Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #49: Alleged CJNG Drone Attack in Aguililla, Michoacán Injures Two Police Officers

Wed, 04/28/2021 - 9:17pm

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #49: Alleged CJNG Drone Attack in Aguililla, Michoacán Injures Two Police Officers

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

Two police officers in Aguililla, Michoacán were injured in a weaponized drone attack at approximately 0100 hours, (01:00 AM) Tuesday morning, 20 April 2021 on the highway between Aguililla and Apatzingán. The attack involving drones artillados (armed or ’gun’ drones) is the fifth documented incident involving aerial improvised explosive devices utilized by the cartels in Mexico and the first one in which injuries have resulted.

Key Information: “Liberan policías de Michoacán bloqueo carretero entre Aguililla y Apatzingán; los atacan con drones.” Aristegui Noticias. 20 April 2021, https://aristeguinoticias.com/2004/mexico/libera-ssp-michoacan-bloqueo-de-carretera-entre-aguililla-y-apatzingan/:

La Secretaría de Seguridad Pública de Michoacán informó que personal policiaco liberó el bloqueo carretero en el tramo Apaztingán-Aguililla, que mantenía prácticamente incomunicada de dicha población, lugar de origen de Nemesio Oceguera Cervantes. alias ‘El Mencho’, líder del Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) y en donde este cártel mantiene una disputa por la plaza con Cárteles Unidos.

Las fuerzas policiacas retiraron un vehículo blindado con un peso de 14 toneladas que tuvo que ser cortado para poder ser trasladado por trozos.

El operativo estuvo encabezado por el titular de la SSP, Israel Patrón Reyes, y comenzó desde las primeras horas de este lunes [19 April 2021]

Medios locales reportaron que posteriormente una célula del CJNG atacó a los policías estatales desplegados en la región con explosivos enviados en drones en la tenencia de El Aguaje, sin que hasta el momento se conozca el alcance de estas acciones.[1]

Key Information: “El CJNG explotó un dron durante visita a Michoacán del Embajador del Vaticano; hirieron a 2 policías,” Sin Embargo. 20 April 2021, https://www.sinembargo.mx/20-04-2021/3965563:

Sicarios atacaron con un supuesto dron con explosivos a policías del occidental estado mexicano de Michoacán, previo a la visita que Franco Coppola, nuncio apostólico en México, realizará por la zona para dialogar con víctimas del narcotráfico.

El Gobierno de Michoacán confirmó que dos agentes resultaron heridos en el ataque, ocurrido la noche del lunes en el poblado de El Aguaje, del municipio de Aguililla, aunque los detalles del hecho no fueron revelados.

El día de hoy aprox. a las 01:00 horas, se recibe llamada de emergencia 911, reportando una agresión a personal de la Policía Michoacán, quienes se encontraban destacamentados a inmediaciones de la casa ejidal en la localidad de El Aguaje, municipio de Aguililla.

Resultando de dicha agresión 02 policías heridos, se comenta que los daños ocasionados por el ataque fueron a través de un artefacto explosivo instalado en un dron.[2]

Key Information: Jorge Monroy, “Uso de drones con explosivos, actos terroristas: SSP de Michoacán.” El Economista. 21 April 2021, https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/politica/Uso-de-drones-con-explosivos-actos-terroristas-SSP-de-Michoacan-20210421-0092.html:

El secretario de Seguridad Pública de Michoacán, Israel Patrón Reyes, confirmó el ataque con drones a elementos de la Policía estatal en Aguililla, y dijo que acreditarse el uso de explosivos tipo C4, se trataría de un acto terrorista.

El C-4 o divergente ‘Composition C-4’ es una variedad común de explosivo plástico de uso bélico, y es uno de los explosivos, después del TNT, con más fuerza de los conocidos hasta el momento.

