Syrian Arab Republic (2013-Present)
Wheeled Self-Propelled Gun – Unknown Number Built
The 130 mm M-46 Field Gun on the IVECO TRAKKER truck chassis and the 130 mm M-46 Field Gun on the Mercedes-Benz Actros 4140 truck chassis are two Wheeled Self-Propelled Guns (W-SPGs) developed by the Syrian Arab Republic in the early 2010s. They were meant to provide troops with a highly mobile cheap and easy-to-produce self-propelled gun to provide support.
Due to the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War after an escalation of violence on March 15, 2011, development was halted. Production resumed during the war by Syrian Arab Armed Forces troops in specialized workshops.
Genesis of the Syrian Artillery
Between the 1950s and 1970s, Syria received over a thousand artillery pieces from the Soviet Union for use in the Arab-Israeli conflicts. These included about 600 122 mm D-30 howitzers, 400 122 mm D-74 howitzers, and no more than ten 180 mm S-23s.
A few dozen D-30s went to arm the T-34-D-30 122 mm self-propelled gun on the hull of the venerable T-34-85 medium tank. Over the decades, these artillery pieces have been joined by some Soviet-made self-propelled guns, such as almost 400 2S1 Gvozdika, 100 2S3 Akatsiya, and 18 2S9 Nona self-propelled mortars.
According to military expert Yuri Lyamin, a self-propelled gun on the frame of an 4-axle truck armed with a 130 mm gun was already in development before 2011. It can be assumed that the project was influenced by the Cuban self-propelled guns of the Jupiter series, officially presented to the world in 2006, since the Republic of Cuba and Syrian Arab Republic still maintain close international relations today.
It is also possible to assume that the development of the SPG was shelved after the outbreak of the Civil War, as the Syrian state needed most funds to finance the war.
With the beginning of the Civil War in 2011, the fragmentation of forces and the loss of huge quantities of material ending up in the hands of the rebels, the Islamic State, or destroyed in combat, it was necessary to put a self-propelled gun into service as soon as possible. The result was a 130 mm M-46 Field Gun on an IVECO TRAKKER chassis, with great off-road capability and an unrivaled (in the conflict) firing range of 27 km with standard rounds.
IVECO TRAKKER Frame
The chassis on which the Syrian wheeled self-propelled gun is based is the chassis of the heavy IVECO TRAKKER 8×8 420 produced by the Italian company IVECO Veicoli Industriali (Industrial VEhicles COrporation). It has a sturdy chassis and good off-road capabilities.
The truck entered production in 2004, having many different variants: 4×2, 4×4, 6×4, 6×6, 8×4 and 8×8. The lightest option weighs 18 tonnes (vehicle and cargo), with the heaviest at 72 tonnes (of which 50 tonnes are cargo).
The truck comes in different configurations: heavy duty truck, tractor unit, fire truck, and worksite vehicle. It can be equipped with different engines with different horsepower outputs too, from the least powerful at 360 hp for the 4×2 to 560 hp in some 8×8 vehicles.
This powerful heavy duty truck, produced for both the civilian and military markets (the Bundeswehr has ordered 1,048 in the Geschützte TransportFahrzeuge or GTF version in January 2021), has excellent performance with reduced costs and consumption. The naming convention for this truck is rather simple, being composed of the cabin type, the horsepower output of the engine, and the drive type (8×4 or 8×8).
The engine of the Syrian TRAKKERs is the IVECO Cursor 13, a 6 cylinder in-line engine with a 12.88 liters capacity, delivering 420 hp at 1,900 rpm. The truck has a 1,200 liters fuel tank, with fixed geometry supercharging and a Waste-Gate (WG) valve.
Its total weight is 1,345 kg. It is liquid-cooled with 4 valves per piston. The engine is equipped with Electronic Diesel Control (EDC) and a Fixed Geometry Turbo with Aftercooler (TCA). The engine also complies with the European Euro VI emission standards.
The cabin of the Syrian IVECO TRAKKER is of the AT (Active Time) type, with a width of 2.30 meters, a height of 3.10 meters, and a length of 1.70 meters.
Of the four wheel axles, the first two are steered in order to reduce the turning radius. The maximum weight of the vehicle (loaded) is 72 tonnes according to the regulations of the Italian laws. The self-propelled weighs less than 30 tonnes with the modifications and the gun mounted.
The transmission is a German-built 16 gears manual ZF-16 with reduction gear.
The IVECO trucks used by Syria were probably purchased from Libya, which produced them at the Libyan Trucks and Bus Company in Tripoli. From photographic evidence, at least 4 such SPGs have been produced on the chassis of this truck.
Mercedes-Benz Actros 4140 Frame
Another version of this self-propelled gun is based on the Mercedes-Benz Actros 4140 8×4 chassis.
Like the IVECO TRAKKER, this too is a heavy duty truck. It entered production in 1996 and is still in production in different versions: 4×2, 4×4, 6×4, 6×6, 8×4 and 8×8. The lightest version weighs 18 tonnes with a full load, and heavier versions can carry a maximum load of 44 tonnes and a towable load of 135 tonnes.
The Syrian version is equipped with an OM501LA III/5 6 cylinders in-line engine, with a 11.946 liters capacity, delivering 400 hp at 1,800 rpm. IT has a 1,200 liter fuel tank with a Unit Pump System (UPS).
The cab of the Mercedes-Benz Actros 4140 is a model ‘S’, designed for everyday use, with a width of 2.50 meters, a total height of over 3 meters, and a length of 2.30 meters. The maximum weight of the vehicle is 44 tonnes full load. The transmission is semi-automatic, with a 16-speed gearbox.
It is unclear how many SPGs have been produced on the Mercedes chassis in Syria. Photographic evidence shows that there are at least four different vehicles with differences between them regarding cab protection.
The Self-Propelled Gun
The 130 mm M-46 Field Gun SPG keeps the chassis and the cabin of the truck unchanged, removing only the cargo bay.
The cabin is kept intact, except for the removal of the rear view mirrors. The cabin is covered by an armored structure that protects it on each side. This has a simple square construction with two side doors without slits. These can be opened to the back. On the front, there were two hatches for inspection of the engine compartment, with grilles for radiator cooling. Two more hatches in the front cover the windscreen, with slits for the driver and commander. The two hatches are lowered while driving for better visibility.
A very serious problem on TRAKKER chassis vehicles is the absence of rear-view mirrors and side and rear slits. This inability to see beyond the frontal arc of the vehicle causes problems when driving with a convoy or on congested roads with civilian vehicles.
The self-propelled guns on the Mercedes-Benz Actros 4140 hull have both a fully covered cab and two side hatches on the side doors, which can be lowered to allow the driver and commander to have a side view as well.
At least three self-propelled guns on a Mercedes hull have been armored only partially. The armor plates cover only the front windscreen and the upper part of the doors and the rear, leaving the rest of the cabin uncovered.
Behind the armored cabin is the travel lock and, in some cases, a structure made of welded iron tubes to hold the muzzle brake. Behind the travel lock, there are four boxes on each side. The first two, which are smaller, contain the launch charges, while the last two, which are larger, contain the 130 mm rounds.
There also appears to be a large box between the two rows of ammunition boxes, but the purpose is somewhat uncertain. It could be used to transport spent casings or to transport the crew’s personal equipment.
Finally, on the back of the vehicle, is the gun mounting in the center. The left side has a walkway for the crew to operate around the gun, while on the right side is a box, probably for spare optics.
On the sides, some vehicles have some supports for rods used for waterproof sheets. These can be used to protect the cannon from the sand. Behind the gun are two hydraulic jacks connected to a spade that is lowered when the self-propelled gun is in position.
The spade lifts the two rear axles off the ground and also the second front axle, decreasing the recoil stress transferred to the truck frame. The spade also has two steps to facilitate access for the gun loaders.
Generally, photos show the vehicles loaded with the crew’s personal items, waterproof sheets to cover the vehicle from the weather and sand, and barrels or bottles of water.
The armament is a 130 mm M-46 L/55 towed field gun of Soviet origin. It was developed between 1946 and 1950 on the basis of the 130 mm M-36 naval gun and produced between 1951 and 1971. It was initially designated M1954 by Western analysts, after the year when it was publicly shown for the first time.
It has a horizontal sliding-wedge breech and hydro-pneumatic recoil dampers. Syria had received around 650 pieces from the Soviet Union during the 1950s and the 1980s and another unknown quantity from Egypt, which even today produces a variant of the M-46 as the M59-1M. The M59-1M is actually a license built Type 59-1, which in turn is the Chinese license build of the M-46.
The Chinese and Soviet models have different carriages. The Type 59-1 has the carriage of the Type 60 (a copy of the Soviet 122 mm D-74), but the cannon and the breech remain identical.
Keeping the original mounting, the gun has an elevation of +45°, while the original depression of -2.5° is no longer possible due to the vehicle cab. The artillery piece, despite losing the wheeled carriage, probably maintains a limited traverse of 25° to either side. Firing at higher traverse angles would probably cause the vehicle to become unstable and overturn.
The gun could be equipped with an OP4M-35 direct fire sight with a field of view of 11º and a magnification of ×5.5 or an APN-3 active/passive night sight, but these are probably not used given the lack of direct fire ability due to the lack of depression.
There are no photos of the self-propelled guns in action, so it is not possible to know the exact number of crewmembers operating on each vehicle. It can be assumed that there are 6 or 8 crewmembers operating the gun, as on vehicles of similar characteristics, such as the Cuban Jupiter V wheeled self-propelled gun.
The driver and commander sit inside the cabin (on the IVECO, while on the Mercedes-Benz, there are three seats inside the cabin). The other crewmembers must be transported in another vehicle that probably also carries more ammunition for the gun.
The M-46 weighs 2,780 kg without the wheeled carriage and the shield. Its rate of fire is probably as on the standard M-46 field gun, from 6 to 8 rounds per minute.
Due to the improvised nature of the vehicles, the stability of the chassis is severely strained during shooting, despite the spade lifting the vehicle. In some photos, parts of the armor plates are absent, as the shock from firing blew them off.
The vehicle carries four boxes of ammunition, for a total of 24 rounds, with another four boxes with separate charges. On top, behind the ammunition boxes, more crates of ammunition are sometimes carried. This solution allows the crews to carry a few more rounds on each vehicle.
The M-46 can fire different types of projectiles developed over the decades, not only by the Soviet Union, but also by Israel, China, Vietnam, and Iran. These are mainly High-Explosive (HE), High-Explosive Fragmentation (HE-Frag), Armor Piercing (AP), Rocket Assisted Projectile, Illuminating, and Smoke shells.
The separate charge casing has a dimension of 130 x 845 mm R. The Syrian SPGs could fire a wide range of 130 mm ammunition:
Penetration against a 90° Rolled Homogeneous Armor Plate (millimeters)
Penetration of a 60° Rolled Homogeneous Armor (millimeters)
Foreign rounds used by Syria
Nation of origin
Total weight (kg)
Round weight (kg)
Explosive mass (kg)
Muzzle velocity (m/s)
* High-Explosive Rocket Assisted
** Extended Range Full Bore – Base Bleed
Very little is known about the service of the 130 mm M-46 Field Gun on IVECO and Mercedes-Benz chassis. Some were spotted in Damascus during the Battle of Damascus from July to August 2012 and in the Battle of Aleppo in 2016, where they mostly hit ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) positions, but also Free Syrian Army rebel units that were fighting against President Bashar Al-Assad.
In mid-July 2017, they were used against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) terrorists in the Eastern Hama region. The vehicles were photographed in both monochromatic sand yellow and a two-tone camouflage composed of dark green with sand colored patches.
One photo from 2017 shows as many as 6 self-propelled guns lined up in the desert, some with two-tone camouflage and others monochromatic.
Although the exact operational history of these vehicles is unknown, some conclusions can be based on the scant online information.
The wheeled self-propelled guns on IVECO and Mercedes-Benz chassis are economical, easy-to-modify, low-consumption, and low-maintenance vehicles. The modification also made the 130 mm M-46 Field Gun much easier to deploy, being carried on an 8×8 truck with decent off-road characteristics and high speed instead of being towed by a slow prime mover.
These W-SPG provide Syrian ground troops with adequate artillery fire with a maximum range of 44 km, but it is unclear how many were built and if they will be maintained following the end of the Syrian Civil War, whenever that may come.
Specification 130 mm M-46 Field Gun on IVECO TRAKKER Chassis
probably 6 , driver, commander, gunner and 3 loaders
IVECO Cursor 13 delivering 420 hp at 1,900 rpm with 1,200 liters tank
Various Users (1984-Present)
Technical – Thousands built
The face of warfare is constantly changing and evolving. New technologies can turn battles and wars in the favor of the force that wields them. This can be seen throughout history, but the pace of technological advancement in the last 150 years can be said to be greater than that of the previous 2,000. Since the 1850s, with the Crimean War and the first modern breech-loading artillery, the pace of innovation has been truly staggering. The American Civil War gave us the Gatling Gun and the submarine, ironclad warships, and the use of gun turrets that would lead to the first modern battleships, along with the torpedo. The 1880s saw the invention of four very much interdependent technologies; smokeless powder, modern Spitzer bullets, the Maxim Machinegun, and the Lebel Rifle. World War I put those innovations to deadly use, along with the first chemical weapons, warplanes, and tanks. Between the wars came the invention of the aircraft carrier and radar. World War II would see the biggest leap forward in technology man has ever known; rocket- and jet-powered aircraft, helicopters, guided munitions, infrared vision devices, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, aircraft, tanks, and ships the sizes and capabilities of which exceeded those ever thought possible, the first man-made object in space, and the atomic bomb. In modern times, computers and electronics form the backbone of cutting-edge technology. During the Cold War, having encountered the upper feasible limits for conventional technology such as planes and tanks, the world’s superpowers had to turn to electronics to advance further. The Su-57, F-35 Lightning II, AH-64E Apache Guardian, Leopard 2A7+, and Virginia-class submarine represent the current cream of the crop in regards to vehicular weaponry.
With this in mind, you might be forgiven for thinking the most widely used and numerous ground combat vehicle of the modern age is one of these technological marvels. Is it the Leopard 2, which has over a dozen operators worldwide? Or perhaps the M1 Abrams, which has had a solid presence in the Middle East since 1990? Or even the venerable old T-72? The answer is none of these; it’s a Toyota.
The Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series, also known as the J70, first came onto the scene in November 1984. The Land Cruiser 70 Series was an improvement on the 40 Series, at the time already over 20 years old. Development was headed by Toyota Lead Engineer Masaomi Yoshii. The Land Cruiser was redesigned from the ground up for the 70 Series, and the end result was a vehicle that had its roots in the design of the 40 Series, but tweaked and improved in almost every way. The chassis was of ladder-frame construction, one of the simplest and most rugged ways of building a car. The body panels were thickened and given “modern” styling. The suspension was copied from the 40 Series, but with the front widened by 14mm, and the rear widened by 30mm, plus an anti-roll bar. The 70 Series was, and is, produced in Japan, by Toyota’s Honsha Plant, as well as in Venezuela and Portugal. It was offered world-wide at launch, except for in Brazil, Mexico, India, Korea, and the United States.
Toyota chassis numbers may look random, but if you know their meanings, they can tell you the exact type of vehicle they describe. “J” is seen in the middle of all chassis codes on this page, this is because J is the letter used for Land Cruiser. “J7” is the Land Cruiser 70 Series. The number that comes after J7 denotes the chassis type. J70, J71, and J72 are short wheelbase models; J73 and J74 are medium wheelbase models; J75 is a heavy duty model; J76 and J77 are medium-long wheelbase models; J78 and J79 are long wheelbase or heavy duty models, depending on the generation. The letter(s) that come before “J7” denote what engine that model uses. Below is a list that explains the engine prefix meanings.
After “J7X” there is usually one or two suffix letters. If there is no suffix at all, or if “V” is not one of the suffix letters, then it means the vehicle is a soft top. “V” represents a hardtop wagon body, and is the most common suffix letter. “G” means it is a 3 door wagon (this was only used on the Land Cruiser Prado). For markets outside of Japan, “L” or “R” was added to the code, denoting whether the steering wheel was on the left or the right. “H” represents a 4 door vehicle with a rear hatch, this is often seen paired with “V” to designate a 5 door wagon, or van (technically Toyota considers this a van). This is not always the case, as J73s with the suffix “HV” do not have 5 doors, but are classified in Japan as “1 Number” vehicles; meaning they are taxed more heavily due to being bigger than “4 Number” minitrucks, which is the class the J73 usually resides in. The actual, physical difference between a V and HV J73 is not clear.
Land Cruiser 70 Series Chassis Code Suffix Guide:
G – 3 door wagon
H – 5 door wagon
K – ?
L – Left hand drive
P – Pickup
R – Right hand drive
V – 2 door van
W – Widebody wagon
After the suffix, there is an extension separated from the main code by a dash. Letters in this code indicate trim level, transmission type, engine sub-type, where the vehicle was to be marketed, and whether the vehicle was distributed as a complete or incomplete truck.
Land Cruiser 70 Series Chassis Code Extension Guide:
3 – Sold as a chassis and cab with no bed or superstructure
E – VX or SX5 trim
G – EX5 trim
K – 4-speed manual transmission
K (if in addition to K, M, or P) – Canadian market
K (if an FZJ model, in addition to K, M, or P) – 1FZ-FE engine
M – 5-speed manual transmission
N – STD or LX5 trim
N (if in addition to N, R, or E) – South African market
P – Automatic transmission
Q – Australian market
R – LX trim
S – Compliant with 1988 emissions controls for diesels for Japan
T – 2L-TE engine
U – Compliant with 1989 emissions controls for diesels for Japan
V, Before January 1990 – Middle East market
V, After January 1990 – Gulf Cooperation Council market (Arabian Peninsula)
W – European market
X – 2L-T engine
Y – ?
Click here to collapse in-depth model history
For its debut, three models of the 70 Series were offered; the short wheelbase J70, the medium wheelbase J73, and the heavy duty J75. The J70 and J73 came in three basic trim levels; a soft top, a hard top, and a higher trim hardtop. The BJ75, due to being a work truck, only came in base level trim, though it could be configured as either a J75V wagon, like the normal Land Cruiser, or as a J75P pickup truck. The J75 was not available in the Japanese or Canadian markets. The J73 was not available in right hand drive “General” markets, or in Canada; in fact Canada only had one option for the 70 Series; the BJ70LV-MRK.
There were five engine options and three transmission options to pick from. The standard engine was the Toyota 3B, a 3.4 liter inline 4 diesel engine that made 97 hp. Trucks with this engine were called BJ70s, BJ73s, and BJ75s. The 3B was the only engine offered in Japan and Canada at this time. A step above the 3B was the 2H diesel, a 4 liter inline 6 making 113 hp. The 2H was only available for the J75 heavy duty model, and only in the Australian and “General” markets. Trucks with this engine were called HJ75s. The third and final diesel engine available was the 2L, a 2.4 liter inline 4 making around 80 hp. Only the J70 could be optioned with this engine, and only in European and General markets. With this engine, the vehicle was called LJ70.
Two gasoline engines were available. The 22R was the smaller of the two; it was a 2.4 liter inline 4, the power output of which is not certain, but was in the range of 90 hp. The 22R was only available for the J70, though not in Japan or Canada. With this engine, the vehicle was called RJ70. Finally, the most powerful engine was the 3F, a 4 liter inline 6 making a whopping 153 hp. This engine was an option for all three models in the Australian, Middle Eastern, and General markets as the HJ70, HJ73, and HJ75.
By far the most common transmission option was a 5-speed manual; this was the only option offered in Japan, Australia, Canada, and Europe. A 4-speed manual was offered in the General markets; and a 4-speed automatic was available in a few models in the Middle East and in left hand drive General markets.
The standard model BJ70V-MR weighed 1,750 kg (3,858 lb) (-10 kg (22 lb) for the soft-top version), measured 3.975 m (13 ft) long bumper to bumper, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, 1.895 m (6 ft 3 in) tall (+10 mm for the soft top version), and had a wheelbase of 2.310 m (7 ft 7 in). The BJ70V-MN (higher trim package) was slightly longer, at 4.235 m (13 ft 11 in), due to having a front winch, as well as 20 kg (44 lb) heavier.
The BJ73V-MR weighed 1,800 kg (3,968 lb), measured 4.265 m (14 ft) bumper to bumper, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, 1.940 m (6 ft 4 in) tall, and had a wheelbase of 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in). Like the BJ70, the MN version of the BJ73 was longer, 4.525 m (14 ft 10 in), and heavier due to having a winch; it was also 25 mm lower. Wheel track for all versions was 1.420 m (4 ft 8 in). Optional extras for the Japanese market included climate control, a CB radio, Land Cruiser branded seat upholstery, a Land Cruiser branded spare tire cover, a roof rack, rear window curtains (BJ73 only), and a footrest in the driver’s well.
The heavy duty HJ75RP-MRQ weighed 1,755 kg (3,869 lb), measured 4.875 m (16 ft) long, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, 1.935 m (6 ft 4 in) tall, and had a wheelbase of 2.980 m (9 ft 9 in).
November 1984 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup:
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
The first revision to the 70 Series lineup came in October 1985. The FJ75RP-MR, LJ70L-MRW, LJ70LV-MRW, LJ70RV-MR, and HJ75RP-MR were discontinued. 19 new models were added, including the first J71s and J74s, the first 70 Series powered by a 13B-T engine, the first 70 Series powered by a 2L-T engine, the first 70 Series with a turbocharger, and the first model specifically made for South Africa.
The BJ71 and BJ74 were essentially the BJ70 and BJ73 powered by the 13B-T turbodiesel engine. The 13B-T was based on the same block as the 3B that powered the normal BJ70, but with a turbocharger that increased the power output to 120 hp. The BJ71 was introduced in the Japanese and European markets, and the B74 in the Australian market. The BJ71 and BJ73 were the first 70 Series to bring an automatic transmission to the Japanese and Australian markets. October 1985 also marked the first time a 70 Series with the 2L-series engine was available in Australia and in Japan. The 2L engine being used in this generation was the 2L-T, a 2L with a turbocharger that increased the power output by about 10 hp, giving around 90 hp total. Introduced in Japan only, the new LJ71G-MEX (lower, SX5 trim level) and LJ71G-MNX (higher, LX5 trim level) models represented a new lineage that was called the “Light Land Cruiser”, the Land Cruiser II, Toyota Bundera, and finally Land Cruiser Prado. As it would finally come to be known, the Prado was a more comfort-oriented version of the J70. It had a smoother front grille and coil spring suspension rather than heavy duty leaf springs. Despite having nearly the same body as the J70, due to its purpose, the LJ71 was given the suffix “G”, denoting a 3 door family wagon; while the J70 had the suffix “V”, denoting a 2 door work van.
For the first time, the trim levels of the 70 Series were now given names. As already mentioned, SX5 and LX5 were the trim options for the LJ71G. For the main line 70 Series, the base models were given the unfortunate designation “STD”, meaning Standard, and the higher trim options were given the name LX.
October 1985 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup New Additions:
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
In August 1986, 23 models were discontinued: BJ70LV-MRK, BJ71LV-MRXW, BJ73RV-MRQ, BJ74RV-MRXQ, BJ74RV-PRXQ, BJ75RP-KR3, RJ70L-MR, RJ70RV-MRQ, RJ73LV-MRW, FJ70R-KR, FJ70L-PR, FJ70LV-PR, FJ70LV-PRV, FJ73LV-MR, FJ73LV-MRV, FJ73RV-MRQ, FJ73LV-PRV, FJ73RV-PRQ, FJ75LP-KR3, LJ70LV-MRX, LJ70RV-MRX, LJ70RV-MRXQ, and LJ73LV-MRXW.
As the only Canadian model, the BJ70LV-MRK, was retired, a new one was introduced to replace it — BJ70LV-MNK. These were the only two 70 Series models made specifically for the Canadian market. Besides the BJ70LV-MNK, 46 other new models were introduced. There is not that much notable change; primarily it was phasing out unpopular models and introducing new options that were hoped to be popular in a given region. The one change worth mentioning, however, is the introduction of the VX trim package. VX was the new highest trim level; 16 of the new models were VX trim. VX trim was only applied to the J70, J73, and J74. It is denoted by the letter “E” in the extension code.
August 1986 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup New Additions:
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
One month later, in September 1986, the BJ71LV-MNXW model was introduced to the European market. Some time later 1986, production of the 70 Series was started by Toyota de Venezuela in Cumaná, Venezuela. Models from the Venezuelan plant went on sale in South America in 1987.
In August 1987, the Canadian BJ70LV-MNK was retired for good. In September, the BJ75LP-MRV was introduced to the Middle Eastern market, and the LJ70LV-MEXW was introduced to the European market. In January of 1988, the LJ70RV-MEXW was introduced to the European market as well.
In 1987, carrying over into 1988, there was a very small production run of the BJ74 modified to have four doors. At the request of the Toyota dealer in Nagoya, Japan, a run of BJ74 chassis were fitted with BJ70 cabins specially lengthened to add a second set of doors. The success and demand for this model would prompt Toyota to release the first true 4 door 70 Series two years later.
August 1988 saw the retirement of 28 more 1984 and 1986 models; BJ70L-KR, BJ70LV-KN, BJ70RV-MR, BJ70RV-MRW, BJ70LV-MNW, BJ74RV-PEXQ, BJ75LP-MRW3, RJ70L-MRV, RJ70R-MRQ, RJ70LV-MRV, RJ70LV-MRW, RJ70LV-KN, RJ70RV-KN, RJ70LV-MEV, RJ70RV-MEQ, FJ70L-KR, FJ70L-MRV, FJ70RV-MR, FJ70LV-KN, FJ70LV-PEV, FJ73L-KR, FJ73RV-MEQ, FJ73LV-PEV, FJ73RV-PEQ, LJ70R-KR, LJ70LV-KN, LJ70RV-KN, and LJ70RV-MEXQ. These were primarily European, Middle Eastern, and Australian models. In December 1988, the RJ70LV-MNEW and RJ73LV-MNEW were added to the European market lineup.
