Mexican Combat Aircraft and Air Defense Systems from 1945 to Present Day
An special colaboration by Ronnie Serrano
Two Northrop F-5E Tiger II’s of the 401st Air Defense Squadron flying over Mexico City. As of now, the F-5E/F Tiger II’s are the Mexican Air Force sole fighter and attack jet since the AT-33A Shooting Stars were withdrawn from service in 2008. (Photo & Credit goes to Jose Antonio Quevedo) Introduction: While the Royal Canadian Air Force and United States Air Force alongside other Latin American Air Forces combat aircraft is getting a lot talk most of the time. However, the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana and the Fuerza Aerea Naval is still of a mystery even to this day since the Mexican government, SEDENA, and SEMAR keeps a tight lid about their capability, forces, and even their history. Lately though, the Mexican Air Force and Navy has been getting into spotlight since the Chiapas War in the mid-1990’s and more recently the ongoing Drug War in Mexico. However, I’m going to cover this article about their combat aircraft and air defense systems from the 1945 up till the present day.
One of the most famous and well known fighter planes to serve with the Mexican Air Force in World War II. The Republic P-47D Thunderbolts served with the 201st Fighter Squadron in Mexican Expeditionary Air Force in which they attack a number of Japanese targets in Philippines and Taiwan during the war. FAM received over 70 P-47D Thunderbolts during and after the war in which they served until 1959. (Photo & Credits goes to FAM or Mexican Air Force) Post War and a Downhill Slide: 1945-1958 After World War II, the Mexican Air Force had a large number of combat aircraft like the Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan, North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell’s, North American Aviation A/T-6 Texans, Douglas A-24B Dauntless, and the Republic P-47D Thunderbolts that were received from the United States during the war. In 1947, the Mexican Air Force had gotten a few more war surplus combat aircraft like the P-47D and A-24B for example when Mexico signed the Rio Treaty. However, as the 1950’s rolled in, the Mexican Air Force combat fleet was falling in a state of disrepair and obsolescent with only a very few F-47D’s and A-24B’s were only operational at the time and relying on the A/T-6 Texans which FAM still had a large numbers of the type. Despite this, SEDENA did a small recovery act to bring back some aircraft into service such as the A-24B, T-6 Texan, F-47, and other aircraft in 1956, but the B-25’s were retired from service.
A rare photo of North American B-25J Mitchell in which FAM gotten three of them in World War II, but never saw action though in the war though. The B-25’s did continue to serve with the Mexican Air Force until the mid-1950’s due to its obsolescent and lack of spare parts. (Photo & Credits goes to FAM or Mexican Air Force) In 1958, FAM bought a few North American Aviation T-28 Trojans to replace some older aircraft like the A-24B and the older model T-6 trainers in both trainer and attack roles. While that same year, the Mexican Air Force hierarchy was becoming increasing concern with their aging or grounded fleet of aircraft and helicopters like the P-47D that slated to retire that same year. FAM officials wanted to increase the budget, while at the same time; there were talks about separating FAM from the Mexican Army control and becoming an independent branch. Even though SEDENA (which is the Mexican Army and Air Force) agreed to increase budget, but didn’t agree on a separate branch though. Another problem is that the Mexican government didn’t see any reason to spend any money on the air force let alone the military since they see no threat from other nations and considered them “Brothers”. Nonetheless, this mentality was soon about to change in no time. Wake Up Call: 1958-1959 On December 31, 1958, two P-51D Mustangs of the Guatemalan Air Force attacked a few Mexican fishing boats that were twelve miles off of Mexico. Three Mexican fishermen were killed and fourteen others were injured from the attack in which they were arrested by interrogated by Guatemalan officials. The area though where the fishing boats was highly disputed between Mexico and Guatemala for a last few years definitely after Mexico extended their coastline from three miles to twelve miles. Other issues that the Guatemalan President Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes also had disputes with Mexico over illegal logging, weapons smuggling, and even claims that Mexico was working with Belize to attack Guatemala. The attack wasn’t good news at all for Mexico and the newly elected Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos who put the Mexican military on high alert.
Beechcraft AT-11 Kansan which served as a light bomber and small transport aircraft for FAM. The Kansan was put on alert status for a possible retaliatory strike against Guatemala in 1959. (Photo & Credits goes to FAM or Mexican Air Force) Maj. General Alfonso Cruz Rivera of the Mexican Air Force was planning to attack La Aurora Air Base near Guatemala City, Guatemala which housed the Guatemalan Air Force P-51D Mustangs and other military aircraft based there. The attack squadron would be using three surviving P-47D Thunderbolts for air superiority, T-28 Trojans and AT-6 Texans for attack missions, along with a C-47 Dakota which acted as airborne command post to watch over the attack group. In 1959, the P-47D’s, AT-6’s, and T-28’s were loaded with machine guns, rockets, and napalm bombs with support from the C-47 and took off from Tuxtla for the attack mission against La Aurora air base in Guatemala City. Once they’ve crossed into Guatemalan airspace, the strike force dropped to eighty feet to avoid being spotted by Guatemalan Air Force radar systems. The Mexican Air Force strike package was very close to La Aurora and were about to attack the base, but before they could attack the base, a message came in from the C-47 via FAM officials to strike force to abort the mission. This wasn’t welcoming news for the strike force and they had to turn back to base in Mexico in disappointment. Nevertheless, the Mexican warplanes did patrol the border in case the Guatemalan Air Force did try a similar attack on Mexican bases, cities, or towns. FAM aircraft also did “mock” attack runs on Guatemalan Army troops as a warning too. In August 1959, the dispute came to a close with Mexican and Guatemalan political officials working with ICC over the exclusive economic zone or EEZ and other issues which started the dispute anyway. Despite the fact, the dispute showed a lot of holes for the Mexican Air Force definitely when it came to obsolete or grounded aircraft due to lack of spares.
Entering service in 1958, the North American Aviation T-28 Trojan was one of the newest aircraft in the Mexican Air Force service at the time. T-28’s along with the AT-6 which were armed with bombs, napalm, rockets, and machines guns while the P-47D’s flew top cover for the strike package. The primary mission was to attack La Aurora Air Base near Guatemala City which they’ve housed the F-51D Mustang that was responsible for attack against the Mexican fishing boats. However, before they could drop their payload, the mission was terminated at the last minute. (Photo & Credits goes to FAM or Mexican Air Force) Lessons Learned: 1960-1973 In 1957, Maj. General Alfonso Cruz Rivera was doing some touring of USAF, RCAF, and other Latin American countries air force bases and was evaluating a number of jet fighters and trainers most nobly the Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Star. However, they couldn’t afford these new fighters and trainers because budget issues and a lack of threats from other nations. But that was going to change after the Mexican-Guatemalan dispute in 1958-1959 in which the Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos increase the budget for the Mexican military to afford newer military equipment like jet fighters. Maj. General Alfonso Cruz Rivera also brought in Roberto Fierro and Luis Farell Cubillas who was a legendary Mexican Air Force pilot who fought in a few Mexican internal wars like the Cristero War and the Yaqui Campaign during the late-1920’s and early-1930’s and trained pilots during those conflicts and World War II.
Due to the help from the Farell and Ferrio, FAM bought fifteen ex-RCAF de Havilland Vampire MK.3 fighters that were delivered in 1960 which were based in Santa Lucia with the 200th Fighter Squadron. The Vampire became the first fighter jet to enter service with the Mexican Air Force and was also joined by the Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars. (Photo & Credit goes to FAM or Mexican Air Force) Both Farell and Fierro spearheaded the purchase of twelve ex-Royal Canadian Air Force de Havilland Vampire MK.3 single seat fighters and three Vampire T.MK.11 two-seat trainers and fifteen former USAF Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars in 1961. This right here gave FAM a massive boost in airpower and replaced their obsolete and retired aircraft like the P-47D Thunderbolt for example. The new jet fighters were shown during the Mexican Independence Day Parade in 1962 in which the crowd were cheering and awed by the performance.
Three Mexican Air Force Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars flying in formation during a training mission near a mountain range in 1972. The Shooting Star alongside the Vampire MK.3 was bought in 1960 right after the Mexican/Guatemalan Crisis in 1959 and entered service 1961. (Photo & Credit goes to FAM or Mexican Air Force) During the 1960’s, a number of peasants and leftist rebels in southern and even some northern parts of Mexico were attacked by Mexican Air Force attack aircraft such as the T-28 Trojan which was part of the Mexico’s “Dirty War” campaign by the Mexican government and military. However, those reports are so far are unclear and disputed, but neither was denied or confirmed though by Mexican government at the time. Around the same period, FAM increased their combat aircraft fleet with additional AT-33A’s and T-28’s which would base in Mexico City, Merida, Ixtepec, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and other bases in Mexico. In the late-1960’s, the Mexican military once again headed into a slowdown period due to the economic downturn going on in the country in which fewer equipment and aircraft were bought during the time. Even despite slowdown, a deal was sign for sixteen IAI 201 Arava multirole transports from Israel which also had COIN capability in 1973. The Golden Age: 1974-1980 With problems going on in the Middle East definitely after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and oil embargoes placed Arab nations, Mexico started to boost their oil production to the United States, Europe, and other nations around the world. This turn right there helped boost the Mexican economy along with modernization plans in which included the Mexican military too. While the Mexican Air Force was mostly getting their military aircraft from the United States, this was about to change when FAM started to buy a number of trainers, transports, and helicopters from France, Israel, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Around the early part of the 1970’s, FAM retired their obsolete de Havilland Vampires from service in which left the AT-33A Shooting Stars as their only jet fighter/trainer in service. SEDENA initiated a requirement for a new supersonic fighter and interceptor for the Mexican Air Force to protect Mexican airspace from external threats and to supplement their AT-33A fleet. In mid-1970’s, FAM bought another batch unknown numbers of AT-33A’s to make up the shortfall from their retired Vampires while at the same time, Mexico was looking at new fighters. The news fighters that FAM was interested were the French made Dassault Mirage F-1, Israeli made Israel Aircraft Industries or IAI Kfir C.2 and the U.S made Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II which fit the bill for their air force. So, in 1978, the Mexican Air Force chose the IAI Kfir C.2 in which they’ve ordered twenty-six Kfir C.2/TC.2’s with a proposed license deal to make the Kfir in Mexico and possibly for other foreign air forces.
One of the biggest buys in the “Golden Age” of Mexican military procurement was the Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer. Totaling up to 88 airframes, the PC-7 began its service with FAM in advanced training and COIN roles, multiplied into what it became a “Jack of all trades” aircraft in its later years. (Photo & Credit goes to Mariano Garcia Rodriguez) Later that year, FAM ordered twelve Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainers from Switzerland for training and counter-insurgency or COIN role. In 1979, the Carter Administration vetoed the Mexican Kfir deal over the use of the General Electric J79 engines which the United States considered “high tech” in which a few American allies at the time were allowed access to the engine. Despite these hurdles, FAM decided to order the twenty-four Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II for their service in which they will based in Santa Lucia Air Base near Mexico City for air defense and interception roles. In the early-1980, SEDENA ordered another seventy-six PC-7 Turbo Trainers (which was the largest PC-7 order at the time) to finally replace their World War II vintage AT-6 Texans and the T-28 Trojans which were obsolete along with being grounded most of the time due to lack of spare parts. During the same period, the Mexican Air Force was interested in the new Dassault Alpha Jet and Vought LTV was also offering the A-7 Corsair II to Mexico for attack and strike roles. Nevertheless, the golden age was coming to a close.
