Mexican policemen stand guard next to an armored car belonging to alleged members of the Mexican drug cartel "Los Zetas."
Credit: Hector Guerrero

Drug cartels are certainly violent — but they're also creative.

Mexican police recently seized a F-Series Super Duty truck that a drug gang had fitted with steel armor and transformed into a homemade armored vehicle.

(Read more: The ingenuity of Mexico's drug traffickers)

Known as "narco tanks," "Rhino trucks" and "monster trucks," the crude armored vehicles are evidence of a changing tactical logic on the ground, argue John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus in the Small Wars Journal.

The trucks have armor plating, air conditioning and gun ports. Some have gun turrets. They can defend against personal weapons.

Here are a few key points from their interesting analysis:

Narco-trucks grant an advantage over dismounted forces, municipal and state police, and lowlevel federal units. ... Improvised armored fighting vehicles (IAFVs) grant greater mobility, the ability to deploy larger numbers of gunmen, and are sure to provoke countermeasures in the escalating battle for territory among respective cartels.

The cartels assemble and modify IAFVs in makeshift factories within areas they control. It is likely the cartels will accelerate use of IAFVs in their competition to control the plazas and retain freedom of maneuver within their zones of impunity. The result is a cartel arms race.

Cartel tactics in Mexico, which began with assassinations and raiding missions bridging the gap between crime and irregular warfare, are looking more and more like conventional combined arms and infantry and mechanized infantry missions. Improvised armored fighting vehicles can not only transport squads but — with armaments for gun turrets — also have the capacity to support them in firefights. 

On a recent front page of the national newspaper Reforma, reports the Washington Post, a photograph of a monster truck was accompanied by the headline: “And this doesn’t look like a war?”

(h/t InSight Crime)

Follow Stephanie on Twitter: @stephaniegarlow

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