In January 1990, the 70 Series lineup underwent its first major overhaul. 52 models were discontinued and 49 models, primarily those of the General left hand drive market, were retained. 40 new mdels were added. The Toyota 3B engine that powered the majority of the 70 Series range was retired (though it continued to be used in the BJ73LV-MPW until February 1994) and was replaced with te new 1PZ, 3.5 liter inline 5, making 113 hp. Likewise, the 13B-T engine of the J71 and J74 was exchanged for the new 1HZ, 4.2 liter inline 6 diesel, making 133 hp. Both the 1PZ and the 1HZ could power the J70, J73, and J75, depending on the customer’s preference. In Japan, the J70 only had the option of the 1PZ, and the J73 only had the option of the 1HZ. In Australia, you could not get the J75 with the 1PZ; in Europe, the opposite was true, all models were available except the HZJ75. The HZJ75 was the only new engine option given to the Middle East market. No new engine options were given to the South African market. The HZJ70 and HZJ73 were not available on the General markets, nor was the PZJ73 available in General left hand drive. The General markets were the only markets to continue to use the 4-speed manual transmission; all other markets were now limited to the 5-speed manual, with the occasional automatic. VX level trim was rebranded to ZX; it was now only available on the medium and medium-long wheelbase models (J73 and J74, and later J76 and J77). The 2H engine and HJ75 range that it powered were also discontinued at this time, except for the South African HJ75RP-MRN, which continued on until August 1991.
The Middle Eastern market was renamed to the GCC market. GCC stands for Gulf Cooperation Council; the GCC is an economic union of 6 countries on the Arabian Peninsula that was formed in 1981. The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. This was a change in name only and was likely an effort by Toyota to not be seen selling vehicles to the controversial countries of Iran and Iraq, though Toyota did have some dealings with Iraq both before and after this change.
The base model, PZJ70-MRS, gained only 10 kg (22 lb) in this generation, with the step up to PZJ70V-MRS being another 10 kg, and the step to PZJ70V-MNS being yet again 10 kg. The HZJ73 model, however, was quite a deal heavier than the old BJ73. Depending on model, the HZJ73 ranged between 1,960 and 2,020 kg (4,321 to 4,453 lb).
Dimensions for the PZJ70 were the same as those for the old BJ70, with the exception of the -MNS being noticeably less tall, at 1.885 m (6 ft 2 in). The new ZX level HZJ73 was considerably larger than the BJ73. It measured 4.455 m (14 ft 7 in) long bumper to bumper, 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, 1.950 m (6 ft 5 in) tall (+20 mm for the HV model), yet it retained the same wheelbase as the old model — 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in). Optional extras for the Japanese market included climate control, a front bullbar as well as optional lights for it, a Land Cruiser branded spare tire cover, a roof rack for skis, a rear ladder, side decals- either a zig-zag stripe or the word “Cruising”, and curtains for the rear windows (J73 only).
n, and was the only one offered with an automatic transmission. The HZJ77 was also bigger than the PZJ77, and was billed as the 70 Series “wide body”. The HZJ77 came exclusively in ZX trim; the PZJ77 and all other J77s came in STD and LX trim. The PZJ77 in standard trim weighed 1,920 kg (4.233 lb) and 2,030 (4,475 lb) in LX trim. The HZJ77 weighed either 2,090 or 2,130 kg (4,608 or 4,696 lb) depending on if it had a manual or autom January 1990 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup. Models retained from previous generations marked in bold.
GCC (Middle East)
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
Four months later, in April 1990, two new medium-long (2.730 m, 8 ft 11 in) wheelbase versions of the 70 Series were added to the lineup — the J77 and J79. These were the first of the 70 Series family to have four doors, excepting the special run of BJ74. The J77 used four different engine types: the 2L-T diesel engine was offered in Europe and the General markets; the 22R gasoline engine was offered to the Middle East, and in the General markets; and the new 1PZ and 1HZ were reserved for the Japanese market. The J79 was only given the 2L-T, and it was only sold on the General markets. Strangely, Australia was not given any four door model, despite historically being where the Land Cruiser sold best.
In Japan, the 1HZ engine was seen as the higher option, and was the only one offered with an automatic transmission. The HZJ77 was also bigger than the PZJ77, and was billed as the 70 Series “wide body”. The HZJ77 came exclusively in ZX trim; the PZJ77 and all other J77s came in STD and LX trim. The PZJ77 in standard trim weighed 1,920 kg (4.233 lb) and 2,030 (4,475 lb) in LX trim. The HZJ77 weighed either 2,090 or 2,130 kg (4,608 or 4,696 lb) depending on if it had a manual or automatic transmission. The PZJ77 measured 4.685 m (15 ft 4 in) long in standard trim and 4.805 m (15 ft 9 in) in LX trim; 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide in either trim, and 1.9 m (6 ft 3 in) tall in either trim. The HZJ77 measured the same as the PZJ77, except that it was instead 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, and 1.935 m (6 ft 4 in) tall.
April 1990 Land Cruiser 70 Series Medium-long Wheelbase Lineup:
GCC (Middle East)
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
At the same time, the “Light” Land Cruiser family was split away into the seperate Toyota Prado. Like the mainline Land Cruiser, a new four door model with a medium-long wheelbase was introduced, the J78. The now-Toyota Prado LJ71G and LJ78G switched to the more modern 2L-TE turbodiesel with electronic fuel injection. Thus the LJ78G became a more “off-roady” version of the Land Cruiser 80 Series that was launched the same year. The Toyota Prado inherited the original LJ71G trim names, while, like the 70 Series, adding a third. These were LX5, SX5, and EX5; only the LJ78 could be had in EX5 level trim. The LX5 package only came with a 5 speed manual transmission, while the SX5 and EX5 had the option for a 4 speed automatic.
The 1990 Prado family ranged from 1,690 kg (3,726 lb) at the lightest, to 1,920 kg (4,233 lb) at the heaviest. The LJ71G models measured 3.945 m (12 ft 11 in) long from the front of the bumper to the spare tire mount, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.895 m tall (6 ft 3 in). Length of the wheelbase was 2.310 m (7 ft 7 in), and the car sat 4 people. The LJ78G models of the Prado measured 4.585 m (15 ft 1 in) long from the front of the bumper to the spare tire mount, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.890 m (6 ft 2 in) tall (+15 mm for the EX models). Length of the wheelbase was 2.730 m (8 ft 11 in), and the car sat 6 people. The turning circle was 5.3 meters (17 ft 5 in) for the short wheelbase models, and 6.1 meters (20 feet) for the medium wheelbase models. Options were generally the same as for the regular 70 Series, but without the rear window curtains. The Toyota Prado was sold exclusively to the Japanese market.
April 1990 Land Cruiser Prado Lineup:
Also added for this generation only was the J72. The J72 was a short wheelbase model that only saw production from April 1990 to May 1993, with the hardtop KR models lasting until April 1996. The J72 was externally identical to the J70 and J71, the difference being the engine. The J72 was the only 70 Series to use the Toyota 3L engine; a 2.8 liter inline 4 making around 90 hp.
April 1990 Land Cruiser J72 Lineup:
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
In May 1990, the HZJ73V-MES was added to the Japanese lineup, giving them a minitruck version of the HZJ73HV. In June, the FJ75-MR3 was launched: the first J75 to be sold in Japan. The FJ75-MR3, the “3” portion of the name signifying that it was sold as just a chassis and cabin, was distributed in Japan for specialty companies to build firetrucks on the basis of.
In January 1991, the Australian market RJ70RV-MNQ was discontinued — the last RJ to be sold in Australia. A minor changeup came in August: 10 old models were retired and 6 new models introduced. FJ73RV-MNQ, HZJ73RV-MNQ, HZJ73RV-MNQ, PZJ70RV-MRQ, and PZJ73RV-MNQ from the Australian market were axed. In the South African market, the old HJ75RP-MRN (the last 2H-powered 70 Series) was retired and replaced by the HZJ75RP-MRN. In Japan (HZJ73V-MES, HZJ73HV-MES) and Europe (PZJ70LV-MRW, PZJ73LV-MRW), two models each were phased out. Besides the South African pickup, the other new models were for the Japanese market. HZJ73V-MEU and HZJ73V-PEU replaced the old HZJ73V-MES while now offering an automatic option. LJ78W-MGT and LJ78W-PGT represented a new widebody range for the medium-long wheelbase Prado. PZJ77V-MNU was also added.
Just five months later, in January 1992, came the next major revision for the 70 Series. 26 models were discontinued, primarily FJ’s coming from the Middle Eastern and General markets: RJ70RV-KR, FJ70L-MR, FJ70LV-KR, FJ70RV-KR, FJ70LV-MRV, FJ70LV-PN, FJ70LV-MNV, FJ73L-MRV, FJ73LV-MN, FJ73LV-MNV, FJ73LV-PNV, FJ75LP-KR, FJ75RP-KR, FJ75RP-KR3, FJ75LP-MR, FJ75RP-MR3, FJ75RP-MRN, FJ75LP-MRV, FJ75LP-MNV, FJ75LV-KR, FJ75RV-KR, FJ75LV-MRV, LJ70LV-MNX, HZJ75RP-KR, HZJ75RP-KR3, and HZJ75LV-KR.
The above listed FJ models were discontinued as the start of the shift to the new 1FZ engine from the old 3F engine. The 1FZ was a 4.5 liter inline 6 that made around 190 hp, a 40 hp increase over the 3F. This shift would be completed with the changes in August.
January 1992 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup New Additions:
GCC (Middle East)
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
In August, the last of the remaining FJs were phased out, along with the narrowbody Prado EX5s, and the PZJ75 pickups in the European market: FJ70LV-MR, FJ70RV-MRQ, FJ70LV-MN, FJ73L-MR, FJ75-MR3, FJ75LP-MR3, FJ75RP-MRQ3, FJ75LV-MR, FJ75RV-MRQ, LJ70RV-MNXQ, LJ78G-MGT, LJ78G-PGT, PZJ75LP-MRW, and PZJ75LV-MRW. The PZJ75s in Europe were replaced with the HZJ75LP-MRW and HZJ75LV-MRW. With the success of the widebody Prado in Japan, two new SX5 trim models were added, LJ78W-MET and LJ78W-PET. Finally, 5 new FZJ models were added to the Australian market to replace the FJs: HZJ75RV-MNQ, FZJ70RV-MRKQ, FZJ75RP-MRKQ3, FZJ75RV-MRKQ, and FZJ75RV-MNKQ. In December, the HZJ75-MRU3 was introduced in Japan to replace the FJ75-MR3, retired in August, as the specialty fire engine chassis.
Another adjustment was done in May 1993. A large portion of the European models were dropped from the range: RJ70LV-MNW, LJ70L-MRXW, LJ70LV-MRXW, LJ70RV-MNXW, LJ70RV-MEXW, LJ73LV-MEXW, LJ77LV-MNXW; three of the five LJ72 models were retired: LJ72L-KR, LJ72LV-MR, LJ72LV-MN; and the LJ77LV-MNX and LJ77RV-MNX were pulled from the General markets.
In Japan, 1993 was a major year for the Toyota Prado. All of the first generation Prado models were retired: LJ71G-MET, LJ71G-MNT, LJ71G-PET, LJ78G-MNT, LJ78G-MET, LJ78G-PET, LJ78W-MET, LJ78W-PET, LJ78W-MGT and LJ78W-PGT. Replacing them was an entire range of models, both Prados and main line Land Cruisers, that were powered with the 1KZ engine. The 1KZ, or to be more precise, the 1KZ-TE, was an inline 4 diesel engine of 3 liter displacement that put out 125 hp. This was a major step up from the old 2L engine that had carried the LJ70 family through three iterations, and seemed to have met its limit just shy of 100 hp. The KZJ70 range had an extremely neat run; 24 models that all ran from May 1993 to April 1996. The KZJ70, KZJ73, and KZJ77 were available in the European and General markets, and, as had always been the case, the KZJ71 and KZJ78 were only available in Japan. All KZJ’s had the 5-speed manual transmission, Japan being the only market where an automatic option was available. KZJs in European and General markets were sold with 1KZ-T engines, those sold in Japan had 1KZ-TE engines. The 1KZ-TE, with electronic fuel injection, increased the power output by another 20 hp.
May 1993 Land Cruiser KZJ70 Series Lineup:
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
May 1993 Land Cruiser Prado Lineup:
The next change for the 70 Series came swiftly, in January 1994. The 1PZ engine was retired due to emissions regulations and the fact that it produced insufficient torque. Among a few other models, all but one PZJ70 was retired (the PZJ75RP-MR3 would hang on for another year): RJ70L-KR, HZJ73V-MEU, HZJ73V-PEU, PZJ70-MRS, PZJ70R-KR, PZJ70LV-KR, PZJ70RV-KR, PZJ70LV-MR, PZJ70V-MRS, PZJ70LV-MN, PZJ70V-MNS, PZJ73R-KR, PZJ75LP-KR, PZJ75RP-KR, PZJ75LP-KR3, PZJ75LV-KR, PZJ75RV-KR, PZJ77V-MRS, PZJ77V-MNS, PZJ77V-MNU, and PZJ77HV-MNU. With the passing of the 1PZ, the lineup of trucks with the 1HZ engine was bolstered, primarily in Japan, as it was now, along with the 1FZ, the backbone of the 70 Series, with few exceptions.
The HZJ70 of this generation weighed between 1,850 and 2,000 kg (4,079 and 4,409 lb) depending on model. They measured 4.045 m (13 ft 3 in) long (4.165 m (13 ft 8 in) for the HZJ70V-MNU, due to its winch), 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.895 m (6 ft 3 in) tall (1.885 m (6 ft 2 in) for the HZJ70V-MNS). All models had a wheelbase of 2.310 m (7 ft 7 in).
The HZJ73 weighed 1,950 kg (4,299 lb) for the LX model, and 2,020 kg (4,453 kg) for the ZX model, with 40 kg (88 lb) extra for the models with automatic rather than manual transmissions. The HZJ73V-MNU was an exception, it weighed 2,030 kg (4,475 lb). The LX trim HZJ73s measured 4.335 m (14 ft 3 in) long (4.455 m (14 ft 7 in) for the HZJ73V-MNU, due to its winch), 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.930 m (6 ft 4 in) tall. The ZX models were 20 mm taller, and shared the same length as the -MNU; they were also wider, 1.790 m. All models had a wheelbase of 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in).
The HZJ77 weighed 2,000 kg (4,409 lb) for the HZJ77V-MNU, 2,080 kg (4,586 lb) for the HZJ77HV-MNU, and 2,090 kg (4,608 lb) for the HZJ77HV-MEU. Their respective automatic versions, HZJ77V-PNU, HZJ77HV-PNU, and HZJ77HV-PEU, were each 40 kg (88 kg) heavier. The HZJ77V models were 4.685 m (15 ft 4 in) long, while the HZJ77HV models were 4.805 m (15 ft 9 in) long. LX models were 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide and 1.9 m (6 ft 3 in) tall. ZX models were 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide and 1.935 m (6 ft 4 in) tall. All models had a wheelbase of 2.730 m (8 ft 11 in).
January 1994 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup, excluding KZJ models. Models retained from previous generations marked in bold.
GCC (Middle East)
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
In February 1994, the very last 3B-powered 70 Series, the BJ73LV-MPW, which had managed to hang on in Europe, was rescinded from sale. In August, the last LJ73, LJ73LV-MNXW, was also retired.
In January 1995, the PZJ75RP-MR3, the last 1PZ-powered 70 Series, was pulled from the General right hand drive market. The last LJ70s, LJ70LV-MNXW and LJ70LV-MEXW were retired, along with the HZJ70RV-MRQ, FZJ70L-MRU, FZJ70RV-MRKQ, and FZJ75RP-MRU3. At this time, in Japan, a new Land Cruiser 70 Series, depending on the model, ranged in price from 2,345,000 yen (HZJ70-MNS) to 3,071,000 yen (HZJ77HV-PEU). Adjusted for inflation and converted to USD, this is 22,026 to 28,846 dollars (2019).
In April 1996, 39 models were retired. This included all remaining RJs, all remaining LJs, and all KZJs. With the retirement of the KZJ71/78, the Toyota Prado at this time became its own unique model. In May, the Prado emerged as the J90, and as such will no longer be covered under the scope of this article. In August, the ‘S’ models of the HZJ in Japan (HZJ70-MNS, HZJ70V-MNS, HZJ73V-MNS) were retired. HZJ70-MNU was introduced to retain a soft top option.
Sometime around 1997, a very low production version of the HZJ73 was offered in Japan only, known as the PX10. The PX10 was an HZJ73 modified by a third party to superficially resemble the classic Land Cruiser FJ40. Although a commercial flop, this would be the first step on the path to the Toyota FJ Cruiser.
In September 1997, FZJ73L-MRK and FZJ75LP-MRK3 were introduced to the General left hand drive market; these were the first FZJs outside of Australia that were sold with electronic fuel injection. 1998 was the first year in which no changes were made to the 70 Series.
August 1999 brought the greatest amount of change to the 70 Series in its history. 51 models were retired, and 47 new models created, effectively cycling the entire lineup. Among the new models introduced, 29 were HZJs and 18 were FZJs. The entirety of the old 70 Series range was cut except for four models; HZJ75RP-MRN from the South African market, FZJ73L-MRK and FZJ75LP-MRK3 from the left hand drive General market, and HZJ70R-MR from the right hand drive General market. The J70 and J77 were phased out, the J71 and J74 were resurrected, and the family was joined by a new medium-long wheelbase model — the J76. The J79 was redesigned and was now the heavy duty pickup truck option, and J78 was the ‘troop carrier’ option (not military troop carriers, rather small buses). J71, J74, and J76 were the conventional wagon Land Cruisers, of increasing wheelbase length.
The front suspension of all models was changed from leaf springs to a live axle on coil springs to reduce understeer. The wheels were changed from having 6 lugs to only 5, and the interior was redesigned. The 1HZ engine was downrated from 133 hp to 128 hp, though it is not clear if this was a difference in tuning to reduce wear, a difference in construction, or just an adjustment in the paperwork to be more precise. All FZJ models from this point onward now used the more modern 1FZ-FE engine.
The HZJ71 models remained dimensionally unchanged from the previous generation’s HZJ70s. The soft top model weighed 1,920 kg (4,233 lb), and the hardtop 10 kg (22 lb) more than that. Height was still 1.895 m (6 ft 3 in), with the soft top model being 10 mm taller, as it had been since the beginning of the 70 Series. Wheelbase lengths remained the same as the previous generation, with the J71 being 2.310 m (7 ft 7 in), the J74 being 2.6 m (8 ft 6 in), and the J76 being 2.730 m (8 ft 11 in).
The HZJ74 models in LX trim weighed 2,010 kg (4,431 lb) (+40 kg (88 lb) for automatic transmission) and measured 4.335 m (14 ft 3 in) long, 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide, and 1.940 m (6 ft 4 in) tall. In ZX trim, they weighed 2,040 kg (4,497 lb) (+40 kg (88 lb) for automatic transmission) and measured 4.455 m (14 ft 7 in) long, 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, and 1.950 m (6 ft 5 in) tall. The HZJ76 models weighed 2,070 kg (4,564 lb) for the HZJ76V, 2,150 kg (4,740 lb) for the HZJ76K in LX trim, and 2,120 kg (4,674 lb) for the HZJ76K in ZX trim, with the respective automatic models each 40 kg (88 lb) heavier. The J76 measured 4.835 m (15 ft 10 in) long (4.685 m (15 ft 4 in) for the HZJ76Vs), 1.690 m (5 ft 7 in) wide for the LX models and 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) for the ZX models, and 1.910 m (6 ft 3 in) tall for the LX models and 1.935 m (6 ft 4 in) for the ZX models.
In Japan and Europe, only diesel-engined HZJ models were sold. Australia and the right hand drive General market were primarily given diesel models; while the left hand drive General market and the Middle East greatly favored gasoline FZJ models. Somewhat oddly, the Australian market, which historically has always been a guaranteed sale for the Land Cruiser, was only given the option of heavy duty models at this time. August 1999 was the last major overhaul for the Land Cruiser 70 Series. Some of the models introduced at this time are still in production today!
Also at this time, a slight change was made to the 70 Series chassis codes. Two letters were added to the front of the extension code: KJ, FJ/RK, RJ, or TJ. KJ represents a soft top wagon; RK represents a hardtop wagon; FJ also represents a hardtop wagon, but only as the J74 model; RJ represents a troop carrier, and TJ represents a pickup.
August 1999 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup. Models retained from previous generations marked in bold.
GCC (Middle East)
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
In September 1999, three more models were added to the left hand drive General market: FZJ70LV-MRK, FZJ70LV-MNK, and FZJ75LV-MRK. In November, the last South African market 70 Series, HZJ75RP-MRN, was retired; at the same time, the HZJ79-TJMRS3 was introduced in Japan to replace the HZJ75-MRU3, retired in August, as the specialty fire engine chassis.
In August of 2000, the last HZJ70 and HZJ75, HZJ70R-MR and HZJ75RP-MR, were retired. In June 2001, the FZJ75LV-MRK, as well as the last FZJ70s, FZJ70LV-MRK and FZJ70LV-MNK, were retired as well. In August, HZJ71L-RJMNSW, HZJ74L-FJMNSW, HZJ78L-RJMRSW, HZJ78R-RJMNSQ, HZJ79L-TJMRSW, and HZJ79R-TJMRSQ were retired and the European market was closed, meaning this was the last generation of the 70 Series to be sold there.
A small new range was added to the Australian market: HDJ78 and 79. The HDJ range consisted of four models, two troop carriers (HDJ78R-RJMRZQ and HDJ78R-RJMNZQ) and two pickups (HDJ79R-TJMRZQ3 and HDJ79R-TJMNZQ3). The only difference between the two of each was that one was an STD model and the other an LX trim model. The HDJ was powered by the 1HD-FTE, a turbocharged, fuel injected inline 6 of 4.2 liters displacement, making 163 hp. The HDJ models would only last until 2007.
In Japan in 2002, a new Land Cruiser 70 Series cost between 2,426,000 and 3,087,000 yen (22,214 to 28,266 US dollars in 2019), up only a very small amount from 1995.
2004 saw the most recent downsizing of the 70 Series. In May, the last FZJ73, the FZJ73L-MRK, and the last FZJ75, the FZJ75LP-MRK3, were phased out. In August, the last 70 Series sold in Japan were taken off the market; these were the last HZJ71, HZJ74, and HZJ76 models. The HZJ79-TJMRS3 model was also retired, though the HZJ79 in general endures. In May 2006, the last 1FZ-engine Land Cruisers were taken off the Australian market: FZJ78R-RJMRKQ and FZJ79R-TJMRKQ3.
January 2007 marked the last notable change in the 70 Series lineup before the modern period, when the range has been kept very much reduced compared to its glory days.
The four FZJ74 models were discontinued, as well as the FZJ78L-RJMRKV, HZJ78R-RJMRSQ, and HZJ79R-TJMRSQ3. The short-lived HDJ range was replaced with the VDJ range, powered by the 1VD-FTV 4.5 liter V8 diesel, making 200 hp. This is the first V8 engine put in the 70 Series. The VDJ range consists of the VDJ76 wagon, two VDJ78 troop carriers (STD and LX trim), and two VDJ79 pickups (also STD and LX trim versions). A handful of other models were introduced to the other surviving markets — General and the Middle East — at this time as well. Externally, the 70 Series was given a facelift; the grille was redesigned and the headlights and indicators were made less angular and given a more “modern” look as they curved into the redesigned side body panels.
January 2007 Land Cruiser 70 Series Lineup. Models retained from previous generations marked in bold.
GCC (Middle East)
General Left Hand Drive Markets
General Right Hand Drive Markets
These 13 HZJ and 5 VDJ models remain in production today. Although they have been tweaked and improved, specialized moreso to their respective markets than any previous generation, they retain these same chassis numbers.
In a speech on December 23rd, 2009, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened to expel major automotive manufacturers, primarily Toyota, from Venezuela and replace them with Russian and Chinese makers if they did not “share their technologies” with Venezuelan industries. He put specific emphasis on Toyota, telling them to “get out” if they could not produce the rugged, simplistic work vehicles they were known for in sufficient numbers required by the government. It is reported that there was not much change during Venezuelan production of the 70 Series. The engine was only changed three times from 1986 to 2009. The medium wheelbase models were never built or sold in Venezuela, only the J70, J71, J75, J78, and J79.
It was around this time, 2007 to 2012, that the 70 Series was also given a new engine for the South American and Middle Eastern markets. In those markets, which prefer gasoline over diesel engines, the 1GE-FE replaced the 1FZ-FE. The 1GR-FE is a 4 liter V6 gasoline engine that makes a maximum of 228 hp, and 266 lb-ft of torque. The 1GR used in the 70 Series has dual variable valve timing, while other models of the engine only have singular. This engine gave the 70 Series a rather poor fuel economy of 6.6 km/l (15.5 mpg). It seems the FZJ went out of production with the coming of the GZJ, but the author has not been able to find any documentation concerning this point in time. In 2009, driver’s and passenger’s airbags were made a standard option, and in 2012 so were anti-lock brakes.
At some point, the different markets adopted their own trim names. For Australia, the standard model became the WorkMate, the LX became GX, and VX/ZX became GXL. The notable visual difference of the GXL is the flared wheel arches and alloy wheels. The single cab pickup and “WorkMate” troop carrier seat 2 people, while the double cap pickup, wagon, and GXL troop carrier seat 5. The WorkMate and GX models come with vinyl interiors, while the GXL has fabric. 7 color options are available: french vanilla, silver pearl, graphite, Merlot red, “vintage” gold, sandy taupe (grey-brown), and midnight blue. Optional extras include two types of roof rack, a different grill design, extra headlights, seat covers and floor mats, rain guards for the doors, a tow hitch, a sun visor, a hood bug shield, headlight covers, two types of bullbars and extensions for the bullbar that run down the sides, and a winch.
Spurred by interest from mining and construction users for a model that was able to carry more people, like the wagon, while retaining the bed from the pickup, the double cab 70 Series was launched in September 2012. In Australia, it was available in the base model WorkMate, and top of the range GXL models, at 63,990 AUD and 67,990 AUD respectively. The double cab was also sold in the Middle East and South Africa, marking the return of a market-specific 70 Series model for the latter. The two letter code at the beginning of the chassis extension code for the double cab is DK.
