Under Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s national defense plan, the army is supposed to phase out 121,000 German G3 H&K rifles, which date back to the 1950s and which are still used by most soldiers. The replacement weapon is the so-called “fire snake” rifle, produced locally in Mexico, and designed specifically to combat organized crime.
However, in order to reach this goal, Mexico must invest 500 million pesos ($32 million) and at least double the annual production of the fire snake rifle. Just 12,000 of these weapons were manufactured in 2014, according to a report on the results of the defense plan published in early March by the Secretary of National Defense (Sedena). In order to replace all of the outdated weaponry, Mexico would have to begin producing 27,500 “fire snakes” per year.
The FX-05 Xiuhcoatl (which means fire snake in the indigenous language Nahuatl) is not a rifle of minor importance. The weapon will be given to all Mexican troops and will be used by Mexican soldiers during UN missions. Nevertheless, even counting the troops who received the rifle during the administration of former President Felipe Calderon, only one in three soldiers are currently armed with the weapon.
Replacing the G3 Heckler and Koch (H&L) rifles was a promise made almost 10 years ago, when Sedena presented the prototype for the fire snake in 2006. The rifle is designed for combat in urban areas, and is lighter and faster than its German counterpart. Manufacturing the fire snake rifle domestically is also five times cheaper than importing a weapon of a similar model.
In December 2013, the Mexican government published the National Defense Plan for 2013-2018, which included the stated aim of manufacturing the remaining 121,000 FX-05 rifles by 2018. One year later, Mexico is still more than 100,000 new rifles shy of its goal.
This lackluster production has more to do with finances than lack of will. According to Sedena statistics, the cost of production for a rifle is on average 4,682 pesos. This means that the government must invest 510 million pesos in order to produce the number of rifles needed to meet its goal for 2018.
Budget cuts to Sedena this year announced by the government due to an unfavorable economic situation were bigger than scale-backs in any other security cabinet agency: 1.2 billion pesos. According to Secretary of the Interior Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, these cuts would only affect current expenditures and not security investments, but Sedena has yet to detail which areas will be affected.
The Slow-Moving Snake
In 2006, on the eve of a frontal assault on drug cartels, Sedena began planning the replacement for the G3 rifles. These weapons were bought in the 1990s but had been designed since the 1950s for conventional warfare by large armies in open spaces, not urban confrontations with armed assassins.
The Center for Applied Investigation and Technological Development of the Military Industry designed the rifle that would be made in Mexico; 65 engineers participated in the project. The result was the FX-05 Xiuhcoatl, which had better cadence and was more manageable than the German rifle because of its lighter weight and retractable rifle butt. The design was also made with the physical stature of Mexican soldiers in mind, rather than Europeans.
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Even more importantly, information from Sedena indicates that the manufacturing of each fire snake rifle represented a savings of 20,800 pesos in comparison to the price of an similar make that had to be imported.
The fire snake rifle can shoot faster and weighs half a kilo less than its German G3 counterpart. The 5.56 calibre is the same used by the NATO armies, and although the bullets are smaller than those of the G3, they are also lighter, which means soldiers can carry more with them.
During a military parade on September 16, 2006, groups of special forces marched with the fire snake prototype, and it was announced they would begin to be manufactured. Shortly after, the problems began.
Heckler&Koch opened an investigation into possible fraudulent designing of the FX-05, which had a similar physical appearance and operation system to the G-36V rifle as well as the same calibre used by NATO. In 2007, Hecklar&Koch engineers met with their Mexican counterparts to discuss the matter together.
After three months of deliberations, it was found that the German patent had not been violated and the the Mexican rifle was legitimate. Still, these negotiations put the production of the snake fire rifle behind schedule. By the end of Calderon’s presidency, just 34,000 of the 155,000 snake fire rifles that were needed to replace the G3 rifles had been manufactured.
Remote Controlled Weapons
In its 2014 report, Sedena revealed Mexico had manufactured six remotely controlled weapons systems. Six battalions tested these systems, with the view of possibly producing them on a large scale.
This technology is part of the project the Mexican army put into effect in 2013, titled Remote Weapon System SARAF-BALAM1. The objective is to give soldiers a weapon that permits them to shoot from an armed turret from within a vehicle or a from a remote position.
The engineers at Sedena’s Military Industry office are in charge of the project. The specifications are classified, but .70 calibre machine guns as well as grenade launchers strapped to armored vehicles have already been tested.
Another project designed by the engineers and tested in 2014 was the prototype of a low-velocity, 40 millimeter grenade launcher, the first of its kind made in Mexico. The tests were conducted using 20 training grenades and 70 war grenades with a disabled time-fuse.
Although the results of the tests were considered satisfactory, the general in charge of these projects, Salvador Cienfuegos, has not yet announced if any of these weapons will be manufactured, nor the budget needed to finance their production.
*This article was translated and edited for clarification, and reprinted with permission. See Spanish original here.