Persuader Patrol Planes for Mexico’s Maritime
Mexico’s military needs have escalated, as the country faces what counter-terrorist analyst John Robb has called a growing “open source insurgency” composed primarily of narco-traffickers, with some leftist groups and political forces jockeying for position in the uncoordinated mix. By 2010, the violence associated with “The Cartel War” had reportedly claimed around 28,000 lives since 2006 – a figure that continues to rise steadily.
In response, the Mexican government has been signing contracts on a number of fronts, from full city-wide surveillance and monitoring systems, to UAVs and aerostats, to medium helicopters. More equipment is on the way, via Mexico’s own purchases and the USA’s Merida Initiative.
One of its most important acquisition programs is EADS-CASA’s popular CN-235 MPA maritime patrol aircraft, which currently serves with Spain, Colombia, Ireland, Turkey, and the US Coast Guard. Indonesia’s Digiranta has built them for Indonesia, Brunei and the UAE, and recently added South Korea’s Coast Guard as a customer. A May 1/08 Economist article may help to explain the importance of these aircraft to Mexico’s current Cartel War:
“Now it seems the traffickers have perfected the design and manufacture of semi-submersible craft (although they look like submarines, they don’t fully submerge). In 2006, American officials say they detected only three; now they are spotting an average of ten a month. Of those, only one in ten is intercepted. Many sail up the Pacific coast, often far out to sea. With enough cargo space to carry two to five tonnes of cocaine, they also carry large fuel tanks, giving them a range of 2,000 miles (3,200km). They are typically made of fibreglass, powered by a 300/350hp diesel engine and manned by a crew of four. They normally unload their cargo onto fast power boats for the final leg to shore. None has been sighted unloading at ports or beaches.”
The US Coast Guard is using its similar “HC-144″ CN235 variant for exactly this purpose. Semi-submerisbles aren’t the only threat by any means, but the ability to monitor Mexico’s long sea lanes is important to any government that wants to control its territory. The CN-235-300 Persuader aircraft and their FITS(Fully Integrated Tactical System) surveillance suites will serve as the Mexican Navy’s high-range fixed-wing maritime patrol option.
The Mexican Navy currently operates 3 E-2C Hawkeye aircraft with secondary surface surveillance capabilities, and 6 converted CASA C-212PM planes retrofitted with FITS surveillance suites, under a contract that began in 2002. Another 2 Cessna Caravan 208Bs with advanced electro-optical surveillance turrets will be forthcoming under the US-Mexican Merida initiative.
These land-based fixed wing naval aircraft have ranges and endurance times that cannot be matched by helicopters. They are supplemented by a variety of specialty naval helicopters that serve aboard Mexican Navy ships, including Eurocopter AS565MB Panthers (Huracan/ Saar 4.5 Class FACs), missionized MD902s (Oceanica/ Sierra Class corvettes) and Bo-105CBS-4s fitted with radar and flotation devices (most other Mexican ship classes).
The Mexican Air Force (FAM) has some high-end assets of its own: 2 jet-powered Embraer P-99 maritime patrol aircraft. Its 4 converted C-26 Metroliner turboprops can leverage their add-on electro-optical turrets and radar bulge as a mid-tier option for maritime and land surveillance, but their electronics and radar are less sophisticated than the Navy’s smaller CN-235s. The FAM’s Schweizer SA2-37A Condor dedicated reconnaissance aircraft is mostly intended for use over land, but its flexible, palletized payloads could be also adapted for maritime uses with the right equipment.
Contracts and Key Events
Nov 16/11: 1st delivery. Airbus Military announces that the Mexican Navy has taken delivery of the 1st CN235 MPA ordered from EADS North America under the Mérida Initiative. The remaining 3 aircraft will be delivered in the first half of 2012.
The delivery brings Mexico’s fleet of EADS-CASA planes to 20. Including this latest delivery, the Mexican Navy has 2 CN235s, 6 C212PMs (maritime patrol), and 1 CN235 MPA, to fly alongside 2 Mexican Federal Police CN235s, and 9 of the larger C295s operated by the Mexican Air Force.