In South Africa, the single and double cab J79 pickups are available with one of three engine options; 1VD-FTV, 1HZ, and 1GR-FE. The 1HZ engine used in South African trucks is equipped with an Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system, which feeds some exhaust back into the engine to decrease emissions. This has decreased the power output of the 1HZ from 133 hp to 126 hp. The only other option available in South Africa is the VDJ76 wagon.
On August 25th, 2014, the 70 Series made a return to the Japanese market for one year as a special 30th Anniversary Edition model. For the Anniversary models, the 1GR-FE engine was used. The transmission was again limited to the 5-speed manual that the Japanese market 70 Series always had. Two models were available: the GRJ76K-RKMNK 4 door van, and GRJ79K-DKMNK double cab pickup. The double cab pickup had a suggested retail price of 3,500,000 yen (31,616 USD) and the wagon 3,600,000 yen (32,519 USD). Anniversary Edition 70 Series were made in Toyota’s Yoshiwara plant, in Toyota City, southwest of Tokyo. Dimensions of these models are, for the van: 4.810 m long (15 ft 9 in) (+40 mm for winch option), 1.870 m (6 ft 2 in) wide, 1.920 m (6 ft 4 in) tall, wheelbase of 2.7 m (8 ft 10 in). For the pickup: 5.270 m (17 ft 2 in) long (+40 mm for winch option), 1.770 m wide (5 ft 10 in), 1.950 m tall (6 ft 5 in), wheelbase of 3.180 m (10 ft 5 in).
In 2015, Salvador Caetano, a vehicle manufacturer and ally of Toyota based in Ovar, Portugal, announced they would be switching licensed production from Toyota Dyna trucks to the Toyota 70 Series, on account of the former no longer being compliant with coming Euro 6 emissions regulations. As the 70 Series is also non-compliant with European laws, Salvador Caetano would be building them specifically for the African market — Morocco in particular. Salvador Caetano projected it would produce 1,257 70 Series units in 2015 as it switched over from the Dyna.
For the 2017 Australian model, which went on sale in September 2016, the 70 Series was extensively reworked. For the single cab pickup, the side rails of the ladder chassis were thickened and the chassis in general was stiffened. It was given curtain shield airbags (which block shattered glass from the windows) and driver’s knee airbags, bringing the total number of airbags up to five and earning it a 5-star NCAP safety rating in Australia. The double cab pickup, wagon, and troop carrier models did not receive the same changes as the single cab, though all models were given a myriad of modern electronic functions, including electronic stability control, traction control, hill start assist, electronic brakeforce distribution, a trailer sway control mechanism, and brake assist. Cruise control now came as standard. An A-pillar mounted snorkel that allows for deep wading also now came as standard on all models. The engine was given new piezoelectric injectors and a filter was fitted to the exhaust to allow the 1VD engine to meet Euro 5 emissions standards. The transmission’s 2nd and 5th gears were made taller, for better economy cruising. The 70 Series gets an impressive (for its class) 9.35 km/l (22 mpg). The single cab has a 130 liter (34 gallon) fuel tank, while the other models carry 180 liters (47.5 gallons). Towing capacity is 3,500 kg (7,716 lb) for all models. These improvements came with a price however — an increase of 5,500 AUD for the single cab, and 3,000 AUD for the other models of the range. In 2017, the price for the Australian 70 Series ranged from 62,490 AUD to 68,990 AUD.
In terms of dimensions, the modern Australian 70 Series pickup measures 5.220 m (17 ft 2 in) long (5.230 m for the single cab GXL), 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide for the WorkMate models and 1.870 m (6 ft 2 in) wide for the GX and GXL models, and 1.970 m (6 ft 6 in) in height for the WorkMate single cab, 1.960 m (6 ft 5.2 in) for the WorkMate double cab, 1.955 m (6 ft 5 in) for the single cab GX/GXL, and 1.945 m (6 ft 4.6 in) for the double cab GXL. The WorkMate model wagon measures 4.870 m (16 ft) long, 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, and 1.955 m (6 ft 5 in) tall; while the GXL wagon measures 4.910 m (16 ft 1 in) long, 1.870 m (6 ft 2 in) wide, and 1.940 m (6 ft 4 in) tall. The troop carrier measures 5.210 m (17 ft 1 in) long (5.220 for the GXL), 1.790 m (5 ft 10 in) wide, and 2.115 m (6 ft 11 in) tall. The pickup models have a wheelbase of 3.180 m (10 ft 5 in); the wagon a wheelbase of 2.730 m (8 ft 11 in); and the troop carrier a wheelbase of 2.980 m (9 ft 9 in). Ground clearance across the range is 230 or 235 mm (9 or 9.25 in). Weights range between 2,165 kg (4,773 lb) and 2,325 kg (5,126 lb).
Despite the 70 Series’ importance, it would be largely overshadowed for much of its life by the 60 and later 80 Series SUVs, which appealed more to families on account of their comfort, as opposed to the 70 Series’ work truck demeanor. The 70 Series has never been offered for sale in the United States, and has been out of sale in Europe since the 1990s due to stricter emissions laws there. Its regular sale was discontinued in Japan in 2004, but it continued to be marketed in more rugged regions of the world, particularly Australia. While the 80 Series has since been discontinued, along with the 100 Series that followed it, the 70 Series has endured, and remains in production in Venezuela, Portugal, and of course, Japan.
In addition to standard work truck, off-roading, and people-moving uses, the 70 Series has lent itself to more specialized fields as well. Modified trucks have competed in off-road competitions such as the Australian Outback Challenge. They have been outfitted as television broadcast test trucks, armored cash transport cars, game viewer safari trucks, ambulances, police cars, camper vans, long-range and arctic exploration vehicles, curtain side transports, and war machines.
The year is 1987; the prolonged conflict between the African countries of Chad and Libya has been ongoing for more than 8 years. On the morning of January 2nd, dust clouds rose above the Sahara Desert; a recently reunified, re-equipped, and motivated Chadian army was on a high-speed flanking maneuver against entrenched Libyan tanks. Their chosen mount, the Land Cruiser. The Toyota War had begun.
The Republic of Chad is a large country in the dead center of Africa. Chad was originally a French colony that gained independence in 1960 under François Tombalbaye. Tombalbaye gradually came to be hated for his authoritarianism, and for his forced attempt to “re-Africanize” Chad, which involved trying to stamp out Christianity in the South, where it was practiced by Frenchmen and Chadian converts, and convert the nation back to traditional African religion. His mismanagement of the country led to the Muslim north fracturing into liberation groups, inspired and backed by those in Libya, which started the 1st Chadian Civil War and resulted in Tombalbaye’s deposition in 1975. After Tombalbaye’s death, the military that overthrew him set up a provisional government led by Félix Malloum. Despite the best efforts of the interim government to run the country, the civil war only intensified, with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi fanning the flames.
Libya first had men in Chad in 1969, when Gaddafi claimed the Aouzou Strip, an area of land that comprises Chad’s border with Libya. The Aouzou Strip is said to be rich in Uranium, which Gaddafi wanted for nuclear weapons. François Tombalbaye was poised to sell it to him before his death.
Acronyms to know:
FROLINAT (Front de Libération Nationale du Tchad) – National Liberation Front of Chad, most successful rebel group, backed by Libya
FAT (Forces Armées Tchadiennes) – Chadian Armed Forces, traditional military of Chad
FAN (Forces Armées du Nord) – Armed Forces of the North, FROLINAT units that remained loyal to Hissène Habré
FAP (Forces Armées Populaires) – People’s Armed Forces, FROLINAT units that remained loyal to Goukouni Oueddei, made up largest section of GUNT
FANT (Forces Armées Nationales Tchadiennes) – Chadian National Armed Forces, combined FAT and FAN under Hissène Habré
GUNT (Gouvernement d’Union Nationale de Transition) – Transitional Government of National Unity, successful government formed out of FROLINAT, backed by Libya
Gaddafi backed the Chadian rebel groups, particularly FROLINAT, with men and weapons, hoping to destabilize Chad for his own gain. This was the start of the 2nd Chadian Civil War, as well as the Chadian-Libyan Conflict which ran concurrently, and which would last for almost 10 years. Libyan forces would be present in Chad off and on from 1978 till 1981, with a final clash in 1986-87. During this time, Chad was still supported by France, despite being an independent country. If it was not for French assistance, Chad likely would have fallen apart.
FROLINAT took over the country in 1979 and replaced the Malloum government with the Transitional Government of National Unity (GUNT), led by Goukouni Oueddei. A short while later, long-time Chadian political leader Hissène Habré, who at different times had been the Prime Minister, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense of Chad, split from Goukouni Oueddei’s GUNT. Habré was exiled to Sudan, only to return to Chad in 1982 with his forces, FAN, and overthrow GUNT. Habré would remain in power until 1990, and sadly was a no better ruler, and in many ways worse, than François Tombalbaye had been.
Although overthrown, GUNT remained active in Chad, and continued to receive support from Libya. As the enemy of GUNT, Habré’s government by default came to be enemies with Libya. The remaining Chadian Army and Habré loyalists were consolidated as FANT, the Chadian National Armed Forces. Fighting continued in 1983 and 1984, with FANT, the French Foreign Legion, the French Air Force, and French airborne units, with some passive assistance from the United States, attempting to defeat Chadian rebels and flush Libyan forces out of northern Chad. In the French military, this was known as Operation Manta.
French efforts resumed in 1986 under Opération Épervier. At this time, GUNT numbered between 4,000 and 5,000 soldiers, and Libyan presence in Chad was an additional 5,000 men. Changes in GUNT’s leadership and loss of morale led to FAP, the largest subgroup of GUNT, changing sides in late 1986. Men of FAP assimilated into FANT, and the war essentially became a united Chad and France against Libya.
In late 1986, FANT forces, under the command of Idriss Déby, began amassing in the Kalait prefecture in the Northeast of Chad. Their target was the town of Fada, occupied by 1,200 Libyan soldiers and 400 men of the CDR, one of the remaining pro-Libyan groups from GUNT. United against a common enemy unlawfully operating on their land, the Chadian Army had the arsenals of France and America at its disposal. The men were fierce fighters, but untrained and primitive. Hissène Habré knew that if given tanks or other advanced weaponry, they would not be able to make effective use of them. What the Chadian soldiers needed were rugged, simple, “fix it with a hammer” weapons. What they needed were Toyota trucks and machine guns.
Chad received hundreds of Toyota Land Cruiser 70s and MILAN anti-tank guided missile launchers from France, and FIM-43 Redeye man-portable surface-to-air missile launchers from the United States. The Libyan Air Force no longer just had to worry about French air support, but Chradian ground fire as well. Besides the MILANs and Redeyes, Chadian forces also had 105 mm M40 Recoilless Rifles and heavy machine guns of both US (.50 cal M2 Browning) and Soviet (12.7 mm DShK) origins.
The combination of wide open desert, four wheel drive trucks, and tribal cavalry tactics created one of the most mobile ground forces in recent memory. The Chadian trucks stuck to no fixed formations, and no set doctrine. They were easily able to outpace Libyan armor, outflank minefields, and outlast their weary enemy. Chadian MILAN teams adopted a shoot-and-scoot tactic whereby they drove to an unexpected firing position, fired on enemy vehicles, and were gone before their enemy could even lay the gun on them.
The turning point in the Chadian-Libyan Conflict came on January 2nd, 1987, when the Chadian forces launched an assault on the Libyan defenses south of Fada. The Libyan army had set up several defensive lines consisting of dug-in T-55 tanks overwatching minefields. To circumvent these defenses, the Chadian trucks repeatedly flanked around the minefields, utilizing their off-road speed. They enveloped the Libyan armor from both sides and destroyed them at close range.
The Libyan army’s morale was at an all-time low when Chad finally struck. Some vehicles fled as soon as the first tank was knocked out. They plainly did not want to be there, and their performance shows this.
The Chadian forces overcame several Libyan defensive lines in the manner described. The final two lines, 10 km (6.2 miles) and 20 km (12.4 miles) outside of Fada respectively, were ordered to fall back to the airfield at Fada, but it was already too late. By noon, the attack that had started just that morning had taken the Libyan airfield and headquarters at Fada, routed the Libyan forces, taken 150 prisoners, and left 700 Libyan soldiers dead. Most of the Libyan command had escaped by air, but many aircraft, vehicles, and soldiers were left behind. Aircraft captured at the Fada airbase include three C-46s, two C-130 Hercules, a DC-4 Transport (Possibly a C-54 Skymaster, but there is no record of the Libyan Air Force operating these, even though they were based in Libya previously), a CASA C-212 Aviocar, two Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainers, and a SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 trainer.
Humiliated and desperate, Gaddafi nearly doubled the number of troops in Libya to 11,000 by March of 1987. A column of armor, consisting of 600 men, was dispatched from Ouadi Doum airbase (also in Chad) with the intention of retaking Fada. Chadian reconnaissance followed the Libyan convoy out from Ouadi Doum and relayed their position to the main force. On the evening of March 18th, after the Libyan troops had set up camp for the night near the village of Bir Kora, the Chadians surrounded them in the darkness. Chadian troops set up ambushes for Libyan armor, Panhard AML-90 armored cars overwatched by MILAN and rocket teams on the hills. At dawn, they launched a small force to one side of the Libyan camp, causing the Libyans to divert all their force toward that side. This left their rear open for the Chadian armed Toyotas to rush in and swarm the Libyan tanks.
A second column of armor, this time with 800 men, was sent out from Ouadi Doum later in the day on March 19th to rescue the Libyan force, only to be surrounded in the night and destroyed in the same way as the first. Between the two engagements, 786 Libyans were killed, 86 tanks were destroyed, and another 13 were captured.
The remains of the Libyan columns fell back to Ouadi Doum with the Chadians following, something the defenders of Ouadi Doum were completely unprepared for. Despite a defending force of 5,000 men, minefields, barbed wire, AA gun emplacements, and tank and AFV support, the Chadian force of 2,500 was relatively easily able to breach the base, splitting their attack in two to simultaneously attack opposite points of Ouadi Doum. Although the Battle of Ouadi Doum lasted for 25 hours from March 22nd to March 23rd, the airbase was all but captured in the first 4 hours. In total, 1,269 Libyans were killed and 438 were captured, including base commander Khalif Abdul Affar. Many were killed when, in panic, they attempted to flee through their own minefields.
54 tanks, including 12 brand new T-62s, 66 BMP-1s, 6 BRDM-2s, 10 BTRs, 8 EE-9 Cascavels, 12 vehicles of the 2K12 Kub system (2P25s and at least one 1S91), 4 9K35 Strela-10s, 4 ZSU-23-4 Shilkas, 18 BM-21 Grads, 92 anti-aircraft guns, over 100 soft skin vehicles, 2 additional SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 Prop Trainers, 11 L-39 Albatros Jet Trainers, and one 1 Mi-25 attack helicopter were all captured at Ouadi Doum. In addition to these vehicles, a great deal of radar equipment that accompanied the 2K12 system was also captured intact.
Three Mi-25s were destroyed in the raid, with a fourth turning out to be salvageable. This Mi-25, the export variant of the Mi-24, was the first “Hind” the west had gotten its hands on, and it was quickly removed to America under Operation Mount Hope III. In the raid, Chad lost 12 trucks and 29 men, killed when they tried to pass through a minefield in the mistaken belief the trucks were too light to set off the mines. Just 58 Chadians were wounded in the action.
With Libya’s forward operating airbase gone, Gaddafi ordered a retreat from Chad. The garrison of 3,000 men at Faya Largeau was the first to pull out. Survivors of Bir Kora and Ouadi Doum, and the men of Faya Largeau retreated to Maaten al-Sarra airbase within Libyan borders. Eleven T-55s were abandoned in the evacuation from Faya Largeau, due to being too slow. At the same time, bombers were sent from Maaten al-Sarra to destroy the captured Libyan equipment to prevent the Chadians from using it.
After a brief respite, Chadian forces continued their advance toward the Aouzou Strip. In late July, they retook the area of Tibesti, and on August 8th, thwarted the Libyan assault to retake the town of Bardai, destroying them at Oumchi in the same manner they had at Bir Kora. The Chadians followed the retreating Libyans and took the town of Aouzou itself later the same day. In total, 650 Libyans were killed, 147 men were captured, 111 vehicles were captured, and at least another 30 pieces of armor were destroyed on August 8th. Libya ramped up its bombardment of northern Chad, and at this time the French began to distance themselves from Habré.
Gaddafi assigned Ali Sharif al-Rifi, his most able general, to take charge of the troops and retake Aouzou. After two unsuccessful, traditionally heavy-handed armor attacks starting on August 14th, the Libyans were only able to retake Aouzou on August 28th, utilizing shock troops, extreme firepower, and the fact that the Chadians had all but left the town in anticipation of a large assault, leaving just 400 men behind. This was the first success the Libyan Army had had since the beginning of 1987, and it came only once they ditched their tanks for Toyotas instead. Even so, 1,225 Libyans were killed and 262 wounded in trying to take the Aouzou Strip.
Instead of focusing on fighting over Aouzou itself, Habré directed his troops to cut off the Libyan base of operations at Maaten al-Sarra airbase, 100 km (62 miles) from the Libya-Chad border. The surprise attack was conducted on September 5th, and resulted in the deaths of 1,713 Libyans and the capture of 312 more. 26 aircraft were destroyed, including three MiG-23s, four Dassault Mirage F1s, at least one Mi-24, and numerous MiG-21s and Su-22s. Also destroyed in the raid were eight radar stations, a radar jammer, and about 70 tanks. Chadian losses counted 65 dead and 112 wounded.* At the end of the attack, the Chadians withdrew from Libya. This would be the last action of the Toyota War, with an uneasy ceasefire being called on September 11th.
*These are all Chadian numbers/claims
It was not strictly Toyotas that were used in the Toyota War. Of the 400 trucks delivered to Chad, only a majority were Toyota Land Cruisers. The other models were the American Humvee and the French Sovamag TC10. It was the Toyota however, that held the greatest potential as a weapons platform, on account of its large bed.
With 400 trucks, 50 MILANs, and a few other weapon types in smaller numbers, the Chadian forces were able to capture from Libya, whose active personnel outnumbered them 3 to 1:
10 Tank Transporters
8 EE-9 Cascavels
18 BM-21 Grads
4 ZSU-23-4 Shilkas
4 9K35 Strela-10s
12 2P25 Kub Launchers (This number may be lower depending on whether or not the number of “2K12”s captured includes 1S91 radar vehicles, of which at least one was also captured.)
At least 1 JVBT-55A/BTS-3 Armored Recovery Vehicle
152 Assorted Cannons and Guns
Over 300 Softskin Vehicles
9 SIAI-Marchetti SF.260 Prop Trainers
2 Pilatus PC-7 Prop Trainers
11 L-39 Albatros Jet Trainers
3 Mi-24/5 Attack Helicopters
1 DC-4 Transport
1 CASA C-212 Aviocar
Roughly 1,000 Libyan fighters
They also captured a number of Libyan technicals, but due to counting re-captured Chadian vehicles, it is difficult to determine the number of them. For 1987, the dead numbered 7,500 on the Libyan side, and only 1,000 on the Chadian side.
The Toyota War was not the first conflict to see the use of technicals, but it popularized their use and served as a deadly illustration of their effectiveness. The term “Toyota War” had been coined as early as 1984 by Time Magazine, as the Chadian forces utilized pickups for transport for much of the conflict. However, in modern usage it has come to refer only to the final portion of the Chadian-Libyan conflict, where the 4-by-4 cavalry made the greatest use of its mobility.
“Technical” is the term given to any improvised war machine consisting of a commercial pickup truck fitted with weaponry. The origin of the term is said to come from the period of time following the Ogaden War, when technicals were used to oppose Somali President Siad Barre. Among the Somali officers that opposed Barre were engineers that had been educated in the USSR, at the time an ally of Somalia, at vocational schools called Tekhnikum. They utilized the knowledge they gained in those schools to create the technicals that eventually helped bring down Barre’s government. For this reason, the trucks became known in Somali as “tekniko” (also spelled as “tikniko”), and this became anglicised as “technical.” Since then, tekniko has come to mean “two things which can be added together to create something better” in the Somali language.
The Toyota War, it is believed, was also the Land Cruiser 70’s baptism by fire; the use of the 40 Series and the 70 Series that replaced it by Chad and its adoption by Libya would set the course for it to become the most prevalent ground vehicle in all of 21st century warfare. Sadly, there are no photos of Chadian 70 Series Land Cruisers that can be confirmed to date to the Toyota War. Very few photos exist of early Chadian techncials of any kind, likely due to the rarity of cameras in 1980s Africa.
The 70 Series still sees widespread use by the Chadian military, notably in their fight against Boko Haram, a west African offshoot of ISIS. Chad continues to receive Land Cruisers donated by the United States, under the auspices of the G5 Sahel, a west-central African military alliance between Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania. As of 2020, the largest portion of the fighting occurs in the area of Lake Chad, where Chad, Niger, and Nigeria border each other.
The origin of the technical is often traced back to the “Pink Panther” Land Rovers of the British Special Air Service in Oman during the Dhofar Rebellion in the 1960s and 70s. These were simple Land Rovers adapted for desert warfare, painted pink for camouflage, that carried several machine guns with limited traverse. The SAS Land Rovers were the spiritual descendents of similar vehicles that had been used by the Long Range Desert Group in North Africa in World War II.
There is no definite date or place where the invention of the modern technical can be said to have occurred. Early technicals started to pop up in use by various unrelated factions across Africa and the Middle East beginning in the 1970s. Some of the early adopters of the technical were the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (a terrorist, revolutionary, Arabian nationalist group), all factions involved in the Lebanese Civil War, the Sahrawi People’s Liberation Army (a group fighting for independence of Western Sahara from Morocco), and, of course, the Chadian FANT.
The technical has formed the backbone of revolution and continued conflict in the Middle East and Africa. To catalog all the conflicts that technicals have partaken in would be to catalog most, if not all of modern conflict. Early technicals, much like modern technicals, would be built on any vehicle that could be acquired. Even so, certain makes were preferred for their ruggedness; these were the Land Rover and the Toyota Land Cruiser 40 Series. With the discontinuation of the original Land Rover, and subsequent models moving more toward the luxury market rather than the work truck market, the 40 Series’ descendant, the 70 Series, remains the “gold standard” for technicals.
Limiting the scope of this article to the 70 Series after the Toyota War, a trend starts to develop where Liberia is as far west, geographically, as the 70 Series technical is often seen. The eastern boundary for the range is Iran, as it has for the most part stayed out of the wars that have consumed much of the Middle East. The areas where the 70 Series, and technicals in general, see the most service are Somalia and Syria.
Due to the improvised nature of technicals, there is great variation between them. Even vehicles converted by the same unit or workshop are rarely identical. Weaponry, how the weapons are mounted, gun shields, and above all, camouflage, depends highly on what was available or needed at the time. Even so, in cataloging these vehicles for the Middle East Media Archive Project, we have developed a system of generally classifying technicals based on the model of truck and type of weapon they carry.
The Land Cruiser 70 Series was arbitrarily assigned the designator “Type 1”, because it was the most common. The Toyota Hilux is designated Type 2, and so on. The type of weapon carried is denoted by a lowercase letter:
a – Single heavy machine gun mounted on a pintle in the bed of the truck. May or may not have a gun shield. The most common weapons are the .50 cal M2HB Browning, the 12.7 mm DShK, and the 14.5 mm KPV.
b – Dual anti-aircraft cannons mounted in the bed of the truck. These are the most common and most well-known type of technical. Usually Type b technicals carry a ZU-23-2 twin 23 mm autocannon, but occasionally are fitted with a ZPU-2 twin 14.5 mm KPV.
b “Special” – A Type b technical with a ZPU-4 quad KPV mount. Relatively rare.
c – Truck carries an anti-tank guided missile launcher. Common types of missiles are the BGM-71 TOW, 9M113 Konkurs, and 9M133 Kornet.
d – “Katyusha”-type multiple launch rocket systems. The rocket rack is either pointed forward, over the cab, or it is mounted facing to the side. Both arrangements offer minimal to no traverse, meaning any aiming has to be done by moving the truck. The type of rockets carried vary widely, from purpose-built launchers to rockets pressed into the ground-to-ground role, to improvised rockets and warheads. Two of the non-improvised rocket systems seen on technicals are the 107 mm Type 63 and the UB-16-57 — the latter is normally an aircraft-mounted launcher for the S-5 rocket.
e – Recoilless rifle mounted in the bed of the truck. The gun is usually mounted high enough to fire forward over the cab, or the cab is removed entirely. Almost exclusively, the types of guns used are the 73 mm SPG-9, 82 mm B-10, and the 105 mm M40.
f – Miscellaneous category for any types of armament that do not fit in the above categories. Includes but is not limited to: mortars, grenade launchers, singular 20 and 23 mm autocannons, and larger caliber cannons.
The choice of automatic anti-aircraft guns as the primary weapon of technicals stems back to the Lebanese Civil War, and came about because of several reasons. The first is that much of the fighting was in an urban environment; enemies would hold out in buildings and ruins and fire down on men and vehicles. A Molotov cocktail or grenade dropped out of a window could be sufficient to disable a tank. Tanks and other conventional armored vehicles, on top of being cumbersome, could not elevate their guns high enough to return fire. The selection of anti-aircraft guns, the primary feature of which is high degrees of elevation, was an obvious one. This workaround in urban warfare has also led to the resurgence in popularity of the ZSU-23-4 Shilka, which acts as a protected and more heavily armed Type b technical.
The other reasons for the choice of anti-aircraft guns is that they are primarily used against soft targets — people and trucks — so the tradeoff of power for high rate of fire allows unskilled operators to “spray and pray”. The ZU-23-2 in particular is also powerful enough to defeat light armor at close ranges.
Recoilless rifles, rocket launchers, and ATGMs are popular as they are lightweight, easy to use, and made exponentially more effective when made mobile by being mounted on a truck. Above all, the choice in weaponry for technicals is based on what is available at the time. Stockpiles of weapons are taken from the bases and depots of recently defunct national militaries and put into use by the rebel groups fighting for control of the same country. Depending on whether a country was NATO or Soviet-aligned, or both, before its fall, large amounts of obsolete weapons provided by its backers make their way into the hands and onto the technicals of irregular factions.
