Convoy Operations for Security and Survival


Survival and groups who incorporate travel or bugout plans into their overall survival preparations need to develop a keen grasp of convoy operations.   In the event of natural or man made disasters, your preferred method of travel will be in vehicles on roads.   This enables more than simply covering greater distances in shorter time, it affords the extra layer of security that you have when you are moving, you can carry a much greater amount of gear and supplies, and you can maintain the integrity of small groups by keeping them in the same vehicle. 

The concept of the convoy dates back to the trading caravans of ancient history and has changed little over the years in the general format, although technology has shifted to the convoy adaptations which were developed with the introduction of the first cargo trucks at the turn of the century.   This has further been refined with the use of specialized and high performance vehicles in convoys specifically set up for security.   

A convoy is technically two vehicles or more coordinating their travel as a group to the same location.   Security convoys typically should have no less than three vehicles.   Convoys may travel at any time of the day or night. 

The typical survivalist scenario where a convoy comes into play is in the group evacuation of an area and then the coordinated travel to another place.   Usually this means a coordinated "bugging out" of an urban area to the country retreat.    The security profile of the convoy will vary greatly according to the circumstances.    

In establishing a convoy procedure, all of the group members (or at least drivers) need to be on the same basic playbook.   While it would be simple to use a military template for coordinating a convoy of civilian survivors, the EI  (Ego Issue) is going to require some adjustment of the standard procedures.    Military convoys will have a designated convoy commander, who regardless of his rank in comparison to the rank of others riding in the convoy, is in charge of the vehicles and drivers in the convoy.   It will be his responsibility to determine roll-out times, response to enemy contact, and response to vehicle breakdowns.   He will usually consult with others in determining scheduled fuel and rest stops, emergency rally points, and any emergency action procedures.   If any member of the convoy is stopped by civilian law enforcement, the Convoy commander will proceed immediately to the point of the stop to deal with anything that would affect the convoy mission.    Civilian survivors may end up dealing with this sort of situation in a military or government led security convoy, so there should be some familiarity with the procedures.   

Given the determinations of the convoy commander, you will have (or make) determinations on the order of vehicles (order of march) and the interval between the vehicles.   The situation and mission determine how this lays out while you hope that standard procedures will remain consistent in determining what you do in certain situations. 

For survivors, you generally want to do the same thing, and it can be figured out in a hurry.    For most situations where you are dealing with other traffic, you want your interval to be close enough to keep other vehicles from mixing in with your group.   This brings up the issue of reaction times and the speed you are driving.   Optimally, you want to be able to move fast, maintain the order and interval of the group, move closely enough that other vehicles don't mix in with your convoy, close enough to maintain visibility on at least two other vehicles in your convoy, and be far enough apart to have sufficient reaction time to not have a chain reaction accident if a vehicle in front suddenly stops.    A more sophisticated way of dealing with this, in my opinion requiring more highly skilled drivers, is to stagger the convoy on two lanes in sort of a zig zag pattern.    By putting an offset in the mix, you can have vehicles closer together for security, but still stretch the reaction times considering that you can still maintain the longer interval between vehicles in the same lane, and you keep from having a vehicle next to each other.   That way a vehicle still has the option of swerving one way or the other to avoid an obstacle.   A vehicle offset convoy will require at least two lanes heading in the same direction.    Security convoys usually operate this way in order to prevent other vehicles from moving up and passing parallel to the convoy where an aggressor could attack and then turn away onto a side road with little chance of successful pursuit.  Executive security motorcades most often just offset within the same traffic lane.   They drive in a very tight formation and every other driver will be able to clearly see a tail light from a car two cars foward.   This allows for a slightly better reaction time to a stop or slowdown in traffic.   This offset is changed periodically in order to screen the VIP car from observation or approach by suspicious vehicles.  

First, you want at least the lead vehicle people to have a good idea where they are going.    The driver of this vehicle must be familiar with the route at least by map study, but preferably is your person with the most experience actually driving the route in question.   His front seat passenger should also be very familiar with the route.    This vehicle must maintain constant communication with at least some of the following vehicles and with the recon elements.   

In a security convoy, it is imperative that the lead vehicle maintain communication with all other vehicles.    Cell phones are sufficient for this in low threat scenarios, but in security related scenarios, the group must have independent commo in the form of two way radios.    The lead vehicle should always have more than one person in it, and if possible a person in the back who is facing the rear, or can easily look at the vehicles that are following.   Handheld two way radios are sufficient for commo most of the time, but it is optimal to use vehicle mounted radios that will be compatible with whatever handheld radios your group regularly uses.   The reason for this is that vehicle mount radios will use an external antenna which gives better transmission and reception over longer distances without having the distortion and cutouts that are common when you try to communicate with handhelds from inside metal and glass vehicles.    This is especially the case when the driver and passenger of a cargo truck need to communicate with vehicles behind them, and the load in the cargo area will block reception from small handheld radios.  If you are using small handheld radios for communication, consider that people in the rear vehicles might not be able to communicate with people in the front most vehicles.    Emergency and repair vehicles should be toward the center of a convoy to best communicate with everyone else although some convoy leaders prefer to have them at the rear so if they stop to deal with something, they will not hold everyone else up.   

