Armor: Instant Gun Trucks, No Waiting


October 26,2008:  The "gun truck" (a military truck equipped with armor and several machine-guns) seen in Iraq in the last four years is not a new development. But the Iraq experience has led to the development of new weapons and equipment that enables more powerful and better protected gun trucks to be created within a few hours. Already available are armor kits, which can be quickly fitted to standard military vehicles. The next generation of military vehicles will be designed to more easily accept these armor kits. Another innovation was MTTCS (Multipurpose Troop Transport Carrier System). This is basically modified cargo containers, built to fit on the beds of 2 ½, five and seven ton military trucks. The lightweight armor protects against rifle bullets (7.62) and nearly all bomb fragments. MTTCS is actually a modular system. With center and end modules. There are two and four foot long (7.8 feet wide and 8 feet high) and two foot long center sections, as well as end sections. The four foot module has a hatch on top, and a ring mount, so you can mount a machine-gun and swing it around in all directions. There are also small windows, firing ports and, of course, doors. The four foot sections weigh 4,400 pounds with the roof and end sections, 3,650 without the roof. The sections are light enough to use available lifting equipment to put them on a truck bed, where they are quickly bolted together.

Finally, there is PAWS (Palletized Autonomous Weapons System), a 25mm or 30mm auto cannon sitting on a pallet, with a generator, and able to be bolted onto the back of a flatbed truck in ten minutes of so. Weighing 300 pounds, the PAWS units quickly provide heavy, long range firepower for convoys.

The first gun trucks were built in late 1967, in South Vietnam, by members of the U.S. Army 8th Transportation Group. They armored and armed some 2 ½ ton trucks to provide escorts for convoys getting ambushed by Vietcong gunmen. As with Iraq, fuel, ammo, and much more, had to be constantly moved, by truck, from South Vietnamese ports to American and South Vietnamese bases inland. The Vietcong guerillas did not have access to the explosives and other materials needed to make a lot of roadside bombs, so their typical tactic was an ambush using rifles, machine-guns and RPGs.

The 2 ½ ton gun trucks proved underpowered. So some five ton trucks were armored and armed (usually with four machine-guns, ranging in caliber from 7.62mm to 12.7mm). Some trucks were equipped with several radios, allowing the truck crew to call in supporting firepower from artillery units, or bombers and helicopters overhead. Accurate records were not kept, but it is estimated that over 400 gun trucks were built, and served as convoy escorts from 1967, until 1973 (when American ground troops withdrew from South Vietnam.)

Because there were so many thousand tons of explosives and artillery shells left lying around Iraq after Saddam's government was defeated in 2003, and there are more wireless devices available (from toys, garage door openers and so on), roadside bombs have become the major danger to convoys. The gun trucks can still handle the old style ambushes. But the Iraqi foe preferred the roadside bomb, since the attacker is much less likely to take casualties.

This led to the development of MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected). These are 8-20 ton trucks that are hardened to survive bombs and mines. These are built using the same construction techniques pioneered by South African firms that have, over the years, delivered over 14,000 landmine resistant vehicles to the South African armed forces. The South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and has already been used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans. These vehicles use a capsule design to protect the passengers and key vehicle components mines and roadside bombs.

The primary weapon against roadside bombs is patrolling (to find the bombs, or someone trying to plant them) and alertness on the part of the people in convoys. Most roadside bombs are either found by patrols, or by convoys (before the bombs can go off.) Some roads are so well patrolled that the bombers don't even bother trying to place them anymore. But there are thousands of kilometers of roads used by convoys, and not all can be patrolled intensely enough to find all the bombs, and discourage all the bombers.


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