Parasitic land vehicles for the army

I spent a lot of time reading and musing about the problem potential promise challenge of having agile army formations, especially brigades. A single reinforced battalion battlegroup can easily have more than a hundred vehicles and this gets cumbersome real quick.

The road march length (vehicle lengths + depending on army and circumstances 50-150 m spacing between vehicles) can reach into kilometres real quick. Where to position your combat troops, where the support? Combat up front is nice for a frontal contact, with rearguard offers at least some mobile reserve, dispersed means best convoy defence everywhere against moderate threats, but is hopeless if there's a peer force contact anywhere. The greater the convoy, the worse the propblem.
Luckily, road march length is actually outdated thinking. Nowadays it's more about the time a convoy needs to pass a point, which adds the element of average minimum vehicle speed. Still, a road march length of 10 minutes means a rearguard would at least take five minutes to help the centre in an ambush. Five minutes is a helluva lot time if armoured recce cars with autocannons engage machinegun-armed trucks. Also keep in mind there are often times not multiple, but only one (wo)man in some vehicles during logistical marches. I personally wouldn't want more than one per fuel or ammo truck anyway.

The vulnerability and clumsiness of large convoys is one thing; setting up and breaking camp is almost a science. Imagine the battalion CO wants the battalion battlegroup of more than a hundred vehicles - scattered in groups of small units in a wood or town - to break camp and resume march in any of four or five possible directions on short notice. Say, hostile forces may arrive and be noticed only minutes prior to arrival because security details cannot be set up far away for want of enough troops and the hostiles may be moving at 60 kph once they sense the presence of forces to be caught in inferior readiness for battle. 5 km radius for pickets, 60 kph - five minutes to either break camp and evade or to stand and fight. Horrible*.

Even a less horrible scenario may demand a very quick resumption of movement in an unplanned direction. Frequent movements and stops don't allow a textbook plan for the order of small units resuming the march for any possible direction. It depends on improvisation and training, on junior leadership and drivers getting it almost right without elaborate planning, rather based on standing operating procedures and experience.

Again, having less vehicles makes it all much less troublesome.

It's thus that some issues concerning the agility of a battlegroup or brigade boil down at least in part to the quantity of vehicles.

This is why I'm so utterly amazed at the -in my opinion- crazy amount of wide low capacity vehicles ("wide" meant to exclude motorcycles without sidecars and small ATVs). The hordes of HMMWV- and Wolf-style vehicles always made me wonder: Why?

Want to operate a small radar? Two HMMWVs plus one or two trailers. Military chaplain? Gets a HMMWV and a driver. Officer on a mission from HQ to a subordinate unit? HMMWV and driver. Company HQ? Multiple HMMWVs and a real truck.
This way of providing mobility is extremely wasteful and outright incompatible with striving for great agility on the battlefield.

To find a way that solves a problem of such scale isn't easy, but I suppose I can submit at least a partial cure: Parasitic vehicles.

Look at this:
Forklift carried by truck

Some container trucks have their own forklifts. These parasitic vehicles are meant to reduce the wait time of the driver at depots and destinations; he can unload or load his truck without needing to wait for such a service. (S)he can work and add to income during times when the truck's log thinks he's having one of the breaks which are legally enforced for road safety in at least some countries.

Now back to the chaplain: I wouldn't give him a HMMWV and certainly no driver (who would be used as replacement for less useless job vacancies in a conflict anyway). Instead, I would give him (and many others, such as the company senior NCO ("Spieß") or couriers a durable diesel-powered ATV and establish as standard that almost all medium and heavy trucks need to be able to add such a parasitic vehicle (or equivalent extra payload container) to their back.
I would insist on more ground clearance than seen on the photo, of course.

I suppose this way we could eliminate up to 5% of all wide vehicles in a brigade, somewhat less in non-reinforced combat battalions.

Another way is the widely publicised way of replacing electricity generator trailers by using some kind of hybrid (combustion engine + electric motors) propulsion in light and medium trucks. The trailers wouldn't disappear, of course - it's human nature to use this freed cargo space instead for some other payload than a generator. We might save a few dedicated cargo trucks this way, though.

