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Introduction to Vehicle-Based Patrolling

October 24, 2013

The concept of using vehicle-based movement for tactical operations such as security patrolling holds great appeal to many people, and with good reasons–sometimes METT-TC considerations mean that vehicles offer a number of significant advantages over foot-mobile patrolling. The ability to carry more gear and supplies, allowing for longer duration operations is an obvious and often voiced one, although if a foot-mobile patrol is well-supported by an established system of dispersed caches and safe houses, this is largely an academic advantage, at best, unless the local terrain, such as on the Great Plains or the deserts of the West, means that even a well-developed cache and safe house network will require very widely scattered locations.

The ability to cover more distance in less time, and the apparently reduced fitness demands of vehicle-based travel are two other factors that, at first glance, seem to favor the use of vehicle-centric patrolling operations. The first of these has important corollary drawbacks all its own, and the second is simply not as valid as it first seems, despite the best fantasies of some. The appearance of normality under observation, versus groups of armed men moving on foot, is also not as secure as it first seems, although it is arguably the most valid of the factors supporting the use of vehicle-based patrolling for small unit irregular warfare.

The obvious drawbacks to vehicle-based patrolling, some in direct contravention of the apparent benefits, are at least as numerous and importance as the factors in its favor, and many of these drawbacks are synergistic, leading to exponentially increasing drawbacks to these operations. Number one is the most obvious, from the guerrilla warfare factor: the limitations of even the hardiest off-road vehicles means a mounted patrol cannot possibly hope to cover all the places that a foot-mobile patrol can go. This leads to two very obvious means to overcome this drawback. Either those places don’t get covered by security patrols, leaving wide gaps in the security envelope as potential infiltration routes (which means people like me get to sneak in your back door…hardly a sound solution from a security standpoint), or the mounted patrol has to dismount at some point anyway, meaning that the perceived fitness benefits of “I’m a fat fuck and don’t want to walk,” are largely irrelevant in the long term.

Another drawback to vehicle-based patrolling is related to this occasional need to dismount anyway…It is far more difficult to effectively conceal the vehicles needed to move even 6-8 guys around on a patrol than it is to conceal the personnel themselves and their rucksacks. Finally, the ability to travel fast, quickly covering country leads to the propensity for even well-trained observers to get lazy, careless, and sloppy, as they blow down roads and trails, instead of actually making the effort to look for the trees that comprise the forest, and thus see infiltrators.

These drawbacks and considerations are not intended to convey the impression that there is no application of vehicle-based patrolling options for the local security force/guerrilla element. On the contrary, while they are far more limited than contemporary conventional force military operations and the imaginations of many 4GW gurus would seem to indicate, applications do exist, and taking advantage of those applications can provide a decided force multiplier to your efforts.

Differences from Foot-Mobile Patrolling

While the same general principles and concepts that impact foot-mobile patrolling play a role in vehicle-mounted operations, the specific application of those will–obviously–be significantly different. These differences will require specific training, practice, and rehearsal in order to master, and then to maintain proficiency. For recent combat veterans even, the TTPs learned in up-armored HMMWVs, MATVs, MRAPs, and Strykers (or for us old dudes, M113s and Bradley IFVs), don’t work so well for the soft-skinned vehicles that we are all generally limited to nowadays (If you own a Stryker, MATV, MRAP, or even an up-armored HWMMV, email me. I’ve got an awesome relocation package to discuss with you….You know you want me for a neighbor, right?), since we generally lack even “Hajji Armor” and gun turrets (a “technical” in the form of a Toyota pick-up or SUV, with a gun mount added to the bed, does not count as a gun turret in this case, just FYI, although there are definitely applications of that as well). Trying to up-armor your personal vehicle, even in a grid-down environment raises a host of logistical and other concerns, most of which are outside the scope of this article, but which include unanticipated (by the engineers who designed the vehicle) demands on the suspension, transmission, and power train of the vehicle. The sad fact is, with very limited exceptions, the idea that you’re going to add plate steel to your rig to make it “bulletproof” or armored, against anything beyond maybe a .22LR is fucking retarded.

