Fighting With CSS Equipment

by Captain John W. Ellis, USAR

The author explores possible emergency uses of combat service support equipment in the rear area.

An often-quoted observation of General George Patton is, "There is only one tactical principle which does not change. That is to use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of death and destruction on the enemy." In the combat service support (CSS) unit, the
means at hand is usually a piece of equipment designed for support, not battle. The challenge for a leader is how to employ such equipment to directly support combat when necessary. Let's explore that challenge. What are possible combat roles for CSS equipment?

Most of us have heard the story about a bulldozer operator who used the dozer blade as mobile cover while rescuing someone under fire. This story gives us an insight into how CSS equipment might be used in combat roles. To explore the possible implications that this anecdote suggests, I will consider the capabilities of various pieces of CSS equipment and apply those capabilities to specific battle tasks. This is the process generally used to explore battle taskings for CSS equipment. I emphasize that this is exploration, not doctrine. Some of these techniques have obvious limitations in survivability and practicality.

The Fighting Forklift

All forklifts have two capabilities in common--mobility and load lifting. They differ in their load-size rating, their mast height and reach, and the terrain they can traverse. To determine their battle uses, one must consider their common capabilities as well as their differences.

The first possibility that comes to mind is to use forklifts as mobile fighting positions. It would not be difficult to construct rifle or machine gun fighting positions on a base that could be lifted by a forklift. This would allow the entire fighting position to be moved from point to point. By laying out potential sites with markers, it would be easy to rotate the positions daily, putting the new fighting positions into place after dark. The surprise or deception potential of this application is great.

A slightly different application is to use the forklift in defiladed positions. We could construct a fighting position from which a sniper or observer could work. The forklift would then deploy to the protected position and raise its mast so that the position would pop up from behind the cover of a building, wall, or ravine. The surprise potential of this use is also excellent. Or, we could use a forklift as a platform for mines such as a claymore or bouncing betty. There are, in fact, several recorded instances of mines being effectively employed from treetops in Vietnam.

A second possible combat use of the forklift is for air defense. This could be accomplished in a number of ways. A sandbagged, protected forklift would be moved to an air defense site. The mast would be lifted above the buildings or trees along an expected air attack route. During an attack, a mine could be command-detonated, filling the air with small pellets that would strike fast-moving aircraft or be sucked into jet engines to cause internal damage. Another possibility is to place a forklift, with its mast raised, on potential landing zones for rotary-wing craft. This would interfere with the safe operation of enemy rotary aircraft and make air assault more difficult. When combined with cables and poles, this use could be compared to "Rommel's Asparagus," used prior to D-day in World War II.

A third possible combat use of the forklift is as a reaction vehicle. With a transport platform in place, the vehicle could be used for troop movement or attack support. A forklift could easily lift troops into upper stories or onto roofs during military operations on urbanized terrain (MOUT) or over other terrain obstacles. Not only could it provide mobility for personnel and heavy weapons or ammo supplies, but it also could provide cover and concealment if equipped with a protective barrier capable of stopping light weapons ammunition and shrapnel. The forklift could then be used to support assaults against lightly held positions in the same way an armored vehicle is used by the infantry. This sounds like direct combat. It is, but not as direct as the last possibility.

Can you believe that a forklift can be used for a direct vehicle attack? According to current field manuals, a BMP infantry fighting vehicle and PT-76 light tank weigh about 14 tons each. Reliable sources indicate that these vehicles do not operate well with their tracks in the air. There are forklifts in the system rated at 10 and 25 tons that could directly engage enemy vehicles and lift or overturn them. While such use may seem far-fetched, there are occasions when such fighting vehicles or lesser ones could be ambushed and dumped into ravines, pushed off bridges, or otherwise incapacitated.

Finally, we should not overlook the potential of the DV43 25-ton rough-terrain forklift top-handler attachments: these are large enough and sturdy enough to function as light,
emergency bridges.

The Combat Crane

The techniques outlined above for the forklift can be used in slightly different ways by the crane since its basic lift and movement capabilities are similar. It is capable of moving fighting positions, creating "pop-up" positions, and employing air defense techniques with only slight variations due to the equipment differences.

While less employable as a reaction vehicle, it is more employable as a barrier or ambush vehicle. The boom will lift higher and the integral cable will deploy more quickly. This would make the crane more effective for landing zone defense. It also would give it the ability to quickly create a barrier for perimeter defense to limit attacks by light vehicles traveling at high speeds. Motorcycles and small cars would be stopped or severely damaged by colliding with the boom or anchored cable. Two other roles require more comment.

