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A Toyota Hilux-based technical in Liberia armed with 14.5mm KPV heavy machine gun

A US Army Willys M38A1 with a mounted M40 recoilless rifle.

A technical is a type of improvised fighting vehicle, typically a civilian or military non-combat vehicle, modified to provide an offensive capability similar to a military gun truck. It is usually an open-backed civilian pickup truck or four-wheel drive vehicle mounting a machine gun, light anti-aircraft gun, recoilless rifle, or other support weapon.

The term technical describing such a vehicle originated in Somalia in the early 1990s. Barred from bringing in private security, non-governmental organizations hired local gunmen to protect their personnel, using money defined as "technical assistance grants". Eventually the term broadened to include any vehicle carrying armed men.[1] Technicals have also been referred to as battlewagons, gunwagons,[2] or gunships.

Among irregular armies, often centered around the perceived strength and charisma of warlords, the prestige power of technicals is strong. According to one article, "The Technical is the most significant symbol of power in southern Somalia. It is a small truck with large tripod machine guns mounted on the back. A warlord's power is measured by how many of these vehicles he has."[3] Technicals are not commonly used by well-funded armies that are able to procure purpose-built combat vehicles, because the soft-skinned civilian vehicles that technicals are based on do not offer very good protection to their crew and passengers.

Technicals fill up the niche of traditional light cavalry. Their major asset is speed and mobility and ability to strike from unexpected directions with automatic fire and light troop deployment. In direct engagements, they are no match against heavier vehicles, such as tanks or dedicated AFVs, and usually suffer major losses against them.


"L" Detachment SAS in their armed jeeps, during the North African campaign of the Second World War

Such improvised fighting vehicles date back to the first use of automobiles, and even earlier, to the horse-drawn tachankas mounting machine guns in eastern Europe and Russia. During World War II, various British and Commonwealth units, including the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), the No. 1 Demolition Squadron or 'PPA' (Popski's Private Army), and the Special Air Service (SAS) were noted for their exploits in the deserts of Egypt, Libya and Chad using unarmored motor vehicles, often fitted with machine guns and cannon of various types. Examples of LRDG vehicles include the Chevrolet WB 30 cwt Patrol Truck,[4] the Willys MB Jeep,[5] and their famous 'Pink-Panther', long-wheel based Land Rovers. During the 1960s, the popular American television series The Rat Patrol echoed the British SAS and LRDG use of the Willys Jeep, this time fitted with a single .50 caliber Browning machine gun. The 1970s show Bearcats! popularized a fictional early 20th century fighting car.

Western Sahara

Tactics for employing technicals were pioneered by the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army, the armed wing of the Polisario Front, fighting for independence against Mauritania (1975–79) and Morocco (1975–present) from headquarters in Tindouf, Algeria. Algeria provided arms and Land Rovers to Sahrawi guerrillas, who successfully used them in long-range desert raids against the less agile conventional armies of their opponents, recalling Sahrawi tribal raids (ghazzis) of the pre-colonial period. Polisario later gained access to heavier equipment, but four-wheel drive vehicles remain a staple of their arsenal.[citation needed]

Libya-Chad War

In 1987, Chadian troops equipped with technicals drove the heavily mechanized Libyan army from the Aozou Strip. The vehicles were instrumental in the victory at the Battle of Fada, and were driven over 150 km (93 mi) into Libya to raid military bases. It was discovered that these light vehicles could ride through anti-tank minefields without detonating the mines when driven at speeds over 100 km/h. The vehicles became so famous that, in 1984, Time dubbed the conflict the "Great Toyota War".[6]

The Toyota War was unusual in that the force equipped with improvised technicals prevailed over the force equipped with purpose-built fighting vehicles. MILAN anti-tank guided missiles provided by France were key to the Chadian success, while the Libyan forces were poorly deployed and organized.

Somali Civil War

Technicals played an important role in the 1990s Somali Civil War and the recent War in Somalia (2006–2009). After the fall of the Siad Barre regime and the collapse of the Somali National Army (SNA), it was rare for any Somali force to field heavy armored fighting vehicles. However, technicals were very common.