Aug 3/10: The Mexican Navy will equip its CN-235 MPA with Telephonics’ APS-143Cv3 OceanEye radar. The APS-143Cv3 OceanEye [PDF] maritime surveillance radar offers both synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging as well as inverse SAR imaging. Telephonics Corp. announces the $2+ million contract from EADS Airbus Military, and has the potential to deliver up to 6 more radar systems.
May 18/09: The US House of Representatives approves $96.7 billion in 2009 supplemental appropriations, which includes $470 million in funding for Mexico. Among other purchases, that amount is meant to fund another 3 CN-235MPAs, and 4 HH-60 helicopters for Mexico’s SEMAR.
April 3/09: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] the Government of Mexico’s official request for one (1) CN235-300M-M01 Persuader Maritime Patrol Aircraft, plus spare and repair parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of support.
The estimated cost is $60 million, and the principal contractor is EADS North America in Arlington, VA. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale, and implementation of this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional U. S. Government personnel in country. One contractor representative is requested for a period of 4 years, however, to provide support services.
According to DID’s Latin American correspondent Inigo Guevara, it appears that 2 CN-235MPAs will come via the Merida Initiative, while the other 4 will be acquired directly by SEMAR from EADS-CASA, in a 6-plane deal that includes 2 larger C-295M tactical transports.
Nov 13/08: The Mexican Congress increases Mexico’s Navy Secretariat (SEMAR) budget to MXN 16 billion ($1.28 billion) for 2009. The 20% jump will help the Navy double the marines’ size to 12,500, buy 2 EADS-CASA CN-235-300MPA Persuaders, resume construction on 2 Oxaca Class OPVs with accompanying Eurocopter AS565MB Panther helicopters, and acquire 17 Polaris II 16 meter interceptor boats, and 5 unspecified coastal patrol ships.
All 6 CN-235MPA aircraft are expected to be delivered by the end of 2011. Jane’s Naval Forces.
October 2008: Mexico’s Naval Secretariat releases their “Informe de Labores – SEMAR 2008” report [PDF] laying out its future force plans and acquisitions. The CN-235MPA is included.
July 1/08: Infodefensa reports that SEMAR has picked EADS-CASA’s CN-235-300M Persuader over Alenia’s C-27J as its next maritime patrol aircraft, and expects to pay EUR 124.4 million ($195.7 million equivalent) for 6 aircraft. Another EUR 13.7 million ($21.5 million) would be spent on ground support infrastructure, and EUR 21.9 million ($34.5 million) would cover full logistics and spares support over 5 years. El Gran Capitan story reproduction.
- Thanks to subscriber Inigo Guevara, author of Harpia Publishing’s Latin American Fighters, for his assistance.
- Naval Technology – AirTech CN-235MP/MPA – Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Spain / Indonesia
- Airbus Military – CN235
- Airbus Military – Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS)
- Telephonics – APS-143Cv3 OceanEye radar brochure[PDF]
- Mexican SEMAR (October 2008) – Informe de Labores – SEMAR 2008 [PDF]
- Wikipedia – Merida Initiative
fn1. EADS’ 2002 release, and 2004 reports, place the number of retro-FITS C-212PMs at 8, but Mexico’s SEMAR 2008 report gives the maximum number as 7. Inigo Guevara adds that this is because one of the planes made a forced water landing, and was written off.
- The Economist (May 1/08) – Waving, not drowning. Documents the growth of mini-submersibles in maritime smuggling.
- Business 2.0 – The Technology Secrets of Cocaine, Inc. Including mini-submersibles.
- WIRED Danger Room (Nov 12/07) – Colombia’s Cocaine Subs. LA Times: “Over the last two years, Colombian authorities and the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy have seized 13 submarine-like vessels outfitted for drug running.”