Salvadorian Armed Forces Research & Development Center
The Regiment remains as the sole mechanized tactical unit of the Salvadorian Army. When the Central American Federation ended (around 1838), and El Salvador was cemented as a Republic, the government decreed on 6 February 1841, the organization of the Army with an Artillery Brigade, a Cavalry Squadron, and Infantry units. It defined an Infantry Battalion as a unit with 400 soldiers, divided in two companies, and a Cavalry Squadron with 100 riders, also divided in two companies. Then, on June 13, 1859, General Gerardo Barrios organized the Army in three formations: Vanguard, Central and Reserve Divisions. The Vanguard Division included the Morazán Dragoons, with 111 riders, and the Ahuachapán Squadron, with 155 riders, was assigned to the Reserve.
The Cavalry disappeared as a regular formation from the Salvadorian Orbat between 1860 to 1900, but continued to exist in small platoons distributed among the various garrisons. By 1906 there were two cavalry formations, one in Santa Ana and another one in San Miguel, but these were concentrated in San Salvador in 1917 to form the Cavalry Regiment at Casamata Barracks (La Garita). In the late 1930s, the Salvadorian military received three CV-3-33s. These machines were involved in several coup attempts against General Maximiliano Martinez, so eventually were assigned to the National Police Presidential Escort detail, and ended up pulling guard duty at the Presidential Residence, and never part of the Cavalry Regiment.
Between 1941 and 1950, the Salvadorian Territorial Army comprised an Artillery and a Cavalry Regiment, in addition to the following Infantry regiments: 1st and 2nd (San Salvador), 3rd (Santa Tecla, La Libertad), 4th (Sonsonate), 5th (Santa Ana), 6th (Ahuachapán), 7th (Chalatenango), 8th (Sensuntepeque, Cabañas), 9th (Cojutepeque, Cuscatlán), 10th (San Vicente), 11th (Zacatecoluca, La Paz), 12th (Usulután), 13th (San Miguel), 14th (La Unión), and 15th (Gotera, Morazán). The National Guard was also a specialized Army unit and for a short time there was a Machine Gun Regiment as well. Under Lend/Lease, El Salvador received eight M3A1s in 1944, which was the first armor assigned to the Cavalry Regiment. The CV-3-33s were reported in the hands of Chilean advisors in the 1950s, but then they disappeared from any other record.
In 1960, the formation was dispatched to its present location at Sitio del Nino, 30 km from San Salvador. At least five M3A1s had survived in operations until 1969, and three were deployed against Honduran positions at Nueva Ocotepeque City in the western front during the 1969-War. During this conflict, the Salvadorians used for the first time five guntrucks (nicknamed Lightings) against Honduran positions in the Amatillo Bridge, in the eastern front. A couple of photographs survive of up to 20 Lighting guntrucks after the war, and in the hands of the Cavalry Regiment. They carried 120mm mortars on their bed. The Lighting used a GM Reo 2.5 ton truck, with armored plates on the side and cabin for protection. These guntrucks were the predecessors to more than 130 armored vehicles built by the Salvadorian Army National Workshop.
Soon after the ‘69-War, the Army received 10 UR416s and by 1979 more armored vehicles arrived in the form of 12 AML-H90s. In those days the Army accounted for 12,108 troops, with another 4,000 distributed among the Security Forces (National Guard, National Police, and Treasury Police). The soldiers were distributed in three Infantry Brigades, one Artillery Brigade and a Cavalry Regiment. There were some seven Frontier Detachments, which by 1979 had transformed into Military Detachments (Infantry outfits) and one Engineer Detachment. The guntrucks and armored tractors built by Maestranza were not supplied to the Cavalry, but rather to the various Infantry and Security outfits. Even the UR416s were distributed among other forces, and only 4 went to the Cavalry.
In 1984, the Army had expanded to 6 Brigades, and Maestranza started to build 66 guntrucks especially for the Regiment. These were Dodge 3/4 ton M37B chassis modified as armored guntrucks (denominated Cashuats), and 64 went to equip three mechanized battalions; seven surviving UR416s were concentrated to form a mechanized squadron (1 UR remained with the National Police), along with five functional AMLs. The internal war was very costly to the armored forces, but peace was even more deadly, and the end of the war saw the retiring of the large majority of guntrucks and tractors, and equipment was discarded without replacements.
Renewing the Regiment
Today, the main armored combat vehicle is still the elderly and worn-out AML-H90. The CIDET has been able to accommodate the Nissan QD32 V4 diesel engine developing 120hp, and has renovated 8 hulls. It is evident that the numbers are inadequate, and the age of the vehicles is weighing on them. Ammunition is scarce and parts impossible and expensive to find. At least half of the fleet has worn out screws. Something to consider is that the Republic of Ireland has retired as of May 1, 2013, 36 AML-H90s (F1 90mm gun) and AML-H20s (G12 20mm gun). All of them have been repowered with the Peugeot XD 3T turbocharged diesel engine, developing 103hp. In addition, their turrets have powered traverse, a modern fire control system, with laser rangefinder and night vision equipment – items missing from the Salvadorian variants. If these examples can be funneled to El Salvador, they could finally complete a real armored cavalry and fire support formation, and provide for a large stock of spares and ammunition. It is possible that these could be obtained at bottom or symbolic prices – and perhaps with U.S. assistance, mediation, and financing.