An FAM F-5E Tiger II (nu. 4507) of the 401st Air Defense Squadron alongside with an EMB-145MP (P-99) of the Aerial Surveillance Squadron in the background. After the cancellation of the IAI Kfir C.2 due to political pressure, the Mexican Air Force decided to go with the Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II’s in which 24 (later dropped down to 12 due budget constraints) were ordered in 1981. The Tiger II’s brought the Mexican Air Force into the supersonic age. (Photo & Credit goes to Mariano Garcia Rodriguez) Slow Down: 1981-1993 In 1981, the Mexican economy once again fell into recession in which a lot projects in Mexico were slow or canceled altogether. The Mexican military gotten hit the worst in which a number of military equipment and aircraft from foreign or indigenous were cutback or canceled altogether too. The Mexican Air Force was one of these branches that gotten hit hard by the recession in which they dropped their proposals for ordering the A-7 Corsair II, Alpha Jet, and other aircraft that they were looking to buy and order. Also, the Northrop F-5 deal was also cut from twenty-four down to twelve because of the budget shortfall from the economy. However, some of the FAM purchases did made it through the budget shortfall unscathed like the large order of PC-7’s for example which were also needed badly though. Nonetheless, the first F-5 fighters landed at Santa Lucia Air Base in 1982 in which brought the Mexican Air Force to the supersonic era! In mid-1980’s, FAM was finally phasing out last of their AT-6’s and T-28’s and the new PC-7’s were taking they’re places. While some of the PC-7’s are use in pure training role and based at Zapopan, the others are use in training, COIN, and somewhat interception roles. Nevertheless, in 1986, FAM was looking to buy 18 Northrop F-20 Tigersharks to complement their F-5E/F fleet. But sadly it never came to fruition mostly due to economic and political reasoning. In 1988, Mexican Air Force ordered their last batch of unknown number of AT-33A’s from the United States to help out with advanced training, attack, and interception roles for the F-5 fleet. In the early part of the 1990’s, the Mexican economy was slowly getting better, but another threat started too loomed from within Mexico.
Two Fuerza Aerea Mexicana F-5E Tigers part of the 401st Air Defense Squadron flying in formation somewhere in Mexico in 1990. (Photo & Credit goes to FAM or Mexican Air Force) Chiapas War: 1994 While Mexico was recovery from the worst financial crisis in history, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari along with U.S President George W. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney signed NAFTA in 1992. However, NAFTA was delayed due to both U.S and Canadian elections in which the new U.S President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Jean Chretien approved NAFTA in 1994. While the NAFTA was very much controversial in United States and Canada, it was super hated in Mexico in which Article 27 in the Mexican Constitution which protected Mexican land owners from businesses and private enterprises was removed because it didn’t fit into NAFTA proposals.
While this picture was taken sometime in the 1980’s, these same PC-7’s armed with rocket pods and machine gun pods which were used in the controversial 12 day conflict in Chiapas in 1994. The PC-7’s along with helicopter gunships like the MD-530, UH-60A Blackhawk, Bell 212 Huey, and reports of the IAI Arava were used to attack EZLN rebel strongholds in Chiapas and providing close air support to the Mexican Army on the ground during the conflict. (Frank Sparrow Photo Collection) The first day it was signed into law, a group called the Zapatista Army of National Liberation or better known as EZLN which is left wing group based out of Chiapas who supports the Mexican and Indigenous Indian rights and their lands took over several towns and block entrances from state and federal officials. President Salinas ordered the Mexican military and Federal units into Chiapas in which troops, armored vehicles, and helicopters were sent there to quell the violence. While the Chiapas Conflict was regarded as the “Mexican Helicopter War”, it wasn’t long before the Mexican Air Force started to use the PC-7 and also reports that the IAI Arava in attack roles. The PC-7’s, Aravas, along with MD-530’s and UH-60’s which were purchase from the United States was used close air support (CAS) in protecting the troops and attack EZLN positions in Chiapas with rockets, gun pods, and bombs. The conflict lasted till January 12th when the ceasefire was sign along with EZLN rebels being defeated too. While this conflict was getting world attention, it wasn’t long before some nations put an embargo on Mexico on military weapon systems. Switzerland who has been Mexico big supplier of military weapons put an embargo on PC-7 parts and even canceled the order for forty-eight new PC-9’s that FAM placed a year earlier after learning that their PC-7’s that they sold Mexico in the late-1970’s were being used to attack rebels. This embargo started to slowly hurt the Mexican Air Force PC-7 fleet in which some of them were withdrawn and cannibalized for spares. Proposals that went Nowhere: 1995-2005 After the Chiapas conflict, SEDENA and SEMAR started to more attention on helicopters, transport aircraft, and small reconnaissance aircraft which became more important for the Mexican military. Even despite the successful use of the PC-7’s and Aravas during the conflict, but plans to acquire additional combat aircraft have taken a backseat. While this seem like the case, but it wasn’t the case since FAM was looking at replacing their older AT-33A Shooting Stars and complement their F-5E/F Tiger II’s. FAM started to show interest in the Argentine made FMA IA-63 Pampa advanced trainer and light combat aircraft, but they were ordered for reasons unknown. After the Chiapas War, SEDENA found some nations like Switzerland and the United States placing embargoes and were denied certain equipment and so they’ve decided to look towards the Eastern Bloc nations like Russia and Ukraine for military equipment which cheaper and less political hassle compared to their Western counterparts. So in 1998, Mexico was showing interest in the Aero L-39 Albatros, Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum, and the Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot from Ukraine and Russia, but this to fell through due to cost and maintainability of the aircraft. Later that year, Switzerland removed the arms embargo in which Mexico started to get spare parts for their PC-7’s and PC-6 aircraft. As the new millennium along with a new Mexican President Vicente Fox who just entered office in 2000, the military was getting another major overhaul. In 2002, reports that Mexico was looking buy the MiG-29 and Su-25, but once again, nothing conclusive came out of these reports either. Additional reports coming from a few defense sites and military forums a year later claimed that the Mexican Air Force was going to retire their F-5 fleet because they see no use for them. However, those reports were denied by SEDENA calling them false and the F-5 fleet was very much important for the security of Mexico. Around 2004, United States offered Mexico ten ex-USAF F-16A and two F-16B Block 15 MLU for $1.2 billion dollars that included training, spares, and weapons such as AIM-9 Sidewinder, AGM-65 Maverick, and precision guided munitions like the GBU-10/12 LGBs as an F-5 replacement. Granting the deal looked good on paper for FAM, nonetheless it was later rejected because the F-16’s were considered old and the price for them was too expensive. Around this period, some of the air force hierarchy went to Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and other nations to look at buying additional F-5E/F Tiger II are to supplement their existing Tiger II’s along with plans to upgrade them with inflight refueling probes, radar, and weapon systems. However, apart from these proposals, none of them went forward for a number of reasons. Enter the Texan II’s: 2006-2012 At the same time that the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana was looking for a new combat aircraft, they were also looking at a new advanced trainers and attack aircraft to replace the older AT-33A’s and the PC-7’s that were and are in service. The air force was looking at other trainers like the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, Hawker Beechcraft T-6C Texan II, KAI KT-1 Woongbi, and the Pilatus PC-9M. In September of 2006, FAM received two Pilatus PC-9M’s in which they’ve landed at Santa Lucia Air Base from Switzerland. Apart from that PC-9M order that year, another major report hit the defense sites and military forums that the United States offered the Mexican Air Force forty ex-U.S Navy McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18A/B Hornets as a replacement for the F-5 fleet. While the Hornet proposal was talked about, another offer from South Korea which they’ve offered 40 ex-RoKAF F-5A/B Freedom Fighters for a low price of $100 for each aircraft, but it was turned down due obsolescent of the aircraft.
The Pilatus PC-9M beat out the Super Tucano, PC-21, and the KT-1 for FAM’s new advanced trainer/COIN competition in 2005. However, after a few years testing them out, FAM found the PC-9M didn’t meet their criteria and were later replaced by the T-6C+ Texan II a few years later. (Frank Sparrow Photo Collection) Nevertheless, the Hornet proposal never went anywhere though with some questioning the report was even real at all since the U.S never confirmed offer and FAM once again was back at square one looking for a new combat aircraft. Even though the Freedom Fighter and Hornet deals was a bust, another report coming out of a Russian newspaper in 2006 reported that Rosoboronexport was in talks with Mexico about acquiring some MiG-29’s, but it was later denounced as false too.
While it was in its twilights of it service, This AT-33A is flying with in its 45th Anniversary colors somewhere in Mexico. The Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars were finally phase out of service in 2008 with its former roles were handed off to the PC-7 Turbo Trainer. (Jose Luis Angeles Photo Collection) In 2007, Mexican Air Force general Guillermo Galvan Galvan requested additional funding for either the F-16’s and F/A-18’s along with additional AEW&C, air defense systems, and radar systems from the Mexican Congress and Senate since the F-5 fleet, radars, and air defense systems were considered inadequate or obsolete. While despite the pleads from the General Galvan, the Mexican government and SEDENA had other priorities and apart from that, the military was putting most of its focus on fighting the drug cartels. Nonetheless, the SEDENA did approved a modest upgrade for the F-5 fleet which was fitted with AN/APQ-159(V)5 radar system which is an improvement over the older AN/APQ-139 radar system. Finally, in 2008, the Mexican Air Force bid farewell to the AT-33A Shooting Star after serving 47 years in service. FAM also initiated Project SIVA (Integrated Air-Surveillance System) in 2010 in which started a In 2011, the Mexican Air Force chosen the Hawker Beechcraft (Raytheon) T-6C+ Texan II over the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano and the Pilatus PC-9M advanced trainers as a replacement for their older PC-7 Turbo Trainers. SEDENA has plans to acquire over 60-70 AT-6 and T-6C+ Texan II’s in both training role and ground attack roles before the end of the decade.
FAM’s Hawker Beechcraft T-6C+ Texan II flying over Mexico City during the Sept 16th Mexico’s Independence Day Parade in 2013. The T-6C+ along with the future AT-6 Texan II will be replacing the older PC-7’s from service later this decade. (Photo & Credit goes to Jose Antonio Quevedo) Future: 2013 and Beyond As of 2013, the Mexican Air Force is in state of modernization in which they are reequipping and replacing a number of aircraft and helicopters. After 39 years of service, the IAI Aravas were finally retired and were replaced by both the C-27J Spartan and the C-295 transport aircraft in May of this year. The PC-7 fleet is also slowly being superseded by the AT-6 and T-6C+ Texan II in which 45-50 Turbo Trainers are operational right now and will more likely be out of service in the end of this decade. F-5E/F Tiger II fleet is slated to be retire in 2015 and right now, the fleet is reduced from eight to six single-seat F-5E and two two-seaters F-5F being operational. Fuerza Aerea Mexicana is currently looking to buy around 42 or more 4.5 and 4.9 multirole next-generation fighters like the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 50/52+ Fighting Falcon, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS-39 Gripen NG/E, Sukhoi Su-27SKM/UBM Flanker, Sukhoi Su-35 Super Flanker, Eurofighter Typhoon and other fighters. Another possibly is that the air force probably will buy some second-hand aircraft like the F-16 or the Gripen from countries like Israel, U.S, Sweden, and countries to complement their newer fighters too.
A picture Czech Air Force JAS-39C Gripen 4th generation multirole fighter performing during an aero demonstration at the RIAT Airshow in the UK in 2012. The JAS-39 Gripen is one of the new multirole fighters that are competing against the F-16C/D Block 50/52+, Rafale, Su-27/35, and other aircraft as a replacement for the dwindling Mexican Air Force F-5E/F Tiger II fleet. (Photo & Credit goes to Andrew Steer) Also growing reports that FAM will be getting either the Aero L-59 or the L-159 Albatros multirole light fighter and LIFT aircraft that would fill the post that was vacant role that was left by the retired AT-33A Shooting Stars. This would help the pilots transferring from the slower T-6C+ to the supersonic multirole combat aircraft with ease. Also, the L-59/159 would complement the upcoming AT-6’s and multirole fighters in COIN, attack, and point defense interception roles too.
