Future Mexican Combat Aircraft and Air Defense Systems

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 on-going Drug War in Mexico.

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 The PC-7 fleet is also slowly being superseded by the AT-6 and T-6C+ Texan II in which 45-50 Turbo Trainers are operational right now and will more likely be out of service in the end of this decade.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 possibility 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.

In 2001, the air defence 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 defence systems were old and inadequate for the defence 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 armoured 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.


French Air Force Rafale B performing at Aero India 2013. The Rafale is one of the many next-generation fighters being proposed to FAM to replace the elderly F-5 Tiger II fleet. (Photo & Credit goes to Tom Thounaojam)


As of 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 refuelling 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 refuelling 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 defence weapon systems, but there were some reports indicating that the Mexican Army has some interest in getting the S-300PMU2 Favourite 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 defence systems for the Mexican Army since their weapons are very much inadequate and obsolete nowadays.

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.


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)


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 defence 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.


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)


The air defence 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 defence and radar systems too. However, it’s possible that in the near future that the Mexican Navy will expand their radar and air defence coverage with short to long range systems in both Caribbean and Pacific Ocean parts around Mexico.

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About Ronnie Serrano

  • Rodd Pacion

    That C-130 in the article looks like a C-130H-30, IIRC. Mexico purchased two C-130K-30s (brit C-130H-30) from the UK in the early 2000s.

    • Ronnie Serrano

      Opps, my fault Bro. Yep, the Mexico was received some C-130H's from the U.S and the UK. However, the C-130K's have the refueling probe on them and were plans to convert them to inflight refueling tankers back 2004/2005, but failed to materialized. However, the Mexican Air Force is planning to buy two C-130J-30's with an option to buy two more to replace the older C-130's. Thanks Bro for the correction.

  • col powell

    they need to look at the wart-hog they loiter good and are far tougher than the zoomies.

  • Qbonumber1

    Do you think that Mexico will really get up to 42 new fighters plus the L-59?

    • Ronnie Serrano

      On the fighters, they will be buying them in "batches" in which they are doing right now with T-6C+ Texan II and the EC-725 Cougar. The L-59/L-159's will be bought in full more likely since the L-159 for example will be already built since the Czech Air Force put a majority of their L-159's that were ordered in storage because of budget cuts. So, FAM will be getting the L-159's right away if bought.

      • Qbonumber1

        And if Mexico buys jet fighters, which ones do you think the will buy?
        and how many?

        • Ronnie Serrano

          Right now, the F-16C/D or the F-16V Block 50/52+ and the JAS-39NG/E Gripen are the two top contenders for the F-5 replacement. Eurofighter could also be another possible fighter since the UK and Spain are retiring their's early from service due to defense cutbacks. I know Peru and Chile is looking at the Eurofighter to replace their older fighters to. However, the Flanker could be another possibly and were almost bought in 2007 by the Mexican Navy before it was canceled over bribery issues. On the numbers, FAM is looking at around 42 with 55-60 at the highest though in which they will serve in 4-5 squadrons throughout Mexico. Another thing I've forgot to put in this article, but Mexican government and FAM are talking about is there looking to join NORAD in which they will extend radar and air defense coverage down in Mexico.

  • Eduardo Guerrero

    42 fighters sounds very nice, but very unreal for me, as the recent events here in Mexico have show, FAM (Mexico Air Force) should focus on replace the PC-7 fleet with a combination between AT-6's and L-159's, with a solution like this, the PC-7's and the F-5's could be replaced in a relative short term allowing the air force to focus on what i think is more important, helicopters and transport aircraft, as the recent natural disasters in Mexico show, even with the good airlift capability that FAM and SEMAR(Navy) have, increse the airlift capability is something that FAM and SEMAR need very much, perhaps go for aditional new/or used C-295's/C-27J's could be a favorable solution to improve the capabilities to complement the upcoming C-130J's, not mention about helicopters which i think right now are the most important assets for FAM and SEMAR

  • Vance Frickey

    It seems to me that FAM has two main missions: Law Enforcement Support and Disaster Consequence Management. This requires fixed-wing transports, helicopters, imaging platforms and possibly tankers to extend the range of the transports, as opposed to fighter aircraft. Realistically, what airborne threat does Mexico face in the foreseeable future? Acquiring a few night-capable fighters seems like a good complement to the current F-5 day fighters in the FAM, but the requisite investment in pilot training, ground maintenance support and spares is the same no matter how many airframes you buy – high. Given a similar threat environment (at least until they got into it with the British over who owned the Falkland Islands), Argentina went with Pucaras, which have the ground-attack and loiter capabilities suited to their needs – engaging unauthorized visitors down in the mud.

    Me, I'd see if buying some A-10s from AMARC was in the cards. They're tough and almost obscenely well-armed to engage land and sea targets (with that GAU-8 cannon in the fuselage). The A-10 is actually the airframe most suited to do what Mexico has been doing and will be doing in the future with its Air Force – breaking things on the ground.