As result of Salvadorian decisive military performance in support of the U.S. in Iraq, and even Afghanistan, the U.S. supplied 21 M1151s and 4 M1165s in 2009, and another 10 models have been supplied since then. At least one of the M1165 has been modified as an antitank platform, mounting an M40A1 RCL. Ideally, Salvadorian technicians could place the M40A1 in a turret similar to that of the M1167, originally designed to accept the TOW and its black blast. Another option is to place it in something similar to the Jordanian KADDB turret as used in the Al Jawad vehicle. Furthermore, the M40A1 could be modified with modern sights to make it an all weather, day-and-night weapon. The Salvadorians should take note of the M1165 CBC (Cargo Bed Cover) as used by many U.S. Special Forces as TTP (Troop Transport Protected) variants. This would allow the loader additional rounds and a self-defense light MG to be carried in the back under protection.
The UR-416 is in essence an armored Unimog 2-ton truck. Of those received by the Salvadorian military, one was partially burned at the National Police HQ, and another one was severely damaged and captured in combat. One more was hit by an RPG-7 during the streets combats in late 1989. Today, the CIDET has managed to recover some 8 examples, using spares from GM Reo 2.5 ton trucks, and Toyota parts, and molding, welding and patching plates over damaged areas. Weapons have been rearranged to sport a 12.7mm M2HB as main weapon, and a M60 in the rear. Ideally, these upgraded UR416s should be transferred to the Special Military Security Brigade for the use of the Military Police.
All this suggests that the Regiment could transform in a Mechanized Brigade, divided in two Regiments, one in the eastern part of the country and another one stationed at its present location. This would also simplify logistics in three types of vehicles: Humvee (M1151 & M1165), AML (H90 & H20), and armored Ford guntruck and transport (VCTA2).
The Salvadorian Army has 6 TCM-20 gun systems, and these are assigned to a single AAA battery of the Artillery Brigade. The system is based on the old U.S. M55 mount with the original four 12.7mm M2HB machine guns replaced with two HS404 cannons in caliber 20×110 mm, like those found in the Ouragan fighters and mentioned above. The TCM-20 is operated by a single gunner, and is manually aimed at aerial and ground targets. The gunner’s seat has an armored front shield that protects him with a gun at each side of the firing seat, and each one with a rate of between 600 and 700 rpm. The TCM-20 available to the Salvadorian Army is the towed version, which can be hauled by a jeep or a Toyota light truck. The problem with this arrangement is that it slows and hampers mobility; therefore, many countries opt to mechanize it by mounting it on flat bed carriers. The Venezuelans have mounted their TCM-20 on the Humvee look-alike: the Tiuna, Chileans use MOWAG 6×6, and the Israelis have done the same on half-tracks and RAMTA RBY models. Ideally, in El Salvador, the 6 TCM-20s could be matched to Cashuat platforms, and another 6 Cashuats could be provided as security escorts, while additional Cashuats would carry the Elta EL/M-2106, which is normally associated to the TCM-20 as point defense alert radar. The same is suggested for the 6 M55A2 systems that equip the second AAA battery of the Artillery Brigade. There are some 31 of such weapons in Salvadorian hands, and several were mounted on vehicles during the civil conflict. This idea would suggest that the complete surviving fleet of Cashuats is transferred from the Cavalry Regiment to the Artillery Brigade to be used as platforms. Precisely, the CIDET has already repowered 15 Cashuats with Toyota Hilux Euro IV diesel engines, and there are at least 20 unmodified examples in store.
In 1998, the Cavalry Regiment received 38 M240 Storm jeeps and in 2000 they received 12 more examples from other units and established the Reconnaissance Squadron. The M240 is a jeep made under license by Chrysler in Israel, and based on the Wrangler YJ and CJ8 models. The AIL Model-I was built with an option of two different power trains: either an AMC 3.983L V6 gas engine developing 180hp, or a Volkswagen 2.5L V4 turbocharged diesel developing 118hp. The Salvadorians chose the second engine, in three variants: Command/Control, Patrol/Recce, and Antitank (with M40A1). However, the M240 Storm-I proved a complete failure in El Salvador, with considerable mechanical problems. Therefore, the CIDET is said to be planning to repower all the machines with the Toyota 3.0L I4 1KD-FTV-turbocharged diesel engine, developing 170hp.
We were able to observe one Ford Ranger transformed into a gun pickup “Technical.” It sported pixel camouflage, roll bars, and two machine gun points. Previously, we had examined a larger F-250 transformed in similar fashion and in the hands of the Special Forces Command. On July 27, 2012, the U.S. delivered 37 Ford Ranger pickup trucks to the Salvadorian Armed Forces (ESAF). The FMF package was valued at approximately one million dollars, and included 31 Ford Ranger Double Cab 4×4 pickup trucks, model year 2011, and 6 Ford Ranger Single Cab 4×4 pickup trucks, model year 2010, along with a package of spare parts. These pickups are ideal for urban and rural patrols, and the ESAF is well advised to obtain additional examples. They could be equipped with a ring mount, individual protected seats and seat belts, intercommunication equipment, and racks. Modified in this way, the pickups would be ideal as machine gun and M40A1 RCL platforms.
The M60Ds mounted on many of these vehicles have also been modified. The spade grip is retained, but the bipod and pistol grip are gone. The drawbacks of the older, heavily used M60s have been well documented by other authors; it was also noted in the mid-80s that Salvadorian paratroopers resorted to chopping the barrels down on their M60s to make then lighter and more portable. With this in mind, we only hope that lessons have been learned and attention would be provided to the elderly M60s in Salvadorian inventory for their conversion to M60E4. However, only time will tell us what other ingenious weapons the CIDET is able to field.