By building their own gun trucks, the soldiers
of the 548th Corps Support Battalion no longer had to depend
on outside units for security.
Force protection is a basic tenet of Army operations;
it is paramount to the success of every mission. The need for
force protection is not specific to any one branch of the Army,
yet the Army historically has directed most of its force protection
efforts to traditional combat operations. However, to ensure
mission success on today’s battlefield, Army logisticians
must be given the same level of protection as that provided
to other Army units.
Current operations on a distributed, noncontiguous battlefield highlight the
enemy’s overwhelming trend to attack “soft” logistics nodes.
Convoys, in particular, are the targets of choice because of their inherent inability
to provide adequate force protection to deter and defend against asymmetrical
threats. Logistics units often rely on outside augmentation from maneuver and
military police (MP) sources to provide convoy security. This relationship strains
the forces providing the security and sometimes hampers combat operations by
committing security assets that are needed elsewhere and slowing down the throughput
of supplies. Too often, a logistics convoy waits for hours at a location for
its MP security escorts, only to learn later that the MPs have been redirected
at the last minute to a “high-priority” mission or that they were
waiting at a different location. The convoy then misses the start point time
and is forced to make other security arrangements in order to accomplish its
mission. This situation reflects the Army’s unwillingness to view logistics
functions as warfighting operations.
Although the Army continuously seeks to improve its fighting
capabilities through after-action reviews and improved
tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP),
it does not include convoy operations in those improvement efforts. To protect
their soldiers and supplies, some commanders in Iraq have resurrected a tactic
that proved effective in repelling enemy attacks during the Vietnam War—the
construction of gun trucks. My firsthand experience with the 548th Corps Support
Battalion, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), from Fort Drum, New York,
while supporting the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Operation Iraqi
Freedom from May 2003 to March 2004 underscored
the need for organic force protection assets, such as gun trucks, in logistics
‘ Yankee Ingenuity’
Logistics units conduct combat operations daily in the form of resupply, retrograde,
and recovery convoys. The maneuver elements in these logistics convoy scenarios
are the gun trucks. Using the ingenuity and abilities of the 548th Corps Support
Battalion’s soldiers and the experience of several Army National Guardsmen
who served in Vietnam, we were able to construct twelve 5-ton gun trucks from
materials we found, brought with us, or fabricated in country.
The most effective gun trucks were made by using Russian infantry fighting
vehicle armor plates found in an Iraqi supply warehouse in Taji. The plates
to the sides of the 5-ton trucks to provide protection against small-arms fire
and shrapnel from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Crew-served weapon mounts
were positioned in the beds of the trucks, and ring mounts were installed in
the cabs to support the firepower needed to defend against and deter attacks.
On one gun truck, we welded armor plates into a box configuration and emplaced
crew-served gun mounts onto each side, which provided 360-degree overlapping
fields of fire. The armored box could be lifted by a 5-ton wrecker or a 10,000-pound
forklift, so it could be moved from one vehicle to another in case the vehicle
it was mounted on became not mission capable.
After the gun trucks were constructed, our battalion no longer depended on
outside units for security. Of the eight companies assigned to the battalion,
transportation companies. These companies, which convoyed daily, were able
to provide their own security. Other gun trucks provided security for recovery
ad hoc missions. Since the gun trucks were organic to the logistics units,
their operational effectiveness was unmatched by external security assets.
assigned to the 548th Corps Support Battalion during
Operation Iraqi Freedom create an armored “box” (above)
for positioning in the back of a gun truck. Note
the gun mounts on the armored box in the back of
the vehicle (below).
The gun truck crews lived and trained every day with the other soldiers in the
convoys, which created a level of cohesiveness and familiarity that was helpful
in developing unique TTPs to counter the numerous threats the convoys faced.
Owning the gun trucks also allowed the convoy commanders to execute the convoys’ duties
more effectively. They no longer had to wait for a linkup with external security
assets and undergo the laborious tasks of synchronizing communications, inspecting
equipment, and conducting convoy briefings and battle drills. Having organic
gun trucks permitted inspections, convoy briefs, and rehearsals to be conducted
ahead of time, which allowed the convoy commanders enough time to conduct
last-minute checks and make corrections to ensure safe operations. Having organic
convoy security assets also gave the units significantly more freedom of movement
since the gun trucks exceeded the minimum security requirements for convoys.
Other support battalions soon recognized the increased effectiveness provided
by organic security assets and asked to use our gun trucks for convoy security
or as models for creating their own gun trucks.