The issues that will ultimately affect your decision of whether or not to use vehicle patrols as part of your operational envelope revolve around many of the same METT-TC considerations that a SFODA has to consider in determining what means of infiltration to use in moving into a hostile-controlled, denied area of UW missions:

  • Mission: The specific mission you are planning is always your first consideration. A requirement for speed, such as acting as a QRF for security force elements conducting foot-mobile security patrols, or other members of your network within the area complex, who find themselves decisively engaged by hostiles, may mitigate other risk factors, making the use of vehicles the only logical solution to the tactical problem. Conducting an ambush of a large hostile force, moving along roadways only, towards your area complex where the need to move a large number of untrained, or only slightly trained, personnel, including many without the physical ability to conduct foot movements, may require or allow the use of vehicles to move personnel to the Objective Rally Point (ORP), close to the planned ambush site, as long as the route has been previously secured.

  • Enemy Situation: The enemy situation, and your control or lack of control over the area to be traversed, through aggressive patrolling and/or auxiliary “sentinels,” as part of the outer security zone intelligence/defense network will play a factor. The enemy’s technological strengths and abilities, such as a known or suspected ability to procure or manufacture anti-vehicle munitions is also a critical factor to consider.

  • Weather: Adverse weather might favor a foot-mobile or vehicle-mounted approach. While deep snow and extreme cold here in the Northern Rockies would seem to favor a vehicle-based approach in the winter, the chance of ending up roof down, in the bottom of a canyon, or the roads being drifted over with blowing snow, might actually favor the alternative, despite the discomfort. The same factors might apply to heavy rains or high winds elsewhere, as well as the heat and unrelenting sun in the southwestern deserts. I’ve had more than one vehicle shit the bed, in the middle of nowhere, from overheating on a summer day in the desert.

  • Topography: Terrain and vegetation must be considered in deciding the means of travel. Steep, rough, broken country, while harder to walk in, will probably require foot-mobile operations, or at least horseback mounted, rather than vehicle or ATV mounted, due to the scarcity of roads and trails, and the resultant broad areas that would otherwise remain unobserved by your security forces, or remain inaccessible to your operations. In wide open areas however, such as most of Kansas and eastern Colorado, as obvious examples, as long as the members of the patrol are intimately familiar with the local terrain, including the locations of concealed avenues of approach and likely hide site possibilities–and remembers to check them frequently–vehicle-mounted security patrolling might remain the only realistically viable option, simply due to the time and distance issues in these types of environments.

  • Equipment/Vehicles/Material Supplies Availability: Do you have an adequate minimum number of vehicles available to conduct an effective vehicle-mounted patrol? “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” certainly applies here. Even if I just have four guys available to do the patrol, I want to split them between two vehicles, so I have an overwatch element at all times. Do you have spare mounted tires? Extra common preventive and corrective maintenance parts, ranging from belts and plugs to what-the-fuck-ever your particular vehicle is likely to have shit the bed in the middle of an operation? Do you have adequate fuel for the vehicles, as well as a means to carry extra fuel for emergency contingency planning? Is the fuel still in a usable state, or is it going to gum up and destroy the engines?

Mounted operations are, of course, actually a rather specialized aspect of small-unit operations, as even this brief synopsis illustrates. We will return to discussions on mounted operations in the ensuing weeks, with specifics on vehicle set-up, battle drills with soft-skinned vehicles (as opposed to a battle drill from an armored vehicles), and other considerations.


John Mosby


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  1. parapearce permalink

    Why am I picturing a scene from the Dukes of Hazard meets the Rat Patrol in my head?

    • natermer permalink

      because your brain is awesome.

      Personally I like bicycles. If you have one of those ‘long tail’ style cargo bikes that are getting popular with the urban folks. You can pack along 200+ pounds worth of stuff on small trails without too much ill effect. They don’t suffer the maneuverability issues that a front loader or 3-wheel bikes have. In terms of balance and whatnot they handle the load well. Kits and purpose built ones are expensive, but a lot of people make their own just with two old mountain bike frames and some welding/brazing. And they are easy to hide and can be left, as long as they are greased up well, for a very long time out in the wilderness with no ill effect.

