Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Operadores Droneros, Inside CJNG's 'Air Force' Unit

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat

The Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) has been at the forefront of cartel drone usage since at least late 2017 with an ever-increasing use of these systems for ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), propaganda, and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks.

Recent imagery suggests that CJNG has now created a specialized “Operadores Droneros” (Drone Operators) unit as evidenced by a patch worn on their uniforms.

This unit patch may have appeared as early as November 2021 in CJNG-related videos but had not been previously identified due to the low-quality resolution of the videos.

The CJNG began weaponizing commercial drones more than four years ago, according to researchers and Mexican authorities. The creation of specialized drone units, however, indicates that the cartel is shifting its drone operations into high gear.

The group is mostly dedicated to finding and attacking rival cartels like Los Viagras, Knights Templar in Michoacán, and the Sinaloa Cartel in Jalisco, the cartel operator said. “It depends on which drone we use, but we can be miles away and confirm that they [rivals] are at a certain house or vehicle and then crash the drone with the explosives,” he said.

Federal authorities pulled over the stolen SUV just after dawn on October 20, 2019, along Highway 43D near the town of Salamanca in Mexico’s central Guanajuato state.

An aerial drone was discovered alongside an AK-47 in the rear cargo bay and was armed and ready to be deployed. The 3DR Solo Quadcopter carried a shrapnel-filled IED that was in turn rigged to detonate by remote control. It was the first time a weaponized Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) had been found in the hands of an organized crime group in Mexico.

Drone Unit Patch

The group has even come up with its own patch to distinguish itself among the ranks of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, according to researchers at C/O Futures. It consists of an image of a quadcopter drone and the face of a skull at the center. The patch has the CJNG letters at the bottom and the words “Operadores Droneros” at the top.

The group is allegedly composed of a dozen men and currently operates only in Michoacán and Jalisco states, according to the cartel operator. “The Operadores Droneros is still a new and not widespread group inside the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, but that doesn’t mean it is harmless; they have enough power to focus our attention on them,” a Mexican intelligence official inside Mexico’s army told The Daily Beast requesting to remain anonymous. A Mexican state policeman operating in the state of Michoacán also confirmed the existence of the drone operators working within the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

The drones used by the cartel are mostly produced in China and bought online through retail platforms like Amazon or eBay. Once in the hands of the cartel henchmen, they manipulate them to carry a load of makeshift explosives including potassium perchlorate and aluminum, among other ingredients, according to the cartel operative.

“Then we add some shrapnel like buckshot and nails to add more damage,” he said.

In a video purportedly taken from inside the Operadores Droneros unit in Michoacán, one can be seen stuffing explosive charges inside plastic bottles. The footage shows some nails and buckshot, and a DJI commercial drone (which looks to be a DJI Mini) in the back of a pick-up truck.

The video was allegedly recorded a few hours before an attack against the Knights Templar in the small village of -, Michoacán, according to multiple sources inside the CJNG.

Operadores Droneros Training

“We began training as a group in 2021, but only this year we started operating,” a Jalisco Cartel New Generation member of the Operadores Droneros (Drone Operators), told The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity.

The drone operations unit of the Jalisco cartel was first trained by “Americans and a Colombian man” who showed them how to source, fly, and detonate a commercial drone, according to the cartel source.

“A gringo [American] showed us how to make our own explosives since sourcing a real plastic explosive could be too attention-grabbing. And the Colombian showed us how to drive and maneuver a drone,” he said.

CJNG Drone Attacks

Explosive drones have been some of the most lethal weapons used by cartels against Mexican authorities. That was made all too clear in November 2022, when a convoy from the Mexican military was attacked with explosive drones from the Jalisco New Generation Cartel as they approached the small town of Tepalcatepec in Michoacán. Four were killed and six others were injured in the incident, according to news reports.

Between 2021 and August this year, the Mexican army seized 23 weaponized drones, mostly in the central states of Michoacán, Guerrero, and Jalisco—all states where the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is very active—according to official figures from the Mexican army.

“The significance of the institutionalization of weaponized aerial drones by criminal armed groups... can as a result present a more profound threat to the state and its security forces,” John P. Sullivan, a researcher at C/O Futures, told The Daily Beast. “Future potentials might include targeting law enforcement and customs and border patrol officials on the frontier,” Sullivan said.

Counter Attack Methods 

As various cartels have been targeting each other with this weaponry the expectation exists that dedicated counter-drone capabilities, beyond small arms fires, would start to appear in their arsenals.

While no proclamation from CJNG exists related to counter-unmanned aerial systems (CUAS) being possessed by that cartel, imagery is beginning to appear—from an indications & warning (I&W) perspective—that they are now being sporadically fielded.

