Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #43: Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles (IAFVs) – ‘Narcotanques’ and ‘Monstruos Blindados’ in Jalisco

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #43: Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles (IAFVs) – ‘Narcotanques’ and ‘Monstruos Blindados’ in Jalisco

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker

Investigators from the Jalisco State Prosecutor’s office (Fiscalía del Estado de Jalisco) seized two heavy vehicles with artisanal armor (blindaje artesanal) in a workshop located on a farm in Tuxpan, Jalisco on Thursday, 19 December 2019. The two improvised armored fighting vehicles (IAFVs) are believed to belong to the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG). This incident is not unique and represents an ongoing, yet sporadic, pattern of IAFV deployment in Mexico by the cartels over the last decade.

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Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicle (IAFV) seized by Jalisco State Prosecutor’s Office.  Source: Fiscalía del Estado de Jalisco, @FiscaliaJal, 22 December 2019, https://twitter.com/FiscaliaJal/status/1208933201034522624.

Key Information: “VIDEO: Autoridades decomisan en Jalisco 2 “monstruos” blindados, presuntamente propiedad del CJNG.” Sin Embargo. 22 December 2019, https://www.sinembargo.mx/22-12-2019/3700669:

Personal de la Fiscalía del Estado de Jalisco aseguró dos vehículos pesados equipados con blindaje artesanal de alto nivel y resistencia que presuntamente pertenecían al y que fueron halladas al interior de un taller en una finca del municipio de Tuxpan.

Videos que circulan en redes sociales muestran el momento en el que elementos de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Sedena) transportaban ambos vehículos por calles de la localidad.

En las grabaciones se aprecia que se trata de un par de camiones de carga protegidos por gruesas placas de metal en las que fueron hechos agujeros de varios tamaños y en distintos puntos, lo que presuntamente permitiría a sus acompañantes abrir fuego desde el interior de los vehículos en cualquier dirección.

Cabe resaltar que ambos vehículos tenían una silueta del estado de Jalisco pintada en uno de los costados, por lo que autoridades determinaron que se trata propiedad del Cártel Jalisco nueva Generación.

Key Information: Elsa Martha Gutiérrez, “Aseguran vehículos blindados del cártel de Jalisco en Tuxpan.” Milenio. 23 December 2019, https://www.milenio.com/policia/jalisco-aseguran-vehiculos-blindados-en-tuxpan:

Elementos del Ejército localizaron dos vehículos con blindaje artesanal presuntamente del Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación en un taller mecánico de la colonia Talpita, en el municipio de Tuxpan, ubicado al sur de Jalisco.

Las unidades aseguradas son de color verde olivo y tenían las siglas de dicho grupo delictivo. El hallazgo derivó de un recorrido de vigilancia de militares, quienes detectaron un vehículo con reporte de robo. 

Key Information: “Golpe al CJNG: así son los impresionantes camiones tipo “monstruo” que decomisaron al grupo criminal.” Infobae. 23 December 2019, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2019/12/23/golpe-al-cjng-asi-son-los-impresionantes-camiones-tipo-monstruo-que-decomisaron-al-grupo-criminal:

Elementos de la Fiscalía de Jalisco decomisaron dos camionetas blindadas, conocidas como “Monstruo”, propiedad del Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) en el municipio de Tuxpan.

El aseguramiento de los vehículos con “blindaje artesanal” ocurrió luego de que el pasado jueves, elementos del Ejército que realizaban un recorrido de vigilancia observaron que un automóvil con reporte de robo ingresó rápidamente a una finca al notar su presencia.

Debido a que no contaban con una orden de cateo, los soldados pidieron apoyo a la Fiscalía estatal.

Tras obtener la orden de un juez, elementos de la Fiscalía ingresaron al inmueble en el que localizaron los dos vehículos “modificados con blindaje artesanal de alto nivel y resistencia, con las siglas de un grupo de la delincuencia organizada”, detalló la dependencia.

Key Information: Luis Herrera, “Narco Tanquetas del CJNG: La Guerra Sigue.” Reporte Indigo. 6 January 2020, https://www.reporteindigo.com/reporte/narco-tanquetas-del-cjng-la-guerra-sigue-vehiculos-blindados-autoridades-armamento/:

La confirmación de que el Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) está ensamblando sus propios vehículos blindados, tipo tanquetas y el aumento en aseguramientos de armas de alto poder bélico en el estado, como el rifle Barret, presagian que el grupo delictivo continuará este 2020 su confrontación abierta contra las autoridades federales y locales.

Las imágenes que difundió la dependencia de los vehículos blindados que produce el CJNG en sus talleres causaron impacto: son tanquetas con orificios tanto en sus costados como en las partes frontal y trasera para accionar desde ellos las armas. En la parte superior se aprecia lo que parece ser una torreta para la colocación de una metralleta e incluso las llantas fueron protegidas contra disparos.

