Friday, 21 August 2015

The Islamic State going DIY, from earthmover to earthbreaker

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

The vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) has been made famous by the fighters of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq over the past two years. One could even argue the Islamic State perfected the concept by constantly building and deploying better protected and even larger variants on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. From using radio-controlled toy cars to even tanks and self-propelled artillery to carry explosives, the Islamic State has done it all.

The VBIED in Islamic State service functions somewhat the same as airstrikes, artillery fire and rocket barrages in conventional military forces. Apart from having the potential to inflict heavy damage on the convoy or base, it also serves as a psychological weapon, terrifying and demoralizing any defenders still alive after the blast. In its assaults on well-defended bases, the Islamic State relies heavily on VBIEDs before initiating the final push. With this in mind, the Islamic State has now begun using massive earthmovers as VBIEDs.

Images coming out of Islamic State-held al-Qaryatayn, located in between Damascus and T4 airbase shows one of such massive earthmovers in its new role as earthbreaker.

In an effort to protect the driver and the front wheels, the earthmover was equipped with very rudimentary DIY armour consisting of armour plates and what one could call slat armour. To ensure good situational awareness with such a heavy vehicle, the windows of the earthmover are extremely large, exposing the driver of the already giant vehicle to machine-gun fire. To protect him, a window was cut in the armour plate with 'slat-armour' installed in front.

The observant viewer of the Islamic State's offensive into Central Syria in late May 2015 will have little problems recognizing the earthmovers, which were captured at the Khunayfis Phosphate mine when it was overrun by the Islamic State. Around a dozen earthmovers were present at Khunayfis when the fighters of the Islamic State took over the mine, ensuring a steady supply of more earthmovers for conversion to VBIEDs for the time to come. A row of earthmovers at the mine can be seen below.

This particular example was used against the al-Mafraq checkpoint North-East of al-Qaryatayn, a mere fifty-kilometers drive from Khunayfis. Although located only thirty-five kilometers away from T4 airbase, housing three fighter-bomber squadrons and a detachment of Mi-8/17 helicopters, the giant earthmover apparently arrived at its destination 'safely' and was put into use against the checkpoint at night, the results of which remain and will undoubtedly remain unknown. The resulting blast however can be seen below.

The giant basket of the earthmover allows for an almost unlimited amount of explosives to be carried towards its target. In fact, the question is if the fighters of the Islamic State stationed near Khunayfis and al-Qaryatayn are able to scrounge enough ordnance together to completely fill at least one of the baskets in the first place.

With around a dozen earthmovers captured, of which about half still in operational condition or in a sate to be made operational, and with plenty of targets in Central Syria left, we might see more of such giants rolling through the vast Syrian desert. Although capable of carrying enough explosives to create a second al-Hota, its large size will likely result in it being target practise for any well-defended checkpoint.

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  1. A very interesting article.Thanks!

  2. The back part of these things is made out of heavy duty metal. Wouldn´t that deflect most of explosion upwards?

    1. The truck is most likely older model BelAZ 7555 with a capacity of 60 metric tons. With so much explosive it does not matter if the material deflects anything, devastation would be spectacular.

  3. These remind me of Steve Jackson's Ogre....

  4. rather than "perfectionized" you can just say "perfected" :)