Drone Export Restrictions & Penalties

Last week, China also admitted that most of the civilian drones used by criminal organizations and the military were manufactured in that country and announced a series of sanctions and restrictions on exports starting this week.

China imposed restrictions last week on exports of long-range civilian drones, citing Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern that drones might be converted to military use. DJI Technology Co., one of the global industry’s top competitors, announced in April 2022 it was pulling out of Russia and Ukraine to prevent its drones from being used in combat. Restrictions will apply to drones that can fly beyond the natural sight distance of operators or stay aloft for more than 30 minutes, have attachments that can throw objects, and weigh more than 7 kilograms (15½ pounds), according to the ministry.

Earlier this month, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador submitted a new legislative proposal that would equip Mexican law enforcement with anti-drone technology. The presidential initiative modifies provisions of the Federal Criminal Code and the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives, and contains aggravating factors for crimes committed against people or property through the use of these devices identified as "remotely piloted aircraft."

Among the sanctions provided for the use of drones by criminal organizations or for criminal purposes is the modification to Article 139 of the Federal Penal Code. This indicates that a prison sentence of 15 to 40 years and fines of more than 124 thousand pesos will be imposed on anyone who uses remotely piloted aircraft to commit behaviors for which toxic substances, chemical, biological or similar weapons are used as well as possible terrorist acts. Prison of 10 to 20 years is also provided for other crimes committed with the use of drones, whether it is to drop explosives or improvised explosive devices or weapons; as well as chemicals.

But the export restrictions and the proposal of a new law in Mexico could mean nothing for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. “ It is not like we will stop. We are fighting a war.”

“We understand they [Mexico and Chinese governments] have to do something, but honestly, it is not like we will stop. We are fighting a war, even if they don’t want to admit it. This is a war and we will source our weapons from wherever we can,” the cartel operative said.

Sources C/O Futures, C/O FuturesDaily Beast, Twitter, AP News, Infobae


  1. Damn, when is Almo going to wake up and unleash his military and US help to destroy cartels?

    1. This is going to make them terrorist and will be taken out. Just wait and you will see.

    2. @749 — if everything they’ve done until now doesn’t qualify as terrorism, then I really don’t know what else does…

  2. Tan pesadas las 4 letras brgaas alla en zacoalco de torres jalisco pal rumbo de ciudad guzman .. toda la gente del gringo Acevedo que matron ay en Zacoalco en 2015 cuando el mencho se vengo y mato a los 15 fuerza unicas

    1. Wow, do you know how to apply for the new position…. The Operadores Droneros is still a new and not widespread group inside the Jalisco New Generation Cartel

  3. Word on the street is Mencho recruited El Senor Sicario 006 to head up FEM Operadores Droneros. Chaputos losing their people because Maruchan doesn't pay the bills. MZ is struggling tambien because the Moroccans in Abu Dabi won't pay

  4. You guys make these drone operators sound way scarier than they actually are. Just to clarify some things, the four people killed and the six people injured didn’t come from one ambush by CJNG on a military convoy. These deaths and injuries all happened as a result of multiple different battles within a span of two days. These separate battles were incursions from CJNG convoys trying to enter a municipal and law enforcement trying to prevent CJNG from entering. The four people killed were villagers caught in the crossfire and the six people injured were soldiers. Guns and drones were used by CJNG, but I don’t think it was revealed how many of these deaths or injuries were caused by direct gunfire and how many were caused by the actual drones. This information isn’t coming from me. This information is coming from the source that was used and provided by the Daily Beast.

    1. 4:11 - I just checked the video provided by the daily beast and you are correct. Once again, the daily beast is unreliable. The source that the daily beast provided literally says within like the first 30 seconds of the video that 4 villagers were killed and 6 soldiers were injured over a span of two days. But of course, they word in a way to make it seem like all these injuries and deaths came from just one attack from CJNG on a military convoy. Like you said, got to make them look scarier than what they actually are. Thank you for bringing this up.

    2. 8:38 MENCHO/CJNG sells

  5. Oops, senior moment, make that great post Socalj..
    Hearst is always on my mind..

  6. Damn, to collect patches from Mexico, now that’s a deployment

  7. CJNG moves like a military with different branches .
    They have Special Operations and Drone Operations .I am sure they have an Inteligence Operators , Medical ,and Cyber Warfare Operators too.

    1. Don't forget special operadores foqueros.

  8. Like all drone operators, who knows how many innocents they killed…

  9. 8.19 you could see the videos online they know exactly who they attack i dont think there that powerfull.. It's not like Military drone were they explode take out a whole house. Or half a neighborhood

  10. They got their inspiration from Malcolm Moriarty


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