Libya-Bound Chinese War Drones Disguised As Wind Turbines Seized By Italy

Italian authorities recently seized Chinese-made drones bound for Libya disguised as wind turbine equipment.

On June 18, Italian customs officers, acting on intelligence from the United States, confiscated disassembled drone parts at the port of Gioia Tauro in Calabria. The components, including main drone assemblies, control stations, and ancillary gear, were disguised as wind turbine equipment packed alongside replica blades.

These drones were hidden within shipping containers on the MSC Arina, which had departed from Yantian, China, en route to Benghazi, Libya. Benghazi is controlled by military commander Khalifa Haftar. The intercepted cargo underscores the ongoing conflict in Libya, where an international arms embargo remains in place.

The seized drones, identified as Chinese-made Wing Loong I and II, are medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles similar to the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper. Developed primarily for surveillance, the Wing Loong series can also be equipped with air-to-ground weapons such as Blue Arrow-7 missiles. Although no weapons were found with the shipments, these drones’ capabilities made them significant assets in the Libyan Civil War.

Following the initial seizure, Italian investigators confiscated three more suspicious containers from another ship, the MSC Apolline, at the same port. The intercepted components of the two Wing Loong II UAVs were hidden in six containers shipped from China.

Officially released photos and videos reveal the extent of efforts to conceal the drones, with parts placed inside protective coverings mimicking those used for wind turbine blades. Reports suggest a deliberate attempt to disguise military equipment as civilian cargo, potentially involving forged documents.

The Chinese government’s involvement in this smuggling operation remains unclear. It’s possible that the equipment was sourced secondhand from other locations before shipment. The drones and other undisclosed arms were likely intended for General Haftar, leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA) in the country’s east. Haftar has maintained control since his attempt to take over the rest of Libya stalled in 2020 following intense conflict with the Government of National Unity (GNA).

Libya has been in turmoil since the 2011 NATO-supported uprising that ousted Muammar Gaddafi. With ongoing civil strife, the country is now divided between competing administrations in the East and West.

It is still uncertain what legal actions Italian prosecutors will pursue. However, this particular incident highlights the deceptive tactics used in modern arms smuggling and the continued instability in Libya.

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