The Mexican armed forces saw the value of air power early. In 1911 the Madero revolutionaries flew an airplane on a bombing mission using grenades, and a year later, after Madero became president, three military pilots were sent to the United States for training. Shortly thereafter, one of the rebel groups acquired several airplanes, which, flown by foreign mercenary pilots, supported their ground forces during the advance southward in 1914. Unable to obtain additional aircraft because of the war in Europe, the Carranza government successfully developed and produced a biplane trainer and subsequently a series of other models from both local designs and from modifications of foreign planes.
During the 1920s, the army bought various war-surplus bomber, reconnaissance, fighter, and training aircraft at low cost, although the local aircraft industry continued to produce its own models. In 1932 an air regiment was formed, consisting of one squadron each of Vought Corsair, Douglas, and Bristol fighters. After the United States and Mexico entered World War II, the United States transferred a considerable number of primary and advanced trainers to Mexico, followed by light bombers and amphibious reconnaissance planes that were used to conduct antisubmarine patrols in the Gulf of Mexico. The Mexican air force received additional trainers, bombers, and transport aircraft after the signing of the 1947 Rio Treaty. It acquired jet fighters from Canada and armed jet trainers from the United States in the late 1950s.
The air force, organized into two wings and ten air groups, had a personnel complement of 8,000 in 1996, including 1,500 assigned to the airborne brigade. The air force's principal air base, Military Air Base Number 1, is located at Santa Lucía in the state of México. Other major air bases are located at Ixtepec in Oaxaca, Isla Cozumel in Quintana Roo, Zapopán in Veracruz, and Mérida in Yucatán, as well as El Ciprés and La Paz (both in Baja California Sur) and Puebla and Píe de la Cuesta (both in Guerrero).
Delivery, beginning in 1982, of ten F-5E Tiger II fighter aircraft and two F-5F two-seater trainers from the United States enabled Mexico to form a supersonic air defense squadron armed with Sidewinder missiles. As part of a construction agreement with the United States, the runways at the Santa Lucía air base were lengthened and facilities renovated to accommodate the new planes. In 1982 the air force also acquired the first of some seventy Pilatus PC-7 turboprop planes from Switzerland. In 1996 forty of the PC-7s were organized into three counterinsurgency squadrons, and the remainder are available for both training and counterinsurgency operations. Also capable of being armed for counterinsurgency tasks is one squadron of twelve AT-33s (Lockheed Shooting Star), a much older aircraft used mainly as a jet trainer. One squadron of Bell 205, 206, and 212 armed helicopters also is designated for a counterinsurgency role. One squadron of IAI 201s (the Israeli Arava, a short-takeoff-and-landing utility transport) is assigned to search-and-air rescue, and a photo reconnaissance squadron is made up of Rockwell Commander 500Ss. Five transport squadrons are equipped with C-47s, C-118s, C-130s, and some small aircraft. The Presidential Transport Squadron, based at the Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City, has seven Boeing 727s and one Boeing 737, together with smaller transport planes and a number of helicopters (see table 14, Appendix).
A Westinghouse mobile radar system purchased in 1988 was activated at the close of 1991 to track suspicious aircraft in Guatemalan air space flying toward the Mexican border. The system was introduced both as a security measure to survey air activity along the Guatemalan border and to track planes smuggling narcotics from South America.
In early 1996, the air force acquired twenty-nine UH-1H "Huey" and eighteen Bell 206 helicopters from the Federal Judicial Police for use in military-assisted counternarcotics operations. In a sign of the growing militarization of Mexico's drug war under the administration of President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León, in May 1996, negotiations were underway for the permanent transfer of an additional seventy-three surplus "Hueys" from the United States to the Mexican air force.
Rural Defense Force
The Rural Defense Force (Guardia Rural), composed entirely of volunteers, augments the military presence in the countryside. The corps was formally organized under army jurisdiction according to the Organic Law of 1926. Its origins, however, date back to the period when the revolutionary agrarian reform program was first implemented in 1915. In efforts to protect themselves against the private armies of recalcitrant large landowners, rural peasants organized themselves into small defense units and were provided weapons by the revolutionary government. Until 1955 enlistment in the Rural Defense Force was restricted to peasants working on collective farms or ejidos
(see Glossary). After 1955 participation in the Rural Defense Force was expanded to include small farmers and laborers. All defense units, however, were attached to ejidos
, possibly as a means to guarantee control.
The Rural Defense Force numbered some 120,000 in 1970, but was being phased out in the 1990s. The Military Balance
listed the corps as having only 14,000 members in 1996. The volunteers, aged eighteen to fifty, enlist for a three-year period. Members do not wear uniforms or receive pay for their service but are eligible for limited benefits. They are armed with outmoded rifles, which may be the chief inducement to enlist. Rudimentary training is provided by troops assigned to military zone detachments.
The basic unit is the platoon (pelotón
) of eleven members under immediate control of the ejido
. Use of the unit outside the ejidos
is by order of the military zone commander. One asset of the corps is the capacity of its members to gather intelligence about activities within the ejidos
and in remote rural areas seldom patrolled by military zone detachments. Corps members also act as guides for military patrols, participate in civic-action projects, and assist in destroying marijuana crops and preventing the transport of narcotics through their areas.
Data as of June 1996