Support vehicles self-protection

I did occasionally mention something that's deeply counterintuitive and unconventional. I oppose machineguns or whatever weapon on most vehicles, particularly supply lorries, but also on APCs and even HAPCs.

This saves personnel costs to some degree, but it also makes sense tactically in my opinion.

First, think about the conventional approach of the 1980's, a 360° machinegun (usually without shield) on an unprotected lorry cabin. Or on a Fuchs APC or M113 APC.

Fuchs APC with MG3 on 360° mount
Whoever did ever defend the decision to use machineguns on soft lorry cabs with no shield should have been beaten to pulp by the troops. Whoever did ever defend the idea to use machineguns on APCs without gunshield should have been kicked out of service and have all pensions revoked. That was seriously retarded nonsense. Well, shields were added once the Heer was sent into real wars, but this only proves the point that assuming competence or sanity of a peacetime army bureaucracy is a mistake. They are disasters waiting to reveal their nature, but get spared of such revealing events for yeas or decades.
The maxim "Wirkung vor Deckung" ('firepower first, cover secondary', my primary suspect for why there were no gunshields) is primitive bollocks and needs to be replaced by thinking NOW.

Now let's think about a reaction drill for APCs and similar, bulletproofed vehicles:
Assume there are no infantrymen inside. A company on a march with woodland 100 m on the left, crop field on the right comes under fire from within woodland. Infantry hides approx. 30 m inside the woodland for camouflage effect. The bullets don't penetrate, but manportable anti-tank weapons and munitions do. The marching was done at normal speed, 50-100 m intervals between vehicles.
Few if any other APCs would participate in the firefight because of the regular and necessary  spacing.

Hands up, who thinks a single machinegunner - manual or RCWS (remote controlled wepaon station) - would save the day?
I suppose he would at best fire blindly into the woodland area.

The story is quite the same if the ambushers are more numerous and engage multiple APCs over a frontage of hundreds of metres at once - every APC would be on his own, with hardly any support.

Now imagine the convoy comes under fire from the opposite direction - woodland 300 m distant behind  a field of wheat. Again, even a gunner with RCWS would hardly detect and hit anything. He certainly wouldn't suppress many either. Yet modern handheld "dumb" anti-tank weapons can hit an APC moving on a road at 200-600 m depending on type.

Nobody wants to feel defenceless in war, particularly not as soldier. Pro forma machineguns on vehicles provide a sense of being armed. It's deceiving. Such machineguns may have some (not much) utility in providing security while stationary, but that should better be done by pickets.

So what's my preferred alternative? Something like this:

(Better don't watch the other ROSY videos; one of them is killing your brain cells. Rapidly.)

Obviously, with this working well you have little use for a machinegun or any other gun on the vehicle. The smoke almost guarantees that a convoy under fire would let its rear vehicle reverse/turn and take another route, for driving through a killzone full of smoke would be a no-go. On the other hand; voluntarily going through a killzone is a no-go for almost all support vehicles.

This leaves mostly one particularly messy situation to discuss: What if the vehicles are stuck in the killzone, immobilised by obstacles and/or damage? I suppose it would then be foolish to stay inside even bulletproof vehicles, for stationary ones are particularly easy targets. One has then to decide whether to wreck the own vehicle or not, but either way one should evacuate it, grab a carbine and seek cover or concealment outside, maybe run. This, of course, works much better with the smoke solution than the machinegun solution, too.

Another bad situation is in hilly or mountainous terrain, where the shots may come from above. I suppose guns rarely if ever help much there either.

Or strong winds. I admit, the smoke is not going to last long under such conditions. Though (see first video) still possibly long enough for a  moving lorry to use its own smoke as concealment for several hundred metres.

And obviously, I'm not talking about occupation wars with harassing fires by untrained and marginally equipped warbands here. I'm rather thinking of attacks by bypassed hostile troops engaging a support unit in a European great power war.

Nobody needs solutions for wars of occupation because there's no point in wars of occupation.

