Small Wars Journal

The Toyota Horde

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 8:48am
The Toyota Horde:

Examining a Lost Cost Military Capability

by William F. Owen

Download the full article: The Toyota Horde

The subject of this article is a broad technical and operational examination of how almost any country on earth can currently gain a viable level of military power by building on the enduring elements of combined arms warfare. These elements are enduring and appeared in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. It is further suggested that skillfully applied this type of capability may enable its user to confront and possibly defeat NATO type expeditionary forces.

A number of popular opinions about the future nature of warfare have created a substantially misleading impression that the skills and equipment required for formation level combined arms capability, such as that possessed by NATO during the cold war is no longer needed, because few potential enemies possess similar peer capability. Thus the object of the article is to show just how simply a peer or near-peer capability can be acquired, and maintained.

Contrary to popular belief, there are many examples of where military action by irregular forces has inflicted battlefield defeats on regular forces. The most famous are the Boer defeats of the British Army during "Black Week" in December 1899 and the Hussite Wars of the 15th Century, where irregular forces, using improvised barricades made of ox wagons (wagenburgs) were able to stand against and defeat the armoured knights of the Holy Roman Empire. In both cases each irregular force was able to generate conventional military force from fairly meager resources. There is nothing novel, new or even complex, in this approach. It is common, enduring and proven.

Download the full article: The Toyota Horde

William F Owen is British and was born in Singapore in 1963. Privately educated, he joined the Army in 1981, and served in both regular and territorial units until resigning in 1993 to work on defense and advisory projects in Kuwait, Taiwan, Algeria, the Philippines, and Sierra Leone. An accomplished glider, fixed wing and helicopter pilot, he works as a writer, broadcaster and defence analyst.

About the Author(s)


Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 04/08/2010 - 6:16am

CHRIS JM said:
" I do, however, dispute the ease at which a force can become capable of performing (let alone become competent at!) combined arms warfare."

I agree in part. Can it conduct a FORM of CA? Yes it can. Do we have any evidence something like this exists? None. The capability and the training/concept for skilful employment do exist.

The real issue here is what it costs you to address a threat of this nature. It's all about blood and treasure. This is just a different way of spending it.

Chris jM

Thu, 04/08/2010 - 4:38am

Thanks for the article Mr Owen - an interesting perspective of military power that steps back from the COIN fixation.

I do have some queries, however. I'm not intending to attack the premise of your argument nor put words into your mouth but rather clarify and place into perspective some of the conclusions you seem to be proposing.

You are effectively stating that a combined arms force combined of developing/ developed world soldiers and commanders could pose a conventional threat to the modern western military. I won't argue against the logic of a 4WT force inflicting defeat. What I will raise, though, is the reality of this threat.

We are dealing with the prospect of a developed or undeveloped society generating an armed force capable of deploying combined arms forces in manoeuvre against an opponent - a concept which necessitates competent command, control and leadership at all levels, especially that of the junior commander. Is a third world army really able to generate flexible, competent commanders who are able to practice mission command in a few years? I may be showing a western bias and potentially a racist streak here, but I haven't seen in person nor read of many non-liberal societies who have been able to achieve that. The developing world is capable of generating excellent guerilla fighters, but turning that ability into a conventional and competent military force is a huge leap requiring individuals skilled in organisation and management.

Generating military plans of the complexity required to compete conventionally with the west is easily within the realm of any military force, I concede. But having the junior commanders able to display the initiative and audacity required within a combined arms environment? Taking into account the fact that the battlefield will potentially see communications being targeted, intercepted and denied the requirement for decentralised and confident commanders is paramount.

I may be displaying a very strong racist streak but I see the true success of the developed world's/ western system as being one that is very difficult to aspire to. Combined arms warfare requires an educated, intelligent soldiery and officer corp. Any force from the developing world is dominated by other factors - tribal affiliations, possibly, or subservience to authority. The influences acting upon the developing world strengthen their ability to fight as an unconventional soldier and hinder their ability to fight within the combined-arms environment.

