Translation by Victor Lledó.
- The VBIEDs Conceptual Framework
- Outlining the Threat
- Heavy Machine Guns and Others
- Tanks and Heavy Guns
- How Can We Fight Them?
- Open Terrain
- Urban Enviroment
- The Junction Defensive Approach
- The B of VBIED means “Borne” we did not correct that fail when the article was released
Firstly, and before we start, we would like to point out that in this analysis we are going to use the more widely used acronym “VBIED” or “SVBIED” which means Suicide Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device, however we believe acronyms like VB or simply SVB would be equally appropriate. Also we must stress that the terms “Suicide” SVBIED and the “Non Suicide” VBIED are namely used as synonyms because at the moment we have just seen very few unmanned VBIEDs, however in the future it is very likely that this difference is going to be more relevant.
The use of Suicide Bomb Vehicles with Improvised Explosive Devices is not new and for what interest us it mainly dates back to the days of the Iraqi insurgency against the U.S starting in 2003, however throughout history we have seen somehow similar behaviors like the infamous Japanese Kamikazes at the end of WWII.
During the war on terror SVBIEDs were mainly used as strategic terror weapons rather than as tactical weapons on the battlefield, this is because the availability of “volunteers” eager to sacrifice themselves on these kind of actions has always been relatively low and so very valuable for terrorist groups that preferred to use them as terror weapons, however never in history a terrorist group, a State and an army were combined together to get the necessary resources to recruit such a high number of suicides drivers, allowing for the VBIED to be considered by Daesh as a tactical weapon rather than just a terror weapon.
ISIS created a new situation thanks to a proto-state organization able to group together a large powerful media, military and political brainwashing machine capable to assemble a true organization with logistics, experts, technicians and operators ready to be the bone and the muscle of the fleet of suicide vehicles that support ISIS military operations on the field.
The VBIEDs Conceptual Framework
As “ISIS Study Group” released, there is a branch of the ISIS Operations Planning Team specifically dedicated to the IEDs, however we are not exactly sure about what this acronym truly stands for, whether it is just IEDs or VBIEDs or something else.
From a “philosophical” point of view the SVBIED concept is far wider than previously thought of because it is an organic composition created as a strike force element, as a fully contained design, as a vehicle, as a suicide operation and as an explosive device.
- Force: as part of the elements comprising ISIS military forces in the battlefield every SVBIED acts as a unit that can also operate along other VBIEDs and drones while remaining under the orders or the direct guidance of a supervisor.
- Design: every VBIED is produced out of a different civilian vehicle, from cars to tanks every job is different and every job requires a certain degree of specific design to determine its payload, speed and armour which requires some level of experience and technician.
- Vehicle: a VBIED is a moving object propelled by a combustion engine and moving on tracks or wheels and able to be directed at will.
- Suicide: SVBIEDs have a human driver willing to die with the vehicle and who is going to drive it until the objective and set off the charge when at the desired right moment.
- Explosive: a VBIED is never complete without a big payload comprised of explosives to be detonated on the suicide driver’s command.
From these fundamental elements we can make out that ISIS have created an effective support network to fulfil the requirements of SVBIEDs operations on behalf of the Caliphate both for terror and tactical operations.
One key factor is the training of the suicide drivers, because they are the true brain of the operation. First of all they must be acquainted with the area where they are going to operate so at first they probably use Google Earth and similar tools to get an overall impression, then they probably do an eye inspection to determine the most convenient avenues of approach, finally and if available they do additional reconnaissance by drone.
It is also likely that the drivers get some training both to drive through rough terrain and special driving to avoid being hit by enemy weapons, also they are trained to choose their objectives and establish a priority list between them. It is also possible that they receive a psychological preparation and even some kind of narcotics or stimulants for the accomplishment of their mission.
The overall design of vehicle, modifications and explosive payload are specifically interrelated elements, a key factor relies on the engine and the weight of the vehicle, thanks to those elements they can determine the approximate maximum payload, and the weight of the armour and explosives to be added.
