Drones fly ‘drop bombs’, seek the sky from Myanmar’s junta

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A squad of Myanmar pro-democracy fighters works quickly to ready drones for an attack on a nearby military base, the latest target in a wave of aerial assaults that has helped turn the war against the junta. The team stood back as one contraption named “Bomber VIII” carrying a new 6kg explosive soared over a line of trees.
“The military position is four kilometres away from us,” said Soe Thuya Zaw, the drone unit’s leader, as he punched coordinates into a map on his phone. “It is within our reach.” Minutes later the drones had reached the position and at the push of a button released their “drop bombs” over the target. The team counted two blasts. One had failed to detonate, but all three drones returned safely.
Opponents of Myanmar’s junta use such attacks to challenge the military’s dominance of the skies through its Russian-and Chinese-built jets and helicopters. “While military pilots are flying fighter jets themselves and attacking us, we are also trying to conquer the sky of the battlefield,” said Soe Thuya Zaw of the “Mandalay People’s Defence Force”. He said his group’s drone operations were entirely “the creations of our generation Z”.
Myanmar’s junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has admitted the drone barrages have forced the military to retreat from its positions. An alliance of ethnic minority armed groups had used 25,000 “drop bombs” in their recent offensive, he said in November.
Ahead of the launch, Soe Thuya Zaw admitted the range of their drones is limited, making every attack risky. “We are in the red zone and the military can hit us any time.” But in recent weeks waves of “drop bomb” attacks across Myanmar have displaced junta troops from positions, hit domestic airports and killed a brigadier-general near the China border.
At one workshop hidden in the hills of northern Shan state diesel generators splutter alongside power tools, coils of wire and stacks of plastic piping. Gunpowder cooks in a pan over a log fire. It will later be poured into plastic shells that will be filled in with deadly shrapnel.
The Mandalay PDF drone unit was started by two engineering students and now has more than 50 members, said Soe Thuya Zaw. The group uses 3D printers to produce prototype “drop bomb” shells which are filled with non-explosive materials and launched from drones in test missions. Contact fuses – which detonate the charge on impact – are checked by being dropped from trees. Women make up around a third of the Mandalay drone unit.


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