French Air Force Rafale B performing at Aero India 2013. The Rafale is one of the many next-generation fighters being propose to FAM to replace the elderly F-5 Tiger II fleet. (Photo & Credit goes to Tom Thounaojam) Mexican Army and Air Force Air Defense and Radar Systems: 1945-2000 Mexican air defense and radar systems are less talked about and kind of somewhat disputed. In the late-1940’s, the Mexican Army bought three radar systems from the U.S government for $18 million, but were based in California which would part of the CONAD (early predecessor to NORAD) of the USAF and U.S Army. The Mexican Army and Air Force would work together with the U.S Air Defense units in the southern United States in the late-1940’s and the 1950’s. Around that same period, the Mexican Army received over fifty surplus ex-U.S Army M55 12.7mm Quad AAG’s for air defense roles. However, it’s unclear if the Mexico got any other anti-aircraft systems around this period though. Nevertheless, the North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD in 1960 proposed to Mexican military to expand the radar coverage in the southern United States and plans to plans to have Mexico join NORAD was in talks too. Despite these proposals, the Mexican government turned the NORAD offer along with plans to have USAF fighters and interceptors using Mexican airspace for air-defense duties. Nonetheless, the Mexican government did approved the radar systems in the southern United States and later the Mexican military decided to expanded the radar systems in major cities, coastlines, and the southern border by Guatemala and Belize. In the late-1970’s and early-1980’s, it was reported that the Mexican Army took delivery of both GIAT 53T4 20mm M693 and GIAT 76T2 automatic anti-aircraft cannons from France, but these reports are somewhat disputed though. During the 1980’s, With the growing concern of drug smugglers coming from the southern border via Central and South America, the Mexican government placed a $38 million order for three Westinghouse (Northrop Grumman) TPS-63/65 mobile radar systems to be deployed in the southern border with Belize and Guatemala. Two of the radars have a range of over 200 miles while the smaller one has a range of 70 miles. Another order was reported in the 1990’s that the Mexican Army bought are the Swedish made RBS-70 laser-guided surface to air missile systems which is also reported that they have gotten around 50-100 systems. Besides the RBS-70 reports, talks that the Mexican Army bought “dozens” KS-19 100mm anti-aircraft artillery with the Fire Can guidance radar systems from Russia for a cheap price in the mid-1990’s. Nonetheless, it’s unclear if those reports are true or not, but giving the Mexican military secrecy about their inventory doesn’t come as a big surprised too many though in Mexico. Also, sometime in the 1990’s, the Mexican Air Force took delivery of unknown number of Westinghouse (Northrop Grumman) AN/TPS-70 Vigilant 3D radars to replace or supplement their older radars in service. The range of the Vigilant is over 240 miles and can track around 500 targets at heights around 100,000ft. New Era: 2001-Present Day In 2001, the air defense units have gotten a major boost when the Mexican Air Force took delivery of a single Embraer EMB-145 or R-99A AEW&C from Brazil. The R-99A is one of most active aircraft flying in the Mexican Air Force flying at various bases all over Mexico in a number of operations and usually back up by or guide the F-5E Tiger fighter/interceptors against drug smuggling and unidentified aircraft. Nevertheless, in 2008, Guillermo Galvan Galvan the Mexican Air Force general was becoming increasing concerned about the age of the Mexican radar systems since most of the radars were operational half the time while some were pretty much obsolete. A top of that, the Mexican air defense systems were old and inadequate for the defense of the nation too. So, General Galvan requested the Mexican Congress to increase the funding for new radars, AEW&C aircraft, AAG’s, and short, medium, and long-range SAM systems around Mexico. Despite this, the Drug War put a lot of his proposals on the backburner for more important things like armored vehicles, troops, equipment, and combat operations against the drug cartels. In 2011, the Mexican Army ordered five advanced Northrop Grumman TPS-78/703 3D radar systems in which one of them was shown at the 2012 Mexican Independence Day Parade last year.
The Embraer EMB-145 (E-99A) AEW&C which Mexico received in 2001 gave their air force a major boost to their air defense network. The lone E-99A is one of the busiest aircraft with FAM and they work with a number of aircraft such as the F-5E and the C-26 Merlin aircraft. (Frank Sparrow Collection) As 2013, the Mexican Army is getting their last batch of TPS-78 radars and with a possibly in getting additional radar systems in the near future. Like the Mexican Navy, the Mexican Air Force is showing an interest in getting the C-295 AEW&C to complement their overwork R-99A AEW&C aircraft possibly in the near future. Inflight refueling aircraft has been gaining some interest lately with FAM in which some of their C-130’s or the Boeing 767’s that Aeromexico is planning to retire in a few years can be converted with inflight refueling gear which can support fighters and other FAM or possibly FAN aircraft too. can be modified with However, it’s unclear what SEDENA has planned for their air defense weapon systems, but there were some reports indicating that the Mexican Army has some interest in getting the S-300PMU2 Favorit long-range SAM’s from Russia to be based around Mexico City and strategic locations in near the Bay of Campeche. Despite that, no word or deal was ever signed though for system. So, it remains what the future brings for the next-generation air defense systems for the Mexican Army since their weapons are very much inadequate and obsolete nowadays.
This Lockheed C-130E Hercules of the Mexican Air Force and possibly along with Boeing 767-200/300 that Aeromexico is going to replace them with Boeing 787 Dreamliner in a few years that could be converted to inflight-refueling aircraft. FAM pilots that have been to the United States have gotten trained a bit in refueling from tanker aircraft. (Photo & Credit goes to Mariano Garcia Rodriguez) Mexican Navy Combat Aircraft & Air Defense Systems: 1998-2004 Little is known what combat aircraft the Mexican Navy used during mid-part of the 20th Century. Nonetheless, the first combat aircraft to enter service in recent years is the Finnish made Valmet L-90TP Redigo in which ten of them were bought in 1993 for trainer/COIN/interceptor aircraft. The new L-90TP’s were delivered in 1993 and are is armed with 70mm rocket pods, machine gun pods, and small bombs for interception and ground attack missions.
A Mexican Navy L-90TP from the Escuela de Aviacion Naval squadron readying for taxiing at an FAM air base somewhere in Mexico in early-2000’s. This L-90TP is flying in old a blue and yellow color which has long been since replaced by the grayish/white color scheme with a low visibility insignia. (Photos & Credit goes to Jose Antonio Quevedo) In 2001, Mexican Navy was looking to purchase an armed variant Lancair IV called the Sentry to compliment the L-90TP, but no orders were placed though. However, in 2002, the SEMAR went on a massive modernization program definitely after the events of 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States and drug smuggling from Central and South America. Part of the modernization plan included the purchase of three ex-Israeli Air Force E-2C Hawkeyes AEW&C along with planning to buy eight L-39 Albatros for interception, attack, and training roles. L-39’s would work with the Hawkeyes in interception duties against drug smuggling aircraft or enemy aircraft if necessary. Even despite this, the L-39 order was canceled in 2002 because it didn’t fit the role and SEMAR decided to look at newer and more advanced interceptors. Later that year, the Mexican Navy ordered from Russia the SA-18 (9K38) Igla MANPADS which would supplement the land and ship-based 20mm Oerlikon cannon and the 40mm L70 Bofors AAG that are fitted on M561 Gama Goat and warships. While some people believe the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow is the first SAM system is fitted on the F211 Ignacio Allende class frigate for the Armada de Mexico, but in reality they never bought the missiles for the ship in which the MK25 missile box is non-operational. The navy uses SA-18 Iglas in strategic locations in southern Mexico most nobly the Bay of Campeche were its Mexico’s oil installations and also Laguna Verde nuclear power station near Veracruz. Also, the Iglas are also fitted on some Mexican Navy offshore patrol vessels like the Durango class. In 2003, the Armada de Mexico also received two ex-Israeli Navy Aliya Sa’ar 4 class missile boats which become the Huracan (Hurricane) class which featured the 20mm Phalanx anti-aircraft and missile defense system along with Gabriel II anti-ship missiles. Four more Sa’ar 4.5 class missile boats which probably would be fitted with Barak I surface to air missiles were planned, but weren’t bought because of budget issues in 2004. In the same year, the E-2C Hawkeyes joined the Mexican Navy in which they were based at Tapachula with the 1st Naval Airborne Warning Squadron. Flanker Dilemma: 2005-2007 While the drug smuggling is a concern, another concerns including the threats from terrorism and growing fears from South American countries most nobly Venezuela had become a major concern. With those concerns, in 2005, SEMAR was looking at two advanced multirole fighter, the Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen and the Sukhoi Su-27SKM/UBK Flanker for long-range interception, maritime patrol, and strike roles. Mexican Navy pilots were sent to Russia and Sweden to evaluate and test out the advanced fighters to see which ones would fit better the navy. So, in late 2006, the Mexican Navy had chosen the Su-27SKM/UB Flanker as its new multirole fighter. SEMAR then placed an order for six Su-27SKM’s and two Su-27UBK’s to base in Veracruz and also there were additional talks to order the advanced Su-30MK too. Even despite this order, it wasn’t long that SEDENA (which the Mexican Air Force is part of) protested against the order saying it put their F-5 force in a disadvantage. Another problem, was the Drug War was ramping up and SEMAR was putting more focus on Marina troops around certain parts of Mexico against the drug cartels in which it kind of threaten the Flanker deal. So, the Mexican Navy did another revised on their deal in which instead of the eight Su-27’s that were originally promised was reduced to six in which included four Su-27SKM’s and two Su-27UBK’s with the Su-30MK proposal was later dropped. Later on in 2007, the Flanker deal came under review and found out the bribes and corruption were involved in which some naval officials resigned and sadly the Flanker deal was canceled. However, another report from Wikileaks cable April 2013 revealed that the U.S government was also involved in killing the Flanker deal while trying to sell the F-16 to both Mexican Air Force and Navy. Mexican Navy Future: 2008-Present Day After the cancellation of Flanker deal, the Mexican Navy decided to focus on maritime patrol aircraft like the CASA/EADS C-235/295MPA Persuader and indigenous made unmanned aerial vehicles which were considered more efficient in the role. Another bad news that struck the navy is that they removed the E-2C Hawkeyes from service around 2008 because it didn’t fit their doctrine and also were considered to be expensive to operate also. However, reports of allegations and corruption appeared in the Hawkeye deal, but it is unclear if anybody resigned or was sacked unlike the Flanker deal. In 2009, the Mexican Navy took delivery a number of Raytheon-Thales AN/MPQ-64 Sentinel short-range radar systems that are based in southern parts of Mexico. Later that year, the navy once again took delivery of the SA-24 Grinch along with additional SA-18 Iglas with Djigit rail launchers which are fitted in back of the Mercedes Benz Unimog 4×4 and Ural 4320 6×6 trucks. Within the same year, there was some reports that the SEMAR was interested in getting some Panstir S1 (SA-22 Greyhound), but those reports turned out to be false. As of 2013, SEMAR hasn’t placed any orders for any new combat aircraft and is unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future since helicopters, transport aircraft, and UAV’s along with funding the operations in the Drug War are the main priority for now. Nevertheless in 2013, the Mexican Navy has been looking at other multirole fighters such as the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 50/52+, Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS-39 Gripen, Sukhoi Su-27SKM Flanker, or the Su-35S Flanker for air defense and maritime patrol roles. However, there are reports that the navy is interested in the EADS/CASA C-295 AEW&C which would boost their radar coverage around Mexico. The air defense network is still up in the air since SEMAR put their frigate project on the backburner which would include the VLS SAM systems (which is more likely the RIM-162 ESSM) and the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile or RAM. Another