“Efectivamente, el Código Penal establece alguna conducta que refiere el uso de algunos explosivos, en este caso tenemos información de que pudiera tratarse de material explosivo conocido como C4. Considero que de aprobarse o comprobarse que están siendo utilizados estos explosivos, sin duda encuadrarían en una conducta penal que el propio Código señala como terrorismo”, afirmó.

En conferencia de prensa, el funcionario de seguridad estatal también reconoció que un grupo de la delincuencia, sin mencionar al Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) o al Cártel Unidos, tiene el control de Aguililla.[3]

Key Information: Mark Stevenson, “México: Cárteles atacan con drones cargados de explosivos.” Los Angeles Times. 21 April 2021, https://www.latimes.com/espanol/mexico/articulo/2021-04-21/mexico-carteles-atacan-con-drones-cargados-de-explosivos:

Organizaciones del narcotráfico en México atacaron a agentes de la policía o a soldados con drones cargados de explosivos en por lo menos tres estados del país, informó el secretario de Defensa, Luis Cresencio Sandoval.

El Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) fue responsable de algunos de los ataques, comentó Sandoval. Añadió que los drones cargados de explosivos han sido utilizados en los estados de Jalisco, Guanajuato y Michoacán…

…El funcionario indicó que los ataques con drones “son de preocupación”, pero no han sido tan efectivos como quisieran los cárteles, debido a que los dispositivos relativamente ligeros no pueden llevar explosivos suficientes para causar daños significativos…

…Las autoridades aún no han descrito a detalle los dispositivos utilizados. Medios locales reportaron que los drones llevaban granadas de mano, pero fotografías que circulan en internet muestran que llevaban paquetes de cargas explosivas pegados con cinta adhesiva.

El ataque de esta semana ocurrió en El Aguaje, un poblado en el municipio de Aguililla, en Michoacán. El CJNG se disputa el control de ese territorio con una organización rival, la Nueva Familia Michoacana, que también es conocida como Los Viagras o Cárteles Unidos.[4]

Key Information: “Drones explosivos de Aguililla, funcionaron mal: Sedena.” MoreliActiva. 21 April 2021, https://moreliactiva.com/drones-explosivos-de-aguililla-funcionaron-mal-sedena/:

Los drones con explosivos que fueron usados contra la Policía Michoacán en Aguililla no funcionaron correctamente, pues su capacidad destructiva fue ínfima.

Ello lo aseguró el secretario de la Defensa Nacional, Luis Crescencio Sandoval González, quien acentuó que estos artefactos únicamente pueden portar cargas pequeñas, por lo que no son capaces de dañar seriamente la vida humana.

“Los drones son de preocupación, pero no han sido efectivos, no han tenido efectividad, no pueden cargar cantidades que sean dañinas para el personal o alguna instalación, salieron dos con heridas, en el brazo y en la pierna, fue todo”, acotó.[5]

Key Information: “La Sedena confirma que el CJNG ha usado drones con explosivos en Michoacán y en Guanajuato.” Sin Embargo. 21 April 2021, https://www.sinembargo.mx/21-04-2021/3965937:

El titular de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Sedena) confirmó esta mañana que el Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) ha usado drones con explosivos, pero no sólo en Michoacán: también en Guanajuato y Jalisco. El General Luis Cresencio Sandoval González​ dijo que aunque les preocupa, no parecen tener demasiado impacto.[6]

Key Information: “2 to stand trial for making exploding drones in Mexico.” Mercury News. 24 April 2021, https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/04/24/2-to-stand-trial-for-making-exploding-drones-in-mexico/:

Prosecutors in Mexico said Saturday that two men have been ordered to stand trial for allegedly making explosive-laden drones of the kind that have been used in recent attacks on police and soldiers.

The Attorney General’s Office said the two were arrested a year ago in the central states of Puebla and Morelos. They face charges of violating federal firearms laws.

The evidences suggest the tactic of sending out drones with packets of explosives has been in use longer than previously thought.

