<XMP><BODY></xmp>Technicals, Toyotas and Mimesis.

Added 12-6-14
Updated 11-1-22

Technicals, Toyotas and Mimesis

In the last few decades two things have become obvious. The first is that HMMWVs cannot do the job of true armoured fighting vehicles. The second is that most jobs a HMMWV can do can be done just as well by vehicles such as Land Rovers, Toyota Land Cruisers and Hiluxes, for a fraction of the cost.

Carlton Meyer has a very nice article on the use of Toyotas, but the idea is worth investigating in greater depth. The militaries of many nations use Toyotas as general-purpose utility-vehicles. As Carlton summarizes:  

“Light trucks are excellent general purpose vehicles for rear area activities as they are much cheaper to operate.  For example, a basic Hummer costs four times more, an armored Hummer ten times more, and they burn twice as much fuel compared to a Toyota, which is an important consideration in expeditionary operations.  Toyotas are noted for their reliability, while their spare parts cost much less and can be purchased in most nations overseas backed by a worldwide Toyota parts distribution system...Rugged trucks like the Hummer are valuable in rough terrain or when heavier cargo must be moved. However, if the US Army did a study, it will find that most Hummers are employed in roles like base, camp, and airfield support, and to transport officers and maintenance soldiers around.” 

The sight of Toyotas used in an apparent combat role has become common. It has been suggested that in the future, most wars will be fought from Toyotas. It is the combat applications of such vehicles that I wish to examine in a little more detail.

A now familiar image is a developing-world pickup truck such as a Toyota mounting a machine gun. These vehicles have become known as “technicals” after NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) in Somalia used their “Technical Assistance Funds” to hire local gunmen who favoured such vehicles. It needs to be understood that in many parts of the world, the role of a technical is partially symbolic. Status of a warlord is measured by how many weapon-carrying pickups he has available. I suspect in many cases, the armament has more to do with intimidation and deterrence than being a practical combat platform. For example, many technicals have their machine guns mounted so they can only fire to the frontal arc. This means the vehicle can only fire on a target if parked with its nose towards the enemy, or when driving towards the enemy. The main defence of a soft-skinned technical is to withdraw or relocate once the enemy has your range. The armament configuration of many technicals is not ideally suited for this, and suggests they are not often used against any enemies that can competently defend themselves.

Technicals as Tank Killers

Anti-tank warfare is another role often proposed for light vehicles. Every manufacturer of soft-skin military vehicles seems to mount an ATGW or recoilless gun on their product, and then claim they have an “anti-tank variant”. Many armies actually field such vehicles and such armaments are also seen on some technicals. In the so called “Toyota War” in 1987, forces from Chad using recoilless rifles, Milan missiles and pickup trucks destroyed a large number of Libyan vehicles and grounded aircraft. The exact details of how this was done probably needs greater examination. The idea that missiles were launched from speeding vehicles is likely a romantic fancy.

Advocates of light vehicles with ATGWs usually point out that most missiles have a greater range than traditional tank armaments. Often terrain will prevent this capability being actually exploited. Since conflicts in the 1970s, tankers have known that missile launch sites should be shelled with main gun fire. Suspected launch positions should be covered by supporting mortars and artillery. The Russians position their ZSU-23s and similar systems to hose down launch sites. Armoured vehicles and prepared infantry have some chance of surviving such countermeasures, but soft-skinned vehicles will soon be wrecked.

Soft ATGW vehicles in stationary positions have a very low life expectancy.

The main advantage of a vehicle is that it can move, so what about “shoot and scoot” tactics? Some of the Chadian kills seem to have been made in close terrain and exploiting local knowledge. This is not a new idea, of course.

For the final defence of German cities, the Nazis produced a number of vehicles mounting batteries of Panzerschreck, the idea being they could roll out from cover, fire on a tank and then disappear behind a smoke screen. Best known of these was a tiny tracked vehicle known as the Wanze (“Bedbug”). The VW Kubelwagen was also to be used in this role.

Light vehicles mounting anti-tank weapons were a common feature of Cold War armies when it was perceived any help was welcome against the massed Soviet tank armies. The Third World War was expected to be the end of civilization as we knew it, so weapon crew survival was probably not a major concern. The ultimate example of this was probably the jeep-mounted “Davy Crockett” nuclear launcher.