Drawing from our experience in conducting daily convoy operations from Balad
to Mosul, Taji, and Kuwait for 10 months, we developed effective convoy procedures
and battle drills. We determined that the minimum effective convoy security configuration
included two gun trucks, one positioned in front of the convoy and one in the
rear. Each gun truck was fitted with two mounted crew-served weapons with
180-degree fields of fire. We found that, in addition to the gun trucks in front
and at the end of the convoy, the most effective gun truck-to-convoy ratio was
one gun truck for every eight vehicles. Maintaining this ratio during really
large convoys was not practical because, to do so, we would have had to convert
more lift assets to gun trucks, which would have further decreased the unit’s
ability to transport supplies.
Gun Truck ‘Specs’An effective gun truck must be a 2.5-ton or larger
vehicle that can keep up with convoy movements. It must be hardened with armor
plates to withstand small arms
fire and have at least one mounted crew-served weapon (7.62 millimeters or larger).
High-mobility, multipurpose, wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) gun trucks were widely used
out of necessity because of the unavailability of large trucks that could be
transformed into effective gun trucks.
HMMWV gun trucks worked well in HMMWV convoys and as command and control vehicles,
but larger gun trucks had additional benefits. Armored 5-ton vehicles with mounted
crew-served weapons discouragedwould-be attackers. The size of the vehicles
also offered the crew a better field of view and permitted them to move more
freely in the truck beds. The added height of the 5-ton vehicles also afforded
better security for crowd control and protection from looters and attackers attempting
to reach into vehicles or throw grenades into the trucks. The larger gun trucks
also were better able to withstand IED attacks because they had a higher ground
clearance than the low-riding HMMWVs.
Since most of the gun trucks were constructed from vehicles organic to the transportation
companies, the crews manning the gun trucks came from within those companies.
The crews were predominately motor transport operators (military occupational
specialty 88M), which made it easy to switch gun truck crews and vehicle operators
|A gun truck
is constructed by welding armor plates to the sides
of a 5-ton truck. A ring-mounted MK19 40-millimeter
machinegun is emplaced in front, and a .50-caliber
machinegun is mounted in back.
Disadvantages of External Security
Failing to include gun trucks on the tables of organization and equipment (TOEs)
of combat service support units has significant
drawbacks. Without organic gun trucks, convoy security must be provided by external
units, or unit assets must be converted into gun trucks, which decreases the
capability. Relying on external units for security could cause combat forces
to be diverted to missions other than attacking the enemy.
Convoy battle drills must be well rehearsed so each soldier understands the actions
he must take on enemy contact. External security assets do not habitually train
with the convoys they are protecting. The resulting lack of cohesiveness creates
a dangerous combat environment. To be effective in suppressing an enemy threat
and preventing fratricide, soldiers must be so well rehearsed that they know
automatically how they and their fellow soldiers will react.
An alternative to providing organic force protection assets to logistics units
be to establish secure lines of communication (LOCs) between joint operating
areas (JOAs). Because the current and potential battlefields are noncontiguous,
austere, and extremely large, this would be an enormous task. Securing the LOCs
would require a dedicated force of a size that would be impractical.
The Army has a commitment to its soldiers to provide them the best protection
and equipment available. While small arms protective inserts (SAPIs) and up-armored
HMMWVs are critical for combat units, gun trucks are essential for convoys.
The enemy continues to develop TTPs for waging attacks that threaten the full
spectrum of Army operations. Convoys are faced with evolving threats every day.
Make no mistake about it: most convoy operations are combat operations, especially
those that traverse nonsecure LOCs between JOAs. Logistics units are part of
the greater Army, and they are integral to the success of maneuver force operations.
of any part of the Army jeopardizes the outcome of the whole operation.
Tolerating inadequately mitigated risks while protecting logistics convoys is
a dangerous course of action. Adding organic gun trucks to the TOEs of
logistics units would enable combat logisticians to provide an uninterrupted
flow of crucial supplies to combat arms forces and help ensure continued success
on the battlefield. ALOG
Captain Daniel T. Rossi is a combat developer in the Directorate of Combat Developments
for Combat Service Support at the Army Combined Arms Support Command at Fort
Lee, Virginia. He previously served in the 548th Corps Support Battalion, 10th
Mountain Division (Light Infantry), which provided support to the 101st Airborne
Division (Air Assault) during its deployment to Iraq. He has a B.S. degree in
political science from the State University of New York College at Brockport
and is a graduate
of the Ordnance Officer Basic Course, the Combined Logistics Captains Career
Course, and the Combined Arms and Services Staff School.