Introduction to Vehicle-Based Patrolling
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.