- Image credit to James Mollison

How a pick-up truck became a war machine

The not-so-technical history of technicals

1y ago
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Since ancient times, man has created mobile weapons or found ways to carry them, most notably the chariot, so it comes as no surprise that we have created weapons that are specialized for destruction such as Tanks and Bombers. Yet improvisation, after Invention, is second nature to man which has led to Technicals. Something that anyone with basic knowledge can create with little time and money at hand.

One of the first Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Technical

One of the first Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Technical

Born in World War One but perfected in the hands of British Special Forces during World War Two in North Africa, Technicals have since then found a unique place in modern warfare. Technicals or NSFVs (Non-Standard Fighting Vehicle) are improvised fighting vehicles typically based on a pickup truck or SUV, and can be easily modified to carry a large array of weapons ranging from a machine gun, anti-aircraft gun, anti-tank gun, mortar, rocket launchers, and recoilless rifle. This, combined with the mobility of the vehicle makes them a popular choice in insurgencies and unconventional warfare.

While Technicals such as modified Model T Fords and Tachankas saw use in World War One, it wasn't until the use of Chevrolet Patrol Trucks and Jeeps by British Special Forces in North Africa that they became a popular military weapon. Their use helped the Commonwealth forces to outfox the Desert Fox in mobile warfare. At times they used to drive the vehicles right into the enemy airfield with their guns blazing, destroying any aircraft that was parked there. And it was this experience that led to the creation and adoption of Land Rover.

Since then, Technicals have seen extensive use in the hands of both regular and irregular forces across the world especially in the Middle East and Africa. The most iconic conflict that they took part in is perhaps The Toyota War where 400 Chadian Toyota Hiluxes equipped with heavy machine guns, AA guns and MILAN ATGM (provided by France) defeated a larger and more properly equipped Libyan force, destroying a large number of tanks and APC. It was perhaps one of the few occasions where going slow kills because Chadian forces found that they could drive over anti-tank mines so long as they were going over 100 km/h. Since then Technicals have fought in conflicts in Oman, Morocco, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, and even in Philippines.

What is interesting is that the word "Technical" is a relatively modern word coined in Somalia during the 1990s Somali Civil War. NGOs were barred from bringing any PMC for security purpose thus they hired local gunmen to protect themselves, using money defined as "technical assistance grants". Eventually, the term was broadened to include any vehicle carrying armed men.

BMP-2 Turret on Toyota

BMP-2 Turret on Toyota

There are many reasons why Technicals have gained popularity in warfare. As mentioned earlier they are incredibly easy to modify with various weapons, combined with the off-road capabilities of pickup vehicles they are comparably easier to use than a tank or specialized fighting vehicle. Moreover, due to their nature, they are far more easy to maintain than AFVs and have need of less logistical support. Mileage is also a big concern; tanks like the M1A2 Abrams and Challenger 2 give about 0.6 mpg and 0.38 mpg respectively. Similarly, HMMWVs can give around 10 mpg to 14 mpg, so for comparison a modern Toyota Hilux can give 39 mpg. While this might not seem like much, when fighting a war in the middle of nowhere resources like fuel becomes really scarce and thus have a large impact on tactics. The same concern also lies with reliability, large armored vehicles need more parts replacement compared to lighter vehicles and are more prone to breakdown.

Technicals are also smaller than tanks and AFVs and thus stealthier than them. There were many times when British Special Forces in North African remained unnoticed by recon aircraft and scouts. They are also far easier to camouflage than large vehicles. Noise and Dust signature is also a concern as large vehicles create far more of both. You really can't sneak up in an M1A2 with its gas-turbine engine.

As such a pickup truck is far more practical than a tank in unconventional warfare. Toyota Hilux and Land Cruiser are by far the most popular choice as Technicals with vehicles from Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Land Rover, and Nissan coming close behind. Chinese pickups are also being seen in the conflict in Syria and Africa. And truthfully any vehicle can become a Technical so long as it can carry a large load and go offroad.

As such a pickup truck is far more practical than a tank in unconventional warfare. Toyota Hilux and Land Cruiser are by far the most popular choice as Technicals with vehicles from Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, Land Rover, and Nissan coming close behind. Chinese pickups are also being seen in the conflict in Syria and Africa. And truthfully any vehicle can become a Technical so long as it can carry a large load and go offroad.

US Special Forces Technical, Syria 2016

US Special Forces Technical, Syria 2016

While conventional armies generally don't use Technicals it also means that they stick out like a sore thumb when deployed in Africa and The Middle East. This has led U.S. Special Operations Command to modify Toyota Land Cruisers, Hiluxes and Ford Rangers with additional armor and equipment so that they can blend in with other vehicles. Similarly, Navistar Defense sells SOTV-B (Special Operations Tactical Vehicle B) which may look like any other pickup truck but underneath lies protection and equipment similar to a Military light utility vehicle.

So whether you are a warlord or a war journalist, having a pickup never hurts, who knows when you might need to convert it.

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Comments (23)

  • The most dangerous technical so far... a Clarkson operated .50 Cal

      1 year ago
  • I’ve seen technicals with heavy machine guns, anti tank, anti aircraft and artillery but this guy has gone one further and mounted the cavalry onto one....

      1 year ago
    • 1 year ago
  • What do you think about this article?

      1 year ago
  • Camel-mounted gun from the Zamorak wars in the late 1800s

      1 year ago
    • Wow this is the first time I am hearing about this

        1 year ago
23