I'm relating your article primarily to Stephen Biddle's 'Military Power' in that you are both looking for the reason for military force being measured and being a result of something other than the numerical count of armor, aircraft and troop numbers. With that I agree with you completely. Both you and Biddle turn to combined arms as the closest manifestation of the 'silver bullet' in the modern battlefield - again, I see nothing that can argue against this. I do, however, dispute the ease at which a force can become capable of performing (let alone become competent at!) combined arms warfare.

Above all, I liked your article and found it illuminating. What I do question is the conclusion that the 4WT force is as 'easily achievable military capability.'

As a second query, I can't figure out what 4WT stands for? Did I miss something??

Thanks to Mr Owen and SWJ for another interesting article.

William F. Owen

Thu, 04/08/2010 - 2:13am

I'd be a bit wary of making assumptions such as to 4WT likelihood of success. Fact is we do not know. Force employment is what decides that, not JUST the equipment.

REX; Yes dismountable is important, as is the ability to operate from a static prepared defence.

THe Libya Chad conflict did see the use of SUVs as have a lot of other places, but that's just the one aspect of the equipment set.

Like any form of military I think the idea works in any terrain. It works least well in flat open desert. Again the purpose is merely to show an option for creating military power.

Mark Pyruz

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 7:28pm

From the Iranian perspective, a formation sized "4WT" operating as a cheap mechanized force and performing maneuver warfare really doesnt make much sense.

Attrition is the name of the game. And, as so aptly demonstrated in Iraq, the best means of inflicting losses against this US expeditionary force is to engage it in low level intensity while it is in an occupation mode.

A "4WT" (Iran has many Toyota type trucks configured in exactly the same ways this author depicts them) is best deployed singly or in small teams. Surprise, hit, run and blend back in: thats the name of the game. Larger formations are hard to field, require greater coordination and are much easier to spot.

For a Middle Eastern commander facing the awesome firepower of a US expeditionary force, it doesnt matter whether his force inflicts 200-300 or so casualties in a low intensity series of attacks over a 30 day period, or if somehow this can be achieved in a single attack. So naturally, hes going to utilize the tactics that can offer a greater chance of success. Personally, I dont think fielding "equivalent" formations of 4WT offer that much greater chance of success over more conventional military formations at their disposal- which has proven time and again to be ineffective against this force. And remember, the 4WT is very much a soft-skinned target.

Concerning the Libya-Chad campaign, it really isnt relevant to a 4WT type encounter between the US military and a potential adversary like the Islamic Republic of Iran. Again, the firepower, diversity of weaponry and training available to the US military makes such a study irrelevant.

Rex Brynen

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 6:18pm

Wilf, a thought-provoking article.

I'm also a little surprised, however, that you didn't mention the 1987 Libya-Chad (France) campaign, given that it is the best example of this sort of capability actually being deployed (and to which the Libyans lost 7,000+ personnel and a couple of hundred vehicles.)

Chad also highlighted the importance of air superiority, which Libya lacked due to a combination of the low quality of its air force and French intervention.

By contrast, Hizbullah--while fielding virtually every weapon system that you've highlighted (ATGMs, SPG-9s, MANPADs, MRLs), has generally chosen NOT to deploy them in the fashion that you've suggested precisely because it has felt (correctly) that they would have limited survivability in the face of Israeli air power and ISR capabilities. (Some MANPAD and ATGM teams may have used motorcycles, however.)

I'm a little doubtful against the survivability of permanently-emplaced AFV turrets against a NATO-quality opponent.

Two quick questions:

1) You haven't mentioned the importance of these being dismountable weapons systems, which I think is critical. Permanently-mounted on vehicles Somali- (or Chadian-) "technical" style the capability becomes much more limited.

2) Where do you think this capability would work best--in terms of size, geography, road network, air superiority context? If you could identify some prime candidates it might help focus and sharpen the discussion.