possible purchase is the two ex-US Navy Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates which are the USS Curts and the USS McClusky which the United States offered to Mexico last year. However, it’s unclear if these vessels will be upgraded with ADS and other equipment similar to the Turkish Navy GENESIS upgrades which is being offered to Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate owners or will have a simple modifications on them instead. So far, the Mexican Navy is reviewing the frigates as of now and we’ll have to make a decision before January of 2016. The same can be said about their land-based defense and radar systems too. However, it’s possible that in the near future that the Mexican Navy will expand their radar and air defense coverage with short to long range systems in both Caribbean and Pacific Ocean parts around Mexico. Mexican Combat and AEW&C AEW&C Aircraft Profiles: 1945-Present Day Beechcraft AT-11A/B Kansan: 1943-1979 The Mexican Air Force received thirty-four Beechcraft AT-11A/B Kansan from U.S war aid in 1943. AT-11 Kansan was used as a light bomber, trainer, and transport role. While it was possibility, but it’s unclear if any AT-11’s seen combat duty in FAM service during WWII. After the war, they were reduced to training and transport, but weren’t maintained that well during the late-1940’s till the mid-1950’s. In 1956, FAM recovered half of the nearly grounded Kansans back into operational use. In 1959, the AT-11 was once again called into its bomber role during the border incident with Guatemala in which they were outfitted with bombs for possible bombing missions. After the dispute with Guatemala was resolved in late-1959, the AT-11’s were once again were reduced to training and light transport duties until its retirement in 1979 by the newer Rockwell Commander 500 series aircraft. Specifications: Country of Origin: United States. Company: Beechcraft. Role: Light bomber, trainer, and light transport aircraft. Crew: Pilot and copilot with provision up to four to six trainees or passengers. Powerplant: Two 450hp Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-1 Wasp Junior radial piston engines. Height: 9ft. 8in. Length: 34ft. 3in. Weight: Empty 6,175lbs, Maximum Takeoff 8,727lbs. Wing Span: 47ft. 8in. Speed: 215mph. Ceiling: 21,000ft. Range: 820 miles. Armament: two 0.30 caliber machine guns and a bomb bay. de Havilland Vampire F. MK.3 and T.MK.11: 1961-1970 After the dispute with Guatemala in 1959 and the F-47 Thunderbolt were needed seriously replacing, FAM top hierarchy were sent to other nations in Latin America and the United States looking for a fighter. In early 1961, the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana bought 15 ex-RCAF de Havilland Vampires F.MK.3 single-seat day fighters and two ex-RAF T.MK.11 two-seat trainers which became their first jet fighters to enter service. The Vampires served with Escuadron (200th Fighter Squadron) el 200 at Santa Lucia Air Base in May of 1961 which were flown by veteran pilots mostly by famous 201st Fighter Squadron since a majority of the newer pilots were not familiar with the new jets. Later that year in September, the Vampires made their first flyby over the Mexico City during the Mexican Independence Day parade in which a lot of crowds and even military soldiers were shocked to see to see the new jet fighters in service! Vampires along with the new AT-33A’s did a number patrols around Mexico definitely southern border with Guatemala since the border dispute a few years before, but mainly the Vampires were mostly based at Santa Lucia to defend Mexico City from potential attacks. Apart from the single-seat Vampire MK.3’s, the other two T.MK.11’s were based at Colegio del Aire (Air Force College) in Zapopan, Jalisco which were used as a conversion trainers. Despite the success of the Vampires in the Mexican Air Force service, some aircraft were lost in accidents and a top of that they had a short service life since the aircraft were becoming worn out due to its wooden fabric and outdated. While date is disputed since its reported that the Vampires were retired in 1967, while others saying they were retired in 1970 or 1971, but the survivors are now used as gate guards or in museums at Mexican Air Bases or cities. Specifications: Country of Origin: Canada and United Kingdom. Company: de Havilland. Role: Interceptor, fighter, and ground attack aircraft. Crew: One pilot (F.MK.3). two: pilot and instructor (T.MK.11) Powerplant: One de Havilland Goblin II turbojet engine with 3,100lbs of thrust (F.MK.3). One de Havilland Goblin 35 turbojet engine with 3,500lbs of thrust. Speed: 531mph (F.MK.3). 538mph (T.MK.11). Range: 853 miles. Ceiling: 43,500ft. Length: 30ft. 9in. (F.MK.3). 34ft. 6.5in. (T.MK.11). Height: 8ft. 10in. (F.MK.3). 6ft. 2in. (T.MK.11). Wingspan: 40ft. 0in (F.MK.3). 38ft. 0in. (T.MK.11). Weight: Empty weight is 7,134lbs and maximum weight is 11,970lbs (F.MK.3). Empty weight is 7,380lbs and maximum takeoff is 11,150lbs (T.MK.11). Armament: Four 20mm Hispano MK V cannons (F.MK.3) or two 20mm Hispano MK V cannons (T.MK.11), eight FFAR rockets, and two 500lb bombs, fuel tanks.
Three FAM de Havilland Vampire MK.3 single seat fighters flying over formation somewhere in Mexico in the early-1960’s. Both DH Vampire MK.3/T.MK.11 served with FAM until 1970. (Jose Luis Angeles Photo Collection) Douglas A-24B Dauntless: 1943-1959 or 1961? In 1943, Fuerza Aerea Mexicana received thirty Douglas A-24B Dauntless dive-bombers from the United States as war aid. The Dauntless was used in ASuW duties during the war and were used to train dive-bombing crews for combat. It’s unclear if the A-24B’s were used in combat or not during the war, but some reports says some of them been used against German U-Boats during the conflict. The A-24B were never deployed outside of Mexico during World War II and mostly used in ASuW roles until the end of the war. After the war, the Dauntless still remained in dive-bombing and attack roles, but were neglected due to lack of funds and spare parts kept most of the fleet grounded. It wasn’t until 1956, that a few A-24B’s were brought back in service due to Mexican Air Force recovery program. When hostilities broke out between Mexico and Guatemala in 1959, the Dauntlesses were on alert status during the entire dispute. The same year after the dispute, the A-24B Dauntless were withdrawn from use and replaced by the T-28 Trojan. However, some reports claimed the A-24B remained in service until 1961. Specifications: Country of Origin: United States. Company: Douglas. Role: Dive bomber and attack aircraft. Crew: Pilot and rear gunner. Powerplant: One 1,200hp Wright R-1820-6 engine. Speed: 252mph. Weight: 9,353 pounds. Ceiling: 27,000ft. Range: 1,205 miles. Length: 33ft Height: 12ft. 11in. Wingspan: 41ft. 6in. Armament: Two 0.50 caliber machine guns in the engine cowling, two 0.50 caliber machine guns in the rear, and 2,250 pounds of bombs and rockets.
Douglas A-24B Dauntless of the Mexican Air Force in which thirty of them were delivered for ASuW, AShW, and bombing roles. A-24B was ordered as a countermeasure against German U-Boats which were prowling the Mexican coastline during WWII. However, unlike the P-47D, the Dauntless didn’t see any action at all during WWII. The surviving A-24’s did serve with FAM until 1959. (Frank Sparrow Collection) Embraer EMB-145 (R-99A) AEW&C: 2004- In the early-2000’s, SEDENA was looking expand their radar coverage around Mexico. So, in 2002, FAM ordered one Embraer EMB-145 (R-99A) AEW&C alongside with two EMB-145MP (P-99) from Brazil. In 2004, the R-99A entered service with the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana in which it is based in Santa Lucia Air Base near Mexico City with the Aerial Surveillance Squadron along with the Fairchild C-26 Metroliner and the Schweizer SA-2-37B surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. Even despite being based at Santa Lucia Air Base, it’s rarely there and is sent mostly to southern part of Mexico and Bay of Campeche area to watch over the airspace and sea lanes. R-99A is considered one of most valuable and important aircraft in the Mexican Air Force and one of the busiest aircraft in service too. Along with its main roles is to watch over Mexican airspace from drug smugglers and potential hostile aircraft, it’s also sent to nearby bases during special events or a major political gathering. The R-99A uses the Swedish made Ericsson Microwave Systems (now Saab Electronic Defence) Erieye active electronically scanned array or AESA 300 degree radar which has ranges of 450km and ceiling of 65,000ft. As of 2013, the R-99A is still operational to this day, but possibly will complement in the near future possibly by the C-295 AEW&C aircraft or additional R-99A’s. Specifications: Manufacturer: Embraer. Country of Origin: Brazil. Role: Airborne early warning & control, surveillance, and maritime patrol aircraft. Crew: Pilot, copilot, and up three to seven system operators. Powerplant: Two Rolls Royce AE 3007A Turbofan engines giving out 7,420 pounds of thrust on each engine. Range: 1,876 miles. Speed: 518mph. Ceiling: 37,000ft. Wingspan: 65ft. 9in. Height: 22ft. 2in. Weight: Empty weight is 25,000lb, loaded weight is 37,700lb, and maximum weight is 46,500lb. Armament: None.
Embraer EMB-145 AEW&C (R-99A) at Santa Lucia Air Base near Mexico City. The aircraft in the background are the F-5E’s and PC-7’s. (Photo and Credit goes to Mariano Garcia Rodriguez) Grumman (Northrop Grumman) E-2C Hawkeye: 2004-2008 After the terrorist incidents on 9/11 and major concerns with aging radar systems and drug smuggling aircraft, the Mexican Navy decided to focus on air defense needs. In 2002, the Mexican Navy placed an order for three ex-Israeli Air Force E-2C Hawkeyes from Israel for airborne surveillance and maritime patrol roles which would vector Mexican Air Force and Mexican Navy aircraft and ships to unidentified targets. The Mexican Navy E-2’s were post to work together with Aero L-39 Albatros, but the L-39’s deal was canceled because it didn’t fit the requirement for the interception role. So, in 2004, the first E-2C Hawkeye arrived in Veracruz, but the aircraft had a rocky ride flying to Mexico due to engine problem with one of Hawkeyes and another with a cracked windshield. Nevertheless, the aircraft did enter service in late-2004 and flying from Veracruz and Tapachula with the 1st Airborne Warning Squadron which was doing missions over the Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and the Bay of Campeche. While this was happening, in 2005, the Mexican Navy ordered eight Su-27SKM and Su-27UBM for interception and maritime patrol roles. They would be working together with the E-2C Hawkeyes around the Mexican coastlines and strategic locations in Mexico. However, this wasn’t going to happen after the Flanker deal was hit with bribery charges and interference by the U.S government in which later on the deal was scrapped in 2007. While reports saying that the E-2C Hawkeyes were destroyed in hanger collapsed during a hurricane later turned out to be false, but finding out the Hawkeyes were retired by the Navy in 2008 because they were considered expensive to operate along with not fitting mission planning as promised. As of 2013, the retired Hawkeyes are sitting at Veracruz Naval Air Base waiting for potential buyer or possibly being scrapped. Specifications: Manufacturer: Grumman (Northrop Grumman). Origin: United States. Role: Airborne early warning & control, surveillance, and maritime patrol aircraft. Crew: Pilot, copilot, radar officer, combat information center officer, and a combat control officer. Speed: Maximum speed 350mph and cruising speed is 256mph. Range: 1,462 miles. Ceiling: 34,000ft. Powerplant: Two Allison/Rolls Royce T56-A-427A 5,100hp from each engine. Length: 57ft. 8.75in. Wingspan: 80ft. 7in. Weight: Empty weight 40,200lb, loaded weight 43,068lb, maximum takeoff weight 57,500lb. Armament: None. Hawker Beechcraft (Raytheon) AT-6 and T-6C+ Texan II: 2011- The Hawker Beechcraft T-6C+ Texan II are one the newest training aircraft to enter the Fuerza Aerea Mexicana and are part of Project SIVA modernization program. FAM took delivery of six of them for training purpose and will slowly start replacing the older Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainers in both training and COIN role. Although six T-6C+’s have been bought, another batch is planning to be on order really soon with additional batches being planned in the near future. It is being proposed that FAM wants to have around 60-70 AT-6 and T-6C+ Texan II’s in service by the end of the decade. As of 2013, all six T-6C+ Texan II’s are still in service. Specifications: Manufacturer: Hawker Beechcraft Origin: United States. Role: Advanced training, counter insurgency (COIN), reconnaissance, surveillance aircraft. Crew: Pilot, trainer, or a weapon systems officer (WSO). Powerplant: One Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-68 turboprop 1,100hp engine. Speed: Maximum speed is 364mph, cruising speed is 320mph. Range: 1,036 miles. Ceiling: 31,000ft. Length: 33ft. 4in. Height: 10ft. 8in. Wingspan: 33ft. 5in. Weight: Empty weight is 4,707lb, gross weight is 6,300lb, and maximum takeoff weight is 6,500lb. Armament: Gun pods, rockets, bombs, precision guided munitions (PGM), and fuel tanks.
