The Poor Man’s Blitzkrieg: Modern Warfare by Pickup Truck in the World’s Global South
By: Marc DuBuis
Biddle’s work on the characteristics of successful modern militaries argues that an army’s ability to achieve breakthroughs against enemy positions relies on the interrelated concepts of modern technology, suppression, cover, rapid maneuver, and force concentrations of massed firepower. Yet with technologically sophisticated Western nations utilizing heavily armored tanks and top-of-the-line aircraft, it would seem that ‘Third World’ militaries are hopelessly condemned to wage asymmetric warfare against their more powerful foes.
However, by merging the less sophisticated, yet highly destructive weapons available on the international arms markets with the tried and tested technology of the redoubtable Toyota pickup truck, these armies can present a threat to even the most modern militaries. The US and other developed nations would thus do well to observe these startling developments, as even the most outdated pickup trucks combined with today’s weaponry and tactics may soon give this militaries the ability to punch far above their weight in the conflicts of the future.
Until more recently, militaries lacking the latest weaponry appeared unable to engage in the modern warfare style described by Biddle. Indeed, while even the plodding foot soldier of the Ludendorff Offensive could even breakthroughs by employing the tactics of concentrated forces/firepower, cover, maneuver, and suppression fire, these gains generally paled in comparison to the advances of mechanized forces of the Blitzkrieg campaigns or the First Gulf War. In an age where US, Russian, and other troops ride across the battlefield in tanks, armored personnel carriers, and supported by aircraft, militaries of the Global South seemed destined to be confined to the asymmetrical warfare of guerrilla or terrorist campaigns. Yet a seemingly simple combination of the ordinary pickup truck fitted with the destructiveness of modern weaponry now gives these armies a newfound power, something that should be of notice to more advanced militaries that may soon face greater risks in their peacekeeping and interventions.
In short, the increasing combination of modern technology with the Toyota truck as a weapons platform provides a cheap, reliable, rapid, and rugged combat vehicle that can threaten the more technologically advanced forces of western nations or middle-tier countries. Indeed, with the addition of even previous generation armaments like Stinger rocket launchers, MILAN anti-tank missiles, RPGs, AA guns, or other black-market weapons, previously under-gunned combatants can now strike swiftly and even destroy some of the best tanks, airplanes, and armored personnel carriers (APCs) of western arsenals. Indeed, from its effectiveness in the Chadian-Libyan ‘Toyota War’ to its increasing use amongst ISIS and Syrian rebels, the pickup truck has truly become the “War Chariot of the Third World.”
This does not mean that the militaries of a Chad or rebel/terrorist groups in Somalia or ISIS actually pose a threat of defeating a determined western opponent. What it does suggest, however, is that militaries should be aware of the greater risk now facing their forces. Again, with almost total air superiority and qualitatively better troops, developed nations still far outperform soldiers of the Global South.
Nevertheless, these weapons-mounted trucks provide a mobility, flexibility, firepower, and simple effectiveness previously unseen by Western military troops on the ground in peacekeeping or anti-insurgency operations. They also allow the South’s forces to contest the West’s access to the air and land battle-space through these weapons, even if they themselves are unable to openly reoccupy this territory. Where in the past the greatest threat came from small arms fire from rebels on foot, future peacekeeping operations may entail greater risks as insurgents have the speed and weapons to attack and retreat quickly after causing serious damage. Modern militaries would thus do well to observe this trend, as the combination of this cheap and deadly technology may soon raise the risks of interventions and peacekeeping in the years ahead.
Marc DuBuis is a M.A. candidate at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce focusing on International Security and Intelligence and the Editor-in-Chief of ExPatt Magazine. Marc completed his undergraduate degree in 2015 at Oakland University with a B.A. in Political Science with research interests focused on the resource curse and international conflict.
He has presented at multiple research conferences, including regional Phi Alpha Theta history conferences, Midwest Political Science Association (MPSA) Conferences in Chicago, and the International Studies Association Midwest Conference in St. Louis. Published works include “The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization” inSecurity and Intelligence Studies Journal (Volume 3, Number 1, Spring 2015), with electronic versions of “Resource Diversification and the Durability of Autocratic Regimes” (coauthored with Dr. Matthew Fails) and “Swedish Conduct in the Thirty Years’ War” forthcoming in Political Research Quarterly and the Grand Valley Journal of History respectively.