Sunday 20 March 2016

Mad Max meets Islamic State: The Birth of the Battle Monstrosity

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

The Islamic State's rise to the status of one of the most sophisticated designated terrorist groups ever to exist has led to a myriad of DIY projects as the group attemped to equip its fighters with a semblance of armour and heavy firepower. While most of these projects were destined to remain confined to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, Islamic State forces in Libya managed to assemble an one-off homebred gem that could have come straight out of a Mad Max movie.

First sighted in March 2016, this battle monstrosity was constructed in Derna, Libya, where it was pitted against the Libyan National Army and the Shura Council. The fighters of the Islamic State in Derna were completely cut off from other Islamic State held territory in Libya before their defeat, and thus had to do with only a limited amount of equipment captured from Libya's huge arms depots or rival factions.

The new contraption, based on a 6x6 truck, features a variety of metal plating and slat armour and is equipped with not just a BMP-1 turret, but actually incorporates a complete BMP-1 hull. The 73mm 2A28 Grom main gun and coaxial 7.62mm PKT machine gun have been removed however, and an open turret housing a single 106mm M40 recoilless rifle (RCL) has been installed over the turret. Although swinging the 106mm M40 around demands an operator in the turret itself, the elevated position of the RCL offers an advantage at the cost of increased vulnerability to enemy fire from balconies and rooftops.

The armour of this battle monstrosity is special to say the least. The armour protection of the side of the BMP-1's hull has been strengthened by the addition of slat armour, which also found its way to the lower part of the front area. The space in between the BMP-1's hull and slat armour has further been strengthened by sandbags. Metal plating of different thickness and strength bolted onto the vehicle covers the rest of the monstrosity. Most special is undoubtedly the fact that the BMP-1's tracks have been reused to provide protection to the otherwise exposed wheels of the truck.

Armament consists of a single crew-served 106mm M40 recoilless rifle (RCL) in addition to rifles and light-machine guns fired out of the BMP-1's eight (or when counting the firing port in the rear of the BMP-1's hull nine) firing ports. It is not entirely clear why the 73mm 2A28 Grom main gun has been removed, but it could have been damaged or previously removed for installment on a technical.

As indicated by the image above, the role of this vehicle is similar to that of an APC or IFV, although entering and exiting the vehicle has been made significantly more difficult because of the high location of the BMP-1's hull. Although a small ladder would make this process much easier, this does not appear to have been installed. It is worth noting that the driver of this battle monstrosity must have extreme difficulties steering this vehicle through the narrow streets of Derna, not to mention backing up after missing the intended location because of the small viewport to look through. The driver can be seen 'aiming' his 7.62mm AK-103 out of the window, likely done just for the camera.

Libya, arguably the birthplace of over the top DIY projects, is sure to produce plenty more of conversions aimed at giving each faction an edge over its opponents to secure the victory in a long conflict that just doesn't seem to end. Although only few countries are willing to stick to the arms embargo placed on Libya, the lack of (working) heavy weaponry being supplied to the various factions means there will continue to be a necessity to continue such DIY projects, whether they are actually useful or not.

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