Briefing SSP

Briefing Images of the Presentation and the Background Map of the 7 Road Blocks Between El Terrero and Aguililla. SSP Michoacán Briefing on Drone Attack, Tuesday, 20 April 2021. Source: SSP Michoacán

Who: The perpetrators of the attack were identified by the Government of Mexico (GoM) as members of the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG).

WhatA weaponized drone attack on police officers engaged in clearing a road from cartel obstacles near the town of Aguililla with two officers subsequently wounded.

When: Tuesday 20 April 2021 at approximately 0100 hours (01:00 AM).

Where: Apatzingán-Aguililla highway outside of Aguililla, Michoacán in El Aguaje in the municipality of Aguililla. Seven road blocks existed along this highway per the Secretaría de Seguridad Pública del Estado de Michoacán (SSP Michoacán) briefing, which included a map labeling the roadblocks.[7]

Why: The town is the birthplace of the CJNG leader “El Mencho” and since 2019 has been heavily contested between that cartel and autodefensas (self-defense forces) either allied to or controlled by Cárteles Unidos. The police officers were clearing roadblocks along the highway into town which resulted in their being targeted by one or more CJNG weaponized drones.

Brief1

Briefing Slide 1 from SSP Michoacán Briefing on Drone Attack, Tuesday, 20 April 2021. Source: SSP Michoacán

Brief2

Briefing Slide 2 from SSP Michoacán Briefing on Drone Attack, Tuesday, 20 April 2021. Source: SSP Michoacán

Analysis

This is the fifth documented cartel weaponized drone incident in Mexico since October 2017. It represents a clear ‘firebreak’ in that it is the first one in which injuries have resulted. The attack took place on Tuesday 20 April at approximately 0100 hours (01:00 AM) on Apatzingán-Aguililla highway outside of Aguililla, Michoacán. Members of the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG)—who have engaged in weaponized drone deployments in the past—were identified as the perpetrators. The attack was directed at Secretaría de Seguridad Pública de Michoacán (SSP Michoacán) personnel who had been engaged in a road clearing operation into Aguililla. That town is heavily contested between the CJNG and a coalition formed between the Cárteles Unidos and autodefensas—with Mexican state and governmental level security forces intermittently engaging in stability and support operations (SASO). Two SSP Michoacán officers were lightly wounded in the drone attack.[8]

Because police—rather than civilians—were intentionally targeted in the attack, it can be viewed as an insurgent TTP (tactics, techniques, and procedures). Depending on the legal regime utilized, it can either be considered an instance of terrorism (de facto narco or criminal based) or a conventional force-on-force attack (potential non-international armed conflict based).            

While the basics of the incident do not appear in question, a number of elements related to it are still unknown due to fragmentary, contradictory, and seemingly inaccurate news information being reported and attempts by the Secretaría de Seguridad Pública de Michoacán (SSP Michoacán), the Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) administration itself, and even the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) to shape the narrative surrounding it:[9]

Number of Drones and Types Involved: The number of drones involved in the attack have been identified as two or possibly more.[10] Past cartel drone incident patterns suggest two could be plausible, however, from an attack and contextual perspective a single drone causing the injuries to the officers is far more likely. No imagery of drone components or fragments have been released by the Government of Mexico (GoM) related to this incident.[11] In fact, the release of such imagery and reports typically takes place in a haphazard and opaque manner. Still, it is relatively safe to assume that rotors drone(s) rather than fixed winged drone(s) were involved in this attack, if past incident patterns hold true. 