Many of our enemies are willing to risk almost certain death if it means striking a blow.

One problem with “shoot and scoot” is that some current weapons cannot be fired from a moving vehicle, or require the vehicle to remain tracking the target while the missile is in flight. Some missiles take as long as 22 seconds to reach a target at maximum effective range! This is ample time for an enemy to locate and destroy a control vehicle. Many guided missiles also have a relatively long minimum range within which they cannot be controlled. This may be a problem in close terrain where engagement ranges may be short. These will not be problems for some of the more modern and proposed systems, as will be discussed later.

The essence of making “shoot and scoot” work is to fire first and disappear before an enemy can respond. Consequently, a defence is situational awareness and response. A traditional tank has a main gun and a co-axial machine gun mounted in a massive turret that is relatively sluggish to traverse. Usually the main gun is pointed in the direction the tank commander is most interested in. The commander’s MG is more responsive, but his attention is usually directed towards the current objective. Anti-armour teams prefer to attack the sides and rear of a tank where armour is thinner. A loader’s machine gun position helps, providing it is manned and the loader watches the sides and rear. Better security is provided by dismounted and vehicle-mounted infantry that provide extra eyes and weapons aimed in all directions.

Weapons such as Swingfire allowed a vehicle to launch a missile while still behind cover. The dismounted controller could be more than 50 metres away, observing the target from a hidden position. Weapons with semi-active laser homing (SALH) permit the use of “third party” guidance. The target is designated by an aircraft, drone or camouflaged footsoldier, allowing the launch vehicle to fire and immediately withdraw. Some fibre-optic guided missiles allow a non-line of sight launch. The operator then locates the target with the missile’s optics and locks on. Some current and planned missiles are smart enough to find their own targets.

Rocket Batteries and Triple-A

Another use we have seen for technicals is to carry indirect-fire and anti-aircraft systems. In Libya, pods of aircraft rockets were mounted on pickups for long range barrages or closer range suppressive fires. Mortars and the lighter MBRL systems can be used in the same way. Potentially such systems could shower an area with various types of anti-tank submunitions. Simple HEAT-Frag APAM and DPICM bomblets have been in use with some weapons for several decades. Smart submunitions that descend by parachute and fire explosively-formed penetrators at targets are also known.

The FLETCHER rocket system, using guided FFAR has been shown mounted on militarized SUVs and light-MRAPs. More of a direct-fire system than unguided rocket pods, it is a potential alternative to the various ageing recoilless guns in current use.

Both SAMs and anti-aircraft guns have been mounted on soft vehicles. The lack of protection is not such a problem for this role, although some anti-aircraft guns may also be intended for use against ground targets. Anti-aircraft systems such as the 14.5mm machine gun and ZU-23 cannon are often seem as armament on technicals. Used against ground targets, they can deliver a large volume of fire at long range, giving a considerable advantage over targets armed with infantry weapons. Such firepower may be used as a substitute for artillery, suppressing enemy positions so that other units may manoeuvre.

Mortars, their crews, and ammunition can be transported by pickups. Mortars may be fired from the bed of a truck, although the recoil may challenge the suspension of some models.

Tactical Transport

The most useful role for a Toyota is as a transport for men and materials. The soft-vehicle mounting an ATGW system is a somewhat risky proposition, popular though it may be. The British Army used to use modified Land Rovers as a portee for its Wombat recoilless anti-tank gun. When time allowed, the weapon was rolled down from the back of the vehicle and properly dug in and camouflaged.

Auxiliary weapons are those that are carried by a vehicle or its occupants rather than being mounted on it. Carrying ATGWs and other SLMs in a vehicle as auxiliary weapons or cargo may be tactically more practical than using the vehicle as a firing platform. A single vehicle can carry more than one weapon crew and these can dismount and position themselves in hard to detect firing positions. The same strategy can be used for other crew-served weapon systems.

In a future conflict, one of the most deadly systems a Toyota may carry is a trained man with a radio. Such a spotter can hide under a bush and call in artillery and airstrikes. The line between the artillery and airstrikes may become more and more blurred. A ground vehicle may launch a drone that attacks the target with missiles. A transport aircraft may drop into an inaccessible area a pod of smart missiles which can be launched in response to a request for fires.


