The Mexican Military's Buying Binge

Mexico has purchased at least $1.15 billion in military equipment from the United States over the past year. 

March 23, 2015

A police helicopter hovering above Mexico City (Pulpolux / Creative Commons)

Mexico has been on a buying spree for U.S. military equipment, especially helicopters and armored vehicles, with purchases amounting to more than a billion dollars in the last 12 months. U.S. Northern Commmand chief Admiral William Gortney said the combined deals represent "a 100-fold increase from prior years." For a military supposedly proud of its independence from the United States, it is a dependent client.

On Tuesday, March 17, the State Department approved the sale of three Blackhawk helicopters to the Mexican military for $110 million, to support Mexican troops engaged in counter-drug operations. The deal comes on the heels of a larger agreement last April for Mexico to buy 18 Blackhawks for $680 million. The helicopters are produced by Sikorsky, based in Connecticut (also supplier to Colombia and other countries), and General Electric, in Lynn, MA. The deals include training and the construction of a facility. The United States will also reportedly supply six M134 7.62mm machine guns for the helicopters, which fire up to 6,000 rounds a minute. 

Last May, Washington approved a sale of more than 3,000 Humvees for the Mexican military, at a cost of $556 million, in order to expand "existing army architecture to combat drug trafficking organizations" and enhance "interoperability between Mexico and the U.S." The Humvees will be built by AM General in Mishawaka, Indiana. A later report said that in December the Pentagon approved sale of 2,200 of the Humvee vehicles, for just $245 million.

Mexico City police purchased five helicopters from Texas-based Bell last month, for another $26.4 million. The helicopters will be assigned to the Condores, a group of special police. Two weeks later, the Mexican Air Force sealed a deal for 15 Bell helicopters, valued for at least $37 million, to be based at an airbase in Jalisco state.

In January, the Pentagon said that the Mexican Navy, too, is buying Blackhawks – five of them, for $56 million. Last September, the Navy also announced the purchase of four King Air 350ER aircraft, to be used for "maritime surveillance of strategic installations, light transport, and medical evacuation." The aircraft are built by Beechcraft Corporation, a subsidiary of Textron Aviation, which sold another four aircraft to the Mexican Navy in 2013.

PDF iconFirearms exports Mexico chart.pdf

All told, these agreements represent at least $1.15 billion in arms sales to the Mexican military or police in the last year, mostly facilitated by the Pentagon through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. FMS sales frequently come at a discount, and are not subject to human rights restrictions, such as the Leahy Law. 

These sales do not include guns and ammunition. In 2014, the U.S. legally transferred more than 28,000 firearms to Mexico, most of them military rifles, at a value of $21.6 million. The year saw the most firearms sales in dollars of the 15 years that the U.S. Census Bureau has kept data. 

Many more weapons crossed the border from the United States illegally. In 2013, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms traced 10,488 firearms recovered at crime scenes in Mexico back to U.S. manufacturers or sales. A University of San Diego study estimated that a quarter of a million firearms were purchased annually in the United States to be trafficked into Mexico from 2010 to 2012. These numbers dwarf the disastrous "Fast and Furious" program by which ATF allowed hundreds of weapons purchased in Arizona to cross into Mexico in 2009 and 2010.

Mexico also gets military equipment from the United States through direct commercial sales, which are disclosed later. In 2013, the U.S. approved more than a billion dollars in sales of military equipment to Mexico, most of it for "spacecraft systems and associated equipment." This could include satellites, GPS systems, or ground control stations. It also approved sales of more than 116 million rounds of ammunition and $187 million in "military electronics."

Mexico began to buy Blackhawks in the 1990s, and already had a fleet of 20 Blackhawks before the buying spree. Sikorsky opened a training center in Queretaro in 2012 to facilitate regional sales and training. 

The massive militarization represented by billions of dollars of U.S. arms sales to Mexico as well as illegal gun trafficking is bad news for the many Mexicans devastated by the abuses of police and soldiers, the escalation of firepower when fights between government and non-governmental criminal groups occur, and the weapons that make their way illegally to trafficking organizations. The United States must develop other capacities besides producing guns and military equipment for finding a healthy balance of trade and addressing our own problems.

This month, a caravan is crisscrossing the country with Mexican families and classmates of the 43 students murdered in Guerrero last September by Mexican police in concert with organized crime. The "Ayotzinapa 43" caravan is traveling through California, the Midwest, and East Coast en route to Washington to speak with policymakers. Their visit offers a clear opportunity to those of us living in the United States to show our solidarity and to call for different approaches to violence in Mexico and to drug use in the United States.


John Lindsay-Poland (johnlindsaypoland@gmail.com) is a researcher with the Fellowship of Reconciliation Peace Presence. 

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