Deven (not verified)

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 5:19pm

"4WT is not a defined set of equipment and capabilities. It is merely one possible manifestation of one possible idea"

That sounds very much like:

"poorly defined phenomena described using the simplistic and lazy form of words common to such discussion."

William F. Owen

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 5:03pm

The aim of the line alluding to "then they probably have no place in their chosen profession..." was purely to emphasise (perhaps too forcefully) that the threat capabilities lie within our current understanding. This is not thinking outside the box. The sole intent is provoke discussion, thus some of the tone may have been overly provocative.

Additionally I did not want to get bogged down in operational context.
How the force is employed would define whether it would be a "one hit wonder" or a persistent and enduring classic.
4WT is not a defined set of equipment and capabilities. It is merely one possible manifestation of one possible idea


Wed, 04/07/2010 - 4:43pm

The need for more professional writing was going to be one of my subjects today anyway. Wilf's article is well-written and if the aim was to promote professional discussion, then it is probably successful and more power to anyone prepared to publicly put pen to paper rather than just lip off in the Mess/ O Club (if such things still exist).

If however, the aim was to actually promote a viable capability, then it has a long way to go. What really got my back up was the comment "...if any officer reading this cannot conceive of ways to inflict significant damage to a Stryker Brigade, or Armoured Cavalry Squadron; given 100 SUVs, 100 x ATGM + MANPADS and maybe 500 men; then they probably have no place in their chosen profession..." To me this is an unnecessary and somewhat arrogant (ignorant?) throwaway line that adds no value whatsoever. To turn it around, any officer that would allow such a force to do significant damage to a Anglospheric brigade probably needs to be relieved immediately, as does any unit commander in one of those formations that could wipe the floor with a Toyota horde.

The horde, if successful at all, would be a one hit wonder (anyone remember 'Promises'and Baby It's You from the 70s - not just the lead singer's 'attributes'?) that would be easily countered. The terrain necessary for the horde to have any sort of practical mobility would also act against it and unless it could shelter behind the skirts of a large non-combatant population, it would be vulnerable to both ISR and engagement systems. Where the horde might be employable, would be a a follow-on force to a more conventional 'hammer' to mop small outposts and stay-behind forces.

There is/will most likely be a place for swarming in near/far future conflicts but, at the moment, the the concept still awaits some conceptual and technical developments. Ultimately, it could take us a number of steps closer to Heinlein's Mobile Infantry concept that we aspired to in the mid-90s with the Empty Battlefield et al...

I've got a bunch of papers on my desk already this week that I have to work through but will try to add some more constructive thoughts over the weekend or early next week (probably later as the grandtwins are coming over for their 3rd birthday this weekend so all productivity will come to grinding halt as we batten down for that horde's assault).

Vito (not verified)

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 3:48pm

As always, Wilf does not provide the simple answer to a simple query. What he does provide, for the thinking professional, is food for thought. His writings provide a platform for important discussion and debate in my most humble opinion. His latest does not disappoint.

Brian Fishpaugh (not verified)

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 2:57pm

When I opened this item I thought it was going to start with a mention of very much under reported "Toyota Wars" of Chad/Libya in the late 80's, but alas, it didn't. Too bad. Good article nevertheless.

Red Leg

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 12:10pm

Wilf, great article and sums up nicely what many of us in the profession of arms have been saying for the past four years. The basic skills of combined arms warfare, blocking and tackling as we like to refer to it, should be the indelible fixture of our professional military education; however, more and more our schoolhouses attempt to turn military officers into COIN / FID / Cultural Experts.

slapout9 (not verified)

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 11:18am

Great article.....Is Wilf the Real Ghost of General Gavin? The article has some parallels to Gavin's original article "Where Is Are Cavalry And I don't Mean Horses."

brad Cohen (not verified)

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 9:50am

Excellent, thankyou!

Brad Cohen (not verified)

Wed, 04/07/2010 - 8:58am

Link doesn't seem to work-very interested to read Mr Owen's thoughts.