Mexican Air Force latest trainer & COIN aircraft the Hawker Beechcraft T-6C+ Texan II shown at the 2012 Mexican Airshow at Santa Lucia Air Base which will be superseding the PC-7’s in both of those roles later this decade. (Photo & Credit goes to Rafael Dominguez Estrada)
IAI Arava 201: 1973-2013 Mexico bought and ordered sixteen IAI 201 Aravas from Israel to replace their older light transport aircraft like the AT-11 Kansan and the C-47 Skytrain for example. Apart from their light transport role, it was used other roles including dropping paratroopers, reconnaissance, spec ops, and a gunship configuration. Little is known what missions it played during throughout the 1970’s and early-1980’s in which some claims that Aravas and other aircraft was used during Mexican Dirty War to support the troops and was rumored to be used in attack missions against rebel groups. Despite those reports, it is highly disputed definitely the later if they were used attack roles with little or no information to back up those claims. Besides that, the Aravas were used in humanitarian and disaster relief aircraft in which it would send supplies and other things in times of crisis in Mexico. However, once again, the Aravas were used in the Chiapas War in which they’ve been used to airlifted troops, supplies, and spec ops. It was also reported that the IAI Aravas were used as a gunships during the conflict and also did close air support (CAS) missions alongside with the PC-7 against EZLN rebel positions in Chiapas. The aircraft performed transport, spec ops, and resupply missions in Chiapas until a ceasefire was finally broker in 2000. In the later years the Arava continued on to serve the Mexican Air Force in light transport, spec ops, and paratrooper’s role while its other roles were transferred to other FAM aircraft early on in the new decade. Even despite its popularity in FAM service, the IAI Arava 201 were finally retired mid of this year after seeing 40 years of service with the Mexican Air Force and was replaced by the Alenia C-27J Spartan and the EADS/CASA C-295 transport aircraft. Specifications: Role: Light transport, reconnaissance, and gunship aircraft. Manufacturer: Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) Origin: Israel. Crew: Pilot and copilot, it was capable carrying 24 fully equipped troops or 16 paratroopers. Powerplant: Two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-34 turboprop engines in which both giving 2x 750hp on each engine. Speed: 203mph. Range: 656 miles. Ceiling: 25,000ft. Payload: 5,184lb. Length: 41ft. 6in. Wingspan: 68ft 9in. Weight: Empty weight is 8,816lb and maximum takeoff weight is 15,000lb. Armament: 2x 0.50 M2 Browning machine guns on its side packs on the forward fuselage and two 6 round 82mm rocket pods, and fuel tanks.
IAI Arava 201 of the Mexican Air Force which was operated by the 301st Transport Squadron in Santa Lucia Air Base until being superseded by both the C-27J Spartan and the C-295 in 2013. The Arava was a popular aircraft and due to its STOL (Short Take off Landing) in which it could take off from rugged airstrips in Mexico. (Photo & Credit goes to Mariano Garcia Rodriguez) Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Star: 1961-2008 After the dispute with Guatemala in 1959, the Mexican Air Force needed some new fighters to replace the older F-47 Thunderbolts that were barely in service. Couple years before the dispute with Guatemala, FAM was looking at AT-33A as a potential new fighter along with the de Havilland Vampires. Fifteen AT-33A Shooting Stars were bought from the United States in the late-1960 and were later equipped with 202 Jet Fighter Squadron in Santa Lucia Air Base in 1961. Later that year, the AT-33A’s took part alongside with the DH Vampire F.MK.3 in the Independence Day Parade in Mexico City in which the soldiers and crowd cheered when seeing both new aircraft. Even though the Shooting Stars were based in Santa Lucia, they were sent to other bases in Mexico, but mostly in southern part of the country to watch over their southern neighbors like Guatemala. Later part in the 1960’s, FAM bought unknown number of Shooting Stars which added to more to their fleet along with being formed with other fighter squadrons. The additional AT-33A’s were sent Merida and Ixtepec which were used by the 210th, 211th, and 212th Fighter Squadrons which were part of the 10th Fighter Air Group based out of Merida. In the 1970, the DH Vampires were withdrawn from service and due financial problems couldn’t afford new fighters left FAM using the AT-33A as their sole fighter and interceptor to defend the Mexican airspace for over a decade. However, in the mid part of the 1970’s rolled in, concerns were becoming a major issue for the Mexican Air Force in which its neighbors like Cuba were getting advanced supersonic fighters and growing issues with drug smuggling aircraft from South America like Colombia for example. Because of this reason, the AT-33A’s were seen inadequate and a new fighter competition was initialized in 1976. Despite that, FAM decided to buy some more Shooting Stars in which brought the total up to forty aircraft for their force. With the arrival of the new supersonic Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II was introduced 1981, this gave some breathing room for the older Shooting Stars. Nevertheless, the Mexican Air Force was also looking at a replacement for venerable AT-33A’s to in which they evaluated the Dassualt Alpha Jet in early-1980’s, but was never bought though possibly due to financial reasons in Mexico at the time. Nonetheless, FAM bought its last batch of AT-33A’s from the United States in 1988/1989 which brought the fleet to 50 aircraft. Nonetheless, the AT-33A’s were started to shrink and plans were still ongoing to replace the type with newer aircraft such as the Aero L-39 Albatros, FMA IA-63, and Pilatus PC-9, but those either fell apart to either funding, technical or political reasons. Despite being based near Chiapas, none of the AT-33A’s seen combat in Chiapas conflict, but did continue to work in air defense alongside the F-5E and the PC.7 aircraft though. As the new the new century began, the Shooting Star fleet was down to 25-30 airframes that were operational at a time and plans to replace them were initiated in 2005 in which FAM started opened the a competition for a new advanced trainer/COIN aircraft. In 2006, the PC-M was declared the winner and the AT-33A numbers were down to 15 airframes operational at a time. So, in 2008, the Mexican Air Force decided to retired the last remaining Shooting Stars bringing an end to its 47 years in service with FAM. Specifications: Role: Air Defence, fighter, attack aircraft, and advanced trainer aircraft. Manufacturer: Lockheed (Lockheed Martin) Origin: United States. Crew: Two which is includes a pilot and trainee. Range: 1,275 miles. Speed: 600mph. Ceiling: 48,000ft. Powerplant: 1 Allison J33-A-35 centrifugal compressor turbojet engine which gives out 5400lb of thrust. Weight: Empty weight is 8,300lb and maximum takeoff weight is 15,100lb. Height: 11ft 8in. Length: 37ft 9in. Wingspan: 38ft 10.5. Armament: 2x 0.50 caliber Browning M3 machine guns, rockets, bombs, napalm, fuel tanks.
Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars alongside the F-5E Tiger II’s in the background at Santa Lucia Air Base near Mexico City. The AT-33A served a 47 year career since 1961 in air defense, attack, and training roles until it was retired in 2008. (Jose Luis Angeles Photo Collection) North American Aviation AT-6B and T-6C Texan: 1942-1987 During World War II, the Mexican Air Force took delivery over 139 AT-6B and T-6C Texan from the North American Aviation starting in 1942. Later that year, Mexico had gotten its revenge and its first taste of combat when an AT-6B attacked and sank aGerman U-Boat off the coastline of Mexico. AT-6B and T-6C Texans served in a number of roles during the war like ASuW, AShW, attack, fighter, and trainer in various squadrons, but were not sent overseas during the conflict though. After the war, the Texan was still one of its primary trainer and attack aircraft alongside the P-47D, AT-11, and the B-25J and more were received during the signing of the 1947 Rio Group treaty. In the 1950’s, the fleet was slowly dwindling due to lack of spares and funding, but majority of the AT-6B’s and T-6C’s were still operational and a few were put back in service during the 1956 Recovery Act by SEDENA. A few years later in 1959, the AT-6B Texans alongside the surviving F-47D’s, AT-11’s, and the newly delivered T-28’s went on alert status when Guatemala attacked some Mexican fishing boats in which some fishermen were killed and some were captured. Later, the Texan along with the T-28, and F-47D took off for a mission to attack and bomb La Aurora Air Base near Guatemala City, Guatemala, but by the time they gotten there, the Mexican president abandoned the raid at the last minute. By the 1960’s, its attack role was slowly being taken over by the T-28 Trojan and was being reduced to its training role, but rumors has it that the Texan alongside with the Trojan taking part in attack roles in Mexico during the early stages of the Dirty War, yet those reports are still debatable with little evidence to back them up. Nevertheless, by the 1970’s and 1980’s, the AT-6B and T-6C remained in service as trainer aircraft throughout its career until being replaced in service by the PC-7 Turbo Trainer in 1987. Specifications: Role: Attack, ASuW, AShW, fighter, reconnaissance, and advanced trainer aircraft. Manufacturer: North American Aviation. Origin: United States: Range: 750 miles. Speed: 205mph. Ceiling: 21,500ft. Powerplant: One 550hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 radial piston engine. Wingspan: 42ft 0.25in. Weight: Empty weight is 4,158lbs and maximum weight is 5,300lbs. Height: 11ft 9ins. Length: 29ft 6ins. Armament: Two 0.30 caliber machine guns, rockets, bombs, napalm, and fuel tanks.
A photo of the North American Aviation T-6C Texan of the Mexican Air Force during a training flight in 1982. Both the AT-6B and T-6C enjoyed a long service career with FAM from 1942 till 1987 when it was replaced by the Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer. (Frank Sparrow Photo Collection) North American B-25J Mitchell: 1945-1958/1961 During World War II, Mexico took delivery of three NAA B-25J Mitchell medium bombers in 1945. However, they were never deployed to the Pacific Theater in which by that time was coming to a close. Nevertheless, the B-25J’s did continue to serve with FAM after the war in bombing roles until the late-1950’s when it was retired due to spare shortages and obsolescent. But some reports have the B-25J’s in service till 1961. Specifications: Role: Bomber. Manufacturer: North American Aviation. Origin: United States. Powerplant: 2x Wright R-2600-92 14 cylinder air-cooled radial engine 1,700hp each. Crew Six which included one pilot, copilot, turret gunner/engineer, radio operator waist gunner, tail gunner. Speed: 230mph. Range: 1,350 miles. Ceiling: 24,200ft. Weight: Empty weight is 19,480lbs and maximum takeoff weight is 35,000lbs. Height: 16ft 4in. Wingspan: 67ft 7in. Length: 52ft 11in. Armament: 12-18 0.50 caliber M3 machine guns and 3,000lbs of bombs, rockets, and torpedoes. North American Aviation T-28A Trojan: 1958-1991 Facing a number of aging and obsolete aircraft, FAM placed an order for some new North American Aviation T-28A Trojans in 1957 to replace a number of aircraft like the A-24 Dauntless for example. The first Trojans entered service with Mexican Air Force in 1958 in both attack and training roles. But as the Trojan was entering service, the aircraft along with the AT-6B, F-47D, and the AT-11 were put on full alert. During the Mexican/Guatemalan crisis in 1959, all of FAM aircraft including the T-28 were sent on mock attacks against Guatemalan troops, armored vehicles, and naval vessels. While that happening, the T-28’s alongside with the surviving AT-6B’s, T-6C’s, and F-47D’s were about to do a retaliatory strike against the F-51D Mustangs which were responsible for attacking the Mexican fishing boats. So, the strike package took off their target in La Aurora Air Base near Guatemala City which the Mustangs were based at. However, a few miles close to the target, the aircraft were ordered to abort since both the Mexican and Guatemalan presidents ordered the end of all hostilities. After the crisis, more T-28A’s were ordered and some took up fighter and air defense roles for a short time after the last three operational F-47D Thunderbolts were retired from service in 1959. As the 1960’s rolled in, additional T-28A’s along with newer aircraft and other military equipment were bought to modernize their forces and to replace their older equipment. The number of Trojans grew to 88 airframes and served with the 201st, 205th, 206th, and 207th Squadrons in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Cozumel, and Pie de la Cuesta. It was reported in the late-1960’s that the T-28’s were used in COIN roles during the early parts of Mexican Dirty War, but the reports are still largely debatable still. Despite that, the T-28’s also started to supplement the older NAA AT-6B and T-6C Texans in training since there numbers were dwindling by the late-1970’s. However, by the 1980’s, the T-28A Trojans were getting wore out with half of them were operational and were also getting in the age too. As the newly delivered PC-7’s entered service, the T-28A Trojans were dwindling in numbers until they were completely retired from service in 1991. Specifications: Role: Attack, COIN, fighter (short time), and advanced trainer aircraft. Manufactrer: North American Aviation/ Origin: United States. Crew: Two, which included a pilot and copilot/trainee. Speed: 283mph. Range 1,000 miles. Ceiling: 25,200ft. Powerplant Wright R-1300-1 7-cylinder radial of 800hp engine Wingspan: 40ft 1in. Length: 29ft 6in. Height: 12ft 8in. Weight: 6,800lbs. Armament: 2 0.30 0r 0.50 caliber machine guns, bombs, rockets, gun pods, napalm, and fuel.
