According to reports, Italian authorities intercepted and seized a Chinese military drone at the port of Gioia Tauro in southern Italy. The drones were headed for Libya.

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According to the Times, the seizure took place on June 18, when authorities seized three containers filled with Wing Lung’s unmanned aircraft systems. The containers were unloaded from the cargo ship MSC Arena from China.

The shipment, falsely labeled as parts for wind turbines, included drones as well as two control stations. The UAVs were reportedly intended to transport General Khalifa Haftar, who controls the eastern part of the country, to the Libyan city of Benghazi.

The operation was reportedly launched following a tip-off from the US. The interception and seizure of the drones is a violation of the UN arms embargo on Libya.

The embargo, along with the ban on purchases of Libyan oil, is intended to prevent further destabilization of the already fragile political landscape in Libya.

Wing Long
Wing Long 1E Photo: Courtesy of AVIC

Since the fall of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been mired in conflict, with the country effectively divided into eastern and western factions. Each faction has its own administration and armed forces, and both sides have increasingly incorporated drones into their military operations.

The containers, which are now in custody, will likely undergo further scrutiny as investigators determine the full extent of the network responsible for shipping the weapon.

The operation comes two months after two former UN employees in Canada. accused of Along with participating in a plot to sell Chinese-made drones and other military equipment to Libya.

Fathi bin Ahmed Mahaouk, 61, and Mahmoud Mohammed al-Saway, 37, were accused of conspiring to obtain Chinese drones for Haftar in exchange for oil shipments from Libya.

Canadian police revealed that part of the plot took place during his tenure at the United Nations, during which his employment granted him practical diplomatic immunity.

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Chinese and Turkish drones intervene in Libya

Air power has been critical in the Libyan conflict, involving forces led by the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA). Both factions operate old French and Soviet-era fighter jets, which are often inefficient and inadequately maintained.

While manned fighter jets have seen action, a major role in air warfare has been played by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.

In 2020 alone, nearly 1,000 airstrikes were carried out using UAVs, led by the UN Special Representative in Libya, Ghassan Salameh. Label it “World’s Biggest Drone War.”

UAVs offer several strategic advantages. They gather vital intelligence from long distances and carry out strikes with a higher success rate than manned aircraft. If a drone is lost in combat, its pilot is safe and can quickly begin another mission.

Chinese-made drones were introduced in 2016, signaling a significant advance in the military capabilities of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).

File:PAF features TB2.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Bayraktar TB2 – Wikimedia Commons

The drones, supplied by the UAE, have a combat range of up to 1,500 kilometers (932 miles), allowing for precision strikes across Libya. His deployment proved decisive during the Battle of Darna, which turned the Mujahideen against the Shura Council.

During the 2019 assault on Tripoli by General Haftar’s forces, Wing Long drones played a key role in pushing GNA forces into a defensive perimeter around the capital.

The escalation prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to increase military support for the GNA, which introduced Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones.

While smaller than the Wing Long and with a shorter range, the Bayraktar TB2 effectively targeted LNA ground forces, disrupted supply lines, and attacked already protected air bases.

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The various capabilities of these UAVs underline their strategic roles. The Wing Long II, with its excellent cruising altitude, extended range, large payload, and high speed, provides LNA with wider mission flexibility, including long-range strikes and reconnaissance.

In contrast, the Bayraktar TB2, despite its limitations in range and payload, serves the GNA’s needs by disrupting enemy logistics and conducting localized strikes.

The use of UAVs has not only reshaped the dynamics of the Libyan conflict, but also highlighted the evolving nature of modern warfare. Their accuracy, operational flexibility, and cost-effectiveness make them indispensable assets in strategic operations, influencing ground tactical outcomes.



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