Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Improvised Armored Fighting Vehicles (IAFVs) In Service For Cartels

"Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

The redesigned vehicles with handcrafted armor in the service of organized crime, commonly called "monsters", which are used in the states with the highest rates of violence due to territorial disputes between drug trafficking cartels, have not gone out of fashion since their appearance a little over a decade ago, as evidenced by the number of units with these characteristics secured by the Mexican Army.

According to data from the Ministry of National Defense (Sedena), from January 1, 2018 to June 28, 2022, a total of 66 "monsters", reconstructed with the most diverse and peculiar shapes, were secured by the Army in at least nine states of the Republic: from pick-up trucks, SUVs or Jeeps, to heavy trucks and tanks that serve criminals to protect themselves from adversaries or to attack targets.

Of course, the "monsters" secured by the Army are fewer than those located by elements of the Secretariat of the Navy, some state police or the Criminal Investigation Agency, which together add up to hundreds of automobiles that are conditioned with thick plates of mild steel more than one inch thick. There is nothing to do with commercial automotive armor, whose steel is specially imported from Sweden, but whose control by the authorities induces criminals to look for a less aesthetic protection; very heavy, but effective.

The vehicles with handmade armor are more used by criminal organizations that have confrontations in more open, cross-country scenarios, as evidenced by the statistics of seizures. The state of Tamaulipas, a pioneer in the manufacture and use of this type of units, in the last four years and six months has seized 42 "monsters"; followed by Michoacán, with seven; Sonora, six; Jalisco, five; Guanajuato, two; and Chihuahua, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa and Zacatecas, with one in each entity.

In fact, in states such as Sonora and Zacatecas, this type of vehicle is a novelty since the dispute for control of various regions in their territories has increased. In Sonora, their incorporation into the civil war between criminal clans is due to the confrontation between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Caborca Cartel with its allies from the Beltrán Leyva organization, Los Mazatlecos and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). In Zacatecas, the fight between the Sinaloa and Jalisco groups has also employed them.

The "monsters" do not replace the commercial armored vehicles, which are also used by drug traffickers, since in the same period of time, the Sedena has secured 564 of these units, which are mainly used by leaders of criminal cells, while heavy vehicles perform special tasks and their occupants are hired killers of the troops. Tamaulipas is also the leader in armored vehicles, with 277 units secured, followed by Michoacán, with 81; Sonora, 62; Sinaloa, 24; Jalisco, 22; Guerrero, 21; and Guanajuato, 19.


After the confrontation and the narco-blockades that took place on the night of August 9, 2022 in the states of Jalisco, elements of the Mexican Army killed a presumed hitman, detained five more, and seized, in addition to weapons, ammunition and magazines, seven vehicles, among them a truck of the so-called "monsters" with armor plating. The owners of the truck were members of the CJNG, of the elite group "Los Deltas", commanded by Ricardo Ruiz Velasco "El Doble R" or "El Tripa".

The military were not even surprised by the discovery, as they have noticed how their location has increased recently, as in the same state of Jalisco, where National Guard agents did it on April 13, also in 2022, when they secured one of those vehicles, inside the box of a trailer, loaded with approximately two thousand projectiles for firearms, in the municipality of Jamay, bordering with Michoacán. Individuals around the tractor-trailer fled in different directions.

On June 11, members of the National Guard deployed in the state of Sonora also secured a dump truck style vehicle with homemade armor, abandoned on a dirt road between the communities of Atil and Magdalena de Kino. The unit contained 222 cartridges of various calibers, 71 caltrops and several firearm magazines. No one was arrested during the operation.

On July 1, in the municipality of Zapopan, Jalisco, armed individuals broke into a company dedicated to automotive armoring, located on the popular López Mateos Avenue, to take away two young employees, aged 26 and 33. The families of the armorers held demonstrations to demand their return home, and almost a week later, their release was announced, without further details, as they arrived home by their own means. The motive for the kidnapping was never clarified.

The Secretary of National Defense destroyed, in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, 23 vehicles with "monstrous" armor; 13 of them, related to criminal records. Meanwhile, a day later, the Attorney General's Office and the Ministry of Public Security of that entity informed that in the period from 2019 to 2022, 257 vehicles with handmade armor have been secured, seized and destroyed, more than those obtained by the military alone.