Back to a not widely publicised method; multiple use trucks. Most trucks are assigned to only one use, and this use requires the capacity of a 1.5, 3, 6 or whatever ton vehicle. Thus the army uses a 1.5, 3, 6 or whatever ton vehicle.
Now imagine we would not use a 3 ton truck, but a nine ton truck. The typical reaction would be an accusation of wasteful behaviour ("über den Durst"). Well, my reasoning is that three one-and-a-half task trucks can easily replace four specialised trucks.
Just imagine bigger fuel tanks, some extra storage for tent tarpaulin, some extra storage for ammo or medical supplies, food, spare tires, spare powerpacks, water filtration set, road repair equipment etc.
Some of the rather specialised extra cargo (such as spare powerpacks) would create a coordination challenge (how would the field vehicle repair workshop know whom to call for a spare powerpack?), while other extra supplies could be distributed in a most decentralised way (unless this actually kills some bureaucrat): Another small unit arrives, has a break, asks for some supplies such as diesel fuel. 
It's human nature that some would respond by hoarding and reject the request, but it's also human nature that the framework would encourage unbureaucratic black market trading.
Voilà, some supply problems solved.

I suppose we could at the very least reduce the wide vehicle count in Western armies by about 10-15% without actually losing anything important - and thus lower one roadblock on the way to a much-improved battlefield agility of our manoeuvre formations.

S Ortmann

*: Keeping companies largely separated doesn't help much, unless your tactics don't depend on more than company-sized manoeuvre elements for more than very short durations. It may depend on it for short durations only, but those are likely the time windows during which the performance is most important.

edit because of comments:

FORGET about reducing the spacing (gap) between vehicles as a solution. That's not even practical for civilian purposes and outright foolish for military marches in a theatre of war.
I looked around a bit for something I could refer to and think page 10 of this (chapter on dispersion) might serve as an intro into the cast-in-stone fact that military convoys shall not bunch up with tiny spacing between vehicles.
I mentioned the "50-150 m spacing" for a reason!


  1. Let's suppose there are capability containers of standardized sizes, 1.5, 3 and 6 tons that are put on vehcles capable of carrying multiple containers - the best size would be 9 ton vehicles and for mission detachments some 6, less 3 ton and very few 1.5 ton carriage vehicles. You get a slight reduction by that measure that mostly affects supplies and capabilities that can be kept close to the supplies.
    The many jeeps are about status symbols, reducing numbers is a good idea, reducing weight for parasitic use also and creating a shared car pool is another good measure. You might have noticed car transport trailers that can load multiple cars within short spaces and release them as required.

    On a different trajectory, this problem is very old and has already been solved by lashing horse drawn wagons together into the first trains (not on rails). Neither should this be a major problem with modern vehicles that increasingly rely on electronics. You couple several vehicles like trains with information transfer wires that reduce the requirement for active drivers to just one per 2-5 vehicles, giving the others time to rest or watch out and man some heavy armament. Wired vehicles have not only reduced spacing in between, but improved cooperation and thus less complexity that leads to traffic jams at chokepoints.

    You might also reconsider the monorails of old that could be quickly set up crosscountry for a few high supply density movement lines. I'm still amazed that it was not part of the Kesselschlacht-concepts to rapidly create monorail networks for supply of the breakthrough spearheads.

    The Patiala monorail highlights a very interesting approach for a light and cheap transport that could use the improved transport capabilities of a train on a road (their construction just lacks tires on the outrigger). Like every train network, it can transport a lot per vehicle.


  2. There are systems which enable a vehicle to follow a lead vehicle exactly in its tracks. A howitzer with auxiliary drive was available with such a system years ago (I think it was a GC-45 version).

    This doesn't help much, as there's a reason for the spacing; even a 500 lbs bomb (and thus all kinds of arty shells) only affects at most two vehicles with great effect if there's a 100 m spacing.
    Another reason is that the spacing serves as buffer for movement; unlike civilian traffic, a congestion ahead of a bottleneck (such as a bridge) can be lethal to military traffic (very popular aiming point for blind fires).