One advantage of carrying weapons in a vehicle rather than using it as a firing platform is that it is not immediately obvious that a vehicle is military. When insurgents see a HMMWV, they assume the occupants are American. A Toyota mounting a HMG on its roof is obviously military, but given Toyotas are often used by both sides of a conflict, it cannot automatically be assumed to be an enemy. If a Toyota has no apparent armament, it may be a civilian or neutral vehicle. Many technicals and vehicles in a similar role are white-painted, increasing their resemblance to UN or NGO vehicles. Factors such as these are the reason US Special Forces favoured using Toyota Tacomas for transportation. The use of Toyotas therefore introduces an element of mimetic camouflage into operations. In another article, I suggest Toyotas and Land Rovers use a random pattern of beige and mid-brown. This would help camouflage a stationary vehicle when out in the field. When moving on a road it makes the vehicle resemble a typically rusty and dirty developing-world workhorse-vehicle.

Carlton’s original article suggests that innocuous looking Toyotas form part of the screening element of a force. On discovering a threat, they fall back to allow better-armed and better-protected vehicles to deal with it. I like to call this strategy “semi-mufti”. Carlton expands further on this idea by proposing a Toyota-based light-motorized scout-company for combat battalions.

Tactics and Procedures

It becomes obvious that practical use of vehicles such as Toyotas requires the use of correct tactics and procedures. That is also the most likely stumbling block.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the advances in firepower meant that the cavalry of some armies were encouraged to use their horses only for transport and approach targets as dismounted skirmishers, utilizing terrain for cover. Despite the logic of this, history shows the cavalry would still seek numerous excuses to launch cavalry charges. Taking their swords away would not have helped. At Beersheba, Australian mounted infantry attacked the Turks from horseback using their bayonets.

There is an obvious parallel here. Put a machine gun on a jeep and there will be a tremendous temptation to play “Rat Patrol” and use it as an assault vehicle, just like in the movies and video games.

The operational shortcomings of the HMMWV teach us a number of things. Sticking a machine gun or TOW launcher on a vehicle does not necessarily make it a combat vehicle. The car-configuration turtle-back armament-carrier HMMWVs are a very poor design. Only the gunner has an all-around view and he can only face one direction at a time. Other occupants all face forward and the vehicle lacks a rear window. If you have the windows lowered so that you can immediately fire out, you become more vulnerable to mine-blasts. RPGs are a very common weapon system on most areas of operation and attacks can come from any direction.

All around situational awareness is needed. Infantry-carrying vehicles need a large roof hatch so several soldiers can view all quadrants and fire upon threats immediately. Attacks will come from the sides or rear, so smoke grenades need to be capable of being fired between the threat and the target, not just ahead of the vehicle.

Many of our enemies will use pickups as combat platforms and are willing to tolerate the inherent vulnerabilities and risks. In the long run, the human race can only benefit from the deaths of fanatics and gun-wielding bully boys. Our own society is less tolerant of casualties, and experienced soldiers are not a resource to squander.

Our next generation of military vehicles need to be better protected and capable of useful performance both on and off road.

HMMWVs are not the correct choice. Neither are oversized, under-protected and poorly-armed vehicles like the Stryker.

The danger of mine warfare was well known during the guerrilla wars in Rhodesian and South Africa but was ignored in the northern hemisphere. Newer designs of tanks and armoured carriers must address this. Improvements in weapon systems will require integration of more active defensive systems to supplement passive armour. Some ideas along these lines are seen in this article.

To some cultures, life is cheap and casualties are of little consequence. We will continue to see soft-skinned vehicles such as Toyotas in military roles, even ones for which they are not really suited. We need to consider such targets when developing future weapon systems and tactics. We also need to use this trend to our own advantage.

In addition to heavier armoured fighting vehicles, armies may also make good use of lighter vehicles for fast escort, pursuit, rapid reaction, peacekeeping and internal security duties. There are considerable advantages if the vehicle selected resembles to a Toyota Hilux at a reasonable distance. It may be an actual Toyota, or based on Toyota and other widely available components. It should appear generic rather than iconic. The mimetic and semi-mufti properties of the vehicle can be improved by using radiator facades to make the vehicle more closely resemble various models of Toyota, Land Rover, Range Rover or other vehicles such as the UAZ or G-wagen. (Since I first published this article, just such a capability has become available on the Navistar SOTV-B. They call it “blendability”.)