Heirs of the Toyota War
There have been several subsequent conflicts across Africa that echo the Toyota War. It is interesting to note how the tactics employed by technicals have developed differently in Africa as opposed to the Middle East. In African countries, there are often great portions of open land, totally uninhabited except by primitive and isolated communities. The terrain is what led to the development of traditional African cavalry tactics up until the 20th century. These tactics were reborn with the coming of the 4-wheeled horse, and have proven so effective there is hardly reason to change them.
Many of the wars mentioned in this article were part of the Cold War, with one side backed by the United States and the other backed by the Soviet Union. The largest of these proxy wars in Africa is also one of the most forgotten. The Angolan Civil War was just one of a long string of interconnected wars that involved Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Zambia.
Skipping over 30 years of politics; rising strife over ethnic and ideological differences led three rebel groups to arise in Angola:
People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola [Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola] (MPLA)
National Union for the Total Independence of Angola [União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola] (UNITA)
National Front for the Liberation of Angola [Frente Nacional de Libertação de Angola] (FNLA)
All three of these groups were anti-colonial, and had successfully fought against Portugal in the Angolan War for Independence that immediately preceded the Angolan Civil War. Efforts to consolidate the three rebel groups by outside forces failed, and all three moved to set up their own governments, with the MPLA supported by Portugal and Cuba (the latter playing the part of the USSR in this proxy war), the FNLA supported by the United States and Zaire, and UNITA supported by South Africa. The MPLA’s military wing was called the People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola [Forças Armadas Populares de Libertação de Angola] (FAPLA), and UNITA’s military wing was called the Armed Forces of the Liberation of Angola [Forças Armadas de Libertação de Angola] (FALA).
In August 1975, South Africa intervened in the conflict that had erupted between the three powers, fueled by weapons and men from Cuba. The Soviet Union also got involved, supporting the communist MPLA. The FNLA was quickly defeated by its own incompetence, leaving the South African Defence Force and UNITA on one side, and the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces and the MPLA on the other. FAPLA was able to overpower FALA, leading the weary South African army to abandon their goal of preventing a communist Angola and start fighting their way back out of the country. South Africa and the Angolan factions at this time were also involved in fighting the South African Border War, along with the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), making it difficult to separate that war from the war in Angola.
The remains of FALA continued to resist FAPLA, with continued support from South Africa. With training and support, FALA grew into a fully fledged rebel army. In contrast to FAPLA’s cumbersome heavy armor, FALA adopted fast and mobile technicals. In the 1980s, activity from FALA and international interest in the region steadily grew. FALA made large gains in 1983, however their success prompted Cuba to move more manpower and more modern weaponry into Angola, leading to FALA suffering losses in October and September. Even so, by the start of 1984, UNITA controlled roughly 20% of Angola.
Although an agreement was reached on February 16th, 1984, for South Africa, Cuba, and PLAN to pull out of a portion of southern Angola, UNITA was not consulted and was not ready to give up. PLAN also continued fighting, and neither South Africa nor Cuba were willing to be the first to withdraw. The agreement however did mean that fighting, even though it continued through 1984, was much less intense. FALA gained ground in 1984, and established their headquarters at Jamba, Cuando Cubango, Angola.
In July 1985, PLAN and the Cuban-Angolan forces launched a major attack toward Jamba. They succeeded in retaking the Cazombo salient, which FALA abandoned in order to prevent them from taking Mavinga, 315 km from Jamba. FALA was again saved by the South Africans, and together they stopped the Angolans 32 km from Mavinga.
Beginning in 1986, the war in Angola drastically heated up. The Soviets poured resources and men into the country, and on May 27th, 1986, a renewed assault, 30,000 men strong, was launched against FALA. They were again able to halt the attack. FALA was now operating with more modern weapons of increased number, given to them by foreign allies including South Africa, Morocco, the United States, France, and Zaire. America in particular provided FIM-92 Stinger surface-to-air missiles.
1987 and 1988 were marked by the extensive use of armor by the Soviet-backed forces; the largest tank forces in Africa since World War II. Like the Libyan tanks of the Toyota War, the Cuban-Angolan armored spearheads were brought to a halt by the much more mobile FALA forces. When South Africa was again needed to help repulse another massive assault, they brought up their own Olifant Mk.1As and G6 Rhinos to meet the Cuban T-55s and T-62s, as well as Soviet T-64s deployed to the area. Heavy fighting continued for two years.
In both South Africa and Cuba, people were growing tired of supporting the conflict in Angola; in the former, due to rising tensions on the home front, and in the latter due to a senseless loss of life. Peace talks finally made progress in July of 1988, and in August, redeployment lines were agreed on for Cuban and PLAN forces. South Africa was happy to pull out of Angola, only having just lost air superiority in the conflict. Cuba continued fighting in spite of the peace agreement until December, when another agreement was made. This was effectively the end of the South African Border War, and South Africa ceased providing support to FALA as United Nations forces took over. In one of the last actions of the war, the Battle of Mavinga was fought in 1990. FALA technicals ran rings around FAPLA T-55s, echoing the combat of the Toyota War. Most of the technicals used by FALA were Land Cruisers mounting DShK and ZPU-1 heavy machine guns, but they also operated a smaller number of Humvees fitted with M40 recoilless rifles.
The Bicesse Accords were signed in 1991, and set up the two factions as opposing political parties in Angola’s government. All the while, they retained their own lands and militaries. In the first election, held in 1992, the MPLA’s José Eduardo dos Santos was declared the winner. Nearly half of the Angolan political parties involved, foremost UNITA, claimed the election was rigged. Tensions were reignited, and FAPLA launched attacks on FALA and massacred citizens who had voted for them and other parties. The Angolan Civil War continued until UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed in action in 2002.
Unfortunately, not much specific information on the combat employment of Angolan technicals is known; nor does there exist many photos of them. It is possible, probable even, that the Land Cruisers referred to in various sources are old 40 Series, not 70 Series. While South Africa was a market for the 70 Series, the South African Army was well-funded enough to not need to employ technicals, meaning they can be ruled out as a likely source whereby FALA acquired its Land Cruisers. Unlike Chad, which was given its Toyotas by western powers, it is unclear where UNITA/FALA got its trucks from.
The nation of Liberia was settled by freed American slaves that chose to return to Africa, a group called the Americo-Liberians. This group formed the ruling class of the country, while the indigenous Liberians were the lower class. This state of affairs persisted until 1980, when Master-Sergeant Samuel Doe of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) led a coup against the ruling party. Doe’s rule over the country was bloody and barbaric, and Liberia steadily declined.
On December 24th, 1989, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) entered the country from Ivory Coast. The NPFL was made up of Americo-Liberians intending to take back their country. The AFL’s resistance to the invasion was ineffectual, and both sides committed war crimes as the NPFL made its way to the capital, Monrovia. Nearing Monrovia, a breakaway faction was formed out of the NPFL, the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL), creating a three-way war.
In response to the Liberian Civil War, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent in the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) as a peacekeeping force. ECOMOG found itself in strongest opposition to the NPFL, which was the largest of the three factions. The NPFL managed to take control of large portions of the country, but never took Monrovia. Fighting continued for years, but was at a stalemate. ECOMOG forces would not advance into NPFL territory, fearing a guerilla war. The INPFL disintegrated, and several more factions appeared, including the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO), which itself split into two other factions based on ethnicity. Eventually, there were eight factions involved in the fighting. Despite ECOWAS’s efforts, all attempts at peace failed. Corruption was high in ECOMOG, with ulterior motives to benefit Nigeria (the largest contributor to ECOWAS) at the higher echelons, and theft and rape among the regulars. This led to the Liberians seeing “ECOMOG” as standing for “Every Commodity or Movable Object Gone.”
All of the fighters involved, both in the field and in the commands of the various factions, were totally uneducated. The fighting was barbaric, and far from the conduct of any legitimate military force. Torture, rape, and murder were just as common, if not more common, than killing of the enemy. Showiness and intimidation played a large role in Liberian combat, with soldiers dressing up in colorful costumes, or sometimes being completely naked. Technicals were similarly decorated, adorned with trinkets and slogans.
In August 1995, a ceasefire was brokered. Despite this, some fighting continued, particularly in Monrovia starting in April 1996. Fighting intensified to such a degree that peacekeeping forces were helpless. It took until August for peace to be reestablished. During this time, the effectiveness of ECOMOG greatly increased and corruption was removed, thanks to the leadership of Victor Malu, who took command in August. In July 1997 a general election was held in Liberia, ending the First Liberian Civil War.
Charles Taylor was elected president of Liberia, however after only two years, another group arose to overthrow him. Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) were a loose group of rebel factions united primarily by the goal of removing Taylor’s government. LURD was supported by Guinea. This conflict, the Second Liberian Civil War, lasted from 1999 until 2003. The course of the war was a relatively straightforward takeover of the country by LURD, ending in Taylor’s resignation.
As with the Angolan Civil War, there is little photographic record of the technicals used in Liberia, though photographic evidence proves that Type 1 technicals were used in both civil wars. The combat employment of such trucks is also not recorded, however it was unlikely to be in line with the type seen in Chad and Angola, and more akin to the urban combat of Lebanon. Many of the “technicals” employed in Liberia were not even real technicals. Mounted weapons were not as common as in other conflicts, and trucks were simply weaponized by having men stand in the bed and fire their rifles at the enemy.
Since the end of the Second Liberian Civil War, the country has steadily improved. Today, the new Armed Forces of Liberia continues to use 70 Series Land Cruisers, some of them donated by the United States.
Chad’s neighbor to the east, Sudan, has had near constant war since the 1950s. There have been three civil wars, and numerous smaller confrontations and wars. The Second Sudanese Civil War began in 1983, when tensions between the Muslim north and Christian south boiled over when then president Jaafar Nimeiry enforced Sharia, a Muslim legal code, on the whole country.
In response to this, a rebel army comprised of peoples from the south of Sudan, most notably the Dinka people, was assembled and quickly grew in strength, being joined by defecting units of the Sudanese Army that had been part of the SSLM. This rebel force was called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and was backed by Ethiopia, which supplied weapons and training to allow them to become a proper fighting force. Part of the SPLA’s strategy was to disrupt food distribution, leading to widespread starvation. Unable to defeat the SPLA militarily, Jaafar Nimeiry motioned to repeal Sharia in the south, but was deposed in a coup in 1985 regardless. The coup leader, Abdel Rahman Swar al-Dahab, promised reform, leading to a ceasefire. However, the SPLA was not satisfied with the reforms, and resumed fighting. In the 1986 election, voting could not take place in the south due to the fighting, leading the north to elect Sadiq al-Mahdi as the president of Sudan. Al-Mahdi was backed by the extremist National Islamic Front (NIF), meaning that a diplomatic solution to the conflict would now be impossible.
Over the next two years, the conflict continued to devolve, with starvation increasing and thousands of Dinka people being slaughtered in atrocities committed by Muslim northern militia groups. The Sudanese Army was almost entirely destroyed by the SPLA, which continued to grow in strength. Despite requests for peace talks by the SPLA, all attempts failed, as anything less than full Islamification of Sudan was unacceptable to the NIF.
In 1991, Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, and as repayment for support by the Sudanese government, expelled the SPLA and Sudanese refugees, further worsening the starvation in the south of Sudan. At this time, Iraq also began to support the Sudanese government, as Iraq was supportive of the NIF’s goals. Increased pressure on the SPLA led to infighting, with the formation of the United Democratic Salvation Front (UDSF), made up of Nuer people, the Nuers began fighting with the Dinkas.
In 1992, the Sudanese Army retook large portions of the country that had been under SPLA control. Back and forth fighting continued for the next two years, with the Sudanese Army launching large scale attacks supported by Libyan aircraft. The SPLA regained its footing in October 1994, with the supply of new weapons from the US or Israel. At the same time, the UDSF began fighting government forces as well, eventually reconciling with the SPLA in April 1995.
Despite Sudan’s government supporting Eritrea’s independence in the end, they had originally backed Ethiopia; a fact the Eritrean government resented. For this reason, Eritrea backed the formation of the Sudanese National Alliance (SNA) in northeastern Sudan, a political group of northerners opposed to the Sudanese government. The SNA formed a military wing, the National Alliance Forces (NAF).
After a ceasefire mediated by US President Bill Clinton, which both the Sudanese government and SPLA regarded as a formal waste of time, the SPLA resumed operations out of Uganda, enjoying the support of that country’s government. The NIF backed the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel movement, in order to oppose by proxy both the Ugandan government and the SPLA. With help from the Ugandan military, and renewed support from Ethiopia, the SPLA retook portions of southern Sudan under the name Operation Thunderbolt. At the same time, the NAF attacked in the north, aimed to cut off Port Sudan.
Despite encountering success, infighting resumed in the SPLA, and in April 1997 the UDSF, along with various other breakaway factions, changed sides. By July, all three forces were at a stalemate. Local victories were made by both sides, but the line did not progress in either direction. Fighting continued until 2005, when a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed on January 9th. The 2005 agreement led to the Eastern Sudan Peace Agreement on October 14th, 2006, which addressed the grievances of the three eastern states. Provided for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement were referendums on independence to take place in 2011. The referendum for independence of South Sudan passed by 98.8% approval. South Sudan almost immediately descended into a civil war of its own. After 2011, renewed fighting took place in the states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, as they had been denied their promised referendums for independence, and were forced to remain with Sudan.
The longest-lasting of the Sudanese conflicts is the War in Darfur. The Darfur region of Sudan comprises the western third of the country. The northern portion of Darfur is ruled by the Sahara Desert, while the southern portion is an arid plain, in some places suitable for agriculture, but otherwise inhospitable. Being such a large country with little infrastructure, the people in Darfur feel little connection to their leaders in Khartoum.
On February 26th, 2003, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), whose military wing is the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), attacked Sudanese government forces at Golu. On April 25th, they took over the town of Tini, capturing weapons stored there. Now armed and ready for a fight, the SLA, along with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), made an attack on al-Fashir airbase on April 25th. In a replaying of the Chadian action at Maaten al-Sarra, the SLA/JEM force of 30 technicals stormed al-Fashir and destroyed Sudanese Mi-25s and other aircraft on the ground. They captured weapons and vehicles from the airbase and were gone before the Sudanese Army could organize a response.
Two technicals, the further one likely a Type 1, moving across the Darfur desert in early 2009.
Over the next several months, the SLA continued to make raids, until a ceasefire was briefly established in September. Now fighting wars on three fronts, the Sudanese government did not have enough resources to handle the uprising in Darfur. Instead, they employed local militias called Janjaweed, made up of Arabian nomads, to fight the SLA and JEM, which were primarily African farmers. The Janjaweed were provided trucks by the Sudanese government, who bought them new from just four different dealerships, likely in the GCC region. Starting in early December, the Janjaweed began making attacks on villages in Darfur. The conduct of the Janjaweed was horrifically brutal, bordering on genocide. By mid-2004, both the UN and AU (African Union) tried to get involved to establish humanitarian aid, but a ceasefire could not be established long enough to allow this. In July, the Sudanese government indicated it would disarm the Janjaweed, in light of their war crimes and pressure from outside nations. The SLA/JEM refused to negotiate for peace until the Janjaweed was disarmed.
What happened next is not entirely clear, but it can be summarized that the situation got worse. 1,000 Sudanese troops were deployed to the region, and by early 2005, AU observers reported that the Sudanese Air Force were bombing their own villages. Nearly 3 million people were displaced by the fighting. Starvation and disease affected more than half the population.
In 2006 and 2007, numerous agreements were made between the rebel factions, Janjaweed militias, and the Sudanese government. Despite this, there were too many rebel factions and subfactions, all with differing goals, meaning that a meaningful peace was not achieved.
In 2007, the United Nations and the African Union initiated a joint humanitarian aid and peacekeeping operation, called UNAMID (United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur). UNAMID was established after the failure of three AMIS (African Union Mission in Sudan) observation and peacekeeping missions. The presence of the 20,000+ strong UNAMID forces greatly reduced the amount of fighting, but low-intensity conflict continued.
In one of the largest actions of the conflict, JEM launched a raid on Khartoum, the country’s capital, in May 2008. Between 130 and 300 technicals were used in this raid. The JEM force got as far as Omdurman, a suburb of Khartoum just across the river Nile from the capital, before the attack was repulsed. To the JEM, the war in Darfur is known as the Land Cruiser War— a name which was coined independently of the Toyota War.
In 2013, the Sudanese government reorganized their employment of Janjaweed militias into the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Despite now being a legitimate, government-supported organization, the change in name has not stopped the Janjaweed tendencies toward war crimes and atrocities.
In April 2019, following a wave of protests known as the Sudanese Revolution, Omar al-Bashir was deposed in a coup by the Sudanese military, placating some of the rebel groups in Darfur. Continued demonstrations in favor of a democratic government led to the Khartoum Massacre in June 2019, perpetrated by the RSF on behalf of the Transitional Military Council (TMC), the temporary military government set up after al-Bashir’s government was overthrown. In August 2019, an agreement was made with the TMC that Sudan would transition to a democratic government by 2024.
UNAMID’s mission in Sudan ended on 31 December 2020. This was followed by a flare-up of conflict in Darfur in 2021 between various tribes and ethnic groups, rather than against the Sudanese government. The Sudanese military attempted a coup against the government on 21 September 2021, but failed. Another coup was staged on 25 October, led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, which was successful. On 21 November, an agreement was reached between al-Burhan’s military government and the civilian government of Abdalla Hamdok that was ousted in the coup. As part of the agreement, Hamdok returned to his position as Prime Minister, however he resigned in January 2022, citing the military government failing to uphold its part of the agreement. As of 2022, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan is the leader of Sudan, and the country’s future is undetermined.
The RSF purchases its own new trucks for use as technicals. It is a matter of contention where they get the money for this. An RSF financial spreadsheet leaked in December 2019 reveals much about the process of sourcing trucks. The spreadsheet details expenditures made between mid-January and mid-June 2019. Listed are all the vehicles purchased, their prices, date of transaction, invoice numbers, shipping costs, and the dealerships they were purchased from. All of the dealerships are based in the United Arab Emirates, and all denied knowing they were selling trucks to the RSF when asked. All nine companies (Ghassan Aboud Cars, Arabian Ronz Used Cars, MotorsCity.com, Bin Humaidan Motors, Al Karama Motors, Motors Mart, Noble International Group, Golden Arrow Company, and Sahara Motors) supplied 70 Series Land Cruisers, with some supplying smaller amounts of other vehicles. Technicals have been photographed in use, still with the GCC energy efficiency sticker from the dealership in the driver’s side window.
The complete breakdown of vehicles purchased by the RSF from January 18th, 2019 to June 18th, 2019:
4x 2012 Toyota Land Cruiser, Unspecified
13x 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser, Unspecified
31x 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser, Unspecified
11x 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, Beige
3x 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, High-spec Trim, Beige
513x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, Beige
92x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, Beige with 2018 Graphics
5x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, White
42x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, All options, Beige
1x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, All options, White
12x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, All options, Unspecified
30x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser J79
20x Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, Standard Trim, Unspecified
39x Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup, All options, Unspecified
11x 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser GXR (J200), Standard Trim
5x Toyota Land Cruiser VXR (J200) 3UR Engine
5x Toyota Land Cruiser GT (J200) 1UR Engine
89x 2019 Toyota Hilux, White
17x 2019 Toyota Hilux, Unspecified
30x 2019 Toyota Prado GXR (J150) 2TR Engine
1x Toyota Prado, Unspecified
2x Toyota HiAce
30x 2019 Toyota Corolla (E210) 1ZR Engine
12x 2019 Mitsubishi Pajero, White
1x 2019 Hino ZS 4041
10x 2020 Hyundai i10
In total, 816 70 Series Land Cruisers, at a cost of 86,210,199 dirham (23,471,330 USD), and 217 vehicles of other types, at a cost of 24,770,600 dirham (6,743,969 USD), were purchased. In total, this is 1,033 vehicles for a grand total of 110,980,799 dirham (30,215,299 USD).
From the distributors in the UAE, trucks are taken across Saudi Arabia to the port of Jeddah, where they are loaded onto ships and moved across the Red Sea to Suakin, Sudan. Ships known to be contracted for these shipments include Egyptian Dignity, registered to the port of Alexandria, and Med Link, registered to Tripoli. Once in Sudan, the vehicles are then moved by truck to Khartoum.
Elsewhere in Africa, and in the Middle East, the tactical employment of technicals developed differently. In Somalia and Libya, the combat was less in open desert and more in urban environments. Conventional tactics were thrown out altogether. The technical was no longer to be seen as a modern cavalry horse, but as a mobile gun platform.
Following Somalia’s defeat at the hands of Ethiopia in the Ogaden War in 1978, Somali President Siad Barre grew more and more unpopular among the Somali clans. Culture in Somalia is heavily influenced by families, or clans, with histories dating back up to one thousand years. Barre had risen to power through ruthless means, often involving the murder of opponents, particularly of the Isaq clan, with whom his own clan, the Marehan, had a blood feud. Following the loss of the Ogaden War, in 1978 men of the Isaq and Mijerteen clans attempted a coup against Barre, but this failed. The perpetrators of the coup escaped to England, where they formed the Somali National Movement (SNM) and returned to Somalia to overthrow Barre’s dictatorship.
In response to the coup, Barre began open attacks on the civilian population of the Isaq clan, in the northern part of the country. As Somalia began to break down, warlords arose and clans formed their own militias. The SNM was supported by Ethiopia, occasionally being provided T-54s. This insurgency continued through the 1980s until it found success in 1987 when the SNM succeeded in cutting off the northwestern section of the country. Heavy fighting occurred in 1988 as the SNM struggled to hang on to their northern territory, eventually being pushed out by the Somali National Army (SNA), which committed atrocities the whole way. The SNM captured Toyota Land Cruisers from the SNA and turned them into technicals by fitting them with DShK and KPV machine guns, M40 recoilless rifles, and rocket launchers.
Somalia continued to fall apart during 1989 and 1990, until Siad Barre fled the country in January 1991, just as the fighting exploded into a free for all. Up until the expulsion of Barre, no less than seven militant factions emerged in Somalia.
Somali Democratic Alliance (SDA), composed of the Gadabursi clan
Somali Democratic Movement (SDM), composed of the Rahanweyn clan
Somali National Front (SNF), composed of the Marehan clan
Somali National Movement (SNM), composed of the Isaq clan
Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM), primarily composed of the Ogaden clan
Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), primarily composed of the Majeerteen clan
United Somali Congress (USC), composed of the Hawiye clan
The SDA and SNF were pro-Barre factions, while the others were opposed to the Barre government.
The USC, led by Mohamed Farrah Aidid, was instrumental in taking the capital, Mogadishu, and ousting Barre. The USC also defeated Barre’s attempts to return in April 1991, April 1992, and September 1992. The anti-Barre factions only engaged in very limited cooperation, as each of their goals varied from the others. The USC was one of the largest factions, and it held the center of the country, as well as the capital. To the south was the much smaller SPM. The USC and SPM were allied against the SNF, which held the northern portion of Somalia’s southern “hook”. The SNF incorporated a portion of the now-defunct Somali National Army. North of the USC, the SSDF held Somalia’s northwest corner. The SNM, the largest faction, held the northeast of the country, which, in May 1991, it declared to be an independent country called Somaliland.
By this time, the international community had taken notice of the crisis in Somalia, not least of which was mass starvation. Humanitarian organizations began to send missions to Somalia, hiring mercenaries to protect them, as they were forbidden from carrying weapons themselves. These hired guns utilized the trucks with machine guns that had become popular after the Toyota War, as did most combatants in Somalia. It is said that payment for the mercenaries was written off as “technical support”, and the mercenaries themselves were referred to as “technical advisors”. This is not the origin of the word “technical”, but it may have helped solidify its usage in the western world.
The United Nations-brokered a ceasefire between the factions in March 1992, and initiated a humanitarian aid operation called UNOSOM (United Nations Operation in SOMalia). The first UNOSOM turned out to be woefully unprepared and was undermined by the warlords as fighting restarted. The UN then initiated UNITAF (UNIted TAsk Force), led by the United States. The goal of this was to use military force to bring peace to certain areas so that humanitarian aid personnel could work without being shot. The United Nations had contemplated forceful disarmament of the warlords, but American troops were unwilling to carry this out, fearing being mowed down by the Somali technicals.
AH-1 Cobra and UH-1 Iroquois helicopters were widely used by US forces in Somalia, one of their roles being to destroy technicals. It was made clear by peacekeeping forces to the Somalis that any technicals that could constitute a threat to UN forces would be destroyed. American special forces held a “kill on sight” order in regard to technicals. After losing three trucks to an ill-advised attack on American helicopters in December 1992, the USC quickly learned to keep them hidden.
During this time, Mohamed Aidid succeeded in unifying the USC and SPM, along with several smaller factions. The new faction was called the Somali National Alliance (SNA). On December 9th, 1992, the American military made a show of force by landing a large number of troops on the shore of Mogadishu. The US forces were initially supportive of the SNA but changed sides to support the SNF. Satisfied they had done their job of intimidating the Somali forces, the Americans left Mogadishu. The area having been “stabilized”, UNITAF turned into UNOSOM II on May 4th, 1993, bringing in a massive relief operation.
Under UNOSOM II, the UN negotiated with the warlords for them to turn in their weapons, to limited success. Among the weapons surrendered were technicals, particularly the oldest and most worn-out ones. It is speculated that the Somalis were agreeable to the surrender of the technicals as they knew the UN would not take them with them when they left Somalia, and they would fall back into Somali hands. US forces categorized technicals into two types: “light technicals”, based on pickup trucks, and “heavy technicals” based on large straight trucks with heavier weaponry.
Behind the scenes, the United States had the goal of eliminating Aidid, as they suspected he was a communist sympathizer. Although UNOSOM II started out well, the Somali factions began to see the relief operation as just a cover for another combatant to contend with. SNA forces began to attack UN workers and troops, leading to increased hostilities. Lack of direction and coordination meant that various UN contributing country’s forces began to act on their own, in what they believed was their best interest.
