Vietnam experiences applied to Iraq convoys

New approaches to old problems

Insurgents have found that truck convoys are excellent targets since the 1950s when the Viet Minh attacked the French along the "Street without Joy".  Drivers must be protected from roadside blasts and RPGs to be able to keep going to get out of the kill zone.  Hardened wheeled vehicles manned by transport unit personnel need to be part of the convoy to intimidate the enemy and provide overwhelming fire power in the kill zone.  These two stories show today's approach in Iraq.

Protecting the Truckdriver Intimidating the Enemy

Armored 5 tons

from Thomas C. Westen

I was the Company Commander for the Headquarters Company for the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.  The pictures are from Camp New Jersey in Kuwait on or about the second week of April 2003.  We were looking to Up-armor our 5-Tons prior to convoying North through Iraq.  We ended up using empty 25MM ammunition cans.  We filled them with sand and them welded and strapped them onto the front cabs of our 5-Tons.  We reinforced the armor with spall plates.  We tested an ammo can at a range and it performed magnificently.  We shot 30 rounds of 5.56 and there were no penetrations beyond 1/2 inch through the heavily compacted sand.  Our convoys never got shot at with our 5-Tons up-armored.  The one time I did get shot at in a convoy was when we did not have our armored 5-Tons during a vehicle recovery mission. 


S.C. soldier designs new gun truck-- Vehicle weighs more than 20 tons, has detachable gunners' box

Staff Writer
 Instead of an M-16 rifle, Army Staff Sgt. James King is using his welder to help U.S. troops fighting in Iraq. A member of the Army Reserve's 175th Maintenance Company, headquartered at Fort Jackson, King is the primary designer of a new gun truck aimed at better protecting U.S. convoys in Iraq. The truck currently is undergoing a seven-day road test in Iraq and initial reports are good, Maj. Ricky Smith, the 175th's commander, reported Wednesday. "So far, no one has shot at it and that is the effect we wanted - to scare the h--- out of the bad guys," Smith wrote in an e-mail to The State.

Protecting convoys is a top priority of U.S. commanders. Troops suffer about 100 casualties a month in insurgent attacks on convoys. Those losses have led some critics to say the Army doesn't have enough armored vehicles or ground protection for its Iraqi convoys. The Air Force said Tuesday that it will haul more supplies on its planes to help take some of the load off the convoys. King's design adds an armored box, bristling with guns, that can be bolted onto the back of a heavy transport truck in a convoy. It is much different than the gun trucks the Army has used for decades. Those are quick, agile gun trucks designed to race up and down the length of a convoy to meet attackers. King's gun truck - recently unveiled at Camp Arifjan, where the 175th is stationed in Kuwait - weighs more than 20 tons.

The vehicle originally was designed to haul a battle tank. What makes King's design unique is the armored gunners' box can be transferred to another truck in about 15 minutes. The design and construction of the box was a joint venture between the 175th and the Kellogg, Brown & Root weld shop at Camp Arifjan. Because of his experience in building smaller gun trucks, and in welding and fabrication in his regular job as a military technician, King was selected by Smith to lead the project. It took King's team, which included four welders, four weeks' worth of 12-hour days to design and build the box. "The hardest part was coming up with some of the materials to do it with," King said. "It's just like everything else in this country; you've got to beg, borrow and steal. We had the armor, but the gun rings we had to find; the Kevlar we had to find and the exhaust we had to find." With its gun mounts about 13 feet above the ground, the box offers soldiers a crow's nest view of the area around a convoy. "You get a greater view and field of fire than you can with a Humvee," said Chief Warrant Officer David Summerlin, who helped on the project. Added King, "At close range, (attackers) will have to aim very high, and by then, you'll see them." The walls of the box are protected on the side by several layers of Kevlar. There are a few inches between the Kevlar and the sides of the truck to absorb most of the impact and shrapnel if it is hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, King said. That part of the design has not been tested, King said. "We won't know until an RPG hits it." The box is made of three-eighths-inch-thick steel plating, which can stop most small-arms fire. The floor is reinforced with two layers of the steel plating to protect against bombs.

The box is armed with one 40-mm and one .50-caliber machine gun. It has room for two other gunners. If the truck makes it past its first real-world road test in Iraq this week, King and the others who worked on the project will construct seven more boxes for the 7th Transportation Group. Army public affairs contributed to this report.