About the manpower savings; you need 1-2 men in most vehicles anyway for operations. You would need 2-3 with a gunner. Now keep in mind that particularly the supply trains should probably have two shifts of crews, or else the lorries end up in ditches, buildings and other vehicles all the time. In this case 30 heavy lorries could make do with about 35 men with the smoke approach, but would need about 65 with the machinegun approach. Double that for two shifts so they can sustain resupply operations for two weeks and we're talking about savings of 60 men for 30 lorries. Applied to a full brigade wherever it works, this might save hundreds of men - or replace hundreds of lorry gunners with hundreds of infantrymen.



  1. I always got the impression that the machine guns had 2 purposes:

    - Last-ditch anti air vs helicopters/CAS aircraft: even if the MG is not very effective it still complicates the attack as it is in the face of a cone of tracer fire

    - Raising the stakes of an ambush: again, the MG is not expected to be very effective against a well organised ambush, but it does discourage opportunistic attacks

    Neither of those roles require a gun shield.

    I guess the point is that the 7.62 MG (without a shield) does not add much to the weight of the vehicle and the extra firepower may be useful, if nothing else as a morale booster.

    I see you point about freeing up manpower for combat roles though.

    1. Even quad 12.7 mm machineguns have been recognised as marginally effective against aircraft back when aircraft attacked really low and really slow - in 1943.

    2. With regard to the air defence role, those 30 trucks carrying a MG3 each would be (ideally) putting 500 rounds a second in the air. This might be entirely ineffective at destroying an aircraft but could make the attacker stay at a longer range or make the attack time shorter. Obviously, if you are being attacked by laser riding missiles from 20km away you are screwed either way (bit of a waste of a missile though), but the MG discourages gun runs or loitering drones etc.

      I am not really arguing that the MG is particularly effective here, I am just interested in why you suggest that there should not be the machine gun on the trucks, given they are not heavy. My point is that a MG is better than no MG, and they are cheap, low maintenance and light.

    3. One could keep a MG with gun shield and 360° mount on a heavy lorry, more often than not "manned" by a mannequin. The primary method for survival should be smoke and getaway, though. Machineguns and AGLs simply don't have much effect unless the opponents are utterly stupid.
      Also, note how almost no WW2 lorries had machineguns, back when air targets were much easier and bazookas/RPGs/Panzerfausts were ineffective at 200+ m.

      Drones are very hard to hit with machineguns even when close, so this is practically irrelevant.

    4. Given that there are quite a few lorries with protected cabs around it seems sensible to have one of them upfront, with smoke discharger and depending on the cost even possibly an active protection system. It shouldn't usually carry the commander unless even short range radio gets jammed.

      The leading truck should however have a second man (assistent commander?) to encourage road recce and help navigation in general. During driving he observes the surroundings manning an RWS or a 360° shielded machinegun*.

      The second lorry, depending on the lenght one or two between and the last might also carry a second man. Those should be allowed to sleep if the situation permits. All other lorries should have at least a 360°shielded MG, smoke dischargers and possibly a mock-up ADS.

      Obviously those observers (some of which might have gotten some sleep) should be rotated through the vehicles and prioritize driving if the unit is understrenght. As you said the important bit is to use manpower wisely according to the situation and mask it's absence.


      *A 12,7mm seems to make more sense for some if not all vehicles. I argued once for a simple (or two?) solid Panzerfaust grip attachment so that a heavy warhead would be available or at least seem so.

      The key behind a completely shielded gun is to allow the observer/gunner to use his firepower but it is also highly useful to hide the fact that only a dummy is using it.

    5. I love the idea of multi-spectral smoke launchers.

      A more practical air defense than an MG/HMG is to mount a small 70mm rocket launcher (2-4 tubes) with flechete warheads. This would decimate a ground based ambush position and be lethal against a drone swarm or helicopters. The cost of such munitions is also low. They are not really designed for a manned launcher so that is a technical issue.

      Of course you could justify issuing two or three MANPAD rockets to a convoy. A convoy made up of HEMTT or other 8x8/10x10 trucks certainly justifies the expense.


  2. Maybe we need to think outside the "box" if you will. The mg is most likely organic to the unit it's carrying and so will be dismounted when infantry dismounts. For supporting units the mg is most likely to be kept on the vehicle when they're doing their own support things. Also for 99.999% of infantry battalions heavy mgs are the only anti air weapon. Most likely not very effective at destroying, just harassing. Also the gun shield makes it more cumbersome to operate meaning smaller chance of hitting moving aircrafts.