Point IED Detonation or Stand-Off Bomblet Use: Conflicting reports of the method of attack exist, with fragmentation grenades[12] or C-4 explosives[13] said to have been utilized as well as possibly IED bomblets.[14] The bomblets (pipe bomb and tailfin assembly design) said to be associated with the attack are suspect due to related sourcing, the fact they are inconsistent with typical cartel IED designs, and the weaponized drone design trajectories evident. While this is presently educated speculation—and has not been validated—a C-4 based IED (presumably with a shrapnel load; likely ball bearings) used for point detonation appears to make the most sense in this incident from an attack utilization and trend perspective.[15] 

GoM Narrative: The Mexican government is going out of its way to downplay the significance of the Aguililla incident—which it has linked to CJNG[16]—and is attempting to characterize weaponized drone attack potentials as minimal at best per the statement of the senior Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA) representative during a recent press conference with the Mexican president.[17][18][19] 

CJNG Narrative: The cartel has recently released a video claiming that its members were not involved in the attack and that it had instead been perpetrated by Cárteles Unidos.[20] The speaker states that it was that cartel, not CJNG, that created the roadblocks into the town and that they are angry at the SSP for opening the road up. As a result, they launched a drone attack against them. The speaker goes on to say that CJNG has no problem with the GoM. Note— Cárteles Unidos (and the autodefensas linked/allied to them) have not been linked to weaponized drone incidents in the past, however, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) drone use has been noted.[21]

CJNGFE

CJNG Fuerzas Especiales (Special Forces) Video Denying Aguililla Drone Attack Upon SSP Michoacán. Posted 25 April 2021. Source: CJNG Social Media.[22]

• Documented vs. Undocumented Incidents: Questions exist as to whether some cartel weaponized drone incidents—such as seizures, interdictions, or possibly even attacks—have simply not been documented in publicly available news reports. New photos and other imagery have appeared that cannot be tied to documented incidents yet are said to be associated with the cartels. Quite possibly these simply relate to Salafi-Jihadi incidents taking place in the Middle East or are internet derived fakes and mislabeled, however, the imperative does exist for the GoM to suppress information related to the ongoing proliferation of cartel weaponized drone use as much as possible.[23]

Additionally, a few tactical elements of interest related to the incident and its implications are as follows:

• CJNG Night Vision Advantage Potentials: The incident took place at 0100 hours (1:00 AM) under moderate-to-limited visibility conditions—a first quarter moon setting at 0246 hours (02:46 AM) was in effect with 50% cloud cover.[24] To date, cartel weaponized cartel drones have been assumed—given the available hardware imagery—not to have had night vision (IR; infrared) capabilities added to them.[25] However, such a capability is relatively easy to add to drones[26] and, given the past instances of cartel nighttime drug smuggling (pre-dominantly) and ISR drone use, such modifications have to be accepted to have likely taken place. Such a night vision capability would give CJNG weaponized drones an advantage over Mexican security forces who do not typically have such capabilities organic to their units—military or otherwise.

SSP Michoacán Counter-UAS (C-UAS) Capability: No expectation exists that Mexican state and federal police forces would have counter-UAS capabilities or protocols in place as the cartel weaponized drone threat was, until this incident, a threat in name only. However, post-incident, this may begin to change with very basic countermeasures being implemented to small unit tactics.[27] Already, in one of the videos reviewed related to the conflict taking place in around Aguililla, a police officer can be seen standing in the back of a moving pickup truck covering the sky with his rifle presumably for C-UAS purposes as part of new force protection protocols.[28]

• Evolving Stand-Off Bomblet Use: At this point in time, the event still appears to have been a point detonation (i.e., kamikaze drone) type of attack—even though some reports consider it to have been based on IED bomblet(s).[29] Nevertheless, eventually crude bomblets of some sort—likely grenade (launched type) based with a tail fin assembly attachment—will start to appear. This will allow for drone reuse capabilities rather than their destruction via IED detonation in proximity of the target/or on impact with it. Additionally, this will allow for aerial bombardment of targets from higher air-ground-levels which are harder to defeat with small arms fires. Point detonation attacks, however, will still have their own unique tactical utility for precision targeting purposes.