The crane would be easier to use in an ambush role. By deploying the cable in a deceptive manner, it could be used to collapse barriers, bridges, and other obstacles in front of a column to halt it in a kill zone. And don't forget its potential to airdrop the proverbial ton of bricks directly onto the column. The primary problems that would need to be overcome are its size and operating noise. Once these have been overcome, the possibilities for use of the cable are limited only by its length and the imagination of the soldiers present.

The final possible role of the crane is for emergency explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). The cable could be used as a drag (or a separate drag could be attached) to clear a path through aerially-dispersed mines in emergency situations. The cable probably would not be seriously damaged by the explosion. There are obvious limitations and dangers in this technique, but it clearly is ahead of the "foot stomp" or "bayonet" techniques.

The Portable Rampage

Almost all CSS units that have portable ramps tend to speak of them in derogatory terms. Most units, however, have not attempted to use ramps in field applications or bothered to think of them in combat support roles. The key is to think of it not as a ramp, but as a light, portable bridge. Then its uses become more obvious.

First, it could be emplaced as a bridge for foot or light vehicle traffic when bridging is needed.

Second, it could be lifted by a crane or wrecker to support foot movements in surprise locations (rampaging troops?). Two possible examples of this technique are emplacement between the roofs of buildings or across perimeter barriers to support counterattack.

Third, in the EOD role, it has possibilities as a bridge over the area or even as a drag.

The fourth potential role is as a barricade against light vehicles along the perimeter in the same manner as a cable.

Finally, the portable ramp has the potential to support air operations on terrain not conducive to use as a landing pad. With proper support and emplacement, the portable ramp could quickly become a heliport, which could be extremely valuable in MOUT operations or on other restricted terrain. A critical factor would be the weight of the helicopter versus the load rating of the ramp, data which are readily available.

Miscellaneous Equipment

The list of CSS equipment is quite long, and the potential of each piece varies. By now the potential of a backhoe, bulldozer, or similar piece of equipment should be obvious from both the security and the area damage control aspects of battle in the rear area. Now let's look at "minor" equipment that might be used in roles that are not immediately obvious.

Laundry and bath units have decontamination uses that are well-known. But how many people have considered their firefighting or EOD capability?

In a firefighting role, their ability to store and pump water is obvious. If large water volumes are combined with high-volume pumps or nozzles capable of high velocity and pressure, such as those typically found in POL operations, units have the capability to wash away terrain or ordnance in support of EOD operations. This action could clear an emergency route of aerially-dispersed mines or similar dangerous contaminants.

Water and bath equipment could also be used to remove obstacles to support an attack. The Egyptian Army used this technique in its 1973 assault across the Suez Canal. The army used high-velocity water to wash away the embankments of sand more quickly than it could have breeched them using standard earth-removal techniques. An armored assault was then launched.

Possible combat roles of electrical equipment should also be considered. Generators and light sets could be arranged to electrify fences or other barriers as an antipersonnel defense. They can also be set to impact vehicle antennas, chassis, or bodies along high-speed approach routes, resulting in the electrocution of occupants, destruction of radio equipment, or even detonation of vehicles. This also suggests the electronic warfare use of radio equipment as a barrier around a perimeter by tuning the equipment to selected frequencies. These techniques have obvious drawbacks and risks in both the physical and public relations environments.

If your head is spinning a little at this point, relax. You are normal. Let's face it. Considering the forks of a forklift as a vehicle bayonet borders on insanity or possibly desperation. Remember that my purpose has been to explore possibilities, to prompt recognition of hidden potential. After all, such need for combat uses of combat service support equipment may arise in the rear area. If and when it does, advance mental preparation can fortify our defense and may make the difference between winning and losing. When you are out of ammo, a rifle is only a club or spear. When you have no combat vehicles, you will use what you have.
Remember the spirit of the forklift alias bayonet: Kill or be killed!

Captain John W. Ellis, USAR, is transportation officer for the 325th Quartermaster Battalion (Petroleum Supply), Belton, Missouri. He is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff Officer Course and the Transportation Field Grade Orientation Course. He holds both a bachelor's and a master's degree in administration of justice from Wichita State University, Kansas.