Pick-up Trucks: A New Form of Mobile Warfare

Dear Readers:

I saw this piece in VZGLIAD this morning.  The headline reads:


As I started to read, I came upon a Russian word I didn’t know and had never seen before:  пикап.  But as I pronounced it aloud (“pik-ap”) I realized what it was:  the English word pickup.  And sure enough, it is hard to keep track of all the English words flooding into the Russian vocabulary with accelerating tempo, seems like there is a new one every day.  I have been told there is a new joke making the rounds of Russian language majors in American colleges:  You don’t actually need to learn Russian any more, just speak English with a Russian accent!

Russian Civil War: Red Army “tachanka”

Unlike some people, this phenomenon doesn’t bother me.  Since ancient times, Russians have always borrowed tons of words from other languages, in recent centuries German, French, and now English.  The accretion of new words just adds stylistic possibilities and does not affect the core of the language itself, nor its grammatical expressiveness.  A language that never changes and never borrows, is a dying language.  And the great Russian Language is definitely not dying, any time soon.

But enough about that, I am not writing a linguistic essay here, so back to the meat of the article; oh, and by the way, I just added a new category to my category list:  “Military and War”.  I should have done this before, instead of categorizing every war story as “The Great Game”.  But better late than never.

Russian “Kord” machine gun

Speaking of which, I translated the word from the headline, тачанка (“tachanka”) as “chariot”.  Not sure what else to call it, Google translate doesn’t have an equivalent word; they used these things during the Russian Civil War, basically a horse and buggy with a machine-gun attached to the rear.

So, apparently the Russian “tachanka” has made a come-back in the Syria war.  The Russian army pimps them up with a large-calibre machine-gun called the “Kord”.  This gun is a Russian design introduced into service in 1998.  One of its unique features is that it can be fired from a bipod.  The gun is designed specifically to be used in mobile warfare.  It is light in weight and can be either carried by hand, or mounted on a vehicle.

Russian AGS-17 grenade launcher

In the Syria war, the Russian army has started to equip their  UAZ-3163 “Patriot” jeeps with these Kords and also a grenade launcher called the AGS-17.  This type of vehicle, thusly equipped, is perfect for quick raids and urban fighting, and also useful for patrolling vast distances in the desert.  The Russian army began to deploy these “Patriots” just recently, towards the end of the summer.  They are used for humanitarian aid convoys as well as fighting raids.  A single vehicle can also function as a mobile checkpoint.

The “Patriot” comes fitted with all the luxury features

Yes, you ask, but how do these babies operate in the desert?  Quite well, actually, because they have been retrofitted (by the Russian army engineers) with extra features, such as air filtration systems.  The electronic components are provided with extra protection against that annoying desert dust.  Climate control features can handle temperature fluctuations ranging from -10 to 50 (Centigrade, of course; for American readers:  The Fahrenheit equivs would be 14 – 122 degrees F.)

Non-Optional Accessories

Now, it is not known if the Russian army engineers have tried to sell the government that extra wax undercoat on the Patriots.  But there are certain other features which are simply indispensable, especially in conditions of urban warfare.  For example, the placement of the machine gun in the autobody; and also making an area between the seats for various entrenching tools such as shovels, etc.   Space is also needed for all the ancillary equipment such as night-vision goggles.  And the engineers did not forget to add spare tires and tire-patching equipment.  For those annoying occasions when your wheels are pierced by enemy bullets.

Lest people think that Russia is introducing a new type of warfare into the Middle East … nope, they’re just trying to catch up.  For many years now the U.S. has been supplying its jihadist clients (in Libya and Syria) with thousands of Toyota HiLux and LandRover Defender pickup trucks.  Their popularity gave rise to the word “jihadimobile”, which has become an iconic image of modern desert warfare.  Even dim-bulb Americans started to ask the question:  “Why do the ISIS headchoppers have so many Toyotas?”  Like, was this some kind of promotional gimmick on the part of Toyota, to show just how rugged their trucks are?

The “Toyota War”: Libya vs Chad

Headchopper use of Toyota pickup trucks dates back as least as far as the Soviet-Afghan war.  The 22nd Brigade of Soviet Special Forces was known to capture some Toyota pickups from the mujahedeen.  (The pickups no doubt donated by an American charitable organization called the CIA.)  The Soviets adapted and began to used these trophey vehicles in their own operations.

The Lybia-Chad War of 1987 became known as the “Toyota War”.  A Libyan expeditionary force consisting of 8,000 men and 300 tanks was completely crushed by the Chadians, a ragtag army using Toyota off-road vehicles equipped with anti-tank weaponry.  During the later Libya events, the ragtag jihadis who overthrew Colonel Gaddafi also made extensive use of these mobile chariots; most likely also at the expense of U.S. taxpayers.

Why Buy A Toyota?