Conclusion

The expectation by international security analysts tracking the cartel and gang-linked criminal insurgencies in Mexico is that weaponized drone (drones artillados) employment will continue into the foreseeable future and will likely proliferate. The Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) will—if past patterns hold true—most likely spearhead its use, however, Cárteles Unidos, Cártel de Sinaloa (CDS), and other cartels and their splintered factions are becoming increasingly aware of the tactical value of these systems. As a result, they will want to field their own capabilities, as has already taken place with .50 cal rifles, improvised armored fighting vehicles (IAFVs), and trenches/obstacles used to block avenues of approach into contested towns (or sections of towns) as a component of evolving narco urban and built-up area combat operations. Each additional documented incident is likely to present greater operational and technical sophistication. While operational security precludes complete disclosure of the technical specifications by Mexican officials, it can be expected that the cartels will continue to develop weaponized drones in pursuit of their goals.

Sources

2 to stand trial for making exploding drones in Mexico.” Mercury News. 24 April 2021, https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/04/24/2-to-stand-trial-for-making-exploding-drones-in-mexico/.

“El CJNG explotó un dron durante visita a Michoacán del Embajador del Vaticano; hirieron a 2 policías,” Sin Embargo. 20 April 2021, https://www.sinembargo.mx/20-04-2021/3965563.

“CJNG ‘trabaja desde el aire’: utiliza drones para vigilar en Guanajuato.” La Silla Rota. 21 April 2021, https://guanajuato.lasillarota.com/estados/cjng-trabaja-desde-el-aire-utiliza-drones-para-vigilar-en-guanajuato/509670.

“Drones explosivos de Aguililla, funcionaron mal: Sedena.” MoreliActiva. 21 April 2021, https://moreliactiva.com/drones-explosivos-de-aguililla-funcionaron-mal-sedena/.

“Liberan policías de Michoacán bloqueo carretero entre Aguililla y Apatzingán; los atacan con drones.” Aristegui Noticias. 20 April 2021, https://aristeguinoticias.com/2004/mexico/libera-ssp-michoacan-bloqueo-de-carretera-entre-aguililla-y-apatzingan/.

Jorge Monroy, “Uso de drones con explosivos, actos terroristas: SSP de Michoacán.” El Economista. 21 April 2021, https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/politica/Uso-de-drones-con-explosivos-actos-terroristas-SSP-de-Michoacan-20210421-0092.html.

“La Sedena confirma que el CJNG ha usado drones con explosivos en Michoacán y en Guanajuato.” Sin Embargo. 21 April 2021, https://www.sinembargo.mx/21-04-2021/3965937.

Mark Stevenson, “México: Cárteles atacan con drones cargados de explosivos.” Los Angeles Times. 21 April 2021, https://www.latimes.com/espanol/mexico/articulo/2021-04-21/mexico-carteles-atacan-con-drones-cargados-de-explosivos.

Significance: Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), Cárteles Unidos, Drones, Drones Artillados (armed or ‘gun drones’), Improvised Weaponized Drones, Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)

Endnotes

[1] In English, the title reads: “Michoacán police release road blockade between Aguililla and Apatzingán; they attack them with drones.” The text reads: “The Ministry of Public Security of Michoacán reported that police personnel released the road blockade on the Apaztingán-Aguililla section, which was practically isolated from said population, the place of origin of Nemesio Oceguera Cervantes, alias ‘El Mencho’, leader of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) and where this cartel maintains a dispute over the square with the United Cartels.”…“The police forces removed an armored vehicle weighing 14 tons that had to be cut to be able to be moved in pieces.”…“The operation was headed by the head of the SSP, Israel Patron Reyes, and began from the early hours of this Monday [19 April 2021].”…“Local media reported that later a CJNG cell attacked the state police deployed in the region with explosives sent in drones in the possession of El Aguaje, without the scope of these actions being known so far.”