VBIEDs used to be true lone wolves in the battlefield acting on a few vague and general instructions, but over time we have witnessed the use of increasingly sophisticated tactics including VBIED “fireteams” with 2 attacking vehicles to take advantage of their full potential and even a “live” survey and command network supporting and guiding them by the use of drones, a true improvement in the command ability that leads to a far better effectiveness.
Also there must be some sort of a logistic element able to put out with the amount of VBIEDs needed by the military planners whom would determine which units are going to receive them in first place.
Outlining the Threat
A typical ISIS VBIED is a civilian 4×4 with homemade armour at the front and side fenders with a maximum thickness at some parts of the front between 70 to 150 mm, a payload of 1.500 kg and able to reach high speeds, more than 90 km/h with a lethal air blast range of 60 metres.
As a general estimate we believe that a normal ISIS VBIED has much more than various hundred of metres of effective shrapnel radius, while that of a tank and its crew would be between 5 to 50 metres depending on the model of the tank and the characteristics of the VBIED and other elements.
All of these characteristics mix up resulting in a powerful weapon that is very fast and very difficult to disable just by using ordinary bullets and also very hard to destroy just by using ordinary infantry weapons at a certain range, like RPGs, recoilless rifles or low rate of fire weaponry. The reason for this is the high speed of the VBIEDs. Most of the long-range ground-based anti-tank weapons were designed to deal with older tanks (and APCs), and often times, especially with older models, these were never faster than 60 km/h, thus intended for targets moving about a 33% slower than the typical VBIED in the best of the cases which is why most conventional AT weapons are not so effective.
The effective use of a VBIED depend on a lot of external factors like the type of terrain, the cover offered in the area for the targets, obstacles like trenches, earthen bags or barriers, the dispersion of the enemy troops and also depends a lot on the ability of the driver to choose the targets.
Finally one of the main advantages of the VBIEDs over other weapons is their demoralizing and shocking effects among the troops, this happens mainly because nobody likes to run away from an armed terrorist trying to blow up its own vehicle nearby and because human psychology tends to overestimate the enemy in a state of shock, hence most troops at the front might get develop bad habits which hamper their effectiveness in future engagements. This psychological shortcoming must be properly addressed through training and clear cut and well known-by-all procedures to allow the soldiers to have a clear idea of what to expect and how to react in these cases instead of allowing themselves to be dominated by panic.
Finally it must be said that ISIS is constantly improving the efficiency of its VBIED attacks by using a more sophisticated survey and command network which eventually use drones to guide the suicides during their attacks posing a much bigger threat than in the older methods of operation.
While most ISIS VBIEDs have just a light reinforced skin, quite a relevant number of them are based on tanks, IFVs, APCs and bulldozers with certainly heavy amour plating.
In these less frequent cases the use of HMGs is less effective while obstacles like trenches require much more work to be effective and only AT mines are able to defeat these kind of threats.
Although ATGMs are very efficient against this kind of targets but also slow firing guns like recoilless rifles, AT guns, and tanks guns can also be very effective in the right circumstances.
Heavy Machine Guns & Others
The M2 Browning with a 12,7 x 99 mm cartridge, the DShK and the NSV with a 12,7 x 108 mm cartridge or the KPV with a 14,5 x 114 mm cartridge can all penetrate at 100 to 200 metres most of the ISIS VBIEDs by using AP ammunition.
For example the company Igman produces two AP rounds, the BZT-44 API-T and the B-32 API, the first one can penetrate 15 mm of armour plate (HPA-10) at 100 metres while the second can penetrate 20 mm under the same conditions so they are effective against most of ISIS VBIEDs more even if we take in to account that the armour of ISIS VBIEDs is of less quality than the HPA-10 against whom BZT-44 and B-32 have been tested.
