ARABIA LESSONS LEARNED
TOPIC: Rubber Deterioration
DISCUSSION: Areas of packed sand and rock and lava beds occur more frequently in Saudi Arabia than in the soft sand desert imagined by many Westerners. This terrain shortens tire life. During each 3-day field training exercise it underwent in 1982, the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), modernized, 5th Artillery Battery, registered a flat tire rate of 40 percent. The rate is about standard for all units. The majority of flats are attributable to the wear and tear of off-road travel rather than to road heat, high temperature, dryness, potholes, or abuse. Sharp rock itself rarely punctures a tire outright, but over a short period of time, it weakens the tire's structure by constant wear on the tread. It may be difficult to detect tire problems when a vehicle is moving fast over rough terrain. A simple, repairable puncture can result in a ruined tire and a bent rim. It is common to see large chunks of tread ripped away after travel over lava rock.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Exercise extra care in driving over lava patches and rough ground. Check tires frequently for signs of wear and cuts. This will necessitate slower movement and tighter control over column spacing to prevent bunching at obstacles.
TOPIC: Vehicle Recovery Operations
DISCUSSION: A car or truck can be freed from soft sand by letting about one fourth of the air out of the trapped tires. Reinflate when freed. "Sand ladders" also can be used. These ladders are made of reinforcing rods welded to angle irons. They are about 2 feet long and the width of a truck tire. A shovel may be needed to free sand from around the trapped tires before the ladders can be inserted.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Carry an air pump or sand ladders and a shovel. If available, carry all three. (Sand ladders are usually carried in pairs.) Although underinflated, these improve vehicle traction in the desert. Tires are generally kept at normal road pressure to avoid damage to sidewalls from sharp rocks and to cut down on wear and tear. Increase the numbers of tow bars, ropes, and matting in the unit and equip all tactical wheeled vehicles with winches. (Note: Winching out a stuck vehicle has proven to be the most effective means of recovery.) Another extrication procedure applicable to light vehicles stuck in very fine sand is the "rocking method." Pile sand around all four tires. Three to four men then violently "rock" the vehicle from side to side, forcing the vehicle to bounce as high as possible. As the vehicle's weight shifts from side to side, the piled sand will flow under the tires of the vehicle as it is rocked. Eventually, the vehicle will be raised back to the level surface.
TOPIC: Effect of the Desert on Vehicle Mobility
DISCUSSION: The choice of vehicle used in a desert operation has less to do with mobility than the skill of the driver. A relatively agile vehicle will sink up to the hubs if its driver insists on gunning the engine in soft sand. Conversely, a U.S. Dodge truck made for use on blacktop will perform acceptably off the road when operated by the driver adept at gearing, speed, braking, and steering. For all-around maneuverability, regardless of driver performance, the British Leyland Land Rover is high on the list, and other support vehicles (U.S. Dodge and Austrian Steyr trucks) are rated below that. This assumes operation in a "mixed" desert of soft sand, packed sand, and rock. There is no resident experience in operating in dunes; however, it is suspected that, in extensive stretches of soft sand, support vehicles would be greatly slowed by bad footing. Sand and dust and "cap rock" that support the occasional vehicle can become impassable if several vehicles use the same route. The dust cloud also presents a safety problem in reduced visibility for vehicles following in a column.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Well-trained drivers can maneuver a wide variety of vehicles over "mixed" desert without getting stuck. The majority of cross-desert travel should be on line or in echelon. Following another vehicle's tracks is not recommended except when crossing dry washes or as restricted by the topography.
TOPIC: Vehicular Desert Survival Kit
DISCUSSION: Military vehicles operating in a desert environment must have a higher degree of self-sufflciency than would normally be expected in a different environment due to the environmental extremes encountered.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Vehicles should be equipped with the following:
- OVE, to include a small general tool kit
- Flashlight and highway reflector (triangular)
- Fire extinguisher
- Compass, binoculars and maps
- Communications equipment
- Shovel, sand ladders, and tow rope/cable (at least 25 feet long)
- Five gallons of water per vehicle occupant
- Personal food, clothing, and equipment
- Siphoning hose (1/2-inch outside diameter by 6 feