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The Logistics Convoy:
A Combat Operation

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 units.

‘ 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 were welded 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, three were transportation companies. These companies, which convoyed daily, were able to provide their own security. Other gun trucks provided security for recovery and ad hoc missions. Since the gun trucks were organic to the logistics units, their operational effectiveness was unmatched by external security assets.

Collateral Benefits

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 when necessary.

 

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 unit’s lift 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 would
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. Failure 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.