Two FAM NAA T-28A Trojans in formation during a training exercise in 1972. The T-28A’s served a number of roles in the Mexican Air Force like COIN and training when it first entered service in 1958. (Frank Sparrow Photo Collection) Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II: 1981- After the retirement of the DH Vampires in 1970, the Mexican Air Force had to rely on the Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars for air defense role. However, by the mid-1970’s, the AT-33A’s were considered inadequate in that role definitely with Latin American nations were equipping or looking to buy newer or second-hand fighters or attack aircraft from other nations which were vastly superior to their AT-33A. So, in 1976, FAM started a new fighter competition in which they were looking at a next generation supersonic fighter which included the Dassault Mirage F-1, IAI Kfir C.2, and the Northrop F-5E Tiger II. Originally, Mexico wanted to buy 26 Northrop F-5E/F’s, but United States government refused to sell the fighter to them. So in 1977, FAM chose the IAI Kfir C.2 in which they’ve ordered 26 Kfir C.2/TC.2’s along with licenses to build additional Kfir’s in Mexico, but the deal was held up due to opposition from the United States over the J79 engine which the Kfir used. By 1979, the FAM abandoned the Kfir deal and decided to focus on the Dassault Mirage F-1 and the Northrop F-5E Tiger II. A lot people thought the Mirage F-1 would be chosen since around the same time, the Mexican military was buying a number French made armored vehicles and helicopters, but later FAM decided to buy 24 F-5E/F Tiger II’s instead in 1980 under Peace Aztec. FAM first received their first F-5E’s in late-1982 in which became part of the new 401st Air Defense Squadron at Santa Lucia Air Base near Mexico City. Pilots who flew over 500 flight hours from the AT-33A’s along with additional training from the USAF were trained and sent to fly the new supersonic F-5E/F’s for the 401st ADS. However, plans to get additional twelve F-5E/F Tiger II’s were cancelled in 1982 because financial woes going on with the Mexican economy at the time in which a number of foreign or domestic military projects were reduced or canceled at the time. While 401st ADS primary role is defend the capital of Mexico City, but were later to send other parts of Mexico mostly in southern part of Mexico to protect its vital oil installations and to intercept drug smuggling aircraft which were coming from South America. However, tragedy struck when one of the F-5E’s crashed in which the pilot was killed in 1983 in which reduced the F-5E numbers to nine operational aircraft. Despite that, the F-5’s had a pretty much a safe decade and some Mexican Air Force F-5’s were sent to Miramar MCAS in the early-1990’s to train with both U.S Navy and U.S Marine Corps pilots. Around 1994, the Mexican Air Force updated their F-5 fleet with GPS and night systems which gave the aircraft additional capability. In September 16, 1995, another tragedy stuck during a flyover in Mexico City during the Independence Day Parade, an F-5E collided with an AT-33A in which two other AT-33A’s were caught in the chaos came plummeting down the earth. Of the seven pilots involved in the midair collision, only one survived the incident bringing the number of F-5E fleet down to eight. Couple years later, the whole F-5 squadron was grounded for a year due to spare parts issues. As the new century arrived, the 401st ADS F-5 fleet became busier. The F-5’s would be supporting the newly delivered E-99A AEW&C aircraft to keep track of hostile aircraft and drug smuggling aircraft coming from both Central and South America. Around this time, FAM hierarchy was in the crossroads over the concerns F-5 future. Four of the proposals was one to buy additional secondhand F-5E/F’s from Jordan, Switzerland, and Saudi Arabia, two upgrade the fleet with new electronics and put an inflight refueling probes, three to get new fighters such as the F-16 and MiG-29, and four to disband and retire the F-5’s. Plans to buy additional secondhand F-5’s were seriously looked, but fell through mostly due technical reasons and withdrawing from service was taken off the table. So in 2007, FAM decided to upgraded their F-5’s with a new AN/APQ-159(V)5 radar system and other electronic equipment, but they did keep the option for looking for new multirole fighters on the table even despite the ongoing drug war which was taking a lot from the defense budget. With the start of new decade started, the F-5’s were still as busy as usual. But as of 2013, operational status was cut from down ten to 6-7 airframes in use as one of the F-5E’s were retired to the Mexican Air Force Museum while other two is being used for servicing. Recently, FAM is planning to retire the F-5E/F Tiger II from service by 2015 with next-generation fighters such as the JAS-39 Gripen E/F, F-16C/D Block 50/52+, Rafale, Su-35, and other multirole fighters under the new Project SIVA program. Specifications: Role: Interceptor, fighter, ground attack aircraft. Manufacturer: Northrop (Northrop Grumman). Origin: United States. Crew: One pilot (F-5E) and a pilot and copilot or trainee (F-5F) Powerplant: 2x General Electric J85-GE-21B turbojet giving out 3,500lbs from each engine or 5,000lbs from each engine of thrust during afterburner. Speed: Mach 1.6 or 1,063mph. Range: 760 miles or 2,310 miles with external fuel tanks. Ceiling: 51,800ft. Wingspan: 26ft 8in. Height: 13ft 4 ½in. Length: 47ft 4 ¾in. Weight: Empty weight is 9,558lbs, loaded weight is 15,745lbs, and maximum takeoff weight is 24,722lbs. Armament: Two M39A2 20mm revolver cannons with 280 rounds in each gun, 2-4 AIM-9B/P Sidewinders AAM 2-4 LAU-61/68 or Hydra 70mm rocket pods, variety of Mark 80 series bombs, practice bombs, and fuel tanks. (Note: There are some reports that FAM also uses AGM-65 Maverick AGM’s for their F-5’s, but these reports are denied by SEDENA though.)
This one of the two F-5F’s originally delivered in 1982 for the Mexican Air Force. Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II became the first supersonic aircraft to be operational when it enter service in 1982/1983 and are flown by the elite pilots of FAM. (Photo & Credit goes to Mariano Garcia Rodriguez) Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer: 1978- By the mid-1970’s, the Mexican Air Force was flying a number of older COIN and advanced trainer aircraft most nobly the AT-6B, T-6C Texan and the T-28A Trojan which they date back since the 1940’s. Also, a number of these aircraft were not operational with half of them being grounded due technical and spare parts. So, FAM looked for a replacement for both A/T-6B/C and T-28 aircraft around the late-1970’s. In 1977, the Mexican Air Force placed an order for twelve Pilatus PC-7’s from Switzerland in which a year later were delivered to them. The first PC-7’s arrived at the Escuela Militar de Aviacion (Air Force Flying School) in Zapopan, Mexico in which started to supplement the older T-6C Texans. In 1980, another additional order 43 more Turbo Trainers were placed bringing the total number of PC-7’s to 55 airframes. The new aircraft started to replace the older AT-6B/T-6C and T-28A in both trainer and COIN roles. Another contract was signed by FAM for 25 more PC-7’s in 1984 which brought the total of airframes up 80. The PC-7’s started to join multiple squadrons and air groups like the 201st, 203rd, 204th, 205th, 206th, 207th, of the 2nd, 3rd, and the 4th Air Group. In 1991, FAM received their last batch of eight PC-7’s (some claim 14) bringing the total number to 88 airframes. After the signing of NAFTA in January of 1994, EZLN rebels seized several towns in Chiapas in which the Mexican government reacted and called in the military and federal and forces to take back the towns in the state. During this time, the Mexican Air Force deployed their PC-7’s with some help from helicopter gunships like the Blackhawk and MD-530 in which were used in close air support and offensive strikes against EZLN rebels and their strongholds. After the ceasefire was signed, Swiss government placed an embargo on both FAM’s PC-7’s and PC-6’s and canceled the order for 48 PC-9 advanced trainers that were placed by Mexico before hostilities began. This embargo in turned grounded haft the Turbo Trainer fleet in which some were cannibalized for spare parts to keep the other aircraft operational. A few years later, the Swiss government embargo was lifted in which spare parts were resumed again by Pilatus and most of the fleet being back in the air again by 1998. By the year 2000’s, the PC-7’s were still pretty much busy in advanced training, but also took role as light interceptor since the aging fleet of AT-33A’s were dwindling in numbers as years goes by. They were used mostly in the southern part of Mexico to intercept drug smuggling aircraft coming from Central and South America. In the mid-2000’s, the Turbo Trainers were later based in Santa Lucia and joined the 202nd Fighter Squadron after the Shooting Stars were retired from that unit, but later took over for good when the last AT-33A was retired from service in 2008. In 2010, FAM formed a new aerobatic squadron called the Escuadrilla Cuauhpopoca in they use the PC-7’s painted like the FAM’s P-47D’s that were used in World War II which have flown during airshows and Sept 16th Independence Parade every year. However, by 2013, while the PC-7 fleet remains strong, but lately the fleet being slowly dwindling in numbers with between 55-60 airframes still operational as of 2013. The PC-7 Turbo Trainers are set to be replaced by the new Hawker Beechcraft AT-6 and T-6C+ Texan II in which FAM is planning to buy around 50-70 within in this decade as part of the Project SIVA plan. Specifications: Role: COIN, light interceptor, ground attack, and advanced trainer aircraft. Manufacturer: Pilatus. Origin: Switzerland Crew: Two, a pilot and copilot/instructor. Powerplant: 1x Pratt & Whitney PT6A-25A turboprop 550hp engine. Speed: 256mph. Range: 1,634 miles. Ceiling: 33,000ft. Wingspan: 34ft 1 in. Height: 10ft 6 in. Length: 32ft 1 in. Weight: Empty weight is 2,932lbs and maximum takeoff is 5,952lbs. Armament: Six hardpoints which can carry a variety of rocket pods, bombs, and gun pods, and fuel tanks.