The United States made its move against Aidid on October 3rd, 1993, under Operation Gothic Serpent. An aerial attack on Mogadishu led to the loss of two MH-60 Black Hawks (this incident is the one depicted in Black Hawk Down) and ended with a mass bombardment of the city that resulted in hundreds of Somalis killed, Aidid not among them. No technicals were involved in this battle, all of them being kept hidden, as the Somalis knew the American’s propensity for destroying their valuable trucks.
The loss of American lives in Somalia turned the US population against their military’s involvement there, and only a few days after Operation Gothic Serpent, the withdrawal of US forces was announced. The American withdrawal was complete by March 3rd, 1994. With Somali opinion now against them, the remaining UN humanitarian forces could make little progress and were withdrawn in 1995. Infighting resumed among the Somali factions with renewed vigor. Aidid would die of wounds sustained in battle in August 1996. Opposition arose to the rule of his son, Hussein Farrah Aidid, who succeeded him. Ethiopia supported the formation of anti-Aidid Jr. factions, among them the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA), made up of the Rahanweyn clan. In the north, in 1995 and 1996, opposition to the independence of Somaliland led to insurgency on behalf of the Gahardji clan. Fighting continued, but on a diminishing scale, until the new millennium.
In 2000, the Somali Transitional National Government was established, and in 2004 gave way to the Transitional Federal Government. In 2006, however, a new dimension opened in the Somali Civil War in the form of Islamic extremism. The now-militant Islamic Courts Union (ICU) battled with the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT) in Mogadishu. Islamic factions had existed previously in the war, but their impact was negligible. The ICU prevailed over the ARPCT and quickly took over much of southern Somalia, in the area formerly claimed by the SNA. In December, Eritrea came to the aid of the legitimate Somali government, causing further dissent from the ICU and its sympathizers.
From late 2006 into 2007, the ICU began to break up. A breakaway group was formed, al-Shabaab, which usurped the ICU’s antagonistic role in Somalia, and was in itself a far more clear-cut Islamic terrorist group. In early 2007, the African Union formed the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) to provide humanitarian aid and peacekeeping for the Transitional Federal Government. Both AMISOM and al-Shabaab employ technicals of their own; the latter’s use of them being curtailed by the presence of Ethiopian helicopters, part of the AMISOM force.
A great deal of fighting has gone on in Somalia since then, so much so that even a full-time scholar of the conflict would struggle to understand all of the intricacies of the politics being fought over. While Somalia now has an internationally recognized government, fighting is still ongoing. Today, the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF), the reformed military of Somalia, employs Land Cruisers both as personnel carriers and as technicals.
To the Somali fighter, his truck is known as a “Battlewagon”, and it is a great source of pride. Somali technicals are often painted in colorful and elaborate paint schemes. More than any other country, Somalia is inextricably linked with the technical. Having been in use for over three decades, technicals have permeated Somali culture; a culture that is, unfortunately, one of war.
The Afghan Mujahideen were another early adopter of technicals. The Mujahideen were a collection of revolutionary groups opposed to the government of Afghanistan, called the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. One of these groups would emerge as the Taliban. Like Iraq, the majority of vehicles available in Afghanistan were of Soviet origin, however, the Afghan rebels imported some foreign pickup trucks from Pakistan. This was often done by transporting the disassembled trucks over the mountains and reassembling them again in Afghanistan. Trucks of American make, and especially the Toyota Hilux, were the preferred type.
At least some Land Cruisers made their way into Afghanistan, as evidenced by photos taken by Soviet Spetsnaz special forces during the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Spetsnaz troops operated technicals they captured from the Afghans in order to remain inconspicuous.
It is said that Osama bin Laden, leader of the Taliban-aligned Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, preferred to ride in a Land Cruiser, while the rest of his organization favored Hiluxes.
Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, and the subsequent occupation, the use of technicals dropped significantly. Like in Somalia, technicals were no match for modern aircraft, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda were forced to keep their trucks hidden and rarely used. Many of the trucks were destroyed early in the fighting, and a sufficient supply of them did not exist in Afghanistan for technicals to stay common, as they did in other countries.
For as long as the country was ruled by Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya has been a dangerous and destabilizing force in Africa. Gaddafi focused the entire country toward militarism, purchasing large amounts of equipment from the Soviet Union, which the poorly trained Libyan Army could never hope to fully utilize. Gaddafi’s end goal was to see to the success of Islamic rebel groups in Africa and the Middle East and to unite the Islamic world in a holy war against Israel.
Inspired by the success of Chad during the Toyota War in 1987, Libya began to copy Chad’s tactics and their use of technicals. Very little documentation exists regarding Libya’s early use of technicals, however Chadian sources record that in 1987, the final year of the Toyota War, Chad captured 60 Toyota technicals and 194 non-technical Toyota trucks from the Libyan Army. This evidences that Libya did adopt the use of technicals, but does not indicate much as to Libya’s creation of technicals, as many of the trucks were captured back and forth between Chad and Libya.
The modern conflict in Libya started with the period between 2010 and 2012 known as Arab Spring. All over Africa and the Middle East, civil rebellions began to break out, as citizens were fed up with governmental tyranny, corruption, and disregard for human life. In Libya, this resulted in the First Libyan Civil War in 2011. Protests against the government began in January, and intensified in February. As the protests turned into a full on civil war, the National Transitional Council (NTC) was founded on February 27th to coordinate the rebellion and to govern the country once Gaddafi had been removed. The military wing of the NTC was the National Liberation Army (NLA), which comprised the Libyan rebels in general, and was outfitted with weapons captured from Libyan Armed Forced stocks.
Particularly large numbers of Soviet air-to-ground unguided rockets were captured from the Libyan Air Force, owing to Gaddafi’s heavy investment into aircraft. While the NLA did operate a small number of captured aircraft, the majority of captured aircraft weaponry was repurposed into the ground-to-ground role, especially mounted on technicals. While the Libyans were not the first to use these rockets in this role, being preceded by first the Soviets in Afghanistan, then the former Yugoslav countries, they were the first to utilize them in a large enough role that it can be said they made an impact on the conflict. By far the most common weapons seen in this role are the UB-16-57UMP and UB-32-57, 16- and 32-round launchers respectively for the 57 mm S-5 rocket. Somewhat less common are the B-8M1 launcher for 80 mm S-8 rockets, and the French Matra Type 155 launcher for 68 mm SNEB rockets.
Unguided rockets in general are a staple of Libyan technicals. Again, this can be attributed to what Gaddafi’s military had in stock, rather than what is optimal for the role. When properly mounted on an aircraft and stabilized by the airflow over the wings, unguided rockets are inaccurate at best. When shoddily attached to a pickup truck and fired from a stationary position, the likelihood of hitting a target with the 5-kilogram rockets is “not good.” Regardless, inaccuracy is compensated for by sheer numbers, and air-to-ground rockets are not the only type in the Libyan arsenal. Chinese 107 mm Type 63 12-round launchers, Egyptian SAKR RL-4 4-tube launchers for 122 mm Grad rockets, various improvised launchers, and even the 240 mm S-24 rocket have found their way onto Toyota technicals. Other weapons captured from the Libyan Army and mounted on Type 1 technicals during the First Libyan Civil War include 14.5 mm ZPU-2s and ZPU-4s, 23 mm ZU-23-2s, 105 mm M40 recoilless rifles, and BMP-1 turrets.
Gaddafi continually tried to dismiss that the rebellion was a threat to him, stating that the rebels were terrorists or foreign instigators. In his typically heavy-handed way, he brought the Libyan Army against protestors, massacring hundreds of civilians. In a vicious cycle, the more Gaddafi tried to suppress the rebellion, the more intense and convicted the rebels became, and the crueler the atrocities committed against them by the Libyan government. Libyan forces targeted medics and hospitals, and by May, were conducting airstrikes and artillery bombardment of civilian areas.
The rebellion swept quickly from west to east across Libya. Benghazi was the first city taken over by rebel forces, followed quickly by Misrata. In March, the Libyan Army attempted an offensive to retake the two cities but failed. Later in March, UN and NATO countries began to intervene in Libya on the NTC’s behalf. Combat continued for several months, with NATO forces conducting regular airstrikes against Libyan government forces. Too little and too late, in June, Gaddafi tried to plead with the rebels by offering to allow political elections.
By the end of August, the NLA controlled the entire country, including the capital of Tripoli, with the exception of a few small pockets of pro-Gaddafi forces. The last areas fell to the rebellion in late October — Bani Waled, and Sirte, the latter where Gaddafi was killed on October 20th, when he was shot in the head.
The National Transitional Council initially governed Libya successfully after the overthrow of Gaddafi. The NTC was recognized by foreign nations as the government of Libya, and it represented Libya in the United Nations. Unfortunately, some of the soldiers who took part in the overthrow of Gaddafi refused to lay down their arms and began to factionalize and form militias. Trying to maintain control over these groups, the NTC, and later the General National Congress, a more permanent government structure that replaced it, made these groups semi-legitimate institutions by paying them. The subsequent series of events is complex and largely irrelevant to the discussion of the eventual outcome; government-sponsored militias began to fight with each other, and like with the clans in Somalia, these groups were also political ones. Unlike in Somalia however, the factionalism and rise of militias did not lead to a total breakdown of the central government, but the formation of two separate governments, both of which claim to be the legitimate government of Libya.
House of Representatives – Legitimately replaced the General National Congress in 2014, based in Tobruk.
National Salvation Government – Illegitimately formed by politicians of the General National Congress who lost to those elected to the House of Representatives in 2014, and instead remained in Tripoli. This group also continued to use the name of the General National Congress. In 2016, it rebranded to the High Council of State.
In 2015, the United Nations attempted to rectify the two Libyan governments by consolidating them into the Government of National Accord. This effort was only partially successful, and rather than combining the two existing governments, created a third out of parts of both of them. The Government of National Accord is the currently recognized ruling government of Libya, although it lacks the power of the other two.
While the two, and later three, Libyan governments form a backdrop to the fighting between the Libyan militia groups, the Second Libyan Civil War, which began in 2014, cannot be thought of as a traditional ‘one side versus another’ war. To fully understand the Second Libyan Civil War would require a compendium unto itself. Though it might seem to be a free-for-all to the outside observer, the conflict between the Libyan militias is a focused one, albeit with constantly shifting allegiances, alliances, goals, and groupings. Militias may be formed according to race, religion, location, family, government affiliation, or national identity. Out of all the conflicts discussed in this article, the Second Libyan Civil War is the most incomprehensible. For that reason, and for the sake of brevity, the politics and the specifics of the war will be passed over, in favor of examining the use of the Land Cruiser.
Toyota first established dealerships in Libya in 2010, but they were quickly closed due to the First Libyan Civil War. After the overthrow of Gaddafi, the dealerships reopened in 2012. Heavy-duty models of the 70 Series are not imported to Libya; such models have 11 leaves in their leaf spring suspension, as opposed to 8 in the standard models. The extra suspension makes these trucks more suitable for mounting heavy weapons. Libyan Toyota dealerships are mandated by Toyota corporate not to sell to people they suspect are connected to the militias. However, these efforts have made little difference to the prevalence of Type 1 technicals in Libya. Since many of the militias are technically on the government payroll, it is perfectly legal for Toyota dealerships to sell to them.
Once a militia has acquired a fresh truck, they take it to a workshop to be converted into a technical. Assumedly, some militias have their own workshops and armories, while others rely on local shops to do the work. In Misrata for example, the Industrial Technology Faculty of Misrata, one of the colleges under the umbrella of Misrata University, serves as one of the technical workshops for the city’s militias. ITFM, like many technical schools and workshops across Libya, first got into this “business” during the 2011 revolution, when they produced weapons and technicals for NLA fighters. When fighting began again in 2014, the college was compelled to go back to working on technicals.
“Generally, the way it works is the brigade will approach us. They’ll say, ‘Look, we’ve got X numbers of cars and we need you to put this on this car, this on that car, different types of weapons and so on. We’ll look at the car, we’ll see if it’s capable of carrying the weight of the weapon they’re asking for. If not we’ll make a few suggestions about what they could change or what alternative weapons could cover instead. … I didn’t think that we were going to have to come back and restart, I had people coming to me after the revolution asking if I could mount weapons and I just said, ‘No, we’re not mounting any more. What do you need a weapon for now? The fighting is over.’ I don’t even really like weapons, I’ve never really liked them and never thought of this being a job for me!” -Abdelsalam Gargoum, a former teacher at the technical college in Misrata, during an interview in 2014.
The trends seen in the construction of technicals during the First Libyan Civil War were continued in the second, namely the use of rockets and the choice of weapon types. The Gaddafi regime stockpiled far more ammunition than it could ever realistically use, and now that surplus of weapons is being used to keep the civil war going. In regard to technical design, there is little reason to distinguish between the first and second Libyan Civil Wars, as what can be said of one of them also applies to the other. One exception to this is that farther along in the second civil war, there grew greater and greater ambition to mount larger and more extravagant weaponry onto technicals.
Two such weapons that began to appear on technicals around 2016 are the 90 mm CN90F1 from the AML-90 armored car, and the 90 mm EC-90 (Brazilian licensed copy of the Cockerill Mk.III) from the EE-9 Cascavel. Libya purchased just 20 AML-90s from France in 1970, and 500 Cascavels from Brazil in 1973. For mounting onto technicals, the entire front of the AML-90 or EE-9 turret is cut off and placed on a triangular mount that allows 360° rotation. So far, at least four such conversions have been done with the CN90F1, three on 70 Series Land Cruisers, and one on a Humvee. While conversions with the EC-90 are more common, owing to the donor vehicle being more common, they are still quite rare. For Type 1 technicals mounting these weapons, while the gun can face forward, it cannot effectively fire over the cab. Firing over the side is liable to tip the whole vehicle, so firing over the rear is the only option.
The First Libyan Civil War was the first conflict to see the use of Type 1BMPs — a severed BMP-1 turret mounted in the back of a technical. The BMP-1 turret mounts the 73 mm 2A28 Grom low-pressure cannon and has a launch rail for the 9M14 Malyutka anti-tank guided missile. The first Type 1BMP conversions were crude. The turret was seated on a simple angle iron frame, left open on the sides and only sometimes protected by a metal plate at the rear. The turret basket was removed, and along with it went the ammunition storage and gunner’s seat. On BMP technicals, the ammunition is carried in the bed of the truck, and the gunner is given an office chair to sit on. The electrical components and drive motor from the BMP are also transplanted onto the technical to power the turret’s electric traverse and elevation mechanisms.
The reasons for doing these conversions are numerous. Most probably, the donor BMPs were destroyed, damaged, or cannibalized for parts to keep other BMPs running, yet their turrets were still functional and now left without a vehicle. It is possible that the donor BMP was in working order, but the turret was removed so the hull could be used for another purpose. Finally, there is the fact that tracked vehicles are large and difficult to maintain, and the BMP-1, being a lightly armored APC, is unsuitable to urban combat, where an RPG hides around every corner. Therefore, it is possible nothing at all was wrong with the donor vehicle, but the turret was mounted on a technical to make it more mobile and smaller profile.
Libyan rebel forces testing the systems of a Type 1BMP in preparation for the Battle of Galaa/Sofitt Hill on June 7th, 2011.
In general, Libyans keep their trucks in the factory colors, usually tan. Occasionally this is covered with a smearing of dirt, especially if the truck is white, but the tan color is usually already a perfect match for the Libyan terrain. Trucks are usually given the identifying mark of their militia on the door at minimum, and more commonly are covered in slogans and patriotic symbols and flags. When seen operating in groups, such as during an offensive, large sections of trucks such as the hood, doors, or gunshield can be painted in the colors of the Libyan flag.
Combat in Libya is a mix of urban fighting and fighting in the open desert. In urban combat, Type 1a’s, Type 1b’s, and Type 1e’s are commonly employed to fight against entrenched enemy troops. In hilly and desert terrain, Type 1b’s provide fire support for infantry. A common tactic is for the technicals to lay suppressive fire on a defending enemy in order to allow friendly troops to advance to close range. This method was used particularly in the first civil war against government forces.
The Type 1d’s, armed with rockets, are kept to open spaces and used in indirect fire and long-range direct fire roles. Due to the inaccuracy of these rockets, their use is more as a terror weapon similar to the Soviet World War II Katyusha, rather than as targeted artillery. For safety, Type 1d’s are almost always fired with the crew dismounted. Because technical crews have to live out of their trucks, technicals can be stuffed with ammunition, food, water, bedding, clothes, and so on. This makes them extremely flammable, and many a technical has gone up in flames when the exhaust of a rocket caught something alight.
One of the dangers of operating in open terrain is attack from aircraft. NATO forces in Libya largely limit themselves to air support. This is what prevented Gaddafi’s tanks and aircraft from being used to their full potential during the first civil war. In the second civil war, half of all targets claimed by NATO aircraft were technicals. Target identification in this situation is problematic, and NATO aircraft often accidentally bomb the wrong side’s technicals.
In urban combat, some technical crews have begun to fit their vehicles with light armor. Usually, this is a flat plate or wedge attached to the front of the vehicle, mostly to protect the engine from gunfire. Even on armored technicals, the crew are left completely exposed. The frontal armor also helps to protect the vehicle when ramming through barricades or into other vehicles. Sometimes chains are hung from the bottom of the front armor; it is believed this is intended as a way to protect the tires.
Several militias have distinctive technicals that are worth discussing on their own. The Mobile National Force (MNF) has a standardized camouflage pattern that they apply to nearly all of their technicals. It is a forest camouflage with a dark green base covered with a pattern of irregular brown, black, and off-white shapes. Strangely, this pattern seems to be a vinyl wrap, rather than painted or sprayed on camouflage. This observation is drawn from the fact that vehicles with MNF pattern camouflage often have areas that are left in the original paint, with crisp lines of definition where the wrap was applied. Areas that are sometimes left uncamouflaged are the extremities around the grille, bed, windshield, and roof. The largest number of vehicles in this pattern were seen in late 2012, but as the MNF is still active, though less often photographed, it is highly likely a good portion of their trucks are still in this pattern, though they seem to no longer apply it to new technicals.
Whether camouflaged or not, most MNF technicals carry a sticker on the door with the militia’s logo, and under that, a number written in five decimal spaces. Numbers observed on Type 1 technicals range from 00090 to 01250, always being multiples of 10. The exact purpose of this number is not known for certain, but it is likely a unit numbering system. MNF Type 1s have been seen to carry the usual range of ZPU-1s, ZPU-2s, ZU-23-2s, and M40s, but they have also been seen with the much more rare ZPU-4 and the Zastava M55A4B1 triple 20 mm.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) is the military maintained by the House of Representatives. It is led by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, and is often described as “Haftar’s Army.” As one of the largest fighting forces in Libya, the LNA does not have an army-wide standard for the outfit of their technicals, though, in general, LNA Type 1s are kept in the factory tan paint and camouflage patterns are applied over this.
The most common camouflage pattern to see on LNA technicals is large brown splotches with a black spray-painted border. These camouflages seem to come in two varieties, one can be identified by large semi-circular spots on the hood above both headlights, and the other can be identified by squiggly lines of camouflage coming up onto the hood from either side above the front wheels. It is impossible to say when this pattern was introduced, but it appears to be relatively recently, within the last several years.
Libya Dawn used two notable types of camouflage on their Type 1s. The first was a pattern similar to that used by the LNA’s 106th Brigade, albeit with spots not shaped like landmasses. Libya Dawn’s pattern had more densely packed spots, which are an earth brown color. The other camouflage type was used in the area around Zintan, south of Tripoli. It consisted of comedically shaped green, black, brown, and white splats over the basic tan paint. A corresponding feature seen on trucks with this camouflage was a simple metal shield for the ZPU gunner in the back.
Like the Libyan Civil Wars, the Syrian Civil War and Yemeni Civil War were brought about by the Arab Spring movement. The Syrian Civil War in particular has fostered renewed Islamic terrorism that has spread throughout the world. Largely for that reason, the conflict has been covered far more extensively than any other conflict described in this article. The Syrian Civil War and the Yemeni Civil War are different to the other conflicts discussed in this article in that researching them poses the opposite problem than researching other conflicts does. Rather than a scarcity of information, there is an overabundance of information about these wars. Thanks to the pervasive use of social media, almost every skirmish is documented, and every vehicle photographed at least twice. The challenge is in correlating this information, which is spread out across hundreds of news outlets, observers, websites, and forums.
To properly cover the Syrian Civil War would require an encyclopedia unto itself. “Syrian Civil War” is often used as a collective term for the many smaller wars and skirmishes centered around Syria, but also affecting Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Turkey. At times, the conflict looked like a free-for-all, and at best is a multi-way war between at least four sides; the Syrian government, Syrian rebels, Kurds, and the Islamic State.
Beginning in March 2011, protests and civil unrest arose in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad. As part of the Arab Spring, the people demanded reform, the end of corruption, and political and personal freedoms. In response, Bashar blamed Israel for the uprisings and sent in the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) to quell the riots, resulting in the death of over 1,000 civilians. In retaliation to the Syrian government’s disastrous handling of the protests, riots and armed insurrections began. Deserters from the SAA formed their own rebel armies, most notably the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which was established on July 29th, 2011.
Fighting quickly intensified as forces loyal to Assad tried to crush the rebellions, further cementing the resolve of the rebels. During the first half of 2012, the UN and Arab League attempted to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the conflict arising in Syria, but these efforts failed, and in June, the UN abandoned Syria. The FSA arose in the Latakia Governorate, north of Lebanon, bordering the Mediterranean. Fighting then moved inland, centered on the major cities of Aleppo in the north and Damascus in the south. SAA attacks on Kurdish civilians led the People’s Protection Units [Yekîneyên Parastina Gel] (YPG) to enter the fighting against the Syrian government. The YPG had been formed in 2011 as a military wing of the Democratic Union Party [Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat] (PYD) to protect Kurds from the fighting in the Syrian Civil War; this was their first major act.
In January 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra l’Ahl as-Sham was formed. Better known as al-Nusra Front, or just al-Nusra, this Islamic extremist group originated when al-Qaeda decided to make a Syrian offshoot in late 2011. Despite radically opposed ideologies, al-Nusra and the FSA cooperated in the fight against the SAA. Al-Nusra operated primarily in the Idlib Governorate, between Aleppo and Damascus. While their fighters were said to be elite in regular combat, al-Nusra also engaged in terrorism and greater than average amounts of war crimes.
In the second half of 2012, the FSA took ground around Damascus and Aleppo. They captured several SAA barracks and bases, gaining large amounts of supplies and weapons. Speaking in regard to these gains, FSA General Ahmad al-Faj declared, “There has never been a battle before with this much booty”. In November, another FSA force arose in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, bordering Iraq, and took the town of Mayadin, along with the SAA base there. By the beginning of 2013, FSA and al-Nusra forces, incidentally aided by the YPG, which took control of much of the northern territory, “spilled over” the top of Syria and linked up with the FSA contingent in Deir ez-Zor. In February and March, Raqqa, capital of the Raqqa Governorate, emerged as a fierce battleground, being fully in the hands of the rebels by March 6th.
Starting in late 2012 and increasing their involvement in the opening months of 2013, the militant Lebanese Islamic extremist political party called Hezbollah began interventions in Syria on the side of the Syrian government. Other prominent Lebanese figures and groups urged Hezbollah not to get involved in Syria, for fear that it would drag Lebanon into the war. Hezbollah ignored these pleas, intent on combating what they called American and Israeli influence in Syria, in the form of the FSA.
With help from Hezbollah forces, the SAA launched an offensive to retake areas south of Homs from the rebels in April 2013. Pro-Assad forces made several smaller gains over subsequent months. During this period of SAA offensives, rebel forces claimed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against them. In July, the YPG emerged victorious over the village of Ras al-Ayn, for which they had been fighting the FSA, al-Nusra, and the SAA since November 2012.
Intense back and forth fighting over Homs and Aleppo continued in July between various Islamic groups, the FSA, and SAA. On August 4th, the FSA launched the Latakia Offensive, aimed at taking al-Haffah in the Latakia Governorate. After two weeks, the SAA had retaken all the ground gained by the FSA in the offensive. On August 6th, the FSA took the Menagh Military Airbase, north of Aleppo, which had been under siege since November 2012. For the remainder of August, rebel forces made small-scale assaults, but any ground they took was quickly retaken by the SAA.
The organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) had been active in Iraq in one form or another since 1999. The original founder of ISIL, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2004, and thereafter ISIL took orders from al-Qaeda and was largely seen as al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq. When the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, ISIL attempted to establish an offshoot organization there — al-Nusra. On April 8th, 2013, ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that al-Nusra had been funded by ISIL and that it would be merging with its parent organization. Neither al-Nusra nor al-Qaeda had agreed to this, and this led to ISIL breaking away from al-Qaeda on its own. ISIL (during this period normally called ISIS) initially played a small role in the fighting against the SAA. Their first major move toward becoming a power was turning on the FSA and taking control of the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo.
An FSA Type 1BMP (J79L-TJ) taking several shots at Syrian government forces then quickly ducking into cover during the fighting for al-Manshiyah District of Daraa, Syria, July 10th, 2013.
Renewed SAA and pro-Assad forces assaults on Damascus and Aleppo occurred in October and November 2013. Toward the end of November, the FSA retook some territory from the SAA. Back and forth fighting continued into December. Meanwhile, one of the Islamic rebel factions, the Islamic Front, took some northern territory from the FSA, including warehouses of equipment provided by the US.
On January 3rd, the FSA and two of the moderate Islamic rebel groups, the Islamic Front and the Army of Mujahideen, launched an attack against ISIS, a growing thorn in the side of the Syrian rebellion. FSA-aligned forces were able to expel ISIS from Aleppo and Raqqa, however, the terrorist group managed to retake the latter. Aircraft from Turkey also engaged ISIS vehicles at this time.
During March and April 2014, pro-Assad forces made gains in the area of the Qalamoun Mountains, along Syria’s border with Lebanon, north of Damascus. They also found success in the Homs Governorate, north of the Qalamoun Mountains. The FSA ceded Homs itself to the SAA on May 7th.
