Way back in October the Russian paper Izvestiya reported that the Russian military was setting up units built around technicals — light, pick-up trucks, with heavy weapons mounted in the back. Supposedly the experience gained in participating in the war in Syria against ISIS had shown the army such a unit could be extremely useful.
I was skeptical at the time, but now the excellent South Front website has actually dug up the name of the unit being rearmed. It is a battalion of the newly-formed 30th Motorized Rifle Brigade.
On most terrains, particularly those found in Europe, a light truck is considerably less mobile than a tracked armored personnel carrier such as the Russian BMP. It has inferior mobility even compared to wheeled armored transporters such as the BTR family of vehicles.
But on certain types of terrain, primarily hard-surfaced deserts, the Russian army has found in Syria, what the locals already knew — that light trucks get around as easily as anything else.
Moreover, as they burn far less gas they require a far smaller logistics train and can therefore be used in a much more aggressive way.
It is the most cost effective-way to ensure presence along vast swathes of open desert, and enables disorienting attacks from multiple and unexpected directions, across long distances:
“These battalions are being developed from the experience of combat actions in Syria,” military expert Vladislav Shurygin told Izvestiya.
“In a day, the typical motorized rifle battalion equipped with armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles can complete a march of not more than 100 km. But an MRB in the UAZ Patriot can go several hundred kilometers in a day.”
“Moreover, acting in small groups, motorized rifle platoons and companies in pickups can slip through enemy forces and deliver quick strikes.”
“But these battalions are only effective in desert, steppe, and semidesert terrain. In forests and forest-steppe, automobile-mounted infantry loses out to infantry in BMPs and BTRs in combat capability.”
It was the Long Range Desert Group of the British SAS that pioneered these tactics in the Libyan desert in WWII using fast motor vehicles, but under the surface they are merely far older light cavalry tactics adopted for the motorised era.
The most famous example of use of technicals was probably in what is known as the “Toyota War” — the final stage of the Libyan-Chadian conflict of 1978-1987 where French-backed Chadians on technicals won a victory over poorly used Libyan tanks.
In any case, the 30th will remain a largely conventional motorized infantry unit, as three out of its four motor rifle battalions will continue riding the much heavier, 8-wheeled BTR-82 armored personnel carriers.
The initial idea, according to Izvestiya, was that each technical would carry seven soldiers as well as one heavy weapon mounted in the back. Either a heavy machine gun, a grenade launcher, or a guided anti-tank missile. That sounds overly ambitious however.
Adding ammunition and gear the UAZ “Patriot” vehicle that is supposed to serve as the platform just doesn’t seem large enough for that. Perhaps that is the reason the latest reports says the technicals unit will have less personnel than a standard motor rifle battalion.
In any case, it seems if Russia ever intervenes in a Middle Eastern war directly on the ground, the 30th Motor Rifle — with a unit tailor-built for desert — could be the first brigade that gets sent over.