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Mexico: Army
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Armed Forces > Army


The principal units of the Mexican army are six brigades and a number of independent regiments and infantry battalions. The brigades, all based in and around the Federal District (encompassing the Mexico City area), are the only real maneuver elements in the army. With their support units, they are believed to account for 40 percent of the country's ground forces. According to The Military Balance, published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the army in 1996 had seven brigades: one armored, two infantry, one motorized infantry, one airborne, one combined military police and engineer brigade, and the Presidential Guard Brigade. The armored brigade is one of two new brigades formed since 1990 as part of a reorganization made possible by an increase in overall strength of about 25,000 troops. The brigade consists of three armored and one mechanized infantry regiment.

Each of the two infantry brigades consists of three infantry battalions and an artillery battalion. The motorized infantry brigade is composed of three motorized infantry regiments. The airborne brigade consists of two army and one air force battalion. The elite Presidential Guard Brigade reports directly to the Office of the President and is responsible for providing military security for the president and for visiting dignitaries. The Presidential Guard consists of three infantry battalions, one special force battalion, and one artillery battalion.

Distinct from the brigade formations are independent regiments and battalions assigned to zonal garrisons. These independent units consist of one armored cavalry regiment, nineteen motorized cavalry regiments, one mechanized infantry regiment, seven artillery regiments, and three artillery and eight infantry battalions. Infantry battalions, each composed of approximately 300 troops, generally are deployed in each zone. Certain zones also are assigned an additional motorized cavalry regiment or one of the seven artillery regiments. Smaller detachments often are detailed to patrol more inaccessible areas of the countryside, helping to maintain order and resolve disputes.

The cavalry historically has been the most prestigious branch of the army; in 1920, there were more cavalry squadrons than infantry companies. By the early 1980s, all mounted cavalry had been transformed into motorized units -- except for one squadron retained for ceremonial purposes. The engineers, air defense, and combat support and service units was organized into separate regimental, battalion, and company units, which are distributed among military zone installations.

Mexico in 1996 was divided into twelve military regions with thirty-nine military zones. Zone boundaries usually correspond with those of the country's thirty-one states, with the headquarters of the military zone located in the state capital. Some states, including Veracruz, Guerrero, and Chiapas, which have been the scene of disturbances by peasant and Indian groups, have more than one military zone apiece. The Federal District, where Mexico City is located, is the seat of the First Military Zone and also serves as headquarters of the First Military Region.

Military zone commanders are appointed by the president, usually on the recommendation of the secretary of national defense. The senior zone commander in a given area also acts as the commander of the military region in which the zone falls. Zone commanders hold jurisdiction over all units operating in their territory, including the Rural Defense Force. They occasionally have served the federal authorities as a political counterweight to the power wielded by state governors. Zone commanders provide the secretary of national defense with valuable intelligence regarding social and political conditions in rural areas, and traditionally have acted in close coordination with the Secretariat of National Defense on resource planning and deployment matters.

Under a modernization program initiated in the late 1970s, the army purchased a significant amount of new equipment, in many cases replacing equipment that dated from the World War II period. The army's inventory of armored vehicles was expanded and updated. The Panhard ERC-90 Lynx six-wheeled reconnaissance car and the Panhard VBL M-11 light armored car were acquired from France. Older designs, such as the German HWK-11 tracked armored personnel carrier (APC), remained in the inventory in 1996.

Except for five self-propelled 75mm howitzers, in 1996 the army's artillery consisted mainly of towed 105mm howitzers. The army's principal antitank weapons are French Milan missiles, some of which are mounted on the VBL M-11s. Antiaircraft weapons systems are limited to 12.7mm air defense guns. The army has no units equipped with tactical air defense missiles.

Data as of June 1996

Last Updated: June 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Mexico was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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