Mohamed Farrah Aidid used 30 technicals along with a force of 600 militia to capture Baidoa in September 1995.[7] After he was killed in clan fighting in 1996, his body was carried to his funeral on a Toyota pickup.[8]

Proving their susceptibility to heavy weapons and their value as a military prize, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) was able to capture 30 "battlewagons" during the defeat of warlord Abdi Qeybdid's militia at the Second Battle of Mogadishu in 2006.[9] That September, an impressive array of 130 technicals was used to take Kismayo from the forces of the Juba Valley Alliance.[10]

On November 13, 2006, then President of Puntland, General Adde Musa, personally led fifty battlewagons to Galkacyo to confront the Islamists. They were used a month later against the army of the Islamic Courts Union at the Battle of Bandiradley alongside Abdi Qeybdid's reconstituted militia.[11]

However, forced into conventional battles in the War in Somalia of 2006–07, the unarmored technicals of the ICU proved no match for the T-55 tanks, Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunships and fighter bombers employed by Ethiopia.[citation needed]

War in Afghanistan

In the War in Afghanistan (2001–2021), U.S. Special Operations Forces are known to use technicals for patrol of the rugged terrain and the nature of their clandestine operations.[citation needed] The Taliban also used technicals while they were in power.[12]

Iraq War

Iraqi National Guard troops with a PK machine gun mounted on a Ford Ranger

Technicals were used by Iraqi military forces in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[13] The Iraqi Republican Guard and Fedayeen emulated tactics of the Somali National Alliance with limited success,[14][15] but were outmatched by Coalition armour and aviation.[16][17] In the aftermath of the invasion Technicals saw use by Iraqi insurgents for transporting personnel and quick raids against the Iraqi police forces. The insurgent use of technicals increased after the Iraq Spring Fighting of 2004.[citation needed]

Many military utility vehicles have been modified to serve as gun trucks to protect Coalition convoys. The Humvee allows for weapon mounts by design, so it is not generally considered a technical.

The Coalition also supplied technicals to the Iraqi police.[18] Private military contractors also use technicals and the United States military used modified Toyota Tacoma pickups (purchased from auto showrooms in the USA and modified before delivery) as well.[citation needed]

Darfur conflict

Janjaweed militias use technicals on their raids against civilian villages in Darfur, Sudan,[19] as do the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) rebel troops in defense of their areas of operations.[20] Light vehicles such as technicals are often thought to be more mobile than armoured vehicles, but on one occasion an African peace-keeper driving a Grizzly AVGP whose guns had jammed, succeeded in catching up with, ramming and rolling over a fleeing Sudanese technical whilst ignoring the technical's apparently ineffectual heavy machine-gun fire.[21]

War in Chad

Technicals have been used by both sides in the war in Chad, including at the 2006 and 2008 battles of N'Djamena.[22]


Opposition forces have reportedly used technicals in the fighting for the Chouf District during the May 2008 clashes in Lebanon.[23]

Libyan civil war

A ZU-23-2 technical used by the forces of the National Transitional Council during the Libyan civil war, in October 2011.

During the Libyan civil war, both regime loyalist forces as well as the anti-Gaddafi forces used technicals extensively. Given the type of warfare that had been carried out in the conflict—wherein highly mobile groups of soldiers and rebels continued to move to and from on the desert terrain, retreating at a time and then suddenly attacking to regain control of small towns and villages in the Eastern rebel held parts of Libya—had led to the technical becoming a vehicle of choice for both sides.

