodrones on the Border and Beyond.” Small Wars Journal. 28 March 2016,

http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-strategic-note-no-18-narcodrones-on-the-border-and-beyond.

Brenda Fiegel, “Narco-Drones: A New Way to Transport Drugs.” Small Wars Journal. 5 July 2017, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/narco-drones-a-new-way-to-transport-drugs.

Papas Bombas  

Santiago Cepeda, “El peligroso mundo de las ‘papas bomba’.” Revista DonJuan. 18 de Abril de 2012, http://m.revistadonjuan.com/historias/el-peligroso-mundo-de-las-papas-bomba+articulo+11596882.

Andrés Becerril, “Narcos copian bombas de FARC; Cisen alerta de explosivos tipo ‘papa’.” Excelsior.  21 July 2017, http://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/2017/07/21/1176937.

“CJNG utiliza explosivos tipo ‘papa’ similares a las de las FARC.” El Debate. 21 July 2017, https://www.debate.com.mx/mexico/CJNG-utiliza-explosivos-tipo-papa-similares-a-las-de-las-FARC-20170721-0066.html.

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