Exclusive: Chinese-made drone, retrofitted and weaponized, downed in eastern Ukraine
Thursday, 16 March, 2023, 18:36
Driving deep into the forest, the hush between the towering pine trees and the clear blue skies was splintered every few seconds by the sound of distant explosions from the frontline battles for eastern Ukraine.
Guiding us through the woodland on foot, Ukrainian soldiers eventually brought us to a clearing where they showed us the wreckage of a weaponized drone which they said they shot down with their AK-47 automatic weapons over the weekend.
The drone was a Mugin-5, a commercial unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made by a Chinese manufacturer based in the port city of Xiamen, on China’s eastern coast.
Some tech bloggers say the machines are known as “Alibaba drones” as they have been available for sale for up to $15,000 on Chinese marketplace websites including Alibaba and Taobao.
Mugin Limited confirmed to CNN that it was their airframe, calling the incident “deeply unfortunate.”
It’s the latest example of a civilian drone being retrofitted and weaponized since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a sign of the rapidly shifting patterns of warfare.
“Along the frontlines, basically all the time we’re conducting aerial reconnaissance,” said Maksim, a 35-year-old territorial defense fighter who wanted to go only by his first name.
The SBU then raised the alarm with military units based in eastern Ukraine, near the city of Sloviansk.
At around 2 a.m. Saturday, fighters from the 111th Brigade of the Territorial Defense Forces of Ukraine heard the drone overhead, and even saw a light blinking on the aircraft.
“From the sound, from the signal light, the troops fired a lot at it and knocked down the UAV,” Maksim said.
Maksim said the UAV was flying at very low altitude – close enough to bring it down with hand-held weapons.
Now lying on the forest floor, a bullet hole was visible on the nose of the machine, which had broken apart and sustained significant damage.
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