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Front View and Armored Hub Covers of Seized Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicle (IAFV). Source: Fiscalía del Estado de Jalisco, @FiscaliaJal, 22 December 2019, https://twitter.com/FiscaliaJal/status/1208933201034522624.

Who: Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), Jalisco New Generation Cartel. CJNG insignia, including an outline of Jalisco state was reportedly marked on the vehicles.

What: Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles (IAFVs); known as narco-tanks (narcotanques or narco-tanquetas, monstruos (monster trucks), or camionetas blindados (armored trucks).

When: Thursday, 19 December 2019.

Where: Tuxpan, Jalisco, Mexico.

Why: Improvised armored fighting vehicles (IAFVs) are constructed by criminal cartels to offer tactical advantage in engagements against rival cartels and state security forces (military and police).

Analysis

Mexican criminal cartels have been using a range of improvised armored fighting vehicles (IAFVs) since about 2010-2011.[1] These improvised fighting vehicles range from retrofitted armored sports utility vehicles to more specially built units.[2]  The lower range vehicles are developed by adding armament and simple armor to pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles. The more complex versions involve artisanal armor (blindaje artesinal) applied to a range of vehicle platforms. At the lower range of sophistication, we see light armor in vehicles resembling ‘technicals.’  Some recent use of ‘technical-type’ vehicles armed with .50 caliber barrett guns and .50 caliber machine guns include the 17 October 2019 ‘Battle of Culiacán’ where Sinaloa cartel sicaritos engaged security forces to thwart the capture of El Chapo’s son Ovidio Guzmán López[3] and the Cártel de Noroeste (CDN) urban siege in Villa Unión, Coahuila. In the latter, 23 persons were killed in a two-day running gun battle in which the CDN, an off-shoot of the Zetas, used IAFVs:

…some with machine-gun turrets and welded armoring; the doors of many were professionally printed with the initials of a drug cartel. At least four had .50 caliber mounted machine guns. Residents claimed there were at least twice that many pickups, with some escaping.[4]

In the case documented here in Jalisco, more advanced and heavily armored vehicles fabricated in ‘dump truck’ variant with dual rear axles were used.  These two vehicles had gun (firing) ports on both sides and the rear of the troop compartment with a turret mounted on top suggesting a squad sized sicario unit could be deployed within them as a mounted infantry force. This type of heavy IAFV is often known as a narcotanque or narco-tanqueta (narco-tank) and monstruos (monster trucks), monstruos blindados (armored monsters), or rinocerontes (Rhino trucks).  Collectively, these vehicles with artisanal armor are known as camionetas blindadas (armored trucks). Back in 2011, Sullivan and Elkus noted, “[t]hese crude ‘narcotanques” do confer a decisive tactical advantage when deployed against civil police and dismounted adversaries.”[5] At that time, it was projected that cartels could evolve their tactics to employ their IAFVs as mobile fire support platforms to maneuver and deliver fire support to dismounted troops while cutting off lines of retreat.[6] That TTP is now being refined as recently seen in Culiacán and Villa Unión. The continuing assembly of fabricated artisanal armored vehicles (of varying configuration) is an indicator of evolving tactical proficiency and organizational capacity among criminal cartels.

It should be recognized that such armored vehicles far outclass standard Mexican police armaments and, in the larger heavily armored dump truck variants such as in the case of the two Tuxpan, Jalisco vehicles, are immune to all but SEDENA (Army) and SEMAR (Naval Forces) anti-materiel (.50 Cal) and anti-vehicular weaponry. No RPG screens or stand-off spacing armor (to defeat HEAT rounds) has been noted on these vehicles, either due to a lack of perceived threat and/or lack of design expertise. Further, shell traps and lack of armor curvature usage (for round deflection purposes) is noted in these vehicles, however, anti-mobility targeting protection (by means of the front wheel armor covers and back wheel anti-ballistic screens) is evident. Of ongoing concern related to cartel IAFV design is the armored turret with firing port, which, while still meant for anti-material rifle/heavy machine gun usage, may at some point evolve into a dedicated anti-vehicular weapon (20mm or larger in size).[8]

Sources

“#Boletín | Asegura Fiscalía del Estado dos vehículos pesados con blindaje artesanal en Tuxpan.” JaliscoFiscalía del Estado de Jalisco, @FiscaliaJal, 22 December 2019, https://twitter.com/FiscaliaJal/status/1208933201034522624.

“Decomisan dos transportes blindados tipo ‘Monstruo’ en Jalisco.” Regeneración. 23 December 2019, https://regeneracion.mx/decomisan-dos-transportes-blindados-tipo-monstruo-en-jalisco/.

“Golpe al CJNG: así son los impresionantes camiones tipo “monstruo” que decomisaron al grupo criminal.” Infobae. 23 December 2019, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2019/12/23/golpe-al-cjng-asi-son-los-impresionantes-camiones-tipo-monstruo-que-decomisaron-al-grupo-criminal.