      The commercial bikes seem to rate their frames at 350-400 pounds with cargo + rider.

      Plus you look like hipster, right? And nobody thinks hipsters are threats.

      Personally I envision vehicles used for patrol support. Drive a truck or bike out to a pre-determined spot, drop a load off in some bushes and leave it there. A few days or a couple week later a patrol can use the cache to replenish.

      • So I started out on a Schwinn Sting-Ray, graduated up to a Cadillac XLR, and will end up an a Big Dummy to resist the communist regime. Damn. What happened?

  2. parapearce permalink

    Mobile recon in a Caterpillar seven niner seven would work. Cammied up of course.

    • lapua permalink

      You aren’t half wrong with that line of thinking. All the drawbacks JM mentions for vehicle use by light infantry are true and its not a primary strategy. However, I’d be looking at surplus heavy equipment over a beater Toyota or Polaris for mechanized operations.

      Heavy equipment and trucks are cheap, plentiful, ubiquitous in any environment, are designed to take a payload, and can take a beating moving it. Tracked, road-legal, rubber-tired off-road, big, small, whatever your role there’s probably a Cat, John Deere, Gradall, Mack, Unit-Rig, Case, International or Grove machine that will do a better job than trying to up-armor the Expedition.

      This equipment is cheap, non-threatening, and many already contains bits and pieces designed to smoothly elevate and slew long, heavy things. Your mileage may vary.

  3. Unreconstructedgordo permalink

    I have been rockcrawling the Western US for a quarter century, 400 + HP rings with 40″+ tires that are trail proven are de rigeur . in our groups, as are AR racks and NODs. So won’t seem far removed for me, also hard to beat a good 650 Kawi or equivalent, at least military scouts think so. Lots to be said about fast quads, snow mobiles or “sand buggies” in sand terrain. All in all us III% ers won’t be like Hadji generally, allthough a lot to be said for a stripped down, pumped up Toyota 4×4 with something pintle mounted until we can capture some big stuff. My fantasy for 30 years has been a Davey Crockrett system on a jeep. I was very impressed by the 106 recoiless on a jeep that were common in the team camps!

  4. Unreconstructedgordo permalink

  5. Unreconstructedgordo permalink

    All you young bucks need to know about this kewl system which certainly would be useful at some stage of insurgency 🙂

  6. RobRoySimmons permalink

    Targets with oodles of pogey bait waiting to be snatched. Vehicle patrol can barely be done by Big Green it seems much less likely Cletus and his cousins in two pickups will fare well on the X. Now I’m sure there are some lards out there dreaming of ATV Rat Patrol, oh snap there goes the new gear and the Hondas.

  7. Soren permalink

    JM, you mentioned horses, what are your thoughts on using those (admittedly finnicky) vehicles instead of trucks? They’re quieter in general, easier to fuel (and to some extent easier to maintain), and can handle much rougher terrain (and thinner trails) than a 4×4.

    It’s one of those “it’s worked for several millenia, does it still work?” questions.

    • I live in the West, in the mountains. I’m a big fan of horses, but there are a LOT of considerations that non-horse people overlook, or that horsepeople without tactical experience overlook. This looks like a great article idea though…..

    • SpartanMonkey permalink

      Google fm3-05-213.pdf

  8. It seems the primary utility for vehicles would be in the twilight between normal life and the full night of WROL. Vehicles can be significantly hardened, far beyond just a .22LR. But it comes down to money. Amor-Core fiberglass panels come in up to equivalent Level IV (.308/.30-06) protection, they’re much lighter than steel plate, but sheets of it go for upwards of $1K@.
    Film applique from 3M and others can be applied to ordinary auto glass sufficient to stop bricks, rocks, bats, and crowbars, and even milder centerfire handgun rounds, but again, it’s a cost issue. The applique on purpose-built aftermarket glass can be had sufficient to survive the blast from nearby explosions.
    But if anyone was hoping for the ability to stop anything like or greater than .50BMG, surplus WWII Sherman tanks go for about $1M, when they’re available, and it’s hell getting replacement parts and spare tracks.