By mid-2014, ISIS had grown into a considerable power in Syria. Also existing as a fighting force in Iraq, ISIS captured much Iraqi equipment and vehicles and deployed some of them to Syria. Both the SAA and Iraqi Air Force conducted airstrikes against ISIS’s strongholds in the region of Aleppo, however, ISIS continued to quickly snatch up neighboring territories. In its attacks, ISIS frequently employed suicide bombers. During August, ISIS laid siege to and captured the SAA’s Tabqa Airbase, thereby pushing the SAA out of the Raqqa Governorate. In regard to ISIS, the SAA then changed focus to the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, east of Raqqa. Deir ez-Zor not only contains Syria’s largest oil reserves but was a territory necessary for ISIS forces in Syria to maintain contact with ISIS forces in Iraq.
Already conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, the United States began attacking ISIS in Syria as well in September 2014, after having informed both the Syrian government and FSA. With material support from the Syrian government, the YPG retook its city of Kobanî on January 26th, 2015. The YPG’s forces in Kobanî would later be bolstered by troops from Iraqi Kurdistan’s Peshmerga.
With al-Nusra having gained control of most of the Idlib Governorate, many of the Islamic rebel factions in the area, including al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, consolidated to form the Army of Conquest. The goal of this coalition was taking Idlib, the capital of the governorate. On March 28th, 2015, Idlib was captured by the Army of Conquest forces. From there, the Army of Conquest launched an offensive that pushed the remaining SAA forces out of the governorate almost entirely. By this time, the FSA’s dominance had waned. Many of the fighters left to join other rebel factions, the largest of which was Ahrar al-Sham.
In May, ISIS launched the Palmyra Offensive, taking control of much of the Homs Governorate and capturing the city of Palmyra on May 21st, after only one week. After this offensive, ISIS controlled about half of Syria. A counter-offensive by the SAA in July and August failed to retake Palmyra.
In September 2015, with the war situation the worst it had ever gotten, Bashar al-Assad asked Russia for air support against ISIS and the anti-Assad rebels. In response, the United States reinitiated its support for the Kurds and Syrian rebels. With the Syrian Civil War now being a practical Cold War reunion, fighting on all sides intensified, with morale running high for both the SAA and Syrian rebels. After the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, attributed to ISIS, France redoubled their bombing efforts in Syria, and deployed their aircraft carrier, Charles de Gaulle, to join the US fleet there. In December, the British joined the air war over Syria, having previously limited themselves to only bombing ISIS in Iraq.
In October 2015, the SAA launched the Latakia Offensive, to push rebel forces out of the Latakia Governorate. The SAA was supported on the ground by Hezbollah, and in the air by Russia. By the time it ended in February 2016, the offensive had been a resounding success, and most of the governorate had been retaken. At this time, the United Nations-brokered a ceasefire between all forces (excepting ISIS), which went into effect on February 27th. In March, the SAA retook Palmyra. The ceasefire fell apart in July, and fighting between the pro-Assad forces and anti-Assad forces reignited in Aleppo, which had been continually fought over since it was first contested in 2012. It took until December 22nd, 2016, for Aleppo to be fully under the control of the SAA, ending the Battle of Aleppo after 4 years, 5 months.
A rebel Type 1b (J79L-TJ) in Aleppo in 2015 displaying superb coordination between the crewmembers, as the truck pops out of the alleyway just long enough for the ZPU-2 gunner to empty the magazines. Source
In October 2015, the Kurds formed the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), based around the YPG, including many smaller militias. The SDF’s goal of a religiously free and democratic Syria, with an autonomous Syrian Kurdistan existing east of the Euphrates River, put them at odds with Assad’s government. Between August 16th and August 23rd, 2016, the SDF took control of the remaining areas in the al-Hasakah Governorate that were under the control of Syrian government forces. The following day, Turkey initiated Operation Euphrates Shield, and invaded the northern Aleppo Governorate, to the condemnation of all involved, except for the United States. Despite the fact the Turkish government regarded the Kurds as a terrorist organization, and the United States having pledged support for the Kurds, American Vice President Joe Biden threatened to pull support from the SDF unless they kept to their side of the Euphrates, allowing the Turks into Syria. Prior to this point, Turkey had materially supported some of the Islamic rebel factions.
Unsurprisingly, Turkey, and its sponsored rebel groups which it formed into a faction called the Syrian National Army (SNA), continued deeper into Syria, coming into conflict with the SDF/YPG. Both the US and Russia condemned Turkey for picking fights with Syrian rebel groups, rather than focusing on ISIS.
In November 2016, the SDF initiated Operation Wrath of Euphrates, aimed to take ISIS’s capital of Raqqa and the ISIS-held Raqqa Governorate. Phase I of the operation involved taking the area north of Raqqa, and Phase II involved taking the area to the west. Both of these were completed by January 2017. Phase III, the taking of the largest portion of land east of Raqqa, took until April for completion. Phase IV, the final push to Raqqa itself, ended in early June.
An FSA fighting group of Type 1 technicals, consisting of at least seven Type 1a’s, a Type 1b, and a Type 1b Special, all of which are J79L-TJs. Some of the trucks have tactical markings on their roofs for identification, likely for friendly drones, such as the one that filmed parts of this video. Presumably, this unit is the equivalent of D Company, and each truck is individually numbered, as D17, D40, D52, and D58 can all be seen. This video was taken in Zamikyiah, Syria, during Operation Euphrates Shield on 9 November 2016; it illustrates the typical countryside fighting fire support that technicals engage in.
The Turkish forces succeeded in taking al-Bab, a major city east of Aleppo, from ISIS on February 23rd, 2017. After having taken Aleppo, the SAA rushed eastward to take Dayr Hafir, south of al-Bab, and prevent Turkish forces from moving further south. Dayr Hafir was in Syrian hands by March 23rd. Pursuit of ISIS would take the SAA south toward Raqqa, however, the SDF had already taken control of the region of al-Tabqa, on the other side of the Euphrates from Raqqa.
Meanwhile, in March 2017, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham launched the Hama Offensive in the Hama Governorate, between Homs and Idlib. Tahrir al-Sham was formed in January out of al-Nusra and several other Islamic extremist rebel groups. The SAA stopped the offensive at the outskirts of Hama, and by the end of April had regained all lost territory.
Between July and October, the SAA moved south and retook the area of central Syria between al-Tabqa and Palmyra, eventually taking the city of Deir ez-Zor on September 5th. On October 17th, the SDF and US forces took control of Raqqa. Following these two massive successes, SAA forces chased ISIS east, meeting Iraqi forces at the border, who had been pursuing ISIS west, out of Iraq. In early December 2017, Russia declared that ISIS had been destroyed in Syria and that Russian forces would be leaving.
In January, Turkey and the SNA began an operation against the SDF/YPG units in the Afrin region, which it had cut off from the rest of Syrian Kurdistan when it invaded Syria. Turkey cynically called this Operation Olive Branch. Afrin was taken on March 18th.
In April 2018, after bombarding one of the cities in the region with chemical weapons, the SAA broke the Islamic rebel siege of Eastern Ghouta, a week over five years since it began. Several days later, the SAA retook full control of Damascus from remaining ISIS holdouts and rebel groups. The remainder of 2018 would be taken up by the cleanup of various pockets of rebel resistance in the south by Syrian government forces, as well as the refocusing on the Idlib Governorate as the front between the Syrian government forces, and the Turkish-backed rebels.
In December 2018, US President Donald Trump abruptly announced that US forces would be leaving Syria, after assurances from Turkish president Recep Erdoğan that Turkey would see to the destruction of terrorists. Whether he knew or cared that Erdoğan was speaking in regard to the Kurds cannot be said. It took until October 2019 for US forces to withdraw from Syria, and immediately Turkey invaded Syrian Kurdistan. Having been abandoned by their ally, the Kurds made an agreement with the Syrian government, brokered by Russia, that the two enemies would work together to fight the Turkish invasion of their country. Attempts at peace and compromises all failed, and in 2020 Turkey began a genocide of the Kurds. The situation is still unfolding.
Into the first half of 2019, ISIS still existed in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate, however, very much reduced from their time as a territory-holding state. Despite being declared “defeated” on several occasions, it was believed that thousands of fighters remained loyal or sympathetic to ISIS and that they would return to being an insurgency, rather than a fighting force.
Type 1b’s (autocannon armament) are the most common variant of the Type 1 technical in Syria. ISIS operates Type 1b’s almost exclusively. The Free Syrian Army is the largest operator of Type 1a’s (machine gun armament), to the extent that they have greater numbers of Type 1a’s than they do Type 1b’s, which is highly unusual. Small numbers of Type 1c’s (ATGM armament) are employed by Syrian rebel forces, which were supplied with TOW launchers by the United States. Al-Nusra has also come into possession of TOWs and employs them on their technicals as well.
As in Libya, there are large numbers of Type d technicals (rocket armament) in use in Syria. However, owing to the fact that the Syrian Air Force did not have such large stockpiles of rockets as the Libyan Air Force did, air-to-ground rocket pods have not found much use on Syrian technicals. Type d’s in Syria are relegated to using ground-to-ground rocket launchers, and due to the increasing scarcity of those, improvised rockets and launchers.
The Type 1BMP was first built in Libya, but Syria was where it was perfected, in the hands of the mad engineers powering the Islamic State’s war machine. Known simply as “The Workshop”, located on the grounds of what as the Thawrah Industrial Facility in the Raqqa Governorate, this single compound is where nearly all of the legitimate fighting vehicles of the Islamic State were maintained and modified. The largest number of vehicles overhauled at The Workshop were BMP-1s. Due to their large size and thin armor, however, most BMP-1s that fell into ISIS hands were expended as SVBIEDs (Suicide Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device). Converting a BMP-1 to an SVBIED entailed removing the turret and filling the hull with as many explosives as possible. This resulted in a surplus of BMP-1 turrets that needed to be found a use.
The use that they found for these turrets ended up being one of the most strangely elegant and well thought out designs to come out of the Syrian Civil War. A semi-modular box was built onto the back of a J79L-TJ, to a height level with the cab, and the BMP-1 turret mounted atop it. This arrangement gave the BMP turret full 360° rotation and comparable internal operating space to its original home in a BMP-1. ISIS Type 1BMPs are known to employ the launch rail for 9M14 Malyutka ATGMs, almost one hundred of which were captured from the Syrian Arab Army. At least four Type 1BMPs have been built by ISIS. Three individuals have been seen in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate and a fourth in the Aleppo Governorate. A Type 8BMP (based on a Ford F-350) having the same type of turret module has been seen in use by ISIS in Iraq.
One of the latest incarnations of the Type 1 technical is not actually a technical at all, but an SVBIED. They were made by the Khalid ibn al-Walid Army, which began as a rebel faction operating on the southern front in the Daraa Governorate, but which turned into an ISIS-aligned terrorist group in 2016. Khalid ibn al-Walid was smaller and less equipped than other ISIS groups and rarely employed SVBIEDs up until 2018. In the final few months of their existence, Khalid ibn al-Walid began to make larger use of SVBIEDs. One of the first to appear was a 70 Series Land Cruiser covered with the armored body of a BTR-152, which was deployed in al-Shaykh Saad on April 19th, 2018. Two more such vehicles would be seen on June 5th and July 15th, both near the town of Hayt.
It is clear that a lot of effort went into these conversions, probably more than was warranted. Armoring SVBIEDs is nothing new, it helps ensure the operator stays alive long enough to get the explosives to the desired target. However, using the bodywork of a BTR-152, cutting apart the entire vehicle in the process, and basing the SVBIED on a Land Cruiser, one of the most desirable platforms for technicals, are very strange choices. Khalid ibn al-Walid captured several BTR-152 armored trucks from the stocks of Syrian government forces. Presumably, these trucks were non-operable, as otherwise they could have been used as SVBIEDs with little alteration necessary.
After the defeat of Khalid ibn al-Walid in July, at least two additional BTR-bodied Land Cruisers were discovered in their former territory by the SAA. These trucks, however, were different to the SVBIEDs; they used nearly the full body of the BTR-152, whereas the SVBIEDs had only used the forward section of the BTR armor. These Type 1BTRs were intended as fighting vehicles. The first vehicle was armed with a KPV machine gun and used the body of a single BTR-152 with only the rear cut off to fit the shorter Land Cruiser chassis. The second vehicle used a combination of three BTR-152 bodies, with the troop compartment made from welding two BTR-152 troop compartments together. When photographed in Syria, this Type 1BTR had a mount for a weapon in the back, but no weapon was fitted. Both Type 1BTRs were taken to Russia and went on display at Patriot Park. The second vehicle has since been given a coat of tan paint and been fitted with a fake recoilless rifle.
The Yemeni Civil War began in September 2014, when the revolutionary group Ansar Allah, better known as the Houthi movement, or simply the Houthi, took over the capital city of Sana’a. This act was motivated by economic and political difficulties in the country dating back to 2011. To end the violence, concessions were made by Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi that entailed giving the Houthis large amounts of power in the government and eventually ended in Hadi’s resignation and the Houthis declaring the former Yemeni government defunct. In February 2015, Hadi escaped from his detention in Sana’a and declared to the rest of Yemen that the Houthi government was illegitimate and that he remained the president of Yemen. This created a divide in the Yemeni military, with part of the force remaining loyal to Hadi, and part of the force being loyal to the Houthis.
In March, Houthi forces took over the cities of Taiz and Mocha, having rapidly expanded their landholding in southwestern Yemen. Several days later, at the request of Hadi, a coalition force led by Saudi Arabia was formulated to assist the Yemeni government in the fight against the Houthis. Neighboring countries that were part of this force include Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar. It is said, however unconfirmed, that the Houthis were supported by Iran, with which Saudi Arabia had been waging a cold war.
By the end of March, the Houthis had reached Aden, on the southern coast of Yemen, where Hadi had temporarily moved his capital. At this time, the Houthi movement controlled roughly the western third of Yemen. The Houthis had taken Aden by April, but in July were pushed out by Coalition and Yemeni forces. Another Yemeni government push came in August, taking a large section of the Houthis’ southern holdings. From this point onward, no great advancements were made. Back and forth fighting continued for years, with the same areas of land being fought over repeatedly. Very slowly, Coalition and Yemeni forces have chipped away at the Houthis’ territory, yet the latter still controls a sizable portion of Yemen. As of November 2020, this situation endures.
During the fighting between the Houthis and the Yemeni government, smaller portions of the country came under the control of other groups, such as al-Qaeda, Ansar al-Sharia, ISIS, and the Southern Movement. The former three are Islamic extremist groups, the latter is a group pushing for the regained independence of South Yemen. The Southern Movement established its own government in 2017, called the Southern Transitional Council (STC), which is backed by the UAE. Despite at times controlling considerable portions of land, these lesser factions have not greatly influenced the course of the conflict between the Houthis and the Yemeni government.
Prior to the civil war, the Yemeni Armed Forces employed multiple variants of the Type 1 technical, including the J70/71/72LV, J78L, J75LP, and J79L-TJ. Type 1a’s were employed by multiple Yemeni military and secret police organizations. The Yemeni Army operated Type 1a’s, Type 1b’s, and Type 1e’s. A notable feature of pre-war Yemeni technicals is the care with which they were designed and built. Yemeni Army technicals generally retained their tan base color and were camouflaged with darker brown in various patterns.
The Yemeni Army built a standardized type of technical with a fighting compartment in the bed, having two windows per side and a roof-mounted turret. Several variations exist in the armament of this type of technical. Standard armament is a 12.7 mm DShK heavy machine gun, which comes in either a conical or open-topped turret. The open-topped variety is more common, the conical turret possibly being an earlier variant. A single Yemeni-type technical having an octagonal open-topped turret with 105 mm M40 recoilless rifle has also been seen.
In the Yemeni Civil War, the Yemeni government’s use of technicals has greatly diminished. The Houthis are now the largest operator of technicals in Yemen. Houthi technicals are characterized by ingenuity and outlandish weaponry. With limited access to modern weaponry, the Houthis have had to make do with whatever they are able to capture. This includes such antiques as the Soviet 57 mm ZiS-2 and 76.2 mm ZiS-3, both of which they have mounted onto Toyota Land Cruisers.
In 2016, the Houthis unveiled the mother of all technicals — an M167 VADS 20 mm gatling gun mounted to a pickup truck. In 1979, Yemen had received 52 M167 Vulcan Air Defense System guns from the United States. The M167 is the towed version of the famous M163. The Houthis had employed these guns as early as 2015, and they found their way onto technicals not long after.
A Houthi Type 1f (J79L-TJ) with 20 mm M167 VADS, July 29th, 2020. Just a short burst from the massive gatling gun is enough to rock the truck; sustained fire would likely push the vehicle down the street.
Iraq, for the most part, has not used the 70 Series Land Cruiser. Prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, their equipment was primarily of Soviet origin. After the occupation, the new government of Iraq was provided with enough American Humvees that they had no large need for technicals. The trucks that are used by the Iraqi Armed Forces, particularly by the Popular Mobilization Units (Iraqi PMU), tend to be Type 2 (Toyota Hilux), Type 13 (Nissan Navara), and trucks of American make. Nevertheless, some Type 1s did make their way into service with the Iraqis in the fight against ISIS.
An Iraqi PMU Type 1c (J79L-TJ) firing on and destroying an approaching ISIS SVBIED, west of Mosul, Iraq, December 4th, 2016.
At some point, Iraq came into possession of Iranian-built Type 1d’s mounting HM-27 launchers for 122 mm Grad rockets. The HM-27 has a 2×4 launcher configuration, for 8 tubes in total. These trucks are series built by the Iranian Defense Industries Organization (DIO), and are marketed to military users. The HM-27 can be identified by the rectangular vertical launcher mount, and the “A”-shaped frame which carries the tubes. These vehicles have been spotted in Iraqi hands as early as 2014.
Vehicles similar to the Type 1d (HM-27) have appeared in Syria in use by rebel factions, particularly Ahrar al-Sham. The Syrian vehicles are semi-standardized but are not consistent in design like the Iraqi ones. The Grad launchers seen on Type 1d’s in Syria have 14 tubes in 2×7 configuration. It is believed that these launchers are also of Iranian origin, but no corresponding model is known at this time. These launchers may have been provided to Syrian rebels by Iraq.
Video depicting the operation of a Syrian Type 1d (J79L-TJ) (Grad). This video was uploaded after the original was deleted, and it does not provide the date and location details the original description might have. Notice that trucks of this type employ outriggers at the rear to stabilize the vehicle when firing.
A number of “half” Type 1b’s have been captured by ISIS in Iraq, having just one barrel of the normally twin-barreled ZU-23-2. It is not known whether this alteration was done by the Iraqis or by ISIS after they captured the technicals. However, due to the Iraqis being relatively well-equipped, it is more likely this was done by ISIS as a way to “stretch” the small number of weapons they captured as far as possible. Most halved ZU-23-2s do not retain their original gun mounts, possibly because the mount was destroyed in the deconjoining process. Singular ZU-23s are then mounted on technicals in improvised mounts made of angle iron. The mount used is somewhat standardized, the common feature being three springs on a diagonal projection underneath the firing chamber to balance the gun.
Type 1f (J79L-TJ)s armed with halved ZU-23-2s have also appeared in use by the SDF in the Raqqa Governorate in March 2017. This video, taken on March 25th, as well as other videos show that Syrian half ZU-23-2s are unable to operate automatically, and must be recocked by hand for each round they fire. No videos are available that show the operation of ISIS half ZU-23-2s, but they likely suffered from the same problem.
Despite the popularity of the 70 Series and the Hilux with warfighters, Toyota actively tries to prevent their trucks from falling into their hands. Being the brand of choice for terrorists, revolutionaries, and war criminals does not reflect well on Toyota’s corporate image. Toyota’s official statement on the matter is thus: “Toyota has a strict policy not to sell vehicles to potential purchasers who may use or modify them for paramilitary or terrorist activities, and have procedures in place to prevent their products from being diverted for unauthorized military use. Toyota complies with export control and sanctions laws, and requires dealers and distributors to do the same.”
Toyota does not sell vehicles in Syria, and until 2012 did not sell in Libya. In the five years prior to the US invasion of Afghanistan, Toyota insists that only a single truck was sold legally to that country. Toyota does freely sell trucks in Iraq, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE; it is from these countries that Toyotas make their way into the hands of warfighters in the Middle East. Obviously, not all trucks are acquired by legal means, some are stolen secondhand, and some right from the distributor. It is estimated that as many as 800 Toyota trucks have been stolen during transport by or for irregular militaries.
Be that as it may, many special forces purchase Toyotas, sometimes in great numbers, for their own operations. The benefit of using technicals is that it allows them to blend in with every other irregular faction in a given conflict. US special forces use a mix of different makes and models, with a large number of Toyota Hiluxes and Land Cruiser 70s. In US military jargon, a technical is an “Unarmored Non-standard Commercial Vehicle” or UANSCV, or NSCV for short. The first use of the 70 Series by US special forces was during Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 intervention in Kuwait. While other units also utilized non-standard vehicles, the 5th Special Forces Group was given Land Cruiser J75s, apparently a donation to the effort by Japan. These Land Cruisers were given small modifications, such as side stowage racks, and identification markings in the form of a black “^” painted on the doors, and a VS17 orange signal panel strapped to the roof of the cab. A pintle mount was placed in the bed, and trucks were equipped with either a .50 cal M2 or Mk.19 40 mm grenade launcher. At least one such truck had the cab cut off and an M40 recoilless rifle was mounted in the bed.
In addition to using them for their own special forces, western countries purchase and donate trucks to third-world governments and revolutionaries they support. Recently, “defense contractors” have taken notice of the popularity of the Land Cruiser as a fighting vehicle and have begun to offer their own modifications and aftermarket versions. This certainly predicates that Toyota knows about these uses of their vehicles and at least tolerates them, despite the fact that cutting off these supplies would help to reduce the number of trucks that fall into the hands of less desirable operators.
It would be impossible to list every military and paramilitary group that has utilized the Type 1 technical, not only because of the sheer amount of groups that have arisen in the Middle East in recent times, but because of their often short-lived and undocumented nature. However, based on photographic evidence a list can be drawn up of the major operators:
Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas Forces
Afghan National Army
African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS)
African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM)
Ahlu Sunna Waljama’a (ASWJ)
Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism (ARPCT)
Ali Hassan al-Jaber Brigade
Armed Forces of the Liberation of Angola [Forças Armadas de Libertação de Angola] (FALA)
Armed Forces of the Republic of the Congo [Forces Armées de la République du Congo] (FAC)
Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council
Central African Republic National Police
Central Security Organization [Yemen] (CSO)
Chadian National Armed Forces [Forces Armées Nationales Tchadiennes] (FANT)
Chadian National Gendarmerie
Chadian Rebels (Third Chadian Civil War)
Free Idlib Army
Free Syrian Army (FSA)
French Special Forces
Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN)
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham
Imazighen / Berber Militias
Integrated Security Detachment [Détachement Intégré de Sécurité] (DIS)
Iraqi Ground Forces
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Syria (ISIL/ISIS)
Jaysh Ahrar al-Ashayer / Army of Free Tribes
Jaysh al-Muwahhideen / Army of Monotheists
Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya / Lions of the East Army
Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)
Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS)
Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi
Khalid ibn al-Walid Army
Kurdistan Workers’ Party [Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê] (PKK)
Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD)
Libya Shield Force
Libyan Air Defense Forces
Libyan Army (Gaddafi Era)
Libyan National Army (LNA)
Libyan National Guard
Libyan Special Forces / Al-Saiqa
Malian Armed Forces
Mauritanian Armed Forces
Misrata Military Council / Misrata Militias
Mobile National Force (MNF)
National Liberation Army [Libya] (NLA)
National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA)
National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL)
National Redemption Front (NRF)
New Syrian Army/Revolutionary Commando Army
People’s Mujahedin of Iran [Mujahedin-e Khalq] (MEK)
People’s Protection Units [Yekîneyên Parastina Gel] (YPG)
Popular Front for the Liberation of Libya (PFLL)
Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) / Popular Mobilization Units (Iraqi PMU)
Qatar Armed Forces
RADA Special Deterrence Forces
Rapid Support Forces (RSF)
Republic of Yemen Armed Forces
Revolutionary Commando Army [Jaysh Maghawir al-Thawra] (MaT)
Royal Moroccan Army
Russian Forces in Syria
Saraya Ghuraba Filistin
Saudi-Arabian “Coalition” Forces in Yemen
Shura Council of Benghazi Revolutionaries (SCBR)
Shura Council of Mujahideen in Derna (SCMD)
Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF)
Somali National Movement (SNM)
Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM)
South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF)
Southern Transitional Council (STC) / Southern Movement
Sudan Liberation Army (SLA)
Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)
Sultan Murad Brigade
Syrian Arab Army (SAA)
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
Syrian Liberation Front [Jabhat Tahrir Suriya] (JTS)
Syrian National Army (SNA)
Syrian Rebels/Syrian Opposition Forces
Third Force (Libyan Militia)
Tripoli Protection Force (TPF)
Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade (TRB)
Turkish Special Forces
United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID)
United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali [Mission multidimensionnelle intégrée des Nations unies pour la stabilisation au Mali] (MINUSMA)
United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo [Mission de l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en République démocratique du Congo] (MONUSCO)
Hello dear reader! This article on the T-72 Shafrah has not been updated since 19th March 2018, meaning that the article may be out of date, considering that the Syrian Civil War continues.
Syrian Arab Republic (2017-Present)
Main Battle Tank – Estimated 11-17 Converted
New armor kits for the SAA
The T-72 Shafrah was originally a testbed for a new type of armor made by the Republican Guard’s 105th Mechanized Brigade (first seen used on bulldozers in October 2016). This upgrade was supposed to resist all forms of anti-tank rockets. Throughout the Civil War, Syrian tanks have been highly vulnerable to RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades) and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), and successful missile attacks against SAA tanks in Damascus are often filmed and used for enemy propaganda.
Initially, the Shafrah package did not appear to be sufficient for the SAA’s needs, but it seems as though more vehicles were upgraded to the Shafrah standard throughout 2017 and 2018, each bringing design improvements making the armor more resilient to missiles. Now, with anywhere between 11 and 17 T-72 Shafrah tanks, the package has a proven record of its success.
