Battlefield Improvisation

Stories of US soldiers outfitting themselves with non-standard equipment in Iraq and Afghanistan are now commonplace:  better boots, thermal socks, even — until recently prohibited — their own body armor.  Oakley sunglasses are so popular that counterfeits are sold right on base, out of local concessions.

Blame the size of the military bureaucracy, cumbersome procurement procedures, or the simple vastness of the supply chain.  More interesting, in some ways, are the improvisations made by poorer forces.  I still remember a photo I saw years ago of a Chadian rebel unit, barreling over the desert in a Chevrolet pickup with an anti-aircraft gun mounted in the bed — a homebuilt anti-tank platform.  Of course nowadays the “tacticals,” as they’re still sometimes called in the Horn of Africa, use Toyotas.  Bricks stacked in the doors serve for armor; a heavy machine gun goes in the back; and a half-dozen young men in bandannas, carrying AKs, hop in.

An airborne example just showed up on the internet.  In 2007 the Lebanese military, attacking a force holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp but lacking jets, turned a Huey helicopter into a bomber.

Asymmetric warfare in particular depends on this sort of re-purposing, at least for the poorer side.  IEDs are a much less glamorous example.

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