I will end this piece with a quote from Russian military analyst Oleg Zheltonozhko who explains why pickup truck technology will not soon replace the tank, and yet remains a promising addition to the modern military arsenal:

“The armed pickup is the contemporary version of the [Russian] tachanka.  These autos are superior in several ways to the standard factory output of military technology.  They are superior to regular army transport in terms of speed, they use less fuel, and are easier to repair, especially in urban conditions.  And these automobiles can be equipped with a wide range of weapons, from large-calibre machine guns to salvo firing systems.  These vehicles are more vulnerable in comparison with standard military technology, but this deficiency is offset by their speed and ability to get from one place to another in a short amount of time; they can fire off quickly and then withdraw quickly before the answering fire.  In this respect they are superior to standard military vehicles, which take much longer to turn around and withdraw.”

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15 Responses to Pick-up Trucks: A New Form of Mobile Warfare

  1. PaulR says:

    The technical term for these armoured pickups is in fact ‘technicals’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical_(vehicle)


  2. Lyttenburgh says:

    To supplant Toyotas?! By Allah, those urus-shaitans with theirshaitan-arbas are encroaching on established jihadi lables, azubbilah!


  3. Spinifex says:

    I wonder if Toyota has an official contract with the CIA and if it is publicly disclosed? Probably not, but surely it must be tricky to hide the volume of vehicles that must pass through the CIA’s expense account.


  4. marknesop says:

    A lot of people don’t know it, but the reason military hardware costs so much is that it has to meet MilSpecs, or Military Specifications. Or at least US military equipment does. MilSpecs were mostly responsible for the silliness unearthed by Ralph Nader, which made him famous – guaranteed anger-magnets like $200.00 toilet seats. When that scandal first surfaced, $200.00 went a lot further than it does now.

    Let’s say – because this was the example I read, and it does as well as any other – you want to buy a new hammer for the Navy, to use in maintenance work. The MilSpec people will say, “What is the smallest compartment on the ship where you could reasonably expect to have to use this hammer?” And someone will take them there, and the tester will swing the hammer, and *clunk* – it hits the deckhead, what would be the ceiling for everyone else but navy. The MilSpec people write in their notes, “Hammer is too long”. The company is asked if they can produce a hammer whose handle is four inches shorter, is non-slip, impervious to a variety of shipboard chemicals and has a non-sparking head in case you want to use it in the torpedo magazine. These are just examples. The company says hell, yeah; but the price just went up from $12.00 to $120.00 per unit, because they have to re-tool their assembly line.

    Using civilian vehicles sounds like a good idea, and sometimes it is. Just as long as a lot of Russian soldiers don’t die a fiery death because they don’t have self-sealing fuel tanks or something like that. Again, that’s just an example. If everything goes well, everyone says it’s about time the government started using its head. If something terrible happens, everyone says the government must have been crazy to try anything so stupid. That’s why the only reason anyone wants to be in the government is the pay and the pension.


    • yalensis says:

      Totally makes sense!
      Ragtag armies with equipment patched together from duct tape and baling wire — hey, if it worked for Mad Max, then it should work for everyone.
      While they’re at it, change the uniforms too: Flip-flops insead of boots.


      • Jen says:

        Another possibility is that ISIS jihadis are big fans of “Top Gear” and saw that episode where James May and friends tried to drown a Toyota Hilux, bash it with a wrecking ball, blow it up and destroy in every which way they could think of. At the end of the day, the car was still holding together.


    • PaulR says:

      The attitude you describe makes sense in a military which largely expects to fight its wars with the equipment with which it starts, and isn’t expecting to have to massive loss of equipment at a high rate. But if you are considering a war with huge attrition, it becomes less justifiable and lower specifications make more sense. I remember reading somewhere that one of the reasons why the Soviets were able to outproduce the Germans in WW2 was that they weren’t so bothered with high quality specifications – they knew that the tank would get blown up within a few weeks, so they were prepared to cut a few corners to churn out a few more. The Germans, however, were all ‘vorsprung durch technik’, let’s make it the best quality, as a result of which they ended up underproducing. I’m not sure how significant this was, but it’s an interesting theory.


      • Jen says:

        “Vorsprung durch Technik” actually means progress through technology, not progress through quality (which would be “Vorsprung durch Qvalitat” with an umlaut over the second “a”).

        I don’t know how comparable in quality Soviet-made weapons and tanks were with their Nazi German equivalents but over time the Soviets did have the advantage in the quantity of production by shifting their armaments manufacturing out to the Volga river region where the Germans would have had difficulty in reaching the factories or at least coming close enough to fly planes over to bomb them. German factories on the other hand were subjected to increasing Allied bombardment and during the later years of WW2 suffered shortages of raw materials and were forced to make do with whatever they could get. Also the practice German companies had of siting factories in concentration camps to take advantage of prison labour would probably have worked against company aims to produce a consistently high level of quality product in consistent quantities, depending on what was being made: underfed and malnourished workers forced to work long hours at an insane pace would not get much done and the work produced would be very poor.


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