    A reduction of the spacing wouldn't require any exotic vehicles; it would only require good tires (much grip on roads), good brakes, sleep discipline and enforcement for drivers and most of all a tolerance for major hazards.

    Finally, limiting your movements to a to-be-constructed special infrastructure is a no-go.

    1. You might be thinking of the FH77 with the SBAT111S towing truck. As I understand it, the auxiliary engine of the howitzer was only engaged at very low speeds.

  3. Hello,

    I somehow doubt your premise about a btl-task force with all its elements streched out on a road for anything but administrative marching. In any other circumstance, where support troops act as needed and supply works up to the combat troops in leaps your suggestion seems rather inapropriate to me. Even if one accepts that there is no more secure back-area, this agitates towards a strenghening of support forces in manpower as well as in vehicles, in order to be able to employ an increased number of heavy weapons (ATGM mainly) and security troops.

    lean-everything might not be a very good idea in a military context.

    1. Thanks for the comment, but I insist. :)

      The two most obvious arguments against your critique stem both from military history, or rather two of its constants.

      (1) Forces assume a column formation for all quick movement on land. Combat (deployed) formations are too slow and more difficult to turn.
      This has been true for practically all of documented history as far as I can tell. Even the steppe people who were not road-bound the least were apparently marching in (at least multiple) columns.
      A rearguard detachment may move independently at times, of course.

      (2) I recall no - absolutely no - historical instance of support troops of ground forces being substantially strengthened in manpower and/or vehicles for the purpose of their security.

      There were and are a few outfits for the purpose of road security which happen to benefit support troops, the Hussites and similar troops had rather defensible trains and some armies had quite fiercely fighting womenfolk in their train, but other than these I recall nothing which came even close to support troops getting substantially reinforced for self-defence, much less with expensive anti-tank weaponry.
      I suppose it won't happen any time soon, not the least because it appears to be inefficient and in conflict with the almost insatiable replacement needs of combat troops themselves.
      Finally, about your first line: Keep in mind that in modern ground warfare there can easily be a distance of 50 or 100 km between the bulk of two brigades. Quick marches have great importance under such circumstances, and even longish marches of 50, 70 km are not necessarily "administrative" in such a context. Besides, there are enough WW2 examples of even entire armour corps advancing along only one or two roads in column formation and even so in face of lingering threats.

    2. I wasnt talking about formation, but about echelons. CSS will rarely move out, apart for some forward elements, with the combat troops if resistance is expected. This is simply because moving all the time prevents them from doing their job. They leap forward only as necessary. Therefor the case of CSS elements following combat elements directly will only be case with administrative marches and those rare cases where enemy resistance is very weak and therefore rate of advance comes close to the road speed of the CSS elements. (see FM 3-90, Ch. 10-17 for example)

      In this scenario, where CSS elements stay dispersed and occupied with their specific role and move only in leaps not always in unison besides, there is a certain necessity of a larger pool of vehicles to fulfill certain functions. (i.e. you dont want your repair shop to be on a supply truck shuttling back and forth, you want to have a jeep or two to form a forward maintenance element to tag along with combat troops while your repair truck remains stationary to fix a broken down vehicle, same with medical support)

      In short your suggestion is an optimisation for only a limited and not at all critical situation.

      (Infantry armies have their trains follow directly behind combat formations, but this is because they are so slow, that it is at least noon when all combat formations are on the road. Furthermore their trains moved at an infantrymans pace if at all. Todays trains are 10 times faster.)

    3. The Americans already gave up on the "CSS" and "CS" terminology AFAIK, but sticking with it:
      There isn't much CSS in a battalion battlegroup anyway. HQ, some engineers and recovery troops and that's most of it. The rest is CS which needs to stay close to the combat troops, especially in a quickly developing situation.
      So the chaplain example was more general, but the many light vehicles within the battalion are still an issue.

