The learning curve for U.S. forces running convoy operations in Vietnam was steep. A cunning enemy and restrictive terrain required escort units to possess well-understood and rehearsed battle drills, to have mobile and lethal convoy security, to “harden” soft-skin vehicles and to organize convoys for success. Adaptable leadership and soldier ingenuity were crucial.
During the initial weeks of operations in Iraq in 2003, the Army soon discovered that those imperatives were as relevant as they had been four decades earlier in Vietnam. Particularly lacking were lethal convoy security and reliable armor protection for wheeled vehicles.
The evolution of wheeled convoy escort vehicles since the early 1960s seems to have come full circle. As the Vietnam War progressed, Army military police began to rely heavily on the V-100 Commando to conduct convoy security operations. Variants of the V-100 could add significant armor protection—although this tended to damage the vehicle’s axles—and be equipped with multiple machine guns and even a 20mm cannon. After the war, the V-100 was phased out without a replacement.
After operations in Somalia in 1993, the Army began to modify some of its Humvee fleets by adding armor protection. However, the vehicle was never truly intended to serve as a convoy escort vehicle. This became apparent early in Iraq as enemy ambushes and improvised explosive devices (IED) severely damaged many Humvees. For guidance, the Army only had to look at its past.
The Army began adding a few M117 Guardian Armored Security Vehicles (ASV) to its inventory in the 1990s. The Guardian prototype was the Vietnam-era Commando, and both were made by the same company, Cadillac Gage, now Textron. Although very similar in design, the Guardian has much more sophisticated armor protection and can employ an MK-19 40mm grenade launcher. Because of these capabilities, the Army is now putting as many Guardians as they can in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Guardian, like the Commando, has proven its worth in convoy security.
New armor to protect wheeled vehicles is just part of the story of improved convoy security. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are conducting reconnaissance of potential convoy routes, and electronic devices can jam the signals used to detonate IEDs. Perhaps most important have been faster and more secure communications, including the Internet, to disseminate timely intelligence and lessons learned on the ground.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Vietnam Magazine. To subscribe, click here.