The name ‘Shafrah’ means ‘razor’, a joke originating from @withinsyria blog, referring to the armor looking like a shaving razor. This name has stuck with the tank and is apparently used in SAA propaganda.
T-72 Shafrah I, posted online on 27th February 2017.
Whilst the T-72 Mahmia (also known as the T-72 Adra) upgrade of the SAA 4th Armored Division was successful at defeating RPG-29 hits, it was not consistent at defeating ATGMs. In late 2016 / early 2017, it seems as though tank upgrades were slowly being centralized by the Syrian Arab Army, with the intention of making a new type of upgraded T-72 that is invulnerable to all missile types.
Around late 2016, a tweet from @syrianmilitary, referred to a mystery T-72 upgrade dubbed “T-72 Grendizer” (which refers to a popular Japanese cartoon show that was popular in the Middle East in the 1980s – children of that era now being the tank crews of today) and was suggested to be “the T-55 Enigma reborn”.
The Shafrah may actually be this project. It has, in some sense, composite armor like the T-55 Enigma.
Basic outline of the armor
The T-72 Shafrah’s armor is quite distinct. Essentially, numerous brackets are placed on the tank’s turret, which have a number of angled plates welded onto them. Some tanks have sideskirts (most appear to at least have sideskirt mounts consisting of two metal beams above road-wheels), which follow a similar pattern, but the welded plates are not angled.
WithinSyria blog reported that the armor plates are made of RHA (1.5 mm – 2 mm thick), tungsten, and glassfiber. It is further rumored that the tungsten part refers to 1 mm thick tungsten copper plates. If this is true, then this armor package, therefore, seems as though it is designed to be a form of composite armor which, like the T-55 Enigma, should be able to stop ATGMs.
However, with an alleged budget of $5,000-10,000 US per month, the Republican Guard is unlikely to be able to use tungsten on a wide scale due to the material being too costly. As such, it is equally valid to believe that the plates are made purely from steel until further evidence is available.
SAA propaganda showing T-72 Shafrah III, probably not long after it was built, around June 19th 2017. The extent of the uparmoring can be seen clearly in this photo.
Identifying Individual Vehicles
Identifying each individual T-72 Shafrah tank has proven difficult due to a lack of sources available. The tanks are identified in this article by assigning them a designation based on their base vehicle (in this case, T-72 (Urals), and T-72AVs exclusively). T-72 Urals have a plain turret, but T-72AVs have ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) bricks on the turret, making the two models distinct. The base designation is followed by a number denoting when they were first photographed (importantly, this does not necessarily mean that vehicles with lower numbers were built first). Separate vehicles are identified by comparing their Shafrah features – mostly armor layout schemes.
This system has its flaws. For example, tanks may lose parts of the armor during the course of battles, or armor brackets might be replaced or removed entirely. Therefore, some tanks may appear differently at different points in time, meaning that they are mistaken for two separate vehicles. The upshot of this is that this article may overestimate the number of Shafrah vehicles in existence. Similarly, relying on only photographic evidence may mean that it underestimates the number because some Shafrah tanks may not have been photographed. Also consider that photos sometimes surface months after being taken, thus making a chronological typology difficult (see T-72AV Shafrah VI for an example of this – photos taken on 3rd November 2017 only surfaced along with photos of the tank on 4th March 2018).
With these limitations in mind, the T-72 Shafrah tanks can be divided and described as thus (in a roughly chronological order based on when they were photographed): T-72 Shafrah Ihas the fewest number of welded plates on its brackets – typically, two large plates. There is a single plate with no welded plates on the right of the gun (as if facing the vehicle). The vehicle was hit by an ATGM in Eastern Ghouta, on 27th February 2017. The turret ring was damaged and the driver was wounded, likely meaning that the brackets were repaired and/or replaced, which complicates identifying the tank. This tank originally had sideskirts, but these appear to have been eventually removed after 22nd March 2017, where it was believed to be seen at the Qaboun offensive (still with sideskirts on the 22nd however). (Again, identifying this particular tank has proved difficult due to both a lack of photos and the ATGM hit meaning the brackets were likely repaired. As such, it is possible that some photos believed to show the vehicle actually show different and separate Shafrah upgrades). It is believed that this tank was also seen in Eastern Ghouta, circa 4th March 2018, having sustained significant combat wear and tear. The front spotlight has been shot out, and the turret plate right of the gun appears to have been replaced. T-72AV Shafrah I has no sideskirts, but does have two welded beams between its road-wheels to mount a sideskirt. The turret has seven or eight brackets, each with six or seven short plates welded on. The right side of the front bumper also appeared damaged and bent out of shape when seen at the Qaboun offensive on 22nd March 2017. That bumper section may likely be missing now. It is believed that it was this vehicle which was hit by an ATGM around 30th September 2017 at Hawsh Dawahirah. T-72AV Shafrah II has no sideskirts, but has the welded beams for their mounting. It also appears to have only four turret brackets, each with five or six welded plates. It has a single plate on the right side of the gun acting as the protective bracket in that area. It also has Viper 72 thermal sights (see sidenote III below). This tank was first seen on 25th March 2017, possibly at Qaboun, originally mistaken for T-72 Shafrah I. An unidentified T-72 Shafrah (whether Ural or AV is unclear) was knocked out on 16th April 2017 at Qaboun. It was originally thought that this was T-72AV Shafrah II, but that tank was seen as late as July 2017. It appears to be missing some brackets and cannot be identified as a result. (See below for more). T-72 Shafrah II has no sideskirts, but the two welded beams for mounting them. It has seven turret brackets, six of which have three welded plates. The seventh, on the right of the main gun (as if facing), is made of two plates, with a section cut out to avoid the gunner’s optics / LRF being obstructed. This tank was first seen at Qaboun on 6th May 2017. The front bumper was later mostly broken off. T-72 Shafrah III has sideskirts consisting of three brackets. The turret has roughly eight brackets, each with four welded plates, except the bracket on the right of the main gun, which has only two to avoid the gunner’s optics /LRF being obstructed. The tank was photographed before it saw any combat at all on 19th June 2017. An unidentified T-72AV Shafrah was seen at Ein Tarma, Qaboun, 21st June 2017. The tank has no sideskirts, and six turret brackets with four welded plates on each. The bracket on the right of the gun has only two plates. It is possible that this is the same Shafrah destroyed at Qaboun on 16th April 2017, but this photo of it (apparently in tact) was taken before that date, and only posted online in June 2017. This remains to be proven. T-72AV Shafrah III has damaged sideskirts made of three brackets. The left side (facing) is missing the rear bracket, and the right side is missing the bracket. The turret has many brackets (seven to nine), each with five to seven welded plates, except the bracket on the right of the gun, which has only two, to avoid the gunner’s optics /LRF being obstructed. The tank was first seen on 19th November 2017, crossing a bridge over the River Euphrates via Hawijat Kati island at Deir ez-Zor. T-72 Shafrah IV is the most heavily armored Shafrah built so far. It has sideskirts split into three sections, with missile damage on the middle section of the left side (this section is likely to be replaced or repaired). The turret brackets strangely look as if they are made from one continuous bracket, rounded to fit the turret’s shape. The bracket has eight to ten sets of three welded plates (again, only two welded plates on the right of the gun to prevent obstruction to the gunner’s optics). The plates on the left of the gun have a small cut out so that the coaxial machine gun is not obstructed. This tank was first seen in Eastern Damascus, 7th January 2018, trying to reach Harasta vehicle base. T-72AV Shafrah IVhas no sideskirts, and no mounting bars for it between its roadwheels. Its turret has seven to nine brackets, each with four welded plates (the bottom welded plate is taller than the rest), and only two welded plates on the right of the gun. This tank was first seen at Eastern Ghouta, 3rd February 2018. T-72 Shafrah Vhas a distinctive dark grey / brown colour. It has sideskirts, probably in three sections. The turret has eight brackets (the direct rear bracket is missing), each with four welded plates (again, except the bracket on the right, which has two plates). The tank was first seen around mid-February (a few days before the 19th, perhaps) preparing for the Eastern Ghouta offensive. T-72 Shafrah VIhas no sideskirts and roughly five brackets making up the turret (leaving a large gap at the rear of the turret). The brackets all have three plates each, but the half-plate below the gunner’s optics has only two. The tank also has no uparmoring on the engine deck. The tank was first seen around mid-February (a few days before the 19th, perhaps) preparing for the Eastern Ghouta offensive. T-72AV Shafrah V has sideskirts and seven turret brackets with four plates each making up the turret armor (with a single plate below the gunner’s optics, like T-72AV Shafrah II). The sideskirts are split into three sections, and the rearmost section on the tank’s right side appears to be falling off. It was first seen in a montage of footage from offensives at Qaboun, Ghouta, Ein Tarma and other areas on 26th February 2018. The vehicle was likely first put into action at a much earlier date, most likely late 2017. It is likely that it sustained damage in the Eastern Ghouta offensive in early March 2018, leading to a loss of its rear right sideskirt section, and a rear turret bracket section, but the photo showing this cannot be confirmed to be T-72AV Shafrah V with certainty. T-72AV Shafrah VI originally had sideskirts (see photos from 3rd November 2017 at Ein Tarma) but when photographed on March 4th, 2018, it does not have sideskirts. The turret is likely made up of seven brackets (a rear one is missing) with only several plates on each. Unlike most recent Shafrah tanks, it has several plates below the gunner’s sight which are tightly spaced, and are also shaped like trapeziums. There is also a cutout section on the left of the main gun for the turret machine gun to remain unobstructed. Photos from 4th March 2018 show that the right mudguard is missing, and the front bumper has snapped off in front of both tracks. The tank also has a registration plate painted on in black on the lowest hull Shafrah plate: ٣٨٣٠٨٣, and on the lower glacis plate in sand-yellow. The tank is also an AV, but strangely has no ERA on the turret, but the bolts where the bricks were are still there. The vehicle was first photographed on 3rd November 2017. It was later sighted at the liberation of Beit Nayem, Eastern Ghouta on 4th March 2018. T-72 Shafrah VII (unclear model – this will be updated when known for certain) has no sideskirts (interestingly, the remains original mudguard sections are mangled out of shape), and has an estimated seven to nine squat turret brackets, each with three Shafrah plates, except on the right of the gun, which has two. A distinguishing feature is the narrow turret bracket on the left of the gun. The tank may also not have any rear uparmoring. It was first seen at the town of al-Muhamadyia on 7th March 2018.
Accounting for the potential errors with this methodology, and that there may also be unseen Shafrah tanks, there are an estimated 11-17 Shafrahs that have ever existed, probably 16 (thirteen known tanks, plus two unidentified tanks, plus the possibility that photos thought to show T-72 Shafrah I actually show two separate tanks).
T-72 Shafrah I hit by ATGM at Eastern Ghouta, 27th February 2017
T-72 Shafrah I was first documented in combat in Eastern Ghouta, on 27th February 2017. The footage below shows that the vehicle was hit by an ATGM. As a result, the driver was wounded and the turret was damaged, but the vehicle was not destroyed. Crucially, there was no internal fire, which was a common problem with the T-72 Mahmia.
T-72 Shafrah I being hit by an ATGM. The footage is cropped, and the vehicle was not destroyed.
It was later photographed being transported back to the workshop on the back of a lorry. The photograph was dated 1st March 2017.
T-72 Shafrah I and T-72AV Shafrah II at Qaboun, 22nd March 2017
The T-72 Shafrah tank was next seen in combat along with the T-72AV Shafrah, and a third, lightly modified T-72 on 22nd March 2017 at Qaboun, in the north of Jobar, in east Damascus. The fighting took place near a fabric factory. The source (a tweet with two videos) suggests that 150 rebels were killed in the assault, which was supported by infantry.
T-72 Shafrah I in combat at Qaboun, Jobar, Eastern Damascus, March 22nd, 2017.
T-72AV Shafrah I in combat at Qaboun, Jobar, Eastern Damascus, March 22nd, 2017.
Unknown T-72 Shafrah destroyed at Qaboun, 16th April 2017
On the 16th April 2017, a photo was posted online showing an unknown T-72 Shafrah having been knocked out at Qaboun. The photo shows the vehicle’s turret on fire, with multiple armor brackets missing. Reports suggest that it was hit by an AT mine which destroyed a track, but caused no damage. The crew escaped, but several soldiers are reported to have been killed or wounded in the attack.
The vehicle was finally set on fire by the rebels, to stop any chance of recovery, and it is now probably wrecked beyond repair. Ahrah al-Sham have claimed responsibility for the vehicle’s destruction.
It was initially believed that this was T-72AV Shafrah I or II, but these tanks have been seen operational after April 2017.
A T-72 Mahmia was alongside the unknown Shafrah during the attack. The T-72 Mahmia took an RPG-29 hit, which did not penetrate the tank. However, the commander sustained significant injuries. The unknown T-72 Shafrah, destroyed by rebels at Qaboun, 16th April 2017.
Rebel footage after the tank was set alight.
T-72 Shafrah II at the Qaboun Offensive, May, 2017
In an offensive that lasted from 18th February to 29th May, T-72 Shafrah II was photographed fighting again on the 6th and 8th May, and had likely been fighting throughout the offensive from mid-March.
On May 7th, an agreement between rebel forces and Government forces led to the eventual evacuation of rebels from the district. Evacuations took place until 13th May, by which time the government had captured all of Qaboun. A new evacuation deal led to further rebels and their families leaving the district, and by May 15th, the government had total control over the district.
T-72 Shafrah II at Qaboun, 6th May, 2017.
A different view of the above.
Video of T-72 Shafrah II at Qaboun, 6th May, 2017.
T-72AV Shafrah II at Jobar, June 2017
T-72AV Shafrah II was photographed in late June fighting in Jobar along with a ZSU-23-4 Shafrah, and at least one other regular T-72. Reports indicate that the 105th Republican Guards were attacking Ein Tarma (near Jobar) from the southwest and made some gains.
T-72AV Shafrah II, Jobar, 21st June, 2017.
T-72AV Shafrah I hit by ATGM, circa September 2017
Footage dating to around late September 2017 shows what appears to be T-72AV Shafrah I being hit by an ATGM fired by Jaish al-Islam at Hawsh Dawahira. The vehicle likely survived the hit, as it can be seen driving backwards for a few frames before the camera cuts to another scene.
T-72AV Shafrah III crossing the Euphrates, November 2017
On 19th November 2017, four photos were posted online of T-72AV Shafrah III and other armor crossing a bridge over the River Euphrates via Hawijat Kati island at Deir ez-Zor.
T-72AV Shafrah III behind a T-72AV near a bridge crossing at Deir ez-Zor (circa 16th November 2017). The rear third of the skirt (on the left) is actually missing from the tank. Notice also that the turret also has more brackets, and each bracket has more armor plates compared to earlier Shafrah-upgraded T-72s. This is likely in response to earlier models being too poorly armored.
Different view of the above.
T-72AV Shafrah IV filmed up close by rebels, 3rd February 2018
Rebels of Jaish al-Islam filmed T-72AV Shafrah IV up close around 3rd February 2018 at Eastern Ghouta. The rebels do not appear to have any AT weapons, hence they merely shot at the vehicle’s optics. The rebels were later forced to retreat due to their lack of AT weapons.
T-72 Shafrah V and VI, preparing for the Eastern Ghouta Offensive, mid-February 2018
Compilation SAA propaganda footage shows T-72 Shafrah V and VI preparing for the Eastern Ghouta offensive circa mid-February 2018 (probably around the 16th-19th). The video shows a column of vehicles including a T-72M1, a handful of BMP-1s, and two ZSU-23-4s preparing for or beginning an assault in Eastern Ghouta.
Front: T-72 Shafrah V. Rear: T-72 Shafrah VI. Eastern Ghouta, circa mid-February 2018.
Front: T-72 Shafrah VI, with two turret brackets missing covering the rear. Note that the rear engine deck of the tank is not uparmored. Background: T-72 Shafrah V, showing it to be missing a single turret bracket. Eastern Ghouta, circa mid-February 2018.
T-72 Shafrah V (left) and a T-72M1 with an improvised turret bracket (right). Eastern Ghouta, circa mid-February 2018.
SAA propaganda footage of T-72 Shafrah V and T-72 Shafrah VI as part of a column in Eastern Ghouta, circa mid-February 2018.
T-72AV Shafrah VI at the liberation Beit Nayem, Eastern Ghouta, 4th March 2018
T-72AV Shafrah VI was photographed after fighting in Beit Nayem, as part of the SAA’s major Eastern Ghouta offensive, along with other T-72s (one of which is an AV featuring an improvised turret cage). An estimated twenty rebels were killed in the attack on the village, and others are reported to have fled. Another vehicle, a BMP-1 with a ZU-23-2 enclosed in an improvised superstructure was also photographed, which also features Shafrah-style sideskirts.
T-72AV Shafrah VI after the liberation of Beit Nayem, 4th March 2018.
T-72AV Shafrah VI after the liberation of Beit Nayem, 4th March 2018. This photo confirms beyond all doubt that it is an AV model. Note the registration plate – ٣٨٣٠٨٣. Also note that it has no ERA bricks on the turret, but the bolts are still there
BMP-1 with a ZU-23-2 enclosed in an improvised superstructure also featuring Shafrah-style sideskirts. The addition of a ZU-23-2 is a common enough feature, but the Shafrah sideskirts appears to be fairly new. Previous BMP-1/ZU-23-2 conversions have notably featured sideskirts made from thin metal cages. The turret superstructure is also a significant improvement on previous designs. 4th March 2018, Beit Nayem.
Different view of the above. Note the Shafrah armor on the front of the vehicle, and additional visor for the driver.
On 6th March 2018, one photo taken at Beit Nayem also shows that T-72 Shafrah III and T-72 Shafrah I were present at least after the village’s liberation.
T-72 Shafrah III (background left, the second tank from the right. The four plates on the left-side turret bracket indicate it to be T-72 Shafrah III) and T-72 Shafrah I (in the center, covered by the soldiers. The single plate on the bracket behind the man furthest left is the indicator), Beit Nayem, circa 6th March 2018.
The Eastern Ghouta Offensive Continues, 7th March 2018 – Present
T-72 Shafrah VII was seen at the town of al-Muhamadyia on 7th March 2018 along with a BMP-1 during scant shelling operations.
T-72 Shafrah VII at al-Muhamadyia on 7th March 2018. Credit: SANA
T-72AV Shafrah VI was shown by RT Arabic on 8th March 2018 to be continuing to advance in Eastern Ghouta, having presumably moved on from Beit Nayem village.
This still reveals that T-72AV Shafrah VI not only is missing a rear turret bracket, but also has no ERA bricks. al-Muhamadyia, Eastern Ghouta, circa 8th March 2018. Credit: RT Arabic.
T-72 Shafrah I in Eastern Ghouta, 8th March 2018.
T-72AV Shafrah VI bursting through a wall, Eastern Ghouta, circa 9th March 2018.
T-72AV Shafrah VI at Mesraba, circa 10th March 2018.
T-72AV Shafrah VI at Jisreen, having travelled south from Mesraba, 10th March 2018.
T-72AV Shafrah VI was seen circa 11th March 2018 attacking at the farmlands near Jisreen.
T-72AV Shafrah I in combat at Qaboun, supported by infantry, reportedly on 24th March 2017.
T-72AV Shafrah II on 25th March 2017. Bars originally holding on the sideskirts can be seen just in front of the first wheel and between the second and third from the front. Rows of angled armor plates can also be seen on the hull.
T-72AV Shafrah II and a T-72AV with their crews, 23rd March 2017.
T-72AV Shafrah II and other vehicles. Unknown date.
T-72 Shafrah I. Posted online, 1st April 2017, meaning this is its post-repair state.
T-72 Shafrah V, in its distinctive brown / grey colour, and T-72 Shafrah VI. Circa mid-February 2018.
T-72 Shafrah II at Qaboun, 6th May, 2017.
A still from up-close footage of T-72AV Shafrah IV, taken by rebels of Jaish al-Isla at Eastern Ghouta, 3rd February 2018. T-72 Shafrah IV Eastern Damascus, circa 7th January 2018, trying to reach Harasta vehicle base. A black hole in the middle of the side skirt is likely an ATGM hit that did not penetrate the armor. There may also be an RPG hit to the turret, as indicated by a black burn mark.
T-72AV Shafrah III behind a T-72AV near a bridge crossing at Deir ez-Zor (circa 16th November 2017), showing the other skirt to be missing its front third.
Different view of the above, showing the rear of the tank to also be significantly uparmored. The SAA crossed the River Euphrates via Hawijat Kati Island.
T-72AV Shafrah V. Still taken from a montage of SAA ‘archive footage’ posted online on 24th February 2018, as propaganda for the Eastern Ghouta offensive.
T-72AV Shafrah V. Still taken from a montage of SAA ‘archive footage’ posted online on 24th February 2018, as propaganda for the Eastern Ghouta offensive. The damaged sideskirt is a particularly useful identification method of this tank.
Unidentified T-72AV Shafrah. Behind is a T-72M1, and in front is a ZSU-23-4 Mahmia, and a T-72 Mahmia. Unknown date, probably Qaboun, late April / early May 2017. This may be T-72AV Shafrah II, but no other photos of that tank show it to have sideskirts, and an in-tact front bumper. The tank is unidentified because its technical features are not totally clear enough to confirm it to be a new T-72AV Shafrah, and the images lack any confirmed dates to make this more difficult.
T-72AV Shafrah VI at Ein Tarma, 3rd November 2017. In this photo, it has sideskirts, but photos from March 4th 2018 show that they have been removed.
What is believed to be T-72 Shafrah I in Eastern Ghouta, circa 4th March 2018, having suffered significant combat wear and tear.
Unknown T-72 Shafrah, circa 3rd March 2018, Otaya, Eastern Ghouta. The tank is almost certainly T-72AV Shafrah V, but a lack of photos make it hard to confirm. If it is T-72AV Shafrah V, then this photo indicates that the right rear sideskirt section has fallen off (it was previously hanging loose on one mount), and a bracket at the rear of the turret has fallen off or been removed (as with T-72AV Shafrah III). This photo showing T-72AV Shafrah V after combat damage makes sense, as it is clear from the dirt on the tank that it has seen significant combat.
T-72 Shafrah VII at al-Muhamadyia on 7th March 2018. Credit: SANA
Sidenote I-a: Shilka Shafrah tanks
So far, at least two ZSU-23-4 ‘Shilka’ tanks have been upgraded with Shafrah armor, in various configurations. The first is similar to the regular Shafrah upgrade, but another (dubbed the ‘Shilka Super Shafrah’) deviates from the standard Shafrah design). ZSU-23-4s are actually used for supporting vehicles in urban combat, as their guns can hit enemy positions which are high up in tall buildings. Therefore, the tanks need to also be protected from ATGMs and rockets. A Syrian tank crewman reports that there are locally-built munitions for the Shilka which copies a Russian design, and that such munitions are plentiful. Furthermore, he reports that these munitions are so strong, there are even rumours that a single round has been known to demolish concrete walls. Rebels fear the Shilka due to its massive firepower, stopping power, and fairly good protection.
Following the same typological method as identifying the T-72 Shafrahs, the following can be deduced about the ‘Shilka Shafrah’ tanks:
On March 26th, footage showing Shilka Shafrah I was posted, probably at Jobar. Note that the photo shows it facing the rear. Strangely, the guns have also been given single Shafrah plates. The sideskirts also appear to have gaps in them, probably to allow access to the Shilka’s regular exterior fixtures.
Shilka Shafrah I, in Jobar, posted online on March 27th, 2017. The photo was probably taken on 26th March, 2017. The vehicle may have been built up to a week earlier, however, it seems odd that it has not been seen in combat earlier, if that is the case. Footage can be viewed here.
Shilka Shafrah I, some time in March 2017, unknown location. Probably somewhere in East Ghouta.
Shilka Shafrah I at Jobar, 21st June, 2017.
Eventually, the most of sideskirt on the left of Shilka Shafrah I was removed, probably because of a need to access the vehicle’s side ports, as can be seen in an unlocated photo dating to 12th October, 2017. It is also possible that it was simply lost due to poor driving.
Shilka Shafrah I, 12th October, 2017. Unknown location. Note that the sideskirts have now been partly removed on at least one side (the other side seems to still have the sideskirt).
Shilka Shafrah I was also seen on 6th March 2018 at Beit Nayem, just two days after its liberation. It is unclear if it took part in fighting.
Shilka Shafrah I can be seen in the background left (6th March 2018 at al-Muhamadyia). Credit: RT Arabic
Shilka Shafrah I after the capture of Mesraba, circa 10th or 11th March 2018. The left sideskirt is still on, but the right one has been removed (see above photos).
Sidenote I-b: ‘Shilka Super Shafrah’
A new type of ZSU-23-4 Shafrah was seen in February 2018 (a fitting nickname may be ‘Shilka Super Shafrah’). This version is apparently a significant evolution to the design, with rows of vertical bars protecting the turret of the vehicle. The sideskirt is also apparently a single piece, and each welded plate is encased on the ends of the skirt, as opposed to them being roughly left open (see the turret for a contrast). The driver’s hatch also appears to be substantially up-armored. Most curiously of all is the rocket attached above the guns, likely for anti-urban infantry use, where the machine guns are not sufficient to penetrate buildings.
Shilka Super Shafrah was also seen circa 7th March 2018 at the Eastern Ghouta Offensive.
Shilka Super Shafrah, circa 7th March 2018 at the Eastern Ghouta Offensive. Credit: RT Arabic
Shilka Super Shafrah, now with the frontal bar armor removed. Believed to be at Mesraba, circa 10th March 2018.
Shilka Super Shafrah was videoed fighting alongside T-72s on the Mesraba axis on 11th March 2018.
Shilka Super Shafrah fighting on the Mesraba axis, circa 11th March 2018.
Different view of the above.
Different view of the above.
Sidenote II: Bulldozers with Shafrah armor
The Shafrah armor package originally appears to have been given to bulldozers, around October 2016. One was reportedly captured by Jaish al-Islam in October 2016.