On August 2, 2022, the Attorney General's Office (FGR) seized five armored vehicles, in addition to two pickup trucks, hidden among avocado orchards on the dirt road to the community of Las Carmelitas, in Uruapan, Michoacan, and marked with the acronym of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación). Inside the vehicles, 60 cartridges for assault rifles, five ballistic helmets, 47 magazine holders, two ballistic vests and various items of clothing with the letters CJNG were found.


The use of the "monsters" dates back to the end of the first decade of the new millennium. They first appeared in Tamaulipas and were soon replicated in Michoacán and Jalisco. Its inventors were Los Zetas, the armed group formed by Army deserters that initially acted as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, but when it split, it fought against its former leaders and advanced territorially in Michoacan, without being able to incursion from that state to Jalisco, nor did they manage to do so in the state of Zacatecas.

Due to the regulation that exists for companies dedicated to automotive armoring, members of organized crime have been able to acquire armored units from the factory or have had their vehicles armored through people with no criminal record, but they have not been able to do the same with the "monstrous", so called because of their unaesthetic and even crude finishes due to the use of mild or laminated steel that carries a heavy load on the trucks.

People who somehow worked in the automotive armoring industry have decided to work for organized crime after finding themselves unemployed or attracted by better salaries. These armorers require knowledge of industrial engineering, mechanics, mechatronics or technical careers related to the automotive world, as they must know about machines and tools, welding, manufacturing processes to correctly assemble the steel plates, overlap them and not leave ballistic gaps.

In April 2017, the Mexican Association of Automotive Armorers (AMBA) announced that it would offer up to 50 thousand job openings to Mexican migrants returning to or deported from the United States. The AMBA stated that the jobs offered would be in the fields of private security, automotive armoring, transportation of valuables, logistics, executive protection, consulting and alarm monitoring, among others. The associates' plants are located in the State of Mexico, Nuevo Leon and Mexico City. The outcome of the project was never known, although it is known that there were layoffs in this sector due to the pandemic.

In addition to the armorers who are recruited by the drug cartels, there is a significant number of illegal companies that are not registered or regulated before the tax and security authorities; those that offer their services through the internet, social networks or some other platforms, although they do not have the opportunity to acquire invoiced materials, including certified ballistic steel, which is special and is only sold to duly established and supervised armorers.

Despite not being equipped with the best quality materials, not having an aesthetic automotive appearance and not being as light in weight as possible (as is the case with commercially armored units), the "monsters" are very expensive for those who have them manufactured, either by mounting the structure on a chassis or by modifying the original characteristics of an automobile, since their price generally exceeds one million Mexican pesos.

Zeta Tijuana


  1. See, that part never made sense to me… Mexico (and the US) has an enormous military, tanks, blackhawks, etc… but the only military attacks they have against the cartels are small level skirmishes…

    The most I ever saw was the H2 Blackhawk attack but even that was small potatoes…

    Drug War my ass

    1. @6:22 pm. Mexico has main battle tanks? Since when?

    2. 6:26 You can check it on wikipedia. Theres a list of equipment of almost any army in the world. Tanks in Mexico are mainly for defense, not attack. And use of tanks in territories around civils is a big NO.

  2. They’re manufacturing some Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome type shit. The world is gonna break down one day. And we will be back to the caveman days we’re truly only the strong will survive.

    1. Most non urban places in Mexico today ARE Mad Max Road Warrior shit…

      I didn’t say Thunderdome, cause as much as I love all the movies that ones cheesy af

    2. 8:08 "Most non urban places in Mexico today ARE Mad Max Road Warrior shit…" - a guy that never been to Mexico in his entire life.

  3. Steel imported from Sweden…interesante. I thought the steel would have originated from Leeco in Monterrey.

    1. Thank God

      Anywhere but China FFS

  4. Mexican cartels have hit the ceiling so it really dont matter how fancy this cartel armored vehicles get none of them trucks can take on a 50 cal rifle with armor piercing ammo.

    1. But the corrupt military members protecting them can

    2. 8:22 Not anymore, for a reason he is in jail now.

  5. 6:49 what they wrote is that the steel the cartels are using “has nothing to do with automotive armor that’s imported from Sweden” so yes it’s local sourced steel. Not the legit ballistics rated steel they put on high end luxury armoured cars. Just think and heavy steel. I see a white dove painted on the top first picture. That would be el abuelo right?

    1. Yup the dove from the so called "autodefensas" that victimize their own townspeople

    2. @8:29; I like the way you corrected what 6:49 thought they read re: Sweden steel.

      What ever happened to Juan Jose Flores; el Abuelo?


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