Maybe the bigger problem is that 100 metres is not even a safety distance against a VBIED, however the plates installed by ISIS are of less quality than HPA-10 so they should be vulnerable at distances up to 300 to 500 metres in most cases.
So in our opinion to use DShKMs with 12,7 x 108 API rounds as they are being used is a good feature, but the problem is that most times there is not enough training, discipline or clear operational methods so the full potential of these type of heavier weapons is wasted.
Also in general SVBIEDs have some design flaws like unprotected wheels, partially exposed flanks or big windows at the front to let the suicide drive the vehicle, all of these soft spots can be targeted with all kind of calibers, including 5,45, 5,56 and especially 7,62 mm and so massed firing over the vehicles can also help a lot to deal with SVBIEDs.
Also what is applied to HMGs can be applied to high rate of fire guns, like 57 mm S-60s, 23 mm ZU-23-2, 30 mm 2A42 or 2A72s…
The ATGMs are relatively low efficient weapons in so far as they are scarce and primarily designed to defeat highly protected objectives like tanks and bunkers, however their characteristics like high speeds, long ranges and high levels of accuracy even against fast moving targets have proven like real silver bullets against VBIEDs.
We have seen the U.S SFs using the FGM-148 Javelin, the French and Kurdish using the Milan and most commonly the Iraqi and Kurdish forces using the Chinese HJ-8s mounted on Humvees to defeat ISIS VBIEDs.
As we mentioned already ATGMs are scarce and so they should be carefully assigned with the main spearheads attacking in open terrain to protect them from VBIEDs.
Tanks and Heavy Guns
Tank guns like 100 mm D-10, 120 mm M256 or 125 mm 2A46 or heavy guns like 85 mm KS-1s or 100 mm KS-19s can have a role dealing with SVBIEDs but their use tends to be more complex, we will try to cover their use and operations anyway.
The procedure includes spotting, aiming and shooting at a target moving at speeds around 90 km/h and again, we must take into consideration that tanks were designed to deal with tanks which are significantly slower and bigger than SVBIEDs.
But in spite of all of the disadvantages a properly trained crew by Western standards must be able to deal with the threat if it has a good Fire Control System (FCS), and in this case “good” means fast and accurate. Finally the ammunition used is very important, for example a kinetic APFSDS round fired from a German 120 mm L/44 gun, very similar to the M256 of the M1 Abrams can reach speeds around 1.675 m/s at 20º Celsius while in similar circumstances a HEAT round can reach 1.405 m/s and this difference is much bigger in Soviet tanks between APFSDS and HE rounds.
If a VBIED advances at 90 km/h it means that it is going at 25 m/s at this velocity and distance because of their trajectory and speed APFSDS are much effective than HEAT or HE rounds and in the best cases they are even 16% faster, which relates to the speed of the VBIED, meaning that if you calculate the speed of the vehicle as being 25 m/s you will have to predict the distance and velocity to reach the target with 16% more calculations in the best of the cases to fire other non-kinetic rounds.
However as we mentioned, a properly trained crew firing at high rate can deal with VBIED threats.
Trenches and barriers are old but still very effective mobility counter measures, however and foremost time is needed to build them but still this is a cheap and easy counter measure, at the end of the day if Rome Legions were able to build a camp every day in their marches through Germania, Iraqis should not have problem to build trenches or barriers with modern equipment when the advance is stopped for a few hours.
Also the use of caltrops and spiked roadblocks can be very effective against the civilian wheels of most of the ISIS VBIEDs. While this could sound strange we believe that the design of caltrops even with the addition of very small explosive charges to improve their efficiency could help a lot to deal with most civilian VBIEDs.
We must take in to account that caltrops have not changed essentially since the ancient Roman but new designs can help yo deal with SVBIEDs.
How Can We Fight Them?
In Open Terrain
The open terrain is key to defeat ISIS VBIEDs because it allows for earlier awareness on the incoming threat and thus it provides more time to react. In our opinion when a VBIED is spotted some procedures must be automatically put in to action, first of all the dismounted infantry must get cover on the ground or if there were not natural covers they must stay behind the vehicles to avoid the deadly shrapnel.