Convoy operations in extreme hostile environments can run from boring to terrifying.   In spite of the well documented deaths in Iraq due to enemy fire and improvised land mines, the majority of casualties have come from preventable situations which would apply to the survivalist escaping a hurricane just as much as a supply convoy heading through the Sunny Triangle.    Many of these situations are made worse by using vehicles and drivers who are simply not prepared to operate in close order at high speed.   

First, there are accidents caused by poor maintenance or lack of maintenance on vehicles.   Most of the time in Iraq, this is related to tire blowouts from worn down tires driven at the wrong air pressure in an extreme hot environment that breaks down the rubber to the point that any road debris can cause a catastrophic accident.   Add in the factors of bad brakes and other faliures that may not be an issue at 40MPH, but are a major issue at 70MPH with a tight vehicle interval.   

Also consider that some of the convoy drivers get quite enthusiastic about the concept of speed equals safety in a hostile environment and will travel at 100MPH.   Just about any hit or road debris at high speed can cause a deadly accident.   An old school trick well known to be used by Ohio state troopers in the 1970s was to simply allow a speeder to "run" but tailgate the speeder in a manner that would encourage them to go faster and faster; making the chase a contest of nerves and skill, with the speeder quite often losing their life in the process of a high speed wreck.   

Most small arms and nearly all anti-armor weapons can disable a normal vehicle but there are a lot of ways vehicles can be hardened against rifles and pistols.   Commercially hardened vehicles cost considerably more than regular vehicles and there are different opinions on whether it is better to harden the whole vehicle or simply harden the occupants with body armor.   

Realize the "discreet" armor of commercially armored vehicles done in the executive security fashion will usually not be as effective as military type armor and will usually cost considerably more to repair or replace.   A full armor package on a civilian type vehicle like this is only going to be effective for a small number of attacks before it needs to be overhauled.   Most high end executives who use armored limos will simply replace the vehicle after a single attack.   Security operators in Iraq don't have that luxury and can sometimes be seen driving fairly shot up vehicles that have a patchwork of repairs.   They often prefer a patchwork repaired armored SUV over an overtly military vehicle because military vehicles will attract unwanted attention. 

The ubiquitous RPG is readily available in many parts of the world other than North America and some parts of Western Europe and is considered the big artillery of the streets in a lot of developing nations.   The size and weight of the RPG system makes it a low profit ratio item for contraband smugglers destined for the US, but it is possible that similar weapons could find their way into North America in significant numbers.    

This hit on a light skinned vehicle with a standard RPG round proved catastrophic and all occupants were killed almost instantly.   The explosion of the round was contained and amplified within the vehicle.    Hence drivers of these types of unarmored vehicles need to use speed and maneuver to avoid being hit while passengers should be trained to keep a watch out for weapons aimed at the vehicle and keep some weapons at the ready to fire at the greatest threat (the guy with the RPG).   

Watchfulness and ready weapons are no guarantee of safety when you are in a light skinned vehicle in a high threat environment, but they can help passengers level the odds.    Drivers have the greatest responsibility but cannot do everything themselves.   Drivers need to first keep their efforts on driving safely as enemies can be just as successful in their efforts if they spoof the driver into having a panic accident as if an RPG round is fired into the vehicle.   Drivers must next be responsible for keeping the vehicle moving out of the danger zone and into a safe zone.   Also realize that parked vehicles might be considered a desirable target by opposition in a high threat environment.   Shooters with less skill will often simply wait until vehicles are parked and then target vulnerable parts of the vehicles.   Consider this whenever you may be parking a convoy in a high threat environment. 

A lot of security trainers also point out that the vehicle itself can be a formidable weapon.   Ramming barricades is fun, but can still disable a vehicle although in training and experience, I have found that just about any car can withstand one or two good rams before it becomes disabled.   Another tactic is to simply run people over if they step to a spot to fire on the vehicle and that spot is accessible to the vehicle.   This tactic is taught at most security driver schools but is obviously rarely practiced.   The problem with hitting someone, especially the big guys who would actually have the guts to stand in a roadway or parking lot and shoot at a car, is that you can still cause damage to the car.   For example, no small number of cars have been entirely disabled when they hit a deer.   Imagine hitting a person, especially if that person is holding a big steel and wood weapon and their body weight impacts across the hood and windshield.   That works for SUVs and large cars, but realize it can activate airbags on a smaller car, and can take out the windshield of a smaller car if the impact is at a bad angle (head on).  

Convoy protection specialists will emerge in just about any moderate to high threat environment.   This crew formed shortly after the invasion of Iraq to provide paid protection for civilian supply convoys travelling between Kuwait and Baghdad.   They adjusted their equipment and tactics several times due to a changing threat.   At first led to believe that the area had become a more moderate threat environment, they used weapons and equipment more consistent with a high tempo law enforcement operation and had to transition to more military posture as the insurgency in Iraq grew in intensity. 

Dedicated convoy security crews and vehicles vary a lot in equipment and practices, but they do tend to follow some consistent themes:

First, a dedicated security crew should use vehicles which can withstand impact with a barricade or vehicles that are blocking the path of travel. 

The vehicles should have extra lights attached

The vehicles should have communications equipment redundancy in order to guarantee coordinated movements.   

You absolutely positively need to be able to determine who your own people are, either through personal familiarity, uniforms, or both.  

more to come later

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