      I suppose it's no doubt correct that my proposal would lead to a reduction of vehicle count by some degree (% is up for guesses), which is ceteris paribus an improvement for marches. A more interesting discussion would thus be about whether the vehicle quantity savings would justify the disadvantages of such a change. Would the extra payload on a 9 ton truck with parasitic vehicle which replaced two 3 ton trucks really be used? Would the joining of functions onto a single vehicle be a success?
      That's fodder for a boring study in the 60-100 pp range, and goes beyond the scope of a blog post.

  4. Problem is, there aint no "medium and heavy trucks" in CS elements and you dont want do have your parasits on supply vehicles. Those are usually not where you want extra mobility. Pooling might be a solution to excessive numbers of light vehicles in Headquarters, but it adds a layer of movement planning that might prevent personell from being at the right spot at the right time. Nevertheless there might be some savings in pooling vehicles according to tactical (forward, main, rear CP) rather than administrative functions (S1-4, Coy HQ etc) without much pain (never run a HHC so how am I to know).

    The use of more and smaller Trucks has several benefits. It allows for greater dispersion; All units can be supplied at the same time and/or in a more continuous way; It aint necessary to dismount equipment (saves a lot of time) etc.

    Most of this is related to how you plan to fight a war. Do you rotate platoons, companies or whole battailons out of the line for rest and refitting? etc.

    At last there is little benefit in conjuring a system that breaks down as soon as a tire runs flat. And there are a many armies that employ security elements with their HHCs. Mostly as a additional function of reconaissance and liaison platoons.

    1. Of course there are some such trucks. Yet, my point was there should be more, and less light ones. So I don't see your point.
      Do you criticise my proposal for change by stating its outcome would be different than the status quo?

      I don't see your point concerning the supposed advantages of light trucks either. It sounds as if you made additional hidden assumptions.

      Armoured recce and AT Plts are classic convoy escorts - I know this, but this convoy security approach only works if only a small share of the whole is moving at any time, for there aren't (or rather weren't) many armoured recce and AT small units organic to manoeuvre formations.
      My concern is rather about the agility of the whole manoeuvre formation on a large scale - 30-40 km move with ten minutes early warning, for example.
      This ability is rather 'rare', and some changes are required to make it less so.

  5. "It sounds as if you made additional hidden assumptions"

    I suggest those:

    you want to have two in functions that need to be delivered in a continuous manner (manly C2) as one element is in working order while the other reconnoiters, moves to, emplaces the next emplacement and/or rests. CPs move often these days.

    you want to disperse, having one big truck carry all the stuff either leaves all the depending functions in fragmentation range of said truck or leaves the truck driving circles to collect all that it is supposed to carry. The more specialized vehicles are a workplace on wheels the faster the element is ready to move.

    You want to have support functions (Medics, Maintenance, reconaissance) in the right (mostly small) quantity at the right place, not a pile of them driving from company to company in a bus.

    So there isnt and propably wont be a need for more than utility vehicles and light truck in all but supply functions (appart from two med trucks stuffed with spare parts and a field hospital respectively). The only option for parasites is encumbering light trucks with half a ton of off center weight or opt for heavier trucks. All to replace not even a hand full of utility cars with inferior (all-weather, exhaustion, capacity, training, safety, noise) ATVs. I am all for cutting waste if there is, but it should be cut, not made fancy by adding cooler equipment.

    Why should a slightly smaller number of convoy vehicles reduce the time needed to move out by any relevant amount. If you have to store parasites, I would expect you to need more not less time. What indication do you have, that todays battailons take more than 10 minutes to get ready to move (save for medical and repair elements perhaps)?

    Recce plts do stationary security too (at least AVZ did). Convoy escorts are a coin thing mostly.

  6. I don't quite get your first point.

    About the second; I understand there's an "how many eggs in the basket" problem, but your idea of dispersion seems off. Dispersion has major disadvantages which need to be considered as well.
    Furthermore, we're talking about organisations with about 100 vehicles (Bn battlegroup) up to about a thousand vehicles (brigade). You're talking about dispersion as if the topic was about one or two vehicles instead. You also ignored my examples for coupled functionalities, which were meant to show that an additional function is not too troublesome.
    We cannot combine a command post vehicle with a land-line emplacement vehicle or have similarly disadvantageous combinations, of course (unless the emplacement vehicle is an AFV, in which case this would work marvellously)).