[2] In English, the title reads: “The CJNG exploded a drone during the Vatican Ambassador's visit to Michoacán; 2 policemen were injured.” The text reads: “Hit men attacked police officers in the western Mexican state of Michoacán with an alleged drone with explosives, prior to the visit that Franco Coppola, apostolic nuncio in Mexico, will carry out in the area to talk with victims of drug trafficking.”…“The Government of Michoacán confirmed that two agents were injured in the attack, which occurred on Monday night in the town of El Aguaje, in the municipality of Aguililla, although the details of the incident were not disclosed.”…“Today at approx. 01:00 hours, an emergency call 911 was received, reporting an attack on Michoacán Police personnel, who were stationed in the vicinity of the communal house in the town of El Aguaje, in the Aguililla municipality.”…“As a result of said aggression, 2 police officers were injured, it is said that the damage caused by the attack was caused by an explosive device installed in a drone.”

[3] In English, the title reads: “Use of drones with explosives, terrorist acts: SSP of Michoacán.” The text reads: “The Secretary of Public Security of Michoacán, Israel Patron Reyes, confirmed the attack with drones on elements of the State Police in Aguililla, and said that proving the use of C4 explosives would be a terrorist act.”…“The C-4 or divergent ‘Composition C-4’ is a common variety of plastic explosive for military use, and is one of the explosives, after TNT, with more strength than those known to date.”…“‘Indeed, the Penal Code establishes some conduct that refers to the use of some explosives, in this case we have information that it could be explosive material known as C4. I believe that if these explosives are approved or proven to be used, they would undoubtedly fit into a criminal conduct that the Code itself indicates as terrorism,’ he stated.”…“In a press conference, the state security official also recognized that a criminal group, without mentioning the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) or the Unidos Cartel, has control of Aguililla.”

[4] In English, the title reads: “Mexico: Cartels attack with drones loaded with explosives.” The text reads: “Drug trafficking organizations in Mexico attacked police officers or soldiers with explosives-laden drones in at least three states in the country, Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval reported.”…“The Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) was responsible for some of the attacks, Sandoval said. He added that drones loaded with explosives have been used in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato and Michoacán.”...“The official indicated that the drone strikes ‘are of concern’, but have not been as effective as the cartels would like, because the relatively light devices cannot carry enough explosives to cause significant damage.”...“The authorities have not yet described in detail the devices used. Local media reported that the drones carried hand grenades, but photographs circulating on the internet show that they were carrying packages of explosive charges taped together.”...“This week’s attack occurred in El Aguaje, a town in the municipality of Aguililla, in Michoacán. The CJNG is fighting for control of that territory with a rival organization, the Nueva Familia Michoacana, which is also known as Los Viagras or United Cartels.”

[5] In English, the title reads: “Aguililla’s explosive drones malfunctioned: Sedena.” The text reads: “The drones with explosives that were used against the Michoacán Police in Aguililla did not work correctly, as their destructive capacity was negligible.” …“This was assured by the Secretary of National Defense, Luis Crescencio Sandoval González, who stressed that these devices can only carry small charges, so they are not capable of seriously damaging human life.” …“‘The drones are of concern, but they have not been effective, they have not been effective, they cannot carry amounts that are harmful to personnel or any facility, two left with injuries, in the arm and in the leg, that was all,’ he said.”

[6] In English, the title reads: “Sedena confirms that the CJNG has used drones with explosives in Michoacán and Guanajuato.” The text reads: “The head of the Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) confirmed this morning that the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) has used drones with explosives, but not only in Michoacán: also in Guanajuato and Jalisco. General Luis Cresencio Sandoval González said that although they are concerned, they do not seem to have much of an impact.”

[7] “Tapan unos, el crimen troza otros caminos, pero la Policía Michoacán seguirá en Aguililla, asegura Israel Patrón.” La Voz Michoacán. 21 April 2021, https://www.lavozdemichoacan.com.mx/michoacan/tapan-unos-el-crimen-troza-otros-caminos-pero-la-policia-michoacan-seguira-en-aguililla-asegura-israel-patron/.

