Column 031207 Wall
Monday, March 12, 2007
The Mexican Army and its Controversial New Rifle
By Allan Wall
The massive military parade held on Mexican Independence Day (September 16) is an annual tradition. In September of 2006, it provided the opportunity to showcase Mexico’s new FX-05 “Xiuhcoatl” assault rifle. At the parade, soldiers of the Special Forces Airmobile Group, or GAFE (the acronym for Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales), carried the FX-05. (See Wikipedia photo.)
The new rifle’s name “Xiuhcoatl” means “Fire Serpent,” coming from Nahuatl, the language spoken by the Aztecs and other related groups. The “fire serpent” was a ferocious Aztec mythological creature, and on the famous Aztec disc monolith called the “Sun Stone” the entire circular design is enclosed by two flaming “fire serpents.”
The FX-05 Xiuhcoatl was designed and manufactured in Mexico, by the Dirección General de Industria Militar del Ejército (the Mexican military’s industrial arm). The weapon is to be gradually phased into Army units, replacing the currently employed G-3 (manufactured in Mexico under license from the German arms company Hechler and Koch).
The FX-05 utilizes a 5.56 x 45 mm NATO round, and is gas operated with a rotating bolt. Its rate of fire is 750 rounds per minute. Effective range is 200 to 800 meters (using the sight marks), and it’s fed with a 30-round detachable box magazine or a 100-round drum magazine. The rifle has mechanical, telescopic and red-dot sights.
The FX-05 receiver is made of carbon fiber reinforced polymer, and the barrel of advanced resistant stainless steel.
The new weapon has been fraught with controversy. There is no doubt that the FX-05 is based on Hechler and Koch’s G-36V, which is not surprising. Since ancient times military technology has been based on the adaptation and modification of earlier-existing military technology. But there are adaptations and then there are unauthorized copies, a form of industrial piracy.
The German government and Heckler and Koch, HK, have accused Mexico of copying the G36V design for the FX-05. In fact, they threatened to take the case to international tribunals, and demanded that Mexico destroy the FX-05 and pay damages to HK.
(This sort of thing happens from time to time in the arms industry. For example, Colt, the U.S. arms manufacturer that makes the M-4 — the rifle my unit used when we were in Iraq, threatened to sue HK, claiming that the HK M4 rifle was a copy of the Colt M-4. Eventually the charge was dropped, on the grounds that they look similar but are different on the inside, and on condition that HK would change the name from HK-4 to HK 416.)
As a result of the German threat, in November of 2006 Mexico stopped manufacturing the new rifles.
There was also political fallout. General Alfredo Oropeza, who ran the Dirección General de Industria Militar del Ejército was considered the frontrunner to be President Felipe Calderon’s Secretary of National Defense. But because of the FX-05 controversy, Oropeza was passed over in favor of General Guillermo Galvan.
On February 1, 2007 a meeting was held in Mexico City, attended by representatives of the Mexican Defense Ministry and Heckler and Koch. After an inspection and exhibition of the weaponry involved, the HK representatives decided that the FX-05 wasn’t a copy of the G36V and dropped the dispute.
So why did HK give in so easily?
It wouldn’t be Mexico without a conspiracy theory. One I ran across was that Heckler and Koch withdrew its threat in exchange for the chance to sell the G36V to Mexican police departments.
Anyway, since the FX-05 is no longer disputed by HK, the Mexican military-industrial complex was allowed to start cranking out FX-05 Xiuhcoatl rifles once again. As of February 18, 5,000 short versions of the rifle had been manufactured, and currently another 5,000 of the standard version are being assembled. So it’s a green light for the FX-05 Xiuhcoatl.
Switching from the G-3 rifle to the FX-05 means that the Mexican Army is changing from a 7.62 mm to a 5.56 mm round for its main assault rifle. The 7.62 mm round is right for an open battlefield situation, while the 5.56 mm is more suitable to close quarters urban combat, plus it weighs less so more rounds can be carried.
As the Mexican Army plays a key role in the government’s war on drug cartels, the FX-05 Xiuhcoatl is likely to get a lot of use in the future.
Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991. He can be reached via e-mail at