China-made military drones similar to the MQ-9 Reaper were disguised as wind turbines in shipments to Libya: Italian officials

Italian officials uncover military drone parts disguised as wind turbine components.

Two military drones were seized by Italian authorities on their way from China to Libya.They were found in containers and disguised to look like wind turbine parts, Italian officials said.The Times reported that these were Wing Loong UAVs, which are made in China and often compared to the Reaper.

Italy has seized parts for two combat drones disguised as wind turbines in containers en route from China to Libya, customs and maritime authorities said on Tuesday.

Officials at the port of Gioia Tauro intercepted six containers marked as parts for wind-powered generators, which were actually filled with the fuselages and wings for military drones, the Financial Police said in a statement. The agency patrols Italy’s waters and is tasked with countering smuggling.

Investigators said the drone parts were hidden among materials made to look like wind turbine fan blades “with the aim of concealing the checks carried out.”

According to the Financial Police, the drones have a tonnage of more than 3 tons, with a length of over 32 feet and a wingspan of over 65 feet.

Footage of Italian authorities intercepting components of two Chinese Wing Loong II UAVs disguised as wind turbines that were heading to Libya.

— Clash Report (@clashreport) July 3, 2024

The Times of London reported on Sunday that Italian authorities had acted on intelligence from the US.

It wrote that three containers were impounded on June 18 from the ship MSC Arina and that officials were expecting another three to arrive over the weekend on the MSC Apolline.

Per the outlet, the drones were Wing Loong UAVs bound for Benghazi so they could be delivered to Libyan General Khalifa Haftar. The shipments included two control stations for the drones, per The Times.

The drone specifications listed by the Financial Guard, which did not name the drones in its statement, match those of the Wing Loong-2 listed by Chinese state media reports.

Italian officials stand next to drone parts disguised as wind turbines.

As a long-endurance and remotely controlled weapons platform, the Wing Loong-2 is often compared to the US-made MQ-9 Reaper, though its maximum speed and altitude are inferior to the latter.

When it was introduced in 2017, China’s state media lauded it as a sign that Beijing was the first to match the US in a “new generation of large-scale reconnaissance and strike integrated UAVs.”

Neither The Times nor the Financial Guard mentioned whether the Chinese government was involved.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent by Business Insider.

Italian authorities also did not say if the shipment contained munitions for the drones. They added that the seized shipment likely violates a long-standing United Nations embargo on weapons to and from Libya.

Haftar’s faction, the Libyan National Army, is based in eastern Libya and attempted to overthrow the country’s internationally recognized government in 2020.

A former officer in Muammar Gaddafi’s administration, he’s forged close ties with Russia, and Moscow has promised to support his military as he extends control over much of Libya.

The use of the Wing Loong-2 was reported in Libya before this seizure. The United Nations found that in 2019, the drone was likely used by Haftar’s forces in an attack on the suburbs of Tripoli.

The UN report and a BBC investigation found that Wing Loong-2 drones were likely supplied by the United Arab Emirates, which has long been accused of backing Haftar.

In April, two Libyan men were charged in Canada with conspiring to sell Chinese-made drones to Libya in exchange for oil between 2018 and 2021.

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