Elsa Martha Gutiérrez, “Aseguran vehículos blindados del cártel de Jalisco en Tuxpan.” Milenio. 23 December 2019, https://www.milenio.com/policia/jalisco-aseguran-vehiculos-blindados-en-tuxpan.

Luis Herrera, “Narco Tanquetas del CJNG: La Guerra Sigue.” Reporte Indigo. 6 January 2020, https://www.reporteindigo.com/reporte/narco-tanquetas-del-cjng-la-guerra-sigue-vehiculos-blindados-autoridades-armamento/.

“VIDEO: Autoridades decomisan en Jalisco 2 “monstruos” blindados, presuntamente propiedad del CJNG.” Sin Embargo. 22 December 2019, https://www.sinembargo.mx/22-12-2019/3700669.

End Notes

[1] See Elyssa Pachico, “Video” Narco-Trucks Ready for war in Mexico.” InSight Crime. 14 April 2019, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/video-narco-trucks-ready-for-war-in-mexico/, John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “Narco-Armor in Mexico.” Small Wars Journal. 14 July 2011, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/narco-armor-in-mexico

[2] Robert J. Bunker and Byron Ramirez (Eds.), Narco-Armor: Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles in Mexico. Ft. Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office. 29 October 2013, https://community.apan.org/wg/tradoc-g2/fmso/m/fmso-monographs/197127.

[3] Joseph Trevithick, “Cartel "Narco Tanks," Heavy Weapons On Full Display During Battle Over El Chapo's Sons.” The Drive. 18 October 2019, https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/30494/cartel-narco-tanks-heavy-weapons-on-full-display-during-battle-over-el-chapos-son.

[4] The two-day siege spanned 30 November-1 December 2019.  The CDN used marked armored vehicles.  See Maria Verza, “A blow-by-blow account of the hours-long gun battles that left 23 people dead in a town near the US-Mexico border.” Business Insider (AP). 3 December 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/how-the-gunfights-in-north-mexico-that-left-22-dead-unfolded-2019-12.

[5] John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “Tactics and Operations in the Mexican Drug War.” Infantry Magazine, September-October 2011, https://www.academia.edu/2947778/Tactics_and_Operations_in_the_Mexican_Drug_War.

[6] ibid. 

[7] See notes 3 and 4 above.

[8] Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note # 3: Narco Armored Vehicle Threats and Countermeasures.” Small Wars Journal, 29 August 2011, https://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-3-narco-armored-vehicle-threats-and-countermeasures.

Significance: Blindaje artesanal, Camionetas blindadas, Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), Improvised armored fighting vehicles (IAFVs), Monstruos (monster trucks), Narco-armor, Narcotanques or narco-tanquetas (narco-tanks), Rinocerontes (Rhino trucks)

Additional Reading

John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, “Narco-Armor in Mexico.” Small Wars Journal, 14 July 2011.

Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note # 3: Narco Armored Vehicle Threats and Countermeasures.” Small Wars Journal, 29 August 2011. 

Robert J. Bunker and Byron Ramirez (Eds.), Narco-Armor: Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles in Mexico. Ft. Leavenworth, KS: Foreign Military Studies Office. 29 October 2013.

Robert J. Bunker and Byron Ramirez, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #22: Narco Tank Factory Discovered in Nuevo Laredo.” Small Wars Journal. 13 February 2015.

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy - University of Southern California, Senior El Centro Fellow at Small Wars Journal, and Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks.  Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He is co-editor of Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities (Xlibris, 2019), Countering Terrorism and WMD: Creating a Global Counter-Terrorism Network (Routledge, 2006) and Global Biosecurity: Threats and Responses (Routledge, 2010), Studies in Gangs and Cartels (Routledge, 2013), and The Rise of The Narcostate (Mafia States) (Xlibris, 2018), and co-author of Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Anthology (iUniverse, 2011). He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” His current research focus is the impact of transnational organized crime on sovereignty in Mexico and other countries.

 

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is an Adjunct Research Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and Adjunct Faculty, Division of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Distinguished Visiting Professor and Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico, VA; Staff Member (Consultant), Counter-OPFOR Program, National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-West; and Adjunct Faculty, National Security Studies M.A. Program and Political Science Department, California State University, San Bernardino, CA. Dr. Bunker has hundreds of publications including Studies in Gangs and Cartels, with John Sullivan (Routledge, 2013),  Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training, with Stephen Sloan (University of Oklahoma, 2011), and edited works, including Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies: Dark Renaissance (Routledge, 2014), co-edited with Pamela Ligouri Bunker; Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War (Routledge, 2012); Narcos Over the Border: Gangs, Cartels and Mercenaries (Routledge, 2011); Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers (Routledge, 2008); Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency (Routledge, 2005); and Non-State Threats and Future Wars (Routledge, 2002).