As Mexico struggles to wrench control from drug cartels, New Jersey–based defense company Dynamic Defense Materials (DDM) may be giving police an advantage while they battle for the nation's roads: snap-together ballistic barriers that can be set up in minutes. The armored system protects against machine gun and rifle fire, as well as fragments from mortars, grenades and rockets. Roadblocks serve as a way to choke contraband and limit the mobility of drug lord soldiers, but also become targets for cartel members seeking to intimidate soldiers with random attacks. Small numbers of the portable forts, called McCurdy's Armor after a fallen U.S. Marine killed by a sniper, have been deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Colombia.
The $1 million deal between the company and Mexico came the same week that gang members blocked more than 30 roads in the Monterrey metropolitan area over 24 hours. Gangs of armed men parked trucks or trailers across roadways to form what the local media call "narcobloqueos" in a display of force. The gangs, armed with bludgeons and guns, steal cars, assault drivers and sometimes burn the vehicles. "We know that operations have intensified in recent months," DDM produce specialist Joe Dimond says. "We are putting all of our resources in place to make certain that McCurdy's Armor is delivered well before the scheduled April 30th request date."
The announcement of the sale came at the same time that a delegation of top-ranking U.S. officials pledged support to Mexico with equipment and training to fend off the narcotraffickers. Bur such promises do not mean hardware gets there. Last year, the Pentagon notified the State Department of the impending shipment of $415 million worth of helicopters (eight Bell 412 helicopters, as many as five Sikorsky UH-60M helicopters, and a handful of fixed-wing airplanes) to the government in direct military-to-military sales. But only five Bell 142s have been delivered, prompting complaints from members of Congress. A 2011 deadline may not be possible due to a helicopter shortage in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Bill Gates said while in Mexico. Gates says the Pentagon is looking "at all the possibilities to get [Mexico] some bridge capabilities" until the delivery is ready.
The moral: A private deal usually delivers the goods quicker.
President Barack Obama last year launched a three-year, $1.6 billion effort to fund drug-fighting initiatives. The Pentagon now provides intelligence and surveillance support, communications equipment and vehicles to the Mexican forces. But this may prove to just be the start. On Monday, March 29, 2010, a top U.S. delegation of senior-level officials at the Defense and State Departments pledged closer military-to-military cooperation. The administration is asking for Congress to continue the initiative with another $310 million to go to Mexico in 2011. But the initiative is not only about fighting, it's about law enforcement.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has established a Web-based system which allows Mexican investigators to trace weapons known to originate from the are at work trying to stem U.S.-based money launderers and gun runners. Direct commercial sales are also cleared by the State Department. According to State Department records, almost $1.4 billion of defense-related goods were sold to Mexico from the U.S. private sector from 2006 to 2008—which dwarfs the direct government sales. The 2008 figure tops out at about $746 million. The Obama administration has been quick to blame an influx of illegal arms from the United States into Mexico—these, of course, are not listed on these documents. Guns from the U.S. are certainly smuggled into Mexico, but the cartels also have access to weapons produced by other nations, such as AK-47s and rocket launchers, which are most often smuggled in from other parts of Latin America.