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Mexico: Secretariat of the Navy
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Armed Forces > Secretariat of the Navy


Mexico created a modest navy after gaining independence from Spain in 1821. At the time of the war with the United States in 1846, the fleet was still very small and was forced to remain in port to avoid destruction. Around 1875 several large gunboats were acquired from Britain, and the naval academy was established at the main Gulf of Mexico coast base of Veracruz. Although a number of gunboats and cruiser/transports were added after the turn of the century, the navy played only a limited role in the Mexican Revolution. After World War I and again after World War II, the navy expanded by purchasing surplus gunboats, frigates, and corvettes from the United States and Canada.

To meet its broadened responsibilities, the navy has more than doubled in size since the mid-1970s. According to Jane's Fighting Ships, the navy's active-duty personnel numbered 37,000 in 1996. Of these, some 1,100 were assigned to naval aviation, and another 8,600 were marines. Also falling under the command of the navy are members of the coast guard and merchant marine, who support the country's growing maritime fleet.

The navy is entirely a volunteer force. Its personnel are dispersed among various naval zones and port installations. As with the secretary of national defense, being appointed the secretary of the navy requires not only a distinguished service record but also a personal relationship with the president. Although the general headquarters of the Secretariat of the Navy is in Mexico City, naval command is divided between the country's two coasts. The commanding headquarters of the Pacific fleet is at Acapulco; the Gulf of Mexico coast command is at Veracruz. Both commands are organized into three naval regions each. There are seventeen naval zones, one for each coastal state. Some of the naval zones are further subdivided into sectors. Through coordination within each coast command, patrol operations are carried out by the respective naval zones along the country's approximately 9,300 kilometers of coastline and the nearly 3 million square kilometers of ocean that make up Mexico's territorial waters and EEZ.

The navy's primary mission is to protect strategic installations and natural resources. This assignment translates into safeguarding the country's strategic oil installations (both at port facilities and offshore), apprehending foreign vessels that are fishing within Mexico's EEZ without proper permits, and interdicting shipments of drugs, weapons, and other contraband. Although foreign fishing poachers have been a persistent problem for the navy, expanded efforts to conduct maritime surveillance and intercept narcotics traffickers absorb a growing amount of naval resources. Naval personnel also participate in disaster relief efforts and in clean-ups to prevent environmental damage from spills of oil and other toxic substances. The Secretariat of the Navy supervises the dredging of port facilities, the repair and maintenance of vessels assigned to the fleet and to the maritime industry, the conduct of oceanographic research, and the preparation of nautical charts.

During the 1980s, the navy benefited substantially from the acquisition of new vessels and other equipment. Considerable funds also were used for construction of new ports, renovation of existing facilities, and development of shipyards and drydocks for repairs and maintenance. Many of the navy's combat vessels are World War II ships originally part of the United States Navy, which have been modernized by the addition of new weapons, electronic warfare and communications gear, and the replacement of propulsion systems.

Purchases during the 1980s included two World-War-II vintage Gearing-class destroyers, which joined a Fletcher-class destroyer transferred from the United States Navy in 1970. The Gearing-class vessels are armed with 127mm (5-inch) guns and Bofors 40mm guns for air defense. They also are mounted with antisubmarine rocket (Asroc) homing missiles. In 1982 and 1983, Mexico acquired from Spain six new Halcón-class large patrol vessels. The new ships are equipped with platforms and hangars for German Bo-105 helicopters and are designed primarily to patrol the EEZ. The navy commissioned four Holzinger-class fisheries-protection vessels constructed at Tampico between 1991 and 1993. Sixteen Auk-class patrol boats built in the United States during World War II are reaching the end of their useful service life. All twelve Admirable-class patrol boats were modernized in 1994. Thirty-one Azteca-class twenty-one-meter inshore patrol boats are used for fishery patrols. The first twenty-one of these were built in Britain and the remainder in Mexico; Mexico modernized the British-built vessels in 1987. The Mexican fleet also includes small patrol craft, a number of river patrol vessels, and survey ships and logistic support vessels. Naval cadets man the Spanish-built sail training ship, the Cuauhtémoc .

Despite improvements, the Mexican navy in 1996 was not as well equipped to protect its territorial waters and coasts as were the navies of other large Latin American countries. The navy lacks submarines and missile-armed, fast-attack craft. In addition, Mexico's larger vessels are without modern surface-to-air missiles for air defense.

The naval aviation arm has as its primary missions coastal surveillance and search-and-air rescue operations. Maritime reconnaissance is performed by Bo-105 helicopters armed with machine guns and rockets, most of which operate off ship platforms. In 1994 the naval aviation arm purchased four MD500s, used for training purposes; four Fennée; and eight Russian Mi-8 helicopters. In May 1996, the navy announced it would purchase an additional twelve Mi-8s. Coastal patrols and air rescue are carried out by six HU-16 Grumman Albatross aircraft and nine Spanish-built C-212 Aviocars. A variety of small transport, utility, and liaison planes complete the naval aircraft inventory.

The marine force consists of a paratroop brigade of three battalions, a battalion attached to the Presidential Guard Brigade, three battalions with headquarters in Mexico City, Acapulco, and Veracruz, and thirty-five independent companies distributed among ports, bases, and zonal headquarters. The marines are responsible for port security and protection of the ten-kilometer coastal fringe. In addition to having light arms, the marines are equipped with eight 105mm towed howitzers, 60mm and 81mm mortars, and 106mm recoilless rifles, as well as Pegaso VAP-3550 amphibious vehicles.

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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