The dispersion, especially that of unarmored vehicles is highly important to avoid unnecessary losses, and the use interlocking fields of fire with HMGs and automatic guns especially set within fast response teams sufficiently spaced from other force elements ready to coordinate and quickly establish killing zones would be key factors to ensure defeat SVBIED tactics.
In our view most of the ISIS VBIEDs attacking in the open could have been perfectly avoided if a greater level of training and coordination had been available, in most cases VBIEDs were successful it was thanks to the ensued panic and shock among Iraqi units forcing a “stampede” that allowed Isis “wolves” to choose better their prey from among those who were panicking.
The engagements with VBIEDs in urban environment are characterized by:
- High level of unpredictability about VBIEDs approach routes
- Lack of early warning
- High speed of the events
- Shortened reaction time due to limited visibility in urban environments
The Junction Defensive Approach
At this stage we have already managed to provide a definite method to defeat ISIS SVBIEDs in urban environments.
First of all urban fighting is very chaotic and the avenues of approach of ISIS VBIEDs can be too many and even difficult to foresee under certain circumstances like after big terrain gains or when the force is overextended, therefore in our opinion it is essential to do a quick but methodical planning of every advance and take into account the paths available for VBIEDs and place there some security forces and a small fast response force.
For example, in our opinion a good enough blocking and security force would be comprised of a Humvee with a driver, a shooter operating a 14,5 mm KPVT HMG, a couple of ready to use RPG-7 against heavy VBIEDs and a couple of combat engineers/sappers specialized in light obstacles, altogether with the usual rifle unit assigned to deal with ISIS infantry.
The specialized light obstacles 2 man team would be the key, their mission would be to establish the best suited place for a disruption point, that would be an area with some distance to the own forces that can close the path just by placing a few obstacles.
The main obstacles would be caltrops but remotely controlled explosives could be used as well, something like a small charge of C4s placed in an armoured box on the disruption point, that explosive would be activated by the operator when the VBIED is close to it. The armoured plate be to prevent light weapons from detonating it. Also mines, especially cable ones can be very effective but they would need further terrain preparations to be installed at the disruption point something difficult if we take in to account that usually those points are exposed to enemy fire.
Regarding the caltrops would be very important to be easily deployed just by throwing them even randomly or the ability to deploy them individually or in lines adhered to a rope or chain (one of the easiest to make).
The Humvee would be operating alongside the caltrops roadblocks and the explosives/mines and rest of the force would take cover on the nearest building at the same time they would fire all of their weapons against the VBIED before it reaches the block position
The “Junction Defensive Approach” is appropriated for small and narrow streets but in wider ones we propose the next formation: The best armored MBT would be at the tip of a wedge formation, while high rate of fire light armored vehicles like BMP-2s, MRAPs or BTR-80s would be slightly backward at the sides of the wedge ready to concentrate their fire on the VBIED if the tank is too slow to destroy it in time.
The addition of a Remote Controlled Weapon Station (RWS) with 12,7 or 14,5 mm HMGs at the top of the tanks and with a mode allowing them to be connected to the gunner and commander sights would provide a much faster response for the tanks that at the moment tend to be too slow to deal with SVBIEDs at close range.
The addition of improved armor plates and spall liners to most of the lightly armored vehicles like M-113s or Humvees can be a good upgrade to prevent them from the effects of shrapnel and close explosions.
The discipline and diligence of the security elements during the operations is one of the keys to defeat ISIS VBIEDs because as we have been able to see so far, most times the troops manning certain positions were mostly unaware of what they were supposed to protect.
Also the use of surveillance drones, even civilian ones overlooking the forward positions can be very effective to deal with VBIEDs by providing some level of early warning.
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Also we want to recommend this excellent article about the history of VBIEDs.