[8] For images, see Briefing Slide 2 from Secretaría de Seguridad Pública de Michoacán (SSP Michoacán) Briefing on Drone Attack, Tuesday, 20 April 2021. Source: SSP Michoacán.

[9] See Daniel Weisz, “The Propaganda War of the CJNG and AMLO.” Small Wars Journal. 22 April 2021, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/propaganda-war-cjng-and-amlo.

[10] The SEDENA statement said “los drones” (multiple drones) were utilized in the attack. Octavio Ortiz García, “Drones explosivos de Aguililla, funcionaron mal: Sedena.” MoreliActiva. 21 April 2021, https://moreliactiva.com/drones-explosivos-de-aguililla-funcionaron-mal-sedena/. This report said two drones were involved in the attack. “Mexico cartel used explosive drones to attack police.” BBC News. 21 April 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-56814501

[11] New images from left to right: (1) What appears to be a folded DJI Mavic drone (background does not correspond to any known cartel weaponized drone incident), (2) C-4 (or similar type) explosives in plastic container with remote detonator on probable truck tailgate (may be linked to Tepalcatepec incident on 25 July 2020), and (3) Some sort of possible bomblet (does not correspond to any known cartel weaponized drone incident). From Briefing Slide 1 from the Secretaría de Seguridad Pública de Michoacán (SSP Michoacán) Briefing on Drone Attack, Tuesday, 20 April 2021. Source: SSP Michoacán.     

[12] Attributed to local media reports in Michoacán. Associated Press, “Mexican drug cartels use exploding drones to attack police, soldiers.” El Paso Press. 26 April 2021, https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/crime/2021/04/26/mexican-drug-cartels-use-explosive-drones-attack-police-soldiers/7384039002/. For instance, see “Con drones disparan y lanzan granadas contra policías en Aguililla, Michoacán.” Animal Politico. 22 April 2021, https://www.animalpolitico.com/2021/04/drones-lanzan-granadas-policias-aguililla-michoacan/. 

[13] Jocelyn Estrada, “Ataque contra policías en Aguililla fue con explosivos plásticos: SSP de Michoacán.” Milenio. 21 April 2021, https://www.milenio.com/estados/ataque-policias-aguililla-explosivos-plasticos-ssp.

[14] “Niegan Los CJNG El Uso De Drones Con Explosivos Video.” Valor Por Tamaulipas. 25 April 2021, https://www.valorportamaulipas.info/2021/04/niegan-los-cjng-el-uso-de-drones-con.html.

[15] This would be in line with the weaponized drone/IED design identified in the Tepalcatepec incident linked to CJNG taking place six-months earlier about 46 miles away from Arguililla. See Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, David A. Kuhn, and Alma Keshavarz, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #46: Weaponized Drones (Aerial Improvised Explosive Devices) Deployed by CJNG in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.” Small Wars Journal. 5 October 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/index.php/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-46-weaponized-drones-aerial-improvised-explosive-devices. Further, the type of light wounding to the SSP officers (one in the upper right arm and the other in the lower left leg) would appear to be more consistent with a basic shrapnel ball bearing fragmentation load than larger pipe bomb fragments or, for that matter, grenade fragments (dependent on the type of grenade utilized and other considerations).

[16] Given the strategic narrative competition between the GoM and CJNG, any opportunity to further villainize that cartel (even if not technically accurate) will likely be utilized. See Daniel Weisz, “The Propaganda War of the CJNG and AMLO.” Small Wars Journal. 22 April 2021, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/propaganda-war-cjng-and-amlo.

[17] Octavio Ortiz García, “Drones explosivos de Aguililla, funcionaron mal: Sedena.” MoreliActiva. 21 April 2021, https://moreliactiva.com/drones-explosivos-de-aguililla-funcionaron-mal-sedena/.

[18] The GoM briefing video can be accessed at #ConferenciaPresidente​ | Miércoles 21 de abril de 2021. YouTube. 21 April 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v9-b8EJhhIY.