FAM Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer taxiing as its ready for takeoff. While first ordered as an advanced trainer and COIN aircraft, the PC-7 has been used in a number of roles such as light interceptor since the retirement of the AT-33A Shooting Stars in 2008. (Photo & Credit goes to Jose Antonio Quevedo) Pilatus PC-9M: 2006-2012 While searches for a replacement for the aging Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars has been ongoing since the early-1980’s with aircraft like the Alpha Jet, IA-63, PC-9, and L-39, but yet plans to get them fell through due to funding, political, and technical reasons. However, by the beginning of the 21st Century, FAM needed to find a replacement for the AT-33A was desperate since they were outdated and becoming somewhat unsafe due to its age. So by 2004, FAM initiated a new trainer competition in which included the Daewoo KT-1, Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, Pilatus PC-9M, and the Pilatus PC-21 as a new multirole trainer/COIN aircraft to replace the AT-33A and to supplement the PC-7 to. In late-2005, the Pilatus PC-9M was selected as the winner in which came as a shocker to some in defense community definitely after the Swiss government put an embargo on their PC-7’s a decade back. The two new PC-9M’s landed at Santa Lucia Air Base from Switzerland were greeted with applause in late-2006. Couple months later, the PC-9M’s were transferred to Chiapas with the 202 Air Squadron in Chiapas which they flew alongside with the PC-7’s. While despite FAM intentions to buy more PC-9M’s within months, but yet a few years passed and nothing was heard again about purchasing more aircraft. It was later reported that FAM said; that the PC-9M didn’t meet their requirements and later scrapped the deal to buy anymore airframes. So, another competition was started in 2010 in which included the T-6C+ Texan II and EMB-314 Super Tucano in which the following year the T-6C+ was declared the winner in 2011. The following year, one of the PC-9M’s crashed, but luckily the crew ejected though, it left only one PC-9M operational. In 2012, FAM decided to withdraw the remaining PC-9M from service and it was later reported to been sent back to Pilatus in Switzerland earlier this year. Specifications: Role: COIN, ground attack, light interceptor, and advanced trainer aircraft. Manufacturer: Pilatus. Origin: Switzerland. Crew: Two, one pilot and pilot/instructor. Powerplant: 1x Pratt & Whitney PT6A-62 turboprop 1,149hp engine. Speed: 368mph. Range: 955 miles. Ceiling: 37,992ft. Length: 33ft 3in. Wingspan: 33ft 3in. Height: 10ft 8in. Weight: Empty weight is 3,803lbs, gross weight is 5,181lbs, and maximum takeoff weight is 7,055lbs. Armament: Six hardpoints which can carry variety of bombs, rocket pods, gun pods, and fuel tanks. Republic P-47D Thunderbolt:1945-1959 One of the most famous combat aircraft of the Mexican Air Force, the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt has seen a number of combat missions in the Pacific Theater. Mexico took delivery of over seventy P-47D Thunderbolts from Republic in early-1945. In the mid part of 1945, the P-47D’s would be part of the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron for the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force which would be sent to the Philippines in World War II after finishing training in both Mexico and United States. Right away when they arrived in the Philippines, the Mexican Air Force P-47D’s were up and running seeing combat against Japanese forces in Philippines and Taiwan. The P-47D’s were used to support U.S troops in Luzon, Philippines along with dive bombing a shipping yard in Formosa (Taiwan). Their missions included convoy escorts, close air support, air superiority, and other roles till the end of the war in August. 201ST Fighter Squadron racked almost 3,000 flight hours, almost 900 combat sorties and dropping over 1,500 1000 and 500 pound bombs along with using close to 160,000 rounds of 0.50 caliber rounds during the few months deployed in the war. Mexico lost a few aircraft in accidents, but no Thunderbolts were lost in combat. After the war, the Thunderbolts continued to serve on with the Mexican Air Force with number fighter squadrons around Mexico including the 201st Fighter Squadron. However, as years gone by, the fleet was slowly shrinking in which by the mid-1950’s, there were at least 7-10 P-47D’s operational in all of Mexico. In 1956, a few P-47D’s along with other aircraft were recovered. But two years later, they were retired by the Mexican Air Force due to lack of spare parts along with considered obsolete. Nonetheless, in December 31, 1958, the Guatemalan Air Force F-51D Mustangs attacked a few Mexican fishing boats off the coast in which all aircraft were put on high alert. The F-47D’s were retired were hurried back into service including one that was heading to a museum in which brought a total 5-6 Thunderbolts operational. Another reason, why they were brought back into service because Fuerza Aerea Mexicana didn’t have any aircraft or fighters to take on the Guatemalan Air Force F-51D Mustangs. In the later part of the conflict, the F-47D was assigned to provide top cover for the strike package which included the AT-6B, T-28A, and a C-47 airborne command post to attack La Aurora Air Base in Guatemala. However, before they reached their target, they were called back due to both Mexican and Guatemalan president agreeing to a ceasefire. After the crisis calmed down, couple months the F-47D’s were once again retired from service for good. Specification: Role: Fighter, ground attack aircraft. Manufacturer: Republic. Origin: United States. Crew: One pilot. Powerplant: 1x Pratt & Whitney R-2800-59 twin-row radial engine with 2,535hp. Speed: 433mph. Range: 800 miles or 1,800 miles ferry range. Ceiling: 43,000ft. Length: 11ft 1in. Wingspan: 40ft 9in. Height: 14ft 8in. Weight: Empty weight is 10,000lbs, loaded weight is 17,500lbs, and maximum takeoff weight is 17,500lbs. Armament: 8x 0.50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns with 3400 rounds, 2,500 bombs or 10x 5in (127mm) rockets, and fuel tanks.
A rare 1950’s picture of the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt of the Mexican Air Force sitting on the tarmac. The P-47D has seen a lot of action in its short career with FAM in the Pacific Theater in WWII. (Frank Sparrow Photo Collection) Valmet (Aermacchi) L-90TP Redigo: 1993- In 1992, the Mexican Navy placed an order for eight (some sources has it at ten) Valmet L-90TP Redigos from Finland for both reconnaissance and attack roles. When the FAN received their new Redigos in 1993, they were sent to Veracruz to be part of the Escuela de Aviacion Naval unit. Despite the unit is more advanced training and naval academy center, the main reason why the L-90TP’s is to patrol Bay of Campeche on suspected drug smuggling and other aerial threats and to protect Mexico’s vital oil installations and Laguna Verde nuclear power plant. Even despite being primarily based at Veracruz, but were also sent to other locations in Mexico most nobly in the western coast of Mexico to watch over potential. The L-90TP’s are armed with light machine gun pods and rocket pods which can be used against small boats or vessels, ground targets and aircraft. With the exception of C-212-300 MPA and some helicopters, the L-90TP’s are Fuerza Aerea Naval only dedicated combat aircraft. Plans to acquire more advanced and better combat aircraft like the L-39, Lancair Sentry, and Su-27/30 Flankers but those fell through due political and or didn’t meet their requirements as planned. So, as of 2013, the 20 year old L-90TP Redigos will serve on for FAN for the foreseeable future. Specifications: Role: COIN, light interceptor, ground attack, and reconnaissance aircraft. Manufacturer: Valmet (now Aermacchi). Origin: Finland. Crew: Two pilots. Powerplant: Allison 250-B17D turboprop 250HP engines. Speed: 318 mph. Range: 870 miles. Ceiling: 25,000ft. Height: 10ft 6in. Length: 28ft. Wingspan: 34ft 9in. Weight: Empty is 2,138lbs, and maximum takeoff weight is 2,976lbs. Armament: 2x 0.50 caliber machine gun pods, rocket pods, light bombs, and fuel tanks. Proposed and Canceled aircraft that didn’t make the Cut: Aero L-39 Albatros: 1997/2002/2008-FAM//FAN In 1998, FAM was looking at buying some L-39’s along with MiG-29’s and Su-25’s to replace the older AT-33A Shooting Stars, but neither deal came to fruition. Fuerza Aerea Naval was looking to purchase around 6-8 L-39C’s for interception, air defense, ground attack, and advanced training roles in 2002. The L-39C’s would worked together with E-2C Hawkeyes that the Mexican Navy in the Bay of Campeche area. However, the L-39 deal fell apart because it didn’t fit the role as planned. Another L-39 proposal was once again proposed for the Mexican Air Force in 2008 in which they wanted purchase eight L-39’s to take over from retiring AT-33A’s. Nevertheless, that deal fell through too for reasons unknown. Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) F/A-18A/B Hornet: 2006-FAM Reports were going around by defense sites and military forums that United States offered Mexico forty ex-U.S Navy F/A-18A/B Hornets as a replacement for their F-5E/F Tiger II in 2006. Aside from these reports, by early 2007, the proposal slowly disappeared from view. It was later determined to be an online hoax because neither United States nor Mexico confirmed the Hornet was on the table. Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet: 1981-FAM According to Flightglobal, the Mexican Air Force was evaluating the Dassault Alpha Jet as a new trainer and attack aircraft in 1981. The Alpha Jet would have more likely supplement or replace the older Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Star in advanced training, ground attack, and light fighter roles. However, due to the slumping Mexican economy in the early-1980’s put a halt to a possible Alpha Jet deal. Dassault Mirage F-1: 1977/1979-FAM Around 1977, Dassault offered the Mirage F-1 to the Mexican Air Force as counter to the IAI Kfir C.2 and the Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II for a new fighter. However, both the Mirage F-1 and F-5E/F lost out to the Kfir C.2 in the competition later that year. Couple years later, the Kfir C.2 was canceled due to political issues and once again the Mirage F-1 and F-5E/F was once again offered to Mexico for a new supersonic fighter. While it may seem like Dassault had the Mirage deal in its hand since the Mexican military was buying a lot French made equipment like armored vehicles and SA.330/332 Puma/Super Puma helicopters, but it sadly lost out to the Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II in 1980. Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano: FAM-2006-2011 Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano was offered alongside the Pilatus PC-9M, and the KAI KT-1 Woongbi for a new multirole trainer to replace both the aging Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer and the Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars in 2005. Despite the tough competition, the PC-9M was declared the winner in the competition for a new multirole trainer in 2006. A few years later though, the Mexican Air Force found the PC-9M expensive and later canceled the additional orders for them. So, they reopened another trainer competition in which the Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano and the Hawker Beechcraft T-6C+ Texan II was competing against each other. While the Super Tucano was considered a winner in the race, but political and financial disputes between Brazil and Mexico dashed any hopes for EMB-314 victory and T-6C+ Texan II came out as a winner instead in 2011. Fabrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) IA-63 Pampa: 1994-FAM Little is much known about proposal, but according to Brassey’s Worlds Aircraft & Systems Directory 1999/2000; Mexico was interested in the IA-63 as a possible replacement for the Lockheed AT-33A Shooting Stars. However, it’s unclear why Mexico didn’t go further on purchasing the IA-63 though. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Kfir C.2: 1979-FAM After defeating both the Dassualt Mirage F-1 and the Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II, Mexico placed and order to buy 26 IAI Kfir C.2’s along with talks to manufacturer them under licenses in Mexico in 1977. However, the deal was canceled due to U.S government pressure on Israel not to sell them because of U.S made components and the General Electric J-79 engine in 1979. Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) KT-1 Woongbi: 2006-FAM The KAI KT-1 Woongbi was one of the shortlisted contenders for a next-generation multirole trainer to replace both the aging AT-33A’s and the PC-7’s. An image (which is no longer available) showed a Woongbi in FAM colors was shown on the KAI website back in early 2006. Despite that, the KT-1 lost out to the Pilatus PC-9M trainers for a new trainer. It’s unclear if the KT-1 appeared for the second advanced trainer competition back in 2010/2011. Lancair 1V Sentry: 2001-FAN With the successful sales of the Lancair series aircraft for the Mexican Navy for training and reconnaissance roles, SEMAR decided to look to Lancair for an aircraft for coastal defense in 2001. Lancair offered their Lancair 1V Sentry which was a militarized variant of the Lancair 1V which featured wing mounted 0.50 caliber machine guns along with capability of carrying rockets and bombs. The Sentry would have supplemented the Valmet L-90TP in coastal and air defense roles, but this wasn’t the case and the Sentry deal was later canceled for the superior L-39 which the navy wanted, but it to was dropped. Ling-Tecmo-Vought (LTV) A-7D Corsair II: 1981-FAM In the early-1980’s, LTV offered the A-7D Corsair II’s to the Mexican Air Force for a ground attack aircraft. While the A-7D gotten some interest from the FAM hierarchy, but economic problems in Mexico at the time killed Corsair II proposal.
A Portuguese Air Force A-7D Corsair II painted with FAM decals as a sales pitch to Mexico. Even though the Mexican Air Force was looking at the type, it was never ordered most likely due to financial constraints at the time. (Joe Sanders Photo Collection) Lockheed Martin F-16A/B Block 15 MLU Fighting Falcon: 2003-FAM United States offered the ten F-16A’s and two F-16B’s along with AIM-9 Sidewinders, AGM-65 Mavericks, GBU-10/12 Paveway II laser guided bombs (LGB), spare parts, engines, and training to Mexico for $1.2 billion as a replacement for their F-5 Tiger II’s in 2004. In regards to that, the Mexican Air Force hierarchy examined the deal and aircraft, but later decided to drop the proposal because it was considered the F-16 deal a “ripoff” for older and used fighters. Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon Block 50/52+: 2007/2008-FAM According to the Wikileak report, it was reported that United States forced the Mexico to abandon the Flanker deal for an unknown number of F-16C/D’s. However, the Mexican Air Force never placed an order for them though. A year later, the FAM General Guillermo Galvan Galvan announced plans to the Mexican Congress and Senate in which included new fighters like the F-16C/D and F/A-18, air defense systems, radars, and AEW&C aircraft to replace a number of their older equipment like the F-5E/F Tiger II. Despite this, the proposal didn’t get that much funding due to the ongoing drug war in Mexico which was taking a lot from the Mexican military.