    "The only option for parasites is encumbering light trucks with half a ton of off center weight or opt for heavier trucks."
    You don't really take my text as starting point, don't you? The latter is exactly what I proposed.

    "If you have to store parasites, I would expect you to need more not less time."
    Valid argument, but keep in mind in worst case said parasites (except maybe field forklifts and similar slow vehicles) could actually move on their own while it could be SOP to keep them attached if not needed at the moment.

    "What indication do you have, that todays battailons take more than 10 minutes to get ready to move (save for medical and repair elements perhaps)?"

    Lack of doctrinal emphasis on this capability coupled with subsequent lack of training for it coupled with lots of small reasons. Haven't heard of it being done lately either.

    It's difficult to pull off a ten-minute reaction to a march order when being in camp, especially if one places the bar for achievement high enough as to require the correct order of units, the correct march direction, any time of day, almost correct spacing between vehicles, light discipline, at least partial combat readiness, effective camouflaging/hiding in camp, not leaving behind too much and so on.
    The most basic things such as removing camo nets, breaking down CP tent, waking sleeping troops etc already take minutes.

    The technique (it becomes rather an art in practice) of breaking camp correctly and swiftly is really complicated; much more so than for example deploying from march to battle formation on the move without stop line - and that's already a major challenge to all but the best-trained armor battalions.

    The ten minute thing was more about the context (attitude), though. The qty of vehicles affects more the march itself.

  7. "Convoy escorts are a coin thing mostly."

    Actually, no.
    They've just been neglected for a long time. (Hey, we've neglected so much - the original Fuchs even lacked a gunshield!
    Our thoughts about combat worthiness were focused on the dwindling share of combat troops during the Cold War and early 90's.)

    Large scale exercises with armoured recce on the opposing team often proved the importance of defending your convoys, and wartime reports don't exactly hide the vulnerability of troops on the march either.

    Now I don't argue for much convoy escort power, but I'm obviously concerned about the unwieldiness and vulnerability on the march.

  8. "You're talking about dispersion as if the topic was about one or two vehicles instead"

    You want to combine two vehicles into one, so obviously that is the meassure. If you look at the elements as dispersed in the field over a depth of 4-12 km, not counting supply vehicles that travel as much as 50 km to the rear, there isnt this ambundance of small trucks to merge into big ones you seem to imagine.

    "You don't really take my text as starting point"

    May I remind you; your suggestion was adding parasites to "medium and heavy trucks" not making light ones bigger.

    "Lack of doctrinal emphasis"

    There was much of the same as well as training in this regard in the cold war, what indicates to you that it is lost? "Havent heard of" is a stupid argument. Allmost nothing with staff work beyond gadgetery in it makes it to the public.

    "The technique of breaking camp correctly and swiftly is really complicated"

    Sure, but having the vehicle to store your stuff close by helps. Dragging equipment from a 50-100 m radius to the next big truck doesnt.

    With the goalpost moving from ready to move (or evade) to whole unit on the (one) road, 10 min is imposible. But I doubt that the number of vehicles within your 10% assumption is the bottleneck. It doesnt help the combat troops that move first at all, so only the latter parts of the marching order are affected. Having one or two vehicles less may slightly ease the organisation of sub elements of a marching formation (not that important, as those sub elements usually move together to the same assembly area), but their combination in the marching order is unaffected safe for some seconds to move another vehicle through a checkpoint. What helps is good traffic control, faciliated by a large number of utility vehicles to establish signs, checkpoints, waiting areas, route recon etc.

    Maybe you should use a real battailon structure to prove your point.


    There will never be enough combat troops to provide adequate security for rear elements on the move nor stationary. Escorts are no solution, hardening rear area troops is. (My take on Eastern Front experiences of the Wehrmacht). The time when anything less than a ATGW could provide this is over.

  9. "You want to combine two vehicles into one, so obviously that is the meassure."