The troubles in Northern Ireland spawned a number of very capable armoured car designs based on Land Rovers, many of which appear very similar to unarmoured models. Using spaced and composite armour strategies, such vehicles were protected against small arms, molotovs, fragmentation grenades and IRA drogue bombs. Some manufacturers have even developed V-section under-vehicle blast deflectors that do not overtly change the appearance of the vehicle. A Toyota or similar SUV can be built to withstand hand grenades, anti-personnel mines or even near-proximity blasts of 12.5kg PETN. And the cost is still a fraction of that of a HMMWV!

It is also worth mentioning that even with armour fitted, many SUVs and pickups are still faster than HMMWVs.

The Parthian

I will designate this light-armoured Toyota mimic “Parthian”. Parthian is not an “assault truck” nor a “fast attack vehicle”. If you wish, call it a “fast transport”.

Parthian’s armament is mainly defensive. What other features might Parthian need?

• The basic vehicle would appear to be a hard-top van configuration with door(s) at the rear. A team of up to six men rides in the rear, a driver and co-driver in the front. To give the vehicle some credible measure of off-road capability weight will be kept down by limiting capacity to less than eight people in total.

• The Rear doors of the Parthian allow rapid exit and entry, and facilitate the loading of prisoners, wounded or non-combatants.

• A rear-view video camera(s) allows the vehicle to be steered when reversed at speed.

• In addition to armour and other systems seen on Northern Ireland Land Rovers, Parthian will have smoke grenade dischargers that can be fired in a range of directions, and a “vehicle engine exhaust smoke system” (VEESS).

• Ideally, the engine system will be a hybrid-electric diesel, allowing quieter movement when required.

Armament selection for the Parthian poses some challenges. In order to permit “semi-mufti” operation, the vehicle cannot have an obvious gun-turret. Fortunately, a solution already exists in that discrete pop-up weapon mounts already exist for SUVs. Famously, a vehicle with such armament even accompanies the US presidential motorcade. This video shows that a mounting exists for both the 7.62mm M134D minigun and .50 Browning HMG. For the latter, a high rate-of-fire variant such as the M3M would be better suited to the Parthian’s missions. One of these mountings can probably accommodate an Automatic Grenade Launcher. Possibly weapons such as the 30mm ASP cannon, 20mm M197/XM301 or GECAL .50 minigun can be mounted on these mounts instead.

The roof hatch of the cupola could be redesigned with a three-part hatch that is designed to provide better protection to the gunner. The capability to aim by periscope or camera and fire the weapon “head-down” should also be possible. Similar systems have been used on some tank commander’s AAMG for decades.

To the rear of the gun-cupola would be a rectangular roof-hatch, opening to the rear and similar to that of the M113. Like the original M113 hatches, there will be a mounting point for a GPMG or SAW. This will be an elbow-mount, allowing the weapon to fire to the sides as well as the rear. This rectangular hatch allows at least two more infantrymen to operate heads-up and supplement the observation abilities of the main gunner.

Like its namesake, the Parthian retreats from attack. Therefore it has a tail gun and a main mount capable of 360 degrees traverse.

Russian Army Forms a Battalion Equipped With Technicals

“These battalions are being developed from the experience of combat actions in Syria,” military expert Vladislav Shurygin told Izvestiya.

In a day, the typical motorized rifle battalion equipped with armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles can complete a march of not more than 100 km. But an MRB in the UAZ Patriot can go several hundred kilometers in a day.

“Moreover, acting in small groups, motorized rifle platoons and companies in pickups can slip through enemy forces and deliver quick strikes.

“But these battalions are only effective in desert, steppe, and semidesert terrain. In forests and forest-steppe, automobile-mounted infantry loses out to infantry in BMPs and BTRs in combat capability.”

By the Author of the Scrapboard :

Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence

Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.

Crash Combat Second Edition with additional content.
Epub edition Second Edition with additional content.

Crash Combat Third Edition
Epub edition Third Edition.
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