    1. +1 man per squad makes a much bigger difference.
      Also, APCs can have roof openings for employment of the squad's machineguns - even with prepared shields. The APC should usually be well-hidden when the squad is dismounted.

    2. In Finland jaeger troops and most of support units have one NSV hmg per platoon and even then there is no "hmg operator" but anyone can be assigned to use it. During marches it will be one from the platoon. It would be different if every squad had their own hmg. Also all medium machine guns belong to the infantry. The only troops in Finland that have hmg/vehicle is the 1st MECHBAT of Pori Jaeger Brigade with AMV and M2 on Protector turret and Utti Jaeger Regiment on their RG-32 with Platt/Protolab weapon shields.

  3. I just have one problem about one of your statements:
    That a unarmored drivers cabin with a MG should have a gunshield for gun. This seems like a bad idea considering the weight of the shield, the obtrusion of the shield as well as the fact that the lower body of the gunner and the cabin is still unprotected. Considering the ambushes will probably aim for the cabin, the gunner would still be wounded, shield or no shield.

    However, for anything with any form of armor, the MG shield is obvious.
    I have to agree with you that a MG on a lorry is quite useless and that smoke dischargers would be a better solution.

    What however would NOT make sense is to mount a APS to the support vehicles. The APS would make out over half of the cost of the vehicle, also considering support vehicles usually lacks any kind of armor, the destroyed HEAT warhead would still impact the vehicle and damage it.

    And when it comes to mounting a MG to a vehicle, the Norwegian Armed Forces found out that the 12,7mm MG had a too low rate of fire, low ammunition and too high hitting power for normal patrol missions and convoys. So they mounted the MG-3 instead, which was proved more effective at hitting enemy infantry on the move.

    What do you think by the way about the trend to make armored cabins for support trucks? I feel this simply adds unnecessary weight to the vehicle, considering they are not made to fight. APCs however I feel like should at least provide all around HMG protection. Considering they were made to help the infantry keep up with the tanks they should at least have the same protection as the rear and sides of a MBT.

    And on a sidenote, what happened to tracked support vehicles? Does the MBTs have to drive to a nearby road or camp to reload and refuel?
    On could a rebuilt M113 or a CV90 work as a tracked support vehicle?

    1. "the decision to use machineguns on soft lorry cabs with no shield "
      wasn't meant as a call for soft cabs with gunshield and MG3 (although the inability of aimed bursts at useful ranges is the bigger issue than gunner vulnerability.)
      It was meant to call out the fake display of largely useless firepower that blindly followed the "Wirkung vor Deckung" maxim.

      About machineguns; I argued long ago that two intermediate calibres would be promising; one between 5.56 and 7.62long for dismounted use and one between 7.62long and 12.7 for mounted use.
      9.3x64 would have been nice, but .338 Norma is so far the only intermediate calibre with a machinegun solution:

      About protected cabs; I think the heavy lorries that loosely stick with manoeuvre forces would be well-served to have these.
      Light lorries and really "rear" supply service lorries rather not. A properly protected cab weights approx 1 ton minimum, so it is inefficient for 2 and 3 ton vehicles, maybe even 5 ton vehicles. Many of those small vehicles should go away anyway.
      Meanwhile, the munitions and fuel haulers in the rear benefit marginally of protected cabs, and we would likely use many commercial lorries there anyway.

      I consider tracked munitions resupply vehicles as inefficient. They shouldn't be with the combat vehicles at all times, and why would a manual munitions transfer from tracked AFV to for example MBT be safe enough, but not the use of a lorry with protected cab?
      It's a bit different in a desert if 8x8 couldn't make it to a sensible resupply point there.

    2. One or two vehicles with an acoustic gunfire locator (f.e. boomerang) could make for a significant change and render the MGs much more useful in the case of an ambush.

      Then: What other uses than "ambush" or "air defence" are there, like "guarding", "road block" or more offensive roles?