    If you need a tank, you need to be somewhere else, practically speaking.

    But imagine the SUV driver in NY recently accosted by irate bikers, and ask him if a few hundred dollars to make his auto glass shatterproof would be a wise investment, and then picture yourself trying to bug out from point A to Point B with your family and possibly children inside, and see if you can see any worth in windows that can’t be easily broken, and possibly Kevlar or ballistic fiberglass behind the rear seat, in front of the firewall, and stuffed into the side panels.

    The closest thing I could imagine that’d be a JM-approved patrol vehicle would be something like a folding mountain bike, and a very fit rider. A small patrol on those things could cover a lot of ground with minimum noise or logistics complications, and hiding them when you dismount isn’t particularly challenging compared to trying to hide anything with an internal combustion engine.

    • gm2011 permalink


      Question for you – Is the 3M shatterproof film (both the home window and auto window type) ‘breakable’ from the inside? Say you had to break your window after driving into water… or break out of your house that’s on fire…or get rescued by the fire department after getting into a bad wreck on the highway – – – – > are you out of luck?

      I like the idea of it deterring burglars and providing some tint, though.

  9. Exl permalink

    The SAS have the mobility troop dedicated to light vehicle warfare, which seems to be quite successful but from my understanding they don’t spend all of their time vehicle born but rather use them in combination and launch foot mobile patrols from mobile bases. Also another thing I’d like to draw people’s attention to is the Rhodesian Army’s Grey’s Scouts regiment who were horse mobile during the bush war but also trained to be dismounted infantry.

  10. anonymous permalink

    Not a member of armed forces, but a Rokon would make a great vehicle for getting ammunition or drinking water from HERE to THERE very quickly. That little guy is nimble as hell and single path cattle / game paths are easily travelable on one of those..

    Otherwise, the points made above are sound. During deer season, you can easily hear trucks and ATVs traveling roads from scraping sound of brush hitting the vehicles from quite a distance. You don’t need headlights to see them.

  11. LFMayor permalink

    Try your local thrift shop, or any garage sales if they’re still having them and buy that used mountain bike for 15 bucks. Then spray bomb it camo. I honestly don’t see me pulling awesome hammerheads and doing moguls on a Huffy wearing belt, plates and Alice, so it’s probably going to limit you to roads and better paths but it will move you quicker and fresher than just stumping your ass along.

    You can also Ho Chi Mihn it and use it to move two bodyweights of gear.

  12. riverrider permalink

    “firstest with the mostes.” nbf…..use vehicles to get near your objective with your heavy ordnance and to haul ass afterward. leave guards on them tho.

  13. SpartanMonkey permalink

    Or you could build/borrow one of these: http://www. youtube .com/watch?v=LJZQ3n-iQYE.
    Imagine if you could program its route using GPS waypoints. Oh boy, I bet they already can..

  14. “The ability to cover more distance in less time, and the apparently reduced fitness demands of vehicle-based travel are two other factors that, at first glance, seem to favor the use of vehicle-centric patrolling operations. The first of these has important corollary drawbacks all its own, and the second is simply not as valid as it first seems, despite the best fantasies of some.”

    The jeep covers more ground and keeps troops rested. Both appear to be good things at first glance, but both of these points have drawbacks that should be considered.

    Dude, you are sliding into Reg-speak and the war hasn’t even started yet!

    • M-60 permalink

      I beg to differ. From what I understand 911 was the opening of hostilities here in CONUS.

  15. The bicycle is a reasonable option, in late 1941, and early 1942 the Japanese army came all the way down the malay penninsula to Singapore using them. A bicycle being walked allows a man to carry a much larger amount of supplies than he can in a ruck. The IR signature is still that of a human. That said if you really need remote rough terrain patrolling on foot is the only way. Too many ways to be porous.

    • thespartanmonkey permalink

      You must’ve seen Hoot board the CrashHawk with his mountain bike in Black Hawk Down 🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mosby: Intro To Vehicle-Based Patrolling | Western Rifle Shooters Association
  2. Readers might want to look at some of the other blogs out there, concerning vehicle based issues… | Survival Wheels

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