    Wrong; I wrote "my reasoning is that three one-and-a-half task trucks can easily replace four specialised trucks." and on top of that the entire context is the formation, not the individual vehicle.
    "May I remind you; your suggestion was adding parasites to "medium and heavy trucks" not making light ones bigger."

    Also wrong. I wrote "Now imagine we would not use a 3 ton truck, but a nine ton truck."
    "Allmost nothing with staff work beyond gadgetery in it makes it to the public."

    I'm not exactly the public, though (and you seem to have missed a lot of staff work info which is actually available to the public).
    "Maybe you should use a real battailon structure to prove your point."

    I've seen many people developing almost a hobby of toying around with fantasy TO&Es and it has even been a popular past-time among some generals who discussed more or less fruitlessly; I prefer a different approach.
    The TO&E toying never seems to deliver anything of value as soon as it goes beyond what can be generalised as well.
    "There will never be enough combat troops to provide adequate security for rear elements on the move nor stationary. Escorts are no solution, hardening rear area troops is."

    Agree on the first one and disagree on the latter, for I am not interested in small wars where it kind of works. Some lightweight bullet- and shrapnel proofing may be worth the effort, but more extreme hardening becomes inefficient and in many ways restrictive real quick.

    My approach for convoy security (there is nowhere a complete solution in sight) is nowadays not about normal escorts either, albeit some security efforts by non-support elements are indispensable.

  10. It's been very interesting to read the input by Sven and the discussion with Michael.

    Most of this seems a problem of the appropriate layer of complex organistaion. If lighter (=faster reaction) vehicles have a follow-me function that allows to to move in relation (attached in a very loose sense) to other vehicles, the problem of organised movement can be simplified as appropriate.

    Sven's comment: "A reduction of the spacing wouldn't require any exotic vehicles; it would only require good tires (much grip on roads), good brakes, sleep discipline and enforcement for drivers and most of all a tolerance for major hazards."
    contains much of the requirements for such a solution: many small steps for a better capability to react.

    My own suggestion is to add a layer of communication capability between vehicles that can be wired (fibreoptic/electric) or directed (laser) radiation in order to maximise synchronization and reduce reaction time. The option for choosing a follow me function allows to reduce constant manpower demands. It does not create a requirement to act different and neither must it be integrated into all vehicles. It also reduces demands for extensively trained manpower that can through training achieve such a level of driving performance. A few highly trained drivers for organization are enough, while a lot more can rely on an easier to operate system via a an optional level of computer aid (similar to the step from Athenian triremes to Hellenistic polyremes) or just automated systems (foremost the non-essential light components, like the chaplain's jeep).

    I don't think it necessary to have a sophisticated hard kill capability against everything in a supply column. So there's an armament level threshold. For the soft belly, it's enough to survive (being a sixpack and not another fist). Disabling armament levels against threats might be sufficient and will profit from the combination with with a mobile hard kill reaction force. Disabling is a wide field, an ever more important measure might be to mark a target for destruction.

    Sven, you are right that limiting movement to infrastructure that has to be constructed would be no good idea because it adds an unpredictable layer of complexity that will hazardize any planning. Constructing infrastructure to improve movement is a different topic. That's rather what I mean with simple monorail systems that can utilize existing structures and with some modification give a major improvement in transit rate. The pipeline from the UK to France during the WWII Allied reconquest of France is an example that helped against the fuel supply shortage. That's my point about highlighting a slight road modification that can be layed over a short distance to increase transit flow through a bottleneck. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Monorail_steam_train.jpg
    It does have some of the problems of the armoured train concept. But due to the reduced linear in-place infrastructure demands, it has less vulnerability and a higher capability to avoid detection. I suggest this as a system that can be used, not one that is an essential component. It needs an integration into road and train systems via shared components, while remaining itself a rugged simple low-tech solution without major development and production investments.
    I wonder, why I don't find more solutions for technical bottleneck transit increase in WWII that was very bottleneck-centric in offence and defence from a German and Western Allied perspective. Sven, perhaps you could enlighten us another day.

    Merry Christmas,