Monday, 3 August 2015

The Islamic State going DIY, from armoured recovery vehicle to battle bus

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Iraq's war on the Islamic State has seen the birth of a myriad of DIY designs, mostly initiated by Shiite militias looking to improve their firepower in order to gain the advantage over the enemy. The Islamic State is certainly no exception however, and it relies virtually exclusively on the ingenuity of their many arms workshops to turn the huge arsenals captured in and around Mosul into deadly weapons for use on the ever changing battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq, or simply for producing counter-measures against the Coalition's aircraft, which have so far denied the use of heavy weaponry by the Islamic State in several offensives.

The conversion of a BTS-5B armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) to a battle bus is such an example to turn an otherwise useless (to the Islamic State) vehicle into a potent weapons platform. Iraq acquired a number of BTS-5Bs in 2006 to serve alongside Iraq's increasing fleet of T-72s, but due to the inefficiency of the Iraqi Army the ARVs spent most of their service time languishing in forgotten corners of their bases. As a result, the Islamic State captured several ARVs near Mosul, including the WZT-2 and and BTS-5B seen below.

Of little use to the Islamic State in its original role, the BTS-5B was heavily modified to transport an armoured cabin over its original body. For this purpose, the crane, the snorkel and various crates containing additional tools were removed. The dozer blade and winch were retained however.

Blocks of armour and plating were installed on top of the newly erected platform while rubber side skirts were fitted to protect the tracks. Combined, it provides the occupants with protection against most light and heavy small arms fire from the front and sides. As a result of the blockage of the driver's hatch by the support beams of the platform, the driver had to enter his seat by a hatch on the floor of the platform. The support beams also blocked the driver's viewing port, forcing the driver to stick his head out while maneuvering the vehicle. Armoured glass was installed to make up for this increase of vulnerability however.

Armament consists of a shielded pintle-mounted 12.7mm DShK and several mounts for light-machine guns. The occupants also made use of M16s and AKMs to complement the single DShK during the vehicle's first and only use on the battlefield. All in all, the conversion was an impressive project which must have cost the Islamic State a large amount of man hours to accomplish, which is also why its poor battlefield career comes as somewhat as a surprise.

The battle bus could have been put to good use in urban environments, where the vehicle would have been used as a heavily armoured battering ram capable of providing fire-support to advancing troops. Its flexible, albeit light, armament would have been ideally suited for targeting elevated areas such as higher floors of flats, with its armour warding of retaliatory fire. Instead, the fighters of the Islamic State used the battle bus on the open plains near Shekhan, Nineveh Governorate, where the Islamic State waged an offensive against entrenched Peshmerga forces on the 25th of January 2015.

Shekhan was the site of a series of heavy attacks by the fighters of the Islamic State. The typical pattern of such an attack would include one vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) followed by an attack with M-1114s, Badger ILAVs or M1117 ASVs. As Peshmerga forces held the high-ground, and saw the vehicles coming from miles away, the exact logic behind these attacks remains unclear, especially after MILAN ATGMs reached the Peshmerga forces. It might serve as a testimony to the fact that although the fighters of the Islamic State are often quick to adapt to any combat situation, including operating armoured fighting vehicles in coordinated attacks, comprehension of suitable tactics in this situation remained beyond the Islamic State fighters' grasp in this region.

During the attack on Shekhan, several (up-armoured) M-1114s, one up-armoured Badger ILAV, one M1117 ASV and the battle bus moved up to the nearby mountain. Although under heavy fire from anything from small arms to RPGs and even tank fire, most of these rounds either missed or ricocheted from the vehicle's improved DIY armour. As a result, several vehicles managed to advance close to the mountain before being taken out. The battle bus on the other hand got stuck in a ditch, was hit by an RPG and probably also a mortar round, killing its exposed crew. Although this ended the career of a potent DIY armoured fighting vehicle, it also serves as a good example of the extent of the Islamic State's efforts towards increasing the firepower of its combatants. Footage of the failed attack can be viewed here.

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  1. that falls into the WTF category. Way to high and easy of a target to be used in open areas. Even in urban areas the open cabin would be a problem all that effort and it only had heavy mgs on it. crazy

  2. Looks like IS got carried away with the armored vehicles and fancied itself to be a real mechanized force instead of well-equipped light infantry--a platoon of advancing armor can probably spook unprepared infantry, but isn't enough to force a really well-dug-in line, and IS may have been overestimating the shock effect of its armored vehicles.

    Getting that thing stuck in a ditch along the way is just simple incompetence.

  3. The Kurdish Front is a lot of back and forth. The only real advances come when the US carpet bombs the shit out of an area, leveling it completely and then a massive Kurdish Force occupies the area.

    But the moment, US aircraft leave and focus elsewhere, the IS forces retake a lot of ground.

    Now that Turkey is embroiled in fighting the PKK and considers rightly that PYD is a front for PKK, its only a matter of time before Erdogan says fuck it and bombs PYD held areas. Already increasing skirmishes are going on between PYD forces and Turkish Border Guards.

    Turkey has its own security interests and its own goals. It explodes into full scale civil war with the PKK, the PYD is screwed as it heavily relies on PKK fighters in Turkey coming to bolster its forces by simply switching their patches to maintain a fiction of separate organizations.

    Then there is Mullah Omar... Dead for two years while the Taliban Leadership hid it, now large numbers of Taliban Groups are declaring for Baghdadi as they no longer bound by an oath to Mullah Omar.

    Wouldn't surprise me if we learn Zawahiri has been dead for a few years as well.

    As things stand, the War on Terror continues to escalate with no end in sight and no end game and is causing ever more countries to collapse into anarchy.

    And all Bush had to do to prevent it was calm down, took the Taliban offer to turn Osama over to the Hague and handle 9/11 as a criminal matter, called it good. Attacking the Taliban who had nothing to do with 9/11 was beyond stupid.


    Qaryatayn just fell to IS. Mahin is reportedly being struck right now along with Jazal by IS Forces.

    1. That is a 110 KM Drive from Homs City. I don't know where Daesh has it's forces arrayed around Palmyra but it seems to me as if this advance will sever elements of the 11th and 18th from Homs proper.

    2. IS Forces use the Rashidun Model of Warfare. Therefore its difficult to pin down their forces. On top of it, all its opponents are not on the same page which makes it possible to keep growing despite tactical defeats.


    They TOWed, Korneted, Hell Cannoned, Bombarded, and SVBIEDed the hell out that place and it still stands screaming F-U. How much more can it take?

    Just about the only thing they haven't done is dig a tunnel.