USAF F-16C Fighting Falcon performing at the Defenders of Freedom Airshow at Offutt AFB in Bellevue, Nebraska back in 2009. The F-16C/D was offered to both the Mexican Air Force and Navy after the U.S government kindly forced the Mexican government to cancel the Flanker deal in 2007, but neither service got the F-16. A year later, FAM general wanted around 16-42 F-16C/D’s or F/A-18 Hornets along with additional air defense, radars, and AEW&C aircraft, but the proposal wasn’t accepted due to the funding of the Drug War. However, the F-16C/D Block 50/52+ is still in the race for a replacement for the F-5E/F Tiger II. (Photo & Credit goes to the Author) Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum: 1997/2003/2006-FAM Around 1998, the Mexican Air Force was looking for a new fighter to supplement their F-5 fleet and replace their obsolete AT-33A Shooting Stars. Since the military was buying a number of military equipment from Eastern Bloc nations such as Russia and Ukraine like the An-32 Clines, Mi-8/17 Hips, BTR-60/70 APC’s and other equipment, that Mexico was looking at fighters from those countries. Mexican Air Force became really interested in the MiG-29 Fulcrum as a new fighter to supplement the F-5E/F Tiger II. SEDENA sent their people to both Russia and Ukraine to exam the MiG, but later on decided not get them because maintenance and the age of the Fulcrum. A few years later, reports came out that Mexico was looking to buy 20 MiG-29’s from Belarus as a counter offer to the U.S F-16 deal. However, neither the F-16 nor the MiG-29 was bought by Mexico due to cost and the age of the fighters a small Russian newspaper reported that Mexico was planning to buy some MiG-29’s for their air force. Nonetheless, that news report turned out to be false and was denied by the FAM and Rosoboronexport. Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter: 2007-FAM South Korea offered up to forty ex-RoKAF F-5A/B Freedom Fighters for a “symbolic” price of a $100 to the Mexican Air Force in 2007 to build up relations and possibly future defense deals between Mexico and South Korea. While the older F-5A/B’s could have been used to replace the older AT-33A’s and would complement their existing F-5E/F fleet. Despite this though, the offer was turned down due to the age and obsolescent of the fighters.
A long retired RoKAF Northrop F-5A Freedom Fighter on display at a museum. South Korea offered 40 ex-RoKAF F-5A/B Freedom Fighters for symbolic price of a $100 in 2007. However, Mexico turned the deal down considering them obsolete and inadequate for their air force (Photo & Credit goes to Rodd Pacion) Northrop F-20 Tigershark: 1986-FAM While very little is known about this proposal, but after the successful purchase of the Northrop F-5E/F Tigers II in 1981. The higher ups in the Mexican Air Force were also interested in another product from Northrop, the F-20 Tigershark which was an advanced single engine multirole fighter. FAM was planning to buy 18 F-20 Tigersharks in 1986 to complement the 12 F-5E/F Tiger II fighters. However, this wasn’t coming to be since the Mexican economy was hit once again in which Mexico cutback or canceled most of their projects in the F-20 were canceled. Pilatus PC-9: 1994-FAM Later part of 1993, FAM placed an order for forty-eight PC-9 aircraft for both training and COIN roles to supplement and probably replace both the AT-33A and PC-7 in those roles. On New Year’s Day of 1994, Mexican President Carlos Salinas launched a military offensive against the Zapatistas in Chiapas in which the Mexican Air Force’s PC-7’s were called upon to be used in COIN and CAS roles to support the Mexican Army and Mexican Navy troops and marines and attacking EZLN strongholds in the area. However, it wasn’t long when the news of the conflict reached the Swiss government in which they’ve found out that their aircraft they’ve sold to Mexico over a decade ago were used in combat against their own people. The result of this caused the Swiss government put an immediate halt on military equipment to Mexico in which spare parts for the PC-6 and PC-7 were stopped along with canceling the PC-9 deal a top of it to. Pilatus PC-21: 2008-FAM After seeing the PC-9M didn’t meet the role for the Mexican Air Force, the hierarchy was looking at a new trainer aircraft to supersede the PC-7 and AT-33A. So, FAM setup another trainer and LIFT competition which included the Hawker Beechcraft T-6C+ Texan II, Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, and the Pilatus PC-21. Nevertheless, the PC-21 was more likely dropped due to the pricing reasons within the competition. Saab JAS-39C/D Gripen: 2005-FAN After the cancellation of the L-39 deal because it didn’t fit the mission requirements for the Mexican Navy, so FAM started a new competition for a new long range interceptor and maritime patrol aircraft. In 2005, FAN selected the JAS-39C/D Gripen and the Su-27SKM/UBM Flanker for their required roles. But despite this, the Gripen lost out to the Su-27SKM Flanker for the new interceptor and maritime aircraft in 2006 due to technical reasons. Su-24 Fencer: 2004-FAM Very little is known about this proposal, but it was reported on a SEDENA website that FAM had some interested in buying some Su-24 strike aircraft in 2004. However, nothing much was heard or seen about the proposal ever again, but some people might have suggested it might have been confused for the Su-25 Frogfoot instead. Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot: 1998/2002-FAM Concerns with an aging fleet of combat aircraft along with concerns of “red strings attach” purchases from other nations caused FAM to look elsewhere for new combat aircraft. While FAM was already looking at the MiG-29 to complement their F-5E/F Tiger fleet, they were also looking at the Su-25 Frogfoot as a replacement for the aging AT-33A from Russia and Ukraine. However, the plans to get them fell apart to due to age and the maintenance of the aircraft. Despite that, another report in 2003, that Mexico was once again looking at Su-25’s, but nothing came out of that deal either. Sukhoi Su-27SKM/UBM Flanker: 2007-FAN While majority has been explained in the Flanker Debacle part of this article, I will talk a little about the Flanker deal. After deciding not to buy the L-39 Albatros fighter, the Mexican Navy started a new fighter competition in which the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen C/D and the Sukhoi Su-27SKM/UBM were competing in it. A year later, the Su-27SKM was declared the winner in which the Mexican Navy signed a contract for six single seat Su-27SKM and two two seater Su-27UBM with an additional option to order more along with talks to get some Su-30MK’s too. However, due to the ongoing Drug War, the Navy decided to reduce the number of Flankers to six instead, but the options to buy were still on the table in 2007. Later that year, the controversial Flanker deal was hit with a bribery scandal along with opposition with from FAM who was against the deal because it seen as a clear advantage over their F-5’s. So, a month later, SEMAR canceled the Flanker deal along with some naval officials resigning over the bribery scandal. A few years, a Wikileaks article reported that the United States government had some involvement in killing the Flanker and trying to sell Mexico F-16’s instead in which neither of those were bought either. Sukhoi Su-30MK2 Flanker: 2006/2007-FAM/FAN While discussing about the Flanker deal, the Mexican Navy was also interested in getting around 6-8 Su-30MK2’s as a follow on purchase to the Flankers. However, due to the budget, bribery, and U.S involvement force the Mexican Navy to abandon the Flanker deal in 2007 in which also killed the Su-30MK2 proposal too. Around the same time, the Mexican Air Force also showed some interest in the Su-30MK2 as a possible replacement for their F-5E/F Tiger II, but due to the ongoing drug war killed the proposal due to lack of funding. Conclusion: The combat aircraft have seen a lot of history with the Mexican military in both in war and peacetime. However, in recent years, with the ongoing Mexican Drug War along with focusing on more priority roles for aircraft like transports, reconnaissance, and trainer aircraft and helicopters has put the need of combat aircraft on the backburner. In recent years, people from Mexico and aboard have been mixed about why Mexico needs combat aircraft since they see as a waste of money, lack of threat since the U.S will protect them, too expensive, or they need COIN aircraft or small subsonic aircraft while the on other hand sees fighters and combat aircraft essential need for Mexican defense. Ironically, these were the same statements being shouted out by a lot of people and politicians before the Mexico/Guatemalan crisis in late-1958 in which at the time the Mexican Air Force was pretty much in ruins because of lack of upkeep. However, people’s opinion changed when Guatemalan Air Force F-51D Mustangs attacked a Mexican fishing boats in which some people were killed in the incident. During this time, Mexico lacked any fighters, so they had to drag the P-47D’s out of retirement to fight in case the crisis went to war. While some people probably would bring up that United States would support Mexico in the crisis is sort of wrong because the U.S supported the Guatemalan government because they were helping to train the Cuban exiles against Castro’s forces in 1959. After the war, it was a bright shining learning lesson for Mexican government and the military in which the President Adolfo Lopez Mateos went on a massive spending spree for the Mexican military in which included jet fighters, armored vehicles, and other things. Now fast forward to 2013, unlike the Mexico in the 1950’s, Mexico is now a regional power and is on the top 15th World’s richest nations, international relations, oil producer, tourism, manufacturing, banking, and other things related to world affairs. While the Drug War and the cartels are still in people’s minds, the little known crisis back in 1959 has slipped a lot of peoples mind or pretty much forgotten nowadays. However, lately, Central and South America is becoming a growing concern for Mexico. While the drug and gang wars have become increase problem in neighboring countries like Guatemala, but also border and sea disputes have been dormant has also shot up in recent years. Another concern for Mexico is international terrorism, in which Mexico could be a prime target due to its increase in its global influence in recent years. Since the early-2000’s, the Mexican government has been talking about scrapping the Estrada Doctrine and looking to send their forces abroad in peacekeeping missions and lately has been protecting Belizean airspace too from drug smugglers and unidentified aircraft. These are the reasons why Mexico needs to invest in combat aircraft because a lot of things have changed in the global arena since the late-1990’s. While a lot people says money is an issue that Mexico can’t afford combat aircraft most nobly fighters, I would have to disagree with that. FAM recently ordered a Boeing 787 with a lot top of line systems for over $700 million for the Mexican President, so they can easily afford fighters like the Rafale and Su-35 with no problem. Right now, the Mexico is still in talks of looking to joining NORAD and to work more with United States and Canada on defense matters in the near future. Along with that, the Mexican military has been getting involved in number of international exercises like RIMPAC for example. Since the mid-2000’s, the Mexican Air Force and other major branches of the military is moving away from buying used or second-hand aircraft and helicopters because they considered too expensive in the long run which is one of the reasons they didn’t buy those second-hand combat aircraft from other nations. However, the main problem for their combat aircraft and air defense forces is most of their equipment and aircraft are obsolete, inadequate, or pretty limited nowadays. The F-5 fleet is too small to defend the whole nation, while the PC-7’s and L-90TP’s are slow and lack adequate weapons. While the air defense systems have been getting massive boost lately with new radars and short range MANPADS, but still needs more additional radars, AEW&C aircraft, AAG’s, and medium-long range SAM batteries definitely in major cities and strategic areas like oil fields, power stations, and other things. Nevertheless, the Mexican Air Force has been revamping their military force despite working with a limited budget have made strides to keep their fleet up to date. Hopefully by 2020, both FAM and FAN will have a more modernized and up to date fighting force to deal with any aerial threat. Photo Credits: I want to give of special thanks and shout out to the people who let me used their pictures for this article. I want to thank Mariano Garcia Rodriguez, Jose Antonio Quevedo, Jose Luis Angeles, Frank Sparrow, Rafael Dominguez Estrada, Rodd Pacion, Tom Thounaojam, Andrew Steer, and Joe Sanders for the photos.
The above article is the opinion of the author and does not represent the opinion of the web page.