    • Eduardo Guerrero

      I think you have a point here, and yes it could be an execelent asset for FAM ,however, i don't think so due to the age of the airframes, the L-159 is i think the best suitable option because can compliment upcoming AT-6's on the ground attack role with his GSH 23mm Cannon pod and other weapons, while serving as F5's replacements for the air defence role being capable of reach targets that for speed or heigh the AT-6's cannot reach, being realistic, Mexico do not have by the moment a real air threat to it's airspace, like was in 1982 with cuba and the cold war when the F5's came , however, like any modern nation, must have at least a some air defense capability, that's why i think the L-159 ALCA is the right choice for this

  • Ronnie Serrano

    I would have to disagree with you Vance. While its true that tone of the main missions for the Mexican military is disaster relief, but law enforcement isn't one of their main roles. The Mexican military role in law enforcement has always been temporary and the reason they were brought in because the police and federal officials were and still some are corrupted and working for the drug cartels or that the police was outgunned in which Vicente Fox sent in the the Mexican Army and Marines to troubled areas. This was later enforced by Felipe Calderon when he became president in 2006 in which he sent more troops those hot areas. Right now, the Mexican military will slowly draw down and will be replaced by a Mexican style gendarmerie police force very soon. On the A-10's, I wish Mexico would get them for ground support, but the problem is that the U.S won't sell them due to political issues. With the exception of Cessna type aircraft, the A-10 isn't going to catch up to the faster private jets and some cases bigger airliner style jets also which have been used by drug smugglers for decades. For example, the Mexican Air Force use to operate a single Sud Aviation Caravelle for short time in the mid-1990's that was impounded from some drug smugglers.

  • Ronnie Serrano

    Edurado, while the L-159 is a great light fighter, I wouldn't fit the F-5 replacement role at all. This is one of the reasons why the Mexican Navy abandoned the L-39's for air defense roles in early 2003/2004 because it didn't fit their role as required and went ahead with either the JAS-39 Gripen and Su-27SKM (which was later declared the winner) because of speed, longer range, and bigger payload. L-159's will be taking over from the retired AT-33A roles in both advanced trainer and light attack roles. However, the Mexican Air Force is looking for a multirole fighter that has supersonic speed, longer range, and heavier payloads for strategic and key areas of Mexico and beyond its coastline like the Bay of Campeche area. Another thing while drug smuggling aircraft are one of the concerns, but after 9/11 and plus the growing concerns with its Latin American neighbors has become a growing issue with the Mexican government and military lately.

  • Eduardo Guerrero

    Thanks for the comments Ronnie, now i have a better picture of the situation, i guess we just have to seat and wait for news soon, your comments about the Caravelle jet chapter make me remember as well, the Gulfstream II filled with drugs that was detected and chased down until they crash in Quintana Roo by the FAM Embraer Erieye plane between Cancun and the Yucatan state line, a trully heroic operation by the FAM crews, chasing the intruder plane with the AEW&C aircraft, and with the Embraer R99, later tracking the crash site.

    Due to the cold political relationship that by the moment have Mexico with US, i agree, even on the scenario FAM ask for some A-10's is very unlikely this could happen, but on the other hand, Beechcraft just post that they deliver 6 more T-6C+'s.

    • locha


  • erom90

    “Another possibility 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.” what does he mean by this ? they want to buy new fighters then buy used ones to compliment the new ones they got ?

  • Mick

    Mexico should take a good look at the Textron Scorpion plane also the Gripen from Sweden these planes are designed more for markets that are more price conscious and don’t need very sophisticate aircraft such as the F-22 or F-35.

  • Cantankerous

    Mexico only needs fighters it does not need any attack planes so why bother with multirole if you are not an aggressive country Mexico has only fought one war outside of Mexico and that was in WW2 in the liberation of the Philippines My point being get F-15s Su27 because Mexico wouldn’t attack another country in support of an other just my view here

  • locha

    Mexico is very ???? lucky: they are TOOOOO far away from God,and SOOOO close to the USA.
    Their Air Force is the crappies of Latin America. In addition they didn’t need it why…. Cuz USA will defend them from many aggression,

    • Cantankerous

      What do you mean to far away from God? this really is a stupid statement and yes if anyone invades Mexico the US will respond but one thing is for sure the only reason we would respond is because having a communist country right next door is not good for the US either so it benefits both the US and Mexico how you people get in to the GOD thing on everything is totally stupid this is not bible study honey get a hobby other than spreading the word GOD where it doesn’t belong

      • locha

        I thing you are the first stupid of the Bible you mention… Idiot.

        • Cantankerous

          You thing? Well I THINK you can’t even spell

  • Nemo

    Korean F/A 50 or Swedish Gripen for sure. Used F16s will end up being more expensive in the long run.