Monday, March 12, 2007
The Mexican Army and its Controversial New Rifle
By Allan Wall
The massive military parade held on Mexican
Independence Day (September 16) is an annual tradition. In September of 2006,
it provided the opportunity to showcase Mexico’s new FX-05 “Xiuhcoatl” assault rifle. At the parade, soldiers of the Special Forces Airmobile Group, or GAFE (the acronym for Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales), carried the FX-05. (See
The new rifle’s name “Xiuhcoatl”
means “Fire Serpent,” coming from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs and other related groups. The “fire
serpent” was a ferocious Aztec mythological creature, and on the famous Aztec disc monolith called the “Sun Stone”
the entire circular design is enclosed by two flaming “fire serpents.”
The FX-05 Xiuhcoatl was designed and manufactured
in Mexico, by the Dirección General de Industria Militar del Ejército (the Mexican
military’s industrial arm). The weapon is to be gradually phased into Army
units, replacing the currently employed G-3 (manufactured in Mexico under license from the German arms company Hechler and
The FX-05 utilizes a 5.56 x 45 mm NATO round, and
is gas operated with a rotating bolt. Its rate of fire is 750 rounds per minute. Effective
range is 200 to 800 meters (using the sight marks), and it’s fed with a 30-round detachable box magazine or a 100-round
drum magazine. The rifle has mechanical, telescopic and red-dot sights.
The FX-05 receiver is made of carbon fiber reinforced
polymer, and the barrel of advanced resistant stainless steel.
The new weapon has been fraught with controversy. There is no doubt that the FX-05 is based on Hechler and Koch’s G-36V, which
is not surprising. Since ancient times military technology has been based on
the adaptation and modification of earlier-existing military technology. But
there are adaptations and then there are unauthorized copies, a form of industrial piracy.
The German government and Heckler and Koch, HK, have
accused Mexico of copying the G36V design for the FX-05. In fact, they threatened
to take the case to international tribunals, and demanded that Mexico destroy the FX-05 and pay damages to HK.
(This sort of thing happens from time to time in
the arms industry. For example, Colt, the U.S. arms manufacturer that makes the M-4 — the rifle my unit used when we
were in Iraq, threatened to sue HK, claiming that the HK M4 rifle was a copy of the Colt M-4. Eventually the charge was dropped,
on the grounds that they look similar but are different on the inside, and on condition that HK would change the name from
HK-4 to HK 416.)
As a result of the German threat, in November
of 2006 Mexico stopped manufacturing the new rifles.
There was also political fallout. General Alfredo Oropeza, who ran the Dirección General de Industria
Militar del Ejército was considered the frontrunner to be President Felipe Calderon’s Secretary of National Defense.
But because of the FX-05 controversy, Oropeza was passed over in favor of General Guillermo Galvan.
On February 1, 2007 a meeting was held in Mexico
City, attended by representatives of the Mexican Defense Ministry and Heckler and Koch.
After an inspection and exhibition of the weaponry involved, the HK representatives decided that the FX-05 wasn’t
a copy of the G36V and dropped the dispute.
So why did HK give in so easily?
It wouldn’t be Mexico without a conspiracy
theory. One I ran across was that Heckler and Koch withdrew its threat in exchange for the chance to sell the G36V to Mexican
Anyway, since the FX-05 is no longer disputed by
HK, the Mexican military-industrial complex was allowed to start cranking out FX-05 Xiuhcoatl rifles once again. As
of February 18, 5,000 short versions of the rifle had been manufactured, and currently another 5,000 of the standard version
are being assembled. So it’s a green light for the FX-05 Xiuhcoatl.
Switching from the G-3 rifle to the FX-05 means that
the Mexican Army is changing from a 7.62 mm to a 5.56 mm round for its main assault rifle.
The 7.62 mm round is right for an open battlefield situation, while the 5.56 mm is more suitable to close quarters
urban combat, plus it weighs less so more rounds can be carried.
As the Mexican Army plays a key role in the government’s
war on drug cartels, the FX-05 Xiuhcoatl is likely to get a lot of use in the future.
Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently
returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He currently resides in Mexico, where he
has lived since 1991. He can be reached
via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.