Technicals had also been widely used by the rebels whilst setting up checkpoints. It also formed a vast percentage of the rebel inventory which was limited to light weapons, light body armor and very few tanks. Some medium flatbed trucks carried the Soviet-made ZPU and ZU-23-2 towed anti-aircraft twin or quad barreled guns, as well as recoilless rifles and S-5 rocket helicopter rocket launcher pods.[24] Some rebels have improvised with captured heavy weaponry, like BMP-1 turrets[25] and helicopter rocket pods, as well as lower-tech methods such as using doorbells to ignite rocket-launched ammunition.[26] Rebel technicals have also frequently employed BM-21 Grad rockets. Rocket tubes were salvaged from damaged regime Ural-375D trucks and mounted on the backs of pickups, with the technicals able to fire anywhere from one to six rockets.[27][28][29]

Syrian civil war

In the ongoing Syrian civil war, technicals are extensively used as improvised fighting vehicles, especially by opposition forces, who largely lack conventional fighting vehicles. Regime forces also use technicals, but on a smaller scale. The kind of weapons mounted on technicals varies widely, from light machine guns to anti-aircraft guns and even BMP-1 turrets.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Guerrilla Trucks: Why rebels and insurgent groups the world over love the Toyota Hilux pickup as much as their AK-47s". Newsweek. 2010-10-14. Retrieved 2010-10-25. 
  2. "Somalia transitional government soldiers keep watch from a battlewagon over the parliament at Baidoa in November 2006, AFP Photo". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  3. "United States Psyop in Somalia, Herbert A. Friedman". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  4. "Long Range Desert Group (LRDG)/ Special Air Services (SAS) Willys MB Jeep". Retrieved 2013-10-01. 
  5. "Long Range Desert Group (LRDG)/ Special Air Services (SAS) Willys MB Jeep". Retrieved 2013-10-01. 
  6. Monday, Apr. 23, 1984 (1984-04-23). ""The Great Toyota War", ''Time'', April 24, 1984".,9171,921683,00.html. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  7. ""Aideed Forces Seize Somali City of Baidoa", Reuters, September 17, 1995 (copy hosted by". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  8. "Somalis bury Aydiid", Reuters, August 2, 1996 (copy hosted by
  9. ""Somali Islamists win city battle", BBC News Online, 11 July 2006". BBC News. 2006-07-11. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  10. "Witnesses: Somali Islamists advance on key port". Associated Press, 13 September 2006.
  11. ""Somalia: Puntland president deploys 50 battlewagons in Galkayo to avert Islamist fighters", ''Shabelle Media Network'', 13 November 2006". 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  12. "The Taleban Response, Institute for War & Peace Reporting". 1980-07-07. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  13. "Iraq". MILNET. Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  14. "How the Pentagon's promise of a quick war ran into the desert sand", The Guardian, March 28, 2003.
  15. "Hearing of the House Committee on Armed Services". 2003-10-21. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  16. John Pike (2003-03-20). "Operation Iraqi Freedom day 4". Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  17. John Pike (2003-03-20). "Operation Iraqi Freedom day 19". Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  18. "Iraqi Police Service Gets 'Technical' Vehicles, U.S. Department of Defense". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  19. Jerome Taylor, "Janjaweed ditches horseback to launch attacks from 4x4s", The Independent, 8 December 2006. Accessed 14 August 2008.
  20. Ryan Spencer Reed, A Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) soldier sits in an old Toyota Land Cruiser modified to carry heavy artillery, Accessed 24 February 2009.
  21. "Background — AVGPs in Africa — Grizzlys and Huskys for Darfur". Canadian American Strategic Review. 2009-10. Archived from the original on 2009-11-01. 
  22. Agence France-Presse, Rebels at gates of Chad capital, The Australian, February 2, 2008. Accessed 14 August 2008.
  23. Tony Badran, Hezbollah's Third Botched Coup Attempt, Across the Bay weblog, 14 May 2008.
  24. "'No move zone' required to stop Gaddafi". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  25. Gizmodo: Crazily Brilliant Libyan Rebels Weld Tank Turret to Truck (And It Works!), 13th June 2011
  26. Libya’s DIY Rebels Outfit Trucks With Copter Rockets, 15th June 2011
  28. "Libya: Gaddafi's troops attack rebel-held towns as humanitarian crisis deepens". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2011-04-18. 
  29. "Heavy clashes continue in Libya (0:50)". Reuters. 

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