Bulldozer with Shafrah armor, captured by Jaish al-Islam in eastern Ghouta, October 2016.
Other view of the bulldozer with Shafrah armor, captured by Jaish al-Islam in eastern Ghouta, October 2016.
Another bulldozer with Shafrah armor was also used by the 105th Brigade at the Siege of Wadi Barada, January 2017.
A bulldozer with Shafrah armor of the 105th Brigade at Wadi Barada, January, 2017.
Another bulldozer, probably a third was seen on 30th March 2017, probably at Qaboun with the 105th Mechanized Brigade. A Republican Guard bulldozer with Shafrah armor. Posted online on 30th March, 2017.
The most recent sighting of a Shafrah bulldozer is in November 2017. A video shows a Shafrah Bulldozer at the Jobar front being damaged (by IED or rocket is unclear, presumably the latter).
Still from footage of a Shafrah Bulldozer at the Jobar front, seconds before an explosion.
Still from SAA ‘archive footage‘ showing a Shafrah bulldozer in action alongside ground troops. Possibly at Jobar, late 2017.
Sidenote III: Viper-72 thermal sights
T-72AV Shafrah III is fitted with Viper-72 thermal imaging sights, and it is likely that others are, too. This can be seen on the turret, just behind the regular gunner’s optics.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, tanks, especially those with complex technologies, have fallen into disrepair. This means that regular night vision sights and infra-red lamps are either no longer functioning, or have been specifically targeted by rebel small arms fire in lieu of engaging them with AT weapons, which rebels do not always have. (For an example of the latter, see T-72AV Shafrah IV, with its broken optics and lights.)
As a way around this, the SAA has fitted some of their tanks with Viper-72 thermal imaging sights, which do not require any infra-red lights. This is quite ingenious, as it allows not only effective aiming from 1.5 km – 2km (0.9-1.2 miles), but also the ability for the tank crew to see enemy snipers behind cover.
Image showing the difference between a T-72AV with (right) and without (left) Viper 72 thermal sights.
Syrian Arab Republic (Circa 2014-2017)
Main Battle Tank – 8-10 Converted (As Of March 2017)
Forged by Civil War
T-72 Mahmia (meaning “shielded/protected” in Arabic) is an unofficial name for up-armored T-72s from the Syrian Civil War. These tanks are Syrian Arab Army (government forces) T-72s that have been fitted with additional armor – mostly cages, chains, and spaced armor (reported by an SAA source to actually be some type of simple composite) – in order to protect the tanks from RPGs and missiles. They were first seen in combat in 2014 at Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, and have been seen commonly since. Various combat footage and photographs show that the upgrades are somewhat reliable against RPGs, but are often no match for modern ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). The vehicle is perhaps more commonly known as “T-72 Adra“, but this is a western name, and the name “Mahmia” has been chosen, as Syrian sources refer to the vehicle as “Shielded tank“.
Hello dear reader! This article is in a constant state of update, given that it is a contemporary tank. We are also aware that some sources used in this article may be unreliable / untrustworthy. Updates will be made when more reliable information is available.
Other tank models have been upgraded in a similar fashion, such as the ZSU-23-4, but the Mahmia upgrades are mostly given to T-72s. Tanks with much more hasty armor upgrades, such as spent shell cases fastened to the turret and hull, and tanks with bricks replacing lost ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor), are not included under the unofficial designation “T-72 Mahmia“, as they are either precursors or separate upgrades.
Fairly typical early-production T-72 Mahmia with the usual balls and chain armor. This chain armor proved ineffective at stopping missiles.
Context: T-72s in Syria
An estimated 700 T-72s are believed to have been delivered to Syria in four batches. The first two batches came from the USSR. The first, in the late 1970s, consisted of 150 T-72s (the initial production type, the Object 172M, AKA T-72 “Urals”) and the second batch, consisting of 300 T-72As, came in 1982. The T-72As were a very rare export, as these were not even sold to Warsaw Pact countries under the USSR. The 300 T-72As were divided between the Republican Guard and the 4th Armored Division, and were all eventually upgraded into T-72AVs, featuring Kontakt-1 ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor).
The third batch of T-72s consisted of 252 T-72M1s, which were ordered from Czechoslovakia, of which only 194 were delivered in 1992 due to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Slovakia eventually delivered the remaining T-72M1s in 1993, in what can be considered a fourth batch.
Between 2003 and 2006, 122 T-72s, of all types, were upgraded with Italian TURMS-T FCS (Tank Universal Reconfiguration Modular System T-Series Fire Control System) and tanks upgraded to this standard had the letter ‘S’ added onto their designations. ‘S’ stands for “Saroukh“, meaning “Missile“, which refers to these tanks being able to fire the 9M119(M) guided AT missiles from their guns. An estimated 100 of these upgraded vehicles are in service as of 2014, mostly in service with the Republican Guard. Some were lost in Damascus in 2013 during the early stages of the Civil War, but the remainder are believed to be held in reserve thus far, because T-55s and T-62s are in such large supply.
Syrian T-72M1S, a T-72M1 fitted with TURMS-T Fire Control System.
An estimated 300 T-72s, of all types, remain in service as of 2014. 19 T-72s (13 T-72 Object 172Ms, and 6 T-72AVs) are operated by ISIL, and 8 (2 purchased from a corrupt officer, and 6 captured, of which 1 is a T-72M1S) are in use by Jaish-Al Islam. The rest are still operated by government forces. Oryx blog gives an excellent overview of T-72s in Syria, which can be viewed here.
Thanks to social media, the history of the design of the T-72 Mahmia has been fairly well documented. According to the Oryx blog, the T-72 Mahmia was the result of experiments by the Syrian 4th Armored Division, an elite unit of mostly career soldiers, often regarded as Syria’s most elite force. However, this was not the first attempt by the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) at providing additional protection for tanks.
Precursor: Bricks and spent shell case armor
All too common are photos of battle-worn T-72AVs fitted with exceptionally crude armor upgrades. These come in two distinct types. The first is mesh baskets on the turret (presumably made from thin metal pipes or similar commercial materials such as wall insulation mesh) which are filled with building bricks and rubble in order to replace Kontakt-1 ERA which has been lost. This was a modification usually done to the turret, but some examples show mesh sideskirts made from a similar material. For the sake of clarity, the unofficial name of “T-72AV Labna” (meaning “brick”) will be used to designate these. Tanks upgraded in this fashion still appear today, with new innovations such as sandbags being used instead of rubble. It is reported that this was a design first introduced by the 4th Armored Division.
The second type of improvised uparmoring is spent shell cases being strapped to the vehicle’s hull and turret, often with a similar mesh basket / cradle as seen on T-72AV Labna tanks. Various types of vehicles use this type of uparmoring, including T-72s and T-55s.
A T-62 fitted with spent shell cases as spaced armor. The effectiveness and reliability of this upgrade are very questionable but was a precursor to the T-72 Mahmia.
It seems likely that these upgrades were an attempt to stop missiles and RPGs from penetrating armor, but without a doubt, the real combat effectiveness of these improvised and crude up-armoring ideas is negligible. Whilst they might cause an RPG to explode a short distance away from the armor, it is probable that the rubble or thin shell cases would not absorb the impact, and the projectile may still damage the vehicle in some manner.
In short, these crude upgrades were simply not up to the task, but the idea of up-armoring was sound enough to receive further attention.
A precursor of the T-72 Mahmia, the “T-72AV Labna” (“brick”), again, another unofficial name. It appears as though these were T-72AVs with their lost ERA replaced by bricks. Credits: Oryx blog.
Precursor: Early 4th Armored Division Experiments
The elite 4th Armored Division realized the potential of spaced armor as an effective means of stopping RPGs, and as a result, began experimenting with more conventional designs on their T-72s, and possibly BMP-1s. Two distinct types of experimental T-72 upgrades were trialed.
The first type had three metal sheets strapped to the turret with sandbags filling in the gaps, a long metal sheet strapped onto the side of the hull as a sideskirt, and spent shell cases added to the top of the new sideskirt. Some also had shells strapped vertically to the front of the hull.
T-72 upgraded with a long sideskirt, sandbags behind metal sheets on the turret, and T-72 shells above the sideskirt and on the front hull. This was one of the later prototypes eventually leading to the iconic T-72 Mahmia.
A second experiment was made by giving T-72 Urals with the TURMS-T upgrade sets of all around cage armor. This type was only seen at vehicles operating near Aleppo. Some may have had additional sandbags placed behind the turret cage armor.
Two examples of the second type of experimental T-72 upgrade, featuring slat armor, and possibly additional sandbags in the turret. Near Aleppo, circa early 2014.
It is unclear how these vehicles fared in combat, but without doubt, both types of upgrade had potential, and it seems as though in the summer of 2014, the two designs were combined to make the T-72 Mahmia.
1st Generation T-72 Mahmia
From August 2014, the 4th Armored Divison began to upgrade T-72M1s, as well as military bulldozers, and at least one ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” from their workshop in Adra (north of Damascus). This has earned them their unofficial name of “T-72 Adra“, but primary sources (such as tweets and Youtube videos from Syrians) refer to them as “Shielded T-72s” or “Shielded Tanks“, hence the name “T-72 Mahmia“, meaning “shielded“. It is highly likely that the 4th Armored Division may have a specific, but unofficial, name for these T-72s.
The “1st generation” (or initial production) T-72 Mahmias have cages with what appears to be spaced armor bolted and welded onto the tank with support beams. Chains with steel balls, similar to those seen on Merkava tanks, were added to new hull side-skirts and below the turret’s cage armor. The only gaps in the cage were a small, rectangular hole to allow the gun to elevate, and a gap for the rangefinder. These armor packages appear to be fairly standardized, although some design differences do exist. The front of the hull typically had a thin girder with chain armor attached to it.
The armor would serve the job of stopping enemy rockets and explosives from penetrating the tank’s hull or turret. RPGs, especially, would hit the cages and explode some distance away from the tank’s armor, thus not being able to penetrate the vehicle, and ultimately, causing damage only to the cage at best.
It is commonplace for T-72 Mahmia to have a new, typically two-tone, camouflage, as opposed to typical sand or green liveries. This is a key indicator as to whether a vehicle has been upgraded in the field or at the Adra workshop, as new liveries only appear to have been given by the 4th Armored Division.
The first batch of upgraded tanks were three T-72M1s, which were sent to Jobar, in the northeast of Damascus. More conversions followed soon after.
Spaced or Composite Armor?
An SAA source reports that the armor seen on T-72 Mahmias are not, as many people think, merely spaced armor. The armor boxes, especially on the front of the hull, are actually a type of composite armor, which are in fact filled with an unknown material. The source refuses to inform us of the material.
The source reports: “[the armor] is not spaced. The boxes are not empty as people think, at first, yes, it was, but not now. It’s not like a secret, it’s just people will make fun from it [sic], and no one will care for the fact that it is useful and the budget is low. For me, it’s a great hack, I will not publish it, just so no one will make fun of these guys’ effort. It stopped many RPG-29s, and it’s a great result. We are using something extremely unusual... …I’ve heard the armor weights around 10 tons. I personally believe it’s between 10-14 tons.”
Changes over time
The T-72 Mahmia’s design has gradually changed over time. It appears as though some T-72 Mahmias have had field modifications. It is difficult to identify these from photographs, but one appears to concern heightening the turret cage armor with additional commercial materials, such as thin metal wall insulation meshes.
It appears as though the success and failure of certain field modifications (taking place outside of the Adra workshop) have filtered back to the workshop, and have created a new generation of T-72 Mahmia. Given that these changes were gradual and happened over time, various hybrid T-72 Mahmias exist, showing examples of the 1st and 2nd generation vehicles.
Nevertheless, these hybrids are few, and therefore, the T-72 Mahmia can be generally understood as currently being in two generations.
2nd Generation T-72 Mahmia
The 1st generation of T-72 Mahmia has two major flaws. Firstly, the cage armor does not protect the vehicle from above, and a well-aimed RPG shot from a window is likely to knock the tank out. Secondly, the ball and chain armor do not appear to have been able to stop RPGs, let alone ATGMs.
These are clearly well-known limitations and have been addressed in recent months. In 2016, photos and reports began flooding in showing a new standard of Mahmia upgrade. The key differences are the use of thicker girders to hold appliqué and cage armor to the vehicle, the removal of ball and chain armor, the inclusion of a larger hull bumper (apparently some were made from I-girders) with spaced armor added onto it, the cage armor being heightened, and more, apparently thicker, spaced armor being added to the glacis plates.
The heightened cage armor on the turret would provide optimum protection with minimal obstruction to crew hatches, but this would endanger the crew. They may not be able to quickly abandon the tank, as it appears as though they would have to scramble over the cage to escape the vehicle.
The larger and strengthened bumper with its spaced (or, indeed) composite) armor may also provide some actual protection against RPGs and small missiles, whereas early type T-72 Mahmias with thin bumpers with chain armor would not. Similarly, the use of thicker girders would make the additional armor more sturdy as a whole, and would perhaps make the armor less likely to be damaged by careless driving.
T-72 Mahmia, second generation, with heightened turret cage and armor added to the glacis plate. There is space left for the gun to elevate, and such a design would allow better protection for the turret when fighting on uneven ground, but it would still obstruct the crew from quickly bailing out.
Miscellaneous Field Modifications
Not all field modifications were successful. There are some photos of some T-72s having substantial amounts of cage armor, particularly with cages enclosing the turret completely from above. At least two examples of this type are known, but did this does not appear to have become a widespread upgrade. Firstly, such an upgrade would significantly increase the vehicle’s weight. Secondly, the vehicle would have its size and silhouette significantly increased, making it an obvious target. Thirdly, it might have taken up too many resources to upgrade all tanks like this. Finally, if the crew needed to abandon the tank in an emergency, the cage would prevent them from easily escaping.
T-72 Mahmia with total protection for the turret. This was seen on at least two examples but is not likely to have been a successful upgrade, due to it causing the crew trouble with bailing out in emergencies.
As the civil war rages on, it is almost certain that a new generation of T-72 Mahmia will be seen. Due to attempts by the SAA to improve their T-72 armor upgrades, the Mahmia, as it is known, may cease to be built ever again, and may be replaced with new projects (see below).
Combat evidence, mainly photos and videos, show that the T-72 Mahmia could only resist RPGs consistently, and had only some potential to resisting ATGMs. The most common problem appears to be internal fires caused by ATGMs, but crew abandonment is a close second. Social media provides almost daily updates on the Syrian Civil War, and from this, it is easy to find a variety of case studies with which to build up a picture of the T-72 Mahmia’s combat effectiveness.
The first ever produced T-72 Mahmias at Jobar had very mixed results – of the three sent to combat, only one appears to have survived. One appears to have been damaged, set alight, and abandoned by its crew near the Kamal Masharaqah Barracks. Another was totally destroyed, apparently from a major interior explosion, given that the entire hull was blown open, the cage armor was strewn around the wreckage, and the turret was blown off. The third seems to have survived.
However, these vehicles may not have been destroyed by a single ATGM hit. There is some evidence to suggest that the T-72 Mahmia could withstand at least one hit:
On 8th October, 2016, the Syrian Army reported that a T-72 Mahmia was hit twice by a Malyutka ATGM. The first hit, apparently, did not destroy the tank, but caused the crew to abandoned the vehicle. However, the second hit appears to have caused an internal fire to break out, which destroyed the vehicle. It is unclear if the first hit dislodged any armor or not, or whether it caused any major damage, and the photograph provided gives no clues. T-72 Mahmia hit twice by Malyutka ATGMs, October 8th, 2016, near Damascus.
Careless driving damage?
Some photographs of reportedly battle-damaged T-72 Mahmias show that the cage armor has been twisted out of shape or totally dislodged and needs replacing. It remains unclear if this is as a result of bad driving, or the vehicle being able to resist large explosives. The photograph below is one of these examples and is rather inconclusive.
Damaged T-72 Mahmia, 1st generation. It is unclear what has caused this damage to the vehicle. It may be from an ATGM impact, but it may also be a case of bad driving. There are no apparent scorch marks on the vehicle’s remaining armor, with the possible exception of the bent turret cage armor.
Around 17th January 2017, another T-72 Mahmia at Wadi Barada, was destroyed by an internal fire, probably having been hit by an ATGM.
Footage of the T-72 Mahmia, destroyed at Wadi Barada, 17th January, 2017.
Resisting RPG-29 hits
On 23rd March, 2017, a T-72 Mahmia was hit by two RPG-29s. The first hit damaged the additional armor, but did not hit the original turret. A second RPG-29 was deflected by the vehicle’s additional armor. The tank merely needed a section of its additional armor to be replaced.
T-72 Mahmia, having taken a hit to its armor by two RPG-29s, 23rd March 2017. The damage appears superficial.
On April 16th, 2017, a T-72 Mahmia was hit by an RPG-29 at Qaboun. The RPG hit the vehicle but did not penetrate the tank. However, the shockwave injured the commander, who is reported to have sustained internal bleeding, and some broken bones from the shock. The vehicle was put back into service on April 17th. The T-72 Mahmia was hit alongside the T-72AV Shafrah, which was immobilized by an enemy AT mine, and later burned by rebels to prevent recovery.
Resisting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices)
On 18th April 2017, a T-72 Mahmia was hit by a Free Syrian Army IED directly underneath the driver’s compartment at Qaboun. The driver, Mohammed Abdu Allah was killed, but the commander and gunner managed to escape. The vehicle was set alight by the Free Syrian Army shortly after, in order to prevent recovery.
T-72 Mahmia, hit by an FSA IED on 18th April, 2017. The driver was killed, but the commander and gunner escaped. The tank was burned by the FSA after it was abandoned, in order to prevent recovery.
The T-72 Mahmia, hit by an IED on 18th April, 2017, after the fire had died down.
Conclusions on combat
Unfortunately, without further evidence, it remains only likely that the vehicle could resist ATGMs in rare instances. It is also unknown if the T-72 Mahmia has engaged in tank-on-tank combat thus far.
Video footage shows that T-72 Mahmias are, in recent times, being used in a combined arms effort. Footage from an assault at Deir Al Khaimah, western Ghouta, near to Damascus, shows that the T-72 Mahmia is used in an infantry support role in urban areas. This is in contrast to non-shielded T-72s, which are typically dug in and used alongside field guns. Thus, there should be little doubt that T-72 Mahmias are being used for urban assaults, and not just general purpose upgrades.
T-72 Mahmias deployed in an a combined arms assault at Deir Al Khaimah, western Ghouta, near Damascus.
A fairly typical T-72 Mahmia, 1st generation. The 1st generation designs featured chain armor, thin support beams, and only some pieces of spaced armor.
Second generation T-72 Mahmia. These vehicles had additional steel plates, and heightened cage armor, but did not feature ball and chain armor, as the balls and chains were ineffective at stopping enemy missiles. The cage armor is also slightly taller than usual, and the front bumper is made from a thick I-girder.
Early type T-72 Mahmia with chain armor on the front hull attached to a small bumper. Notice the hole in the cage armor for the rangefinder.
An example of a T-72 Mahmia with total cage armor protection. This one appears to be much large than other examples, and whilst it may provide better protection, it would, no doubt, make the vehicle much heavier, unwieldy, and it would possibly take up too many resources per tank.
Transitional T-72 Mahmias – whilst they still feature chains on the turret, the hull fronts have not been fitted with chains, and instead have spaced armor on enlarged bumpers. The one on the right appears battle damaged or, more likely, poorly driven, as it is missing many steel chains, and the spaced armor is bent out of shape.
Different view of the above.
T-72 Mahmia, probably from the same batch as the above. It shows signs of battle damage, or, more likely, careless driving, as it is missing some chains, and the cages and fenders are bent out of shape.
T-72 Mahmia, which appears to be a little battle worn. There is an additional thin screen over the turret cage, likely a commercial wall insulation mesh or some type of fencing. This is likely a field modification, although it is unclear why it has been added. It may be a field repair to the damaged turret cage, or possibly a means of heightening the cage armor.
T-72 Mahmia with a huge amount of additional steel plate added to the hull. This would, no doubt, significantly increase the vehicle’s weight. It is unclear how thick the plate is, but it clearly is not solid as it is welded on and buckled in places. It is likely a rather thin sheet of probably mild steel, which is why small rockets (top right, and above the left tow hook) have become physically embedded in it. The remnants of the brown blob of the new paintwork can be seen where the missile hit.
T-72AV Labna with crude cage armor. This was a precursor to the T-72 Mahmia, and often was used to replace lost ERA bricks with construction bricks. The effectiveness of the upgrade is questionable.
One of two initial experiments from the 4th Armored Division. This is an example of the type featuring long sheets of metal as sideskirt armor, some plates added to the turret, and spent shell cases fitted above the sideskirt. ZSU-23-4 “Mahmia” of the 4th Armored Division. This vehicle would likely be used for heavy anti-infantry purposes, particularly for engaging rebels in tall apartment blocks. It is believed that there are multiple ZSU-23-4s upgraded to the Mahmia standard. Close inspection reveals that these are actually modular armor boxes, which can be removed. These are also reported by an SAA source not to be mere spaced armor, but some type of composite armor, the make-up of which is being kept secret; however, the source does report that the make-up is very simplistic, but effective.
Bulldozer of the 4th Armored Division upgraded to the Mahmia standard. This particular one is reported as being destroyed in December, 2014, at Jobar. It was immobilized, having been hit by numerous times by RPGs, and anti-materiel rifles. Afterwards, rebel fighters tunneled to the vehicle and detonated a satchel charge beneath it, causing an internal fire. The armor boxes are also modular and likely composite armor.
It seems more than likely that thicker armor will be developed in order to resist ATGMs. The possibility of seeing composite armor is highly likely. According to a tweet by SyrianMilitaryCap., a new vehicle, the “T-72 Grendizer” is being developed. The short tweet states that this will be a “T-55 Enigma, reborn“, likely indicating the use of composite armor. The T-55 Enigma of Iraq, circa 1989, was a T-55 that was given modular composite armor blocks. It was a crudely built design, as evidenced by the plentiful and poor quality weld beads on the armor upgrade package. It is believed to have been built with fairly similar production capacity to the Mahmias in Syria, as sources suggest that Iraqi arms production was restricted to workshops with fairly limited industrial capabilities (with the possible exception of the Asad Babil and Saddam MBTs, the existence of which is still in debate).
However, the key difference is that the design of the T-55 Enigma was, from the outset, and by no coincidence, able to resist ATGMs.
A seemingly much more advanced application of military science was used in the construction of the T-55 Enigma compared to the T-72 Mahmia, given that the upgrade concerned giving the vehicle composite armor, not basic cage and spaced armor. The T-55 Enigma had modular armor boxes that had seven layers of steel plate and rubber sheeting inside, spaced apart by roughly a centimeter. What this meant for the T-55 Enigma is that it was able to resist ATGM hits, as evidenced in the Battle of Khafji (1991).
Diagram explaining the T-55 Enigma’s composite armor.
The T-72 Grendizer, should the vehicle ever appear, likely comes as a result of two factors. Firstly, the T-72 Mahmia is somewhat unreliable, if not ineffective, at resisting ATGMs. Secondly, it appears as though uparmoring T-72s and other vehicles has become standard practice in the SAA, with resources being reorganized for mass upgrades of all types of AFVs.
Without doubt, a lot of resources would be required if the Enigma upgrade is to be replicated in Syria, and there is a major question as to whether or not the 4th Armored Division has the manufacturing capability, or the necessary resources to replicate the Enigma upgrade.
The fact that it has been over four months since the T-72 Grendizer has been announced may point towards the Syrians not having the capabilities to make such a vehicle, but only time will tell. Perhaps the key difference between the Enigma’s and the Mahmia’s production is that the Enigma appears to have been a major military project backed by state resources. Given that uparmoring of tanks seems to have become nationwide practice in Syria, it is not unreasonable to expect the T-72 Grendizer to appear soon.
Since the original publication of this article in February 2017, new info has come to light. The T-72AV Shafrah (“Sharp Knife”) is claimed to be a testbed for a new set of armor designed for the future T-72 Grendizer. The Shahfrah has been seen in combat consistently from February 2017. It is essentially an attempt to develop spaced armor that is more resistant against ATGMs.
The owner of the Within Syria blog reports that the armor is composed of plates angled at various inclinations (40-60 degrees) of 1.5-2 mm RHA, tungsten, and glass fiber, welded to a bar frame on the turret and side of the hull. The tungsten part is rumored to consist of 1mm thick copper-tungsten. However, with a budget of $5000-10,000, the 4th Armored Division is unlikely to be able to use tungsten. The vehicle also received very thick plates on top of its front glacis.
The source reports that 8-10 T-72 Mahmia tanks have been built, but there are far more T-72s approved for the upgrade. However, these might actually be upgraded to the Grendizer standard once the project is finalized. It is also claimed that the upgraded T-72s are only needed in and around Damascus, due to the dangers of urban combat.
The T-72AV Shafrah, likely a testbed for the T-72 Grendizer’s armor.
Sidenote: T-55 cage upgrades
Photos ranging from mid-2015 to February, 2016, seem to show T-55 tanks upgraded to a Mahmia-like standard. These seem to incorporate typical 2nd generation T-72 Mahmia upgrades, such as slat armor (but no chains), and a new large fender. However, there are some differences. Firstly, there is no additional spaced or composite armor. Secondly, the cages are not bolted onto the vehicle with large support beams, but rather are fitted directly onto the turret, and are curved. Thirdly, the turret-mounted DShK is commonly covered by a shield for the commander. Finally, the front of the hull also has a cage, which is not seen on T-72 Mahmias. It seems highly likely that these are standardized workshop upgrades.
A T-55 fitted with cage armor, similar to the above. A new fender can be seen on the far right of the front of the hull. Additional munitions are clearly stored in the turret cage.
Commentators will suggest that T-55s are in large supply to the Syrian Arab Army, with some reports suggesting that T-55s and T-62s are being supplied to Syria from Russia. Thus, they go on to suggest that T-55s are somewhat expendable enough to not require up-armoring, unfortunately for their crews. Despite this, it seems inevitable that all vehicles will be uparmored in some manner.
A T-55 upgraded in a manner similar to the Mahmia. The armor differs from, even if it resembles, a T-72 Mahmia’s armor.