[19] Op. Cit. See translation at note 5.  

[20] Benjamin Alva, “CJNG niega ataque con drones contra Policía Michoacán.” Contramuro. 25 April 2021, https://www.contramuro.com/cjng-niega-ataque-con-drones-contra-policia-michoacan/.

[21] Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #48: Video of CJNG Engagement of Autodefensa Mounted Infantry in IAFV in La Bocanda, Michoacán.” Small Wars Journal. 30 December 2021, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-48-video-cjng-engagement-autodefensa-mounted-infantry-iafv-la.

[22] For an English translation of the 2:19 minute CJNG video, see Sol Prendido, “Michoacán, Mexico: CJNG Denies Involvement in Drone Bomb Attack.” Borderland Beat. 25 April 2021, http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2021/04/michoacan-mexico-cjng-fuerzas.html. The contention that Cárteles Unidos was responsible for the attack is also discussed in “Los Drones Con Explosivos Serían De Carteles Unidos.” Valor Por Tamaulipas. 26 April 2021, https://www.valorportamaulipas.info/2021/04/los-drones-con-explosivos-serian-de.html.

[23] As an example, the Attorney General’s Office statement that the prosecution of two men linked to weaponized drone creation in Morelos and the Mexican Army statement that a weaponized drone incident took place in Jalisco have not been previously disclosed. Associated Press, “2 to stand trial for making exploding drones in Mexico.” Fox 5 KVVU-TV. 24 April 2021, https://www.fox5vegas.com/news/us_world_news/2-to-stand-trial-for-making-exploding-drones-in-mexico/article_afcf0ee5-c4bc-53c9-a4e8-c0eafd61a381.html.

[24] “Moon & Sun Times Calendar for Aguililla, Michoacan (MX)” for 20 April 2021. Solunar Forecast and Predictions. Accessed 26 April 2021, https://solunarforecast.com/hunting_fishing/moon_sun/calendar/mexico/michoacan/aguililla.  

[25] Still, even with such tactical advantage potentials existing, we do not know if the drone(s) involved in the attack were modified with night vision capability.

[26] See, for instance, Kalman Tihanyi, “How to Add Night Vision to Your Drones.” DroneBlog. 3 November 2020, https://www.droneblog.com/2020/11/03/how-to-add-night-vision-to-your-drones/.

[27] As an example of such developing protocols in the US Army, see Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System Techniques. ATP 3-01.81. Washington, DC: Headquarters US Army, https://rdl.train.army.mil/catalog-ws/view/100.ATSC/9B8B46D7-719C-4E15-A8FE-9F2C1E278B88-1492434973380/atp3_01x81.pdf.

[28] For the C-UAS/air defense imagery of the SSP police officer in the back of the pickup truck, see @adn40, “Policías asignados fueron atacados por presuntos integrantes del #CJNG en #Aguililla, dos de los policías resultaron lesionados.” Twitter. 21 April 2021, https://twitter.com/adn40/status/1384858137358782469. Time 0:06 in the video.

[29] “Niegan Los CJNG El Uso De Drones Con Explosivos Video.” Valor Por Tamaulipas. 25 April 2021, https://www.valorportamaulipas.info/2021/04/niegan-los-cjng-el-uso-de-drones-con.html.

 

Additional Reading

David Hambling, “Mexican Cartel Injures Police Officers With Drone Bomb Attack.” Forbes. 22 April 2021.

Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, David A. Kuhn, “Use of Weaponized Consumer Drones in Mexican Crime War.” Counter-IED Report.  Winter 2020-2021, pp. 69-77.

Robert J. Bunker, John P. Sullivan, David A. Kuhn, and Alma Keshavarz, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #46: Weaponized Drones (Aerial Improvised Explosive Devices) Deployed by CJNG in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán.Small Wars Journal. 5 October 2020.

About the Author(s)

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.   
 

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.