  4. Russia and america are at each others throats again. The U.S. is bluffing with an empty hand (not for the first time) and preparing to go to war over syria. A nation which is irrelevant to the average american citizen, but pivotal for their esoteric political game.

    1. "but pivotal for their esoteric political game."

      I think the Great Game for Eurasia isn't esoteric at all, although it usually gets discussed only in high-level publications and journals(Forbes, Economist, Journal of Strategic Studies etc.). Probably the elites don't want to burden the proles with superfluous knowledge :/

    2. I doubt that Syria is of much consequence to anyone but Syrians and Lebanese people.
      Yes, I write this despite the migrants. A migrant crisis as the 2015 one was predicted for 30+ years, it could have been almost any not too small country causing it and whatever country first erupted such a wave of refugees (able to afford their way to Europe) would have triggered the responses.

      There's no "game for Eurasia", only some delusional people. Two blocs are in contact, redefining their common border in Syria and Ukraine. Life in the border area is not pleasant. Germans understand that; we were the border for decades.
      NATO's strategy for Eastern Europe was nonsense. We should have defined a buffer zone that both NATO and Russia stay out of unless in mutual agreement. This should have been established in a way that these countries are aware of the need to prepare defences for real (like Switzerland and Finland) and Russians learn that the neutral countries are not to be reabsorbed into a renewed Russian Empire. Meanwhile, the neutral countries should have solved their internal conflicts LONG AGO, and this includes the Baltics, Georgia and the Ukraine.

      Instead, the self-proclaimed foreign policy and geostrategy thinkers developed and implemented a scheme in which NATO expanded eastward and half-heartedly tried to calm Russian outrage, even trying to push for a Western-style Russian political system. They failed - though not as grossly as the Neocon know-nothing wannabe-geostrategists did in the Mid East.

      Here's a thought; if we had invested in "green energy" instead of spending USD 3+ trillion on Iraq war and $ 1+ trillion on the Afghanistan war, oil prices would have been lower for the last 15 years and Russia wouldn't have the economic and fiscal strength and thus not the self-esteem for its stunts in the Ukraine and Syria.

  5. "Meanwhile, the neutral countries should have solved their internal conflicts LONG AGO, and this includes the Baltics, Georgia and the Ukraine."
    -S O

    That is easier said than done. When it comes to the Baltics, there is no clearly definable inside conflict. It has more to do with regional policies than nationality or whatever else the Russian backed propagandists try to push. And the policy issues have more to do with the abrupt social and economical change due to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many industries closed their doors and many people were forced to decide where they want to continue their future. For example, my home town (4th largest settlement in the country) lost a fifth of its population and a significant number of its enterprises/factories within a decade. Cities that were formed around large companies or military bases (which were mostly populated by Soviet migrants) were hit hardest.
    That was the "great" legacy of planned economy.
    This is the main issue with all these countries. And it is the same regardless of integration policies or national sentiments.

    It is easy to generalize the issues within these countries and apply the same judgement on them all. Lithuania, which has a marginal number of Russian-speaking minorities, who happen to be rather well integrated, gets treated with the same finger-wagging as Latvia, whose Russian-speaking minority is very large and rather offensively minded towards its government.

    To Russia, neutrality means 'zone of influence'. It is ready to exploit any weaknesses its neighbours might have and apply pressure when it sees a gain. Finlandization can be considered an example of Russian "soft" power. However, Russia is quite content with applying "hard" power to gain a foothold for further soft power chess pieces.

    1. The roots of problems are no excuse for persisting problems after a quarter century.
      Germany rebuilt its bombed, occupied and disassembled industry in 7 years. It integrated millions of German refugees who had different dialect, cultural traditions and often different religion - and did so over the course of a few years.

      Ukraine allowed itself the luxury of electing useless rulers, Estonia and Latvia are needlessly fostering the divide between Russian- and indigenous mother tongue population groups.
      Lithuania is far from having no internal tensions left.

      It would have been a promising strategy for neutral countries to position themselves as a buffer that's ready to defend against both sides , but would invite the non-aggressor bloc to defend against the aggressor bloc, possibly based on a pre-aggression agreement. Then this neutrality and buffer utility tcould and should have been communicated to the people, changing the idea of for example Lithuania as a former SSR into the idea of Lithuania, a neutral buffer that serves Russia's security and interests by keeping NATO at a distance.

      That would have required a grand strategy instead of a mere NATO application, of course - and NATO members were all too easily interested in agreeing to applications.

  6. This is where I disagree with the analogy. If we were to apply a true apples to apples comparison, then we should compare the recovery to East-West German unification. AFAIK, even despite the vast investment of funds, the eastern side still lags behind significantly in its economic output. And social integration is also not as smooth as it could or should be, considering that the cultural difference is a lot smaller than between the Balts and Russians.
    I definitely wouldn't argue that there are things that the Georgian, Baltic and especially Ukrainian governments should have done better or differently. However, it seems ludicrous to hold such a condescending view on the recoveries, which in the Baltics have been comparatively better than other former Soviet-bloc countries, without at least partly considering the many unique aspects of each country.

    The fostering of cultural divide has been intentional. Both Estonia and Latvia have parties that receive covert support and guidance from Kremlin, they even have a concordat with Jedinaja Rossija. They intentionally provoke minorities to take a hostile stance towards the standing governments and towards non-minorities. They foster deep corruption in all the institutions they gain access to - a long time leader of one such party has been under a lengthy investigation by the Estonian Internal Security Service for multiple counts of criminal corruption. Again, this is how Russia applies "soft" power. It provides perfect deniability, because they can claim that it is just internal affairs, of which they hold no knowledge.

    The Lithuanian article is about petty bureaucratic squabbling, which is by no means unique to that country. I'm sure I could find similar pointless issues in Western-European countries.

    The joining of NATO came about because of the realization that the Baltics themselves aren't capable of completely deterring and defending themselves alone. That was the lesson they learned from the occupation. Remember, these decisions were made during a phase of absolute vulnerability (which still sort of applies). It is almost impossible for them to compete with a belligerent nation of 100+ million. And even if there had been a (rather pro-Russian) neutrality in these countries, could the Western-European nations be relied upon to enforce that neutrality? The war in Ukraine seems to point to a 'no'. Remember, Ukraine used to be a prime example of a neutral Russian satellite state. That is, until the political winds started to change. Belarus is standing on equally slippery ground. What will happen once the leader changes?

    1. Comparing Baltics with East Germany would be apples-oranges because East Germany's economic recovery was politically retarded. The monetary union gave them a badly overvalued currency.

      The Ukraine fails so badly because it did not have any defence policy to speak of for 10+ years. Its pro-Russia government simply had not prepared for defence against Russia. Their military was pointless, for NATO would not attack, Belarus would not attack, they didn't prepare against Russia and surely it was not keeping the corrupt government in power either.

    2. I think you are arguing with the benefit of generalized hindsight. Surely the decisions were anything but simple or retarded. And as far as I know, the Baltics also had their currencies pegged to the German mark, simply to prevent massive instability in their monetary systems. The fact that Ukraines pro-Russian government(s) didn't prepare for defence against Russia (in fact they started doing the opposite) should have been a given. While Russian belligerent meddling became (sort of) apparent to Western-Europe with the invasion of Georgia, it had been very apparent to most of its neighbours for much longer. I honestly think that Belarus is kept in good line with Russia mostly thanks to Lukashenkos political circus balancing act. If he goes, I'm not so sure what will happen. Democratic forces might start pushing Belarus towards West, which would definitely make Russia act. This is by no means a simple case.

      Anyway, when it comes to rebuilding, I think you are missing my point. Companies that had something to provide for the market, eventually became successful. Obsolete companies withered away, were shut down and the workers faced a tough job market in which their very specific skill sets were useless and they suddenly found themselves at an equal footing with the lower rungs of society. Foreign companies quietly started setting their manufacturing and businesses up after the mid 90s. Serious flow of investments only began after the Eastern-bloc countries joined the EU. Before that, the countries had to rely on their own (rather imited) resources, quite a lot of which had deep ties to corruption and crime.

      I know it is extremely easy to pass judgment, but these issues do require a much more detailed perspective on the circumstances.

    3. The devastation to manufacturing by overvalued currency is part of standard macro economics; no hindsight necessary. Politicians like Kohl are stupid and this stupidity went on with the Eurocurrency. They kept insisting that common currency unites, when economic theory long ago understood the opposite is true.

      My preference for buffer neutral armed countries isn't hindsight either; I am somewhat fascinated by Stalin's 1952 offer regarding a unified neutral Germany as buffer state. Realistic or not, I spent much time thinking about the possibilities in such a case.
      Furthermore, Switzerland, Finland and Israel provide examples how one can build a very much respected military force with relatively little economic effort.

      The corruption and ALL other problems of the Baltic countries in the early 90's pale in comparison to Germany's late 40's situation (all occupation zones). Still, Germany returned to a normal economy between '49 and '52 and kept growing. Many other European countries did the same.

      I tell you what's hindsight; to think that the anaemic economic development in Eastern Europe post-1992 was not extraordinary. Standard macro would have rather predicted a rapid growth, similar to how other suddenly or progressively unshackled economies like Turkey's, post-War Italian or post-1980's Chinese economies did.
      Robust economic growth isn't about influx of investor money or credit; that's how to build a boom and bust. Robust growth is based on the nation's own resources. The education and health levels in Eastern Europe allowed and still allow for a much higher manufacturing output.

    4. I already explained that the currency change wasn't a simple decision. The Deutschmark was preferred due to its relative stability compared to most other currencies. Also, the East German mark was worthless outside of East Germany, which meant that it couldn't be used to support import and export.

      While I would also love for the buffer zone dream to be true, it just wasn't going to happen. Especially if democracy became prevalent. The people and politicians would naturally start leaning towards the more prosperous and socially liberal West. This in itself would create a political conundrum between the Soviet Union and the West.

      Anyway, when it comes to post-war prosperity, German growth was supported by the Marshall Plan and equally exceptional growth in France (with 1.2% unemployment!), Italy, UK, Greece, Belgium, Sweden, US etc. etc. In fact, the growth was globally exceptional. To contrast that with the later (slower growth) periods, 91-93 saw a slump in world GDP growth, as well as in 98 (Russian economic crisis), 01 and obviously post 07. The scale of the slumps were similar to the beginning of 70s oil recession and early 80s recession. The Baltics started to gradually unshackle their economies before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in a similar fashion to China (especially in agriculture). This is reflected in their high indexes of economic freedom. However, China could also rely on its internal market and government projects in case of global slow-downs. Because the Baltics have to rely a lot on exports, they are deeply affected by regional economic changes.

      Investments are necessary to modernize and replace old industries. And unless you are capable of producing all the necessary materiel, some of which will be incredibly specific and requires deep know-how, for such projects, you are going to rely on foreign import (and foreign prices), which means you need rather large proportions of money just to get started. Now, we might argue that completely self-sustained growth could be possible in Ukraine. But smaller countries like Georgia and the Baltics are always going to have to rely (at least in part) on foreign economies due to their size.
      And this still doesn't address the issue of peoples skills, which they have been practicing and perfecting for most of their life, suddenly becoming obsolete. Even today, there are people with good education, who simply don't fit the specific requirements, which includes practical experience, of local industries.

      And to bring out Israel as an example of successful militarization with 'relatively little economic effort' is frankly wrong. Finland has been the example by which at least Estonia has built its military. Despite that, it is by no means capable of reaching the same size and effect, even with a larger economic contribution.

    5. This blog is a Marshall Plan myth free zone.

      Israel as an example is not wrong. They received substantial foreign military aid only after 1967.

    6. I wasn't talking about aid in case of Israel. Their military expenditure to GDP used to be near 20% (and perhaps even higher during earlier periods). And it is still way higher than most other nations in the world.

      I'm not going to argue too deeply about the Marshall Plan, because I don't see it as the primary driver of German growth during the period. However, it is impossible to ignore the fact that certain industries received nearly half their investment and rebuilding money from the program.

  7. Also, it is sort of different, trying to rebuild an industry in a period of great demand (all of Europe needed to rebuild).
    But what to do about industries and people who have simply become obsolete within a very short time?

    1. There was great demand for consumption goods in the early 1990's, and also great demand for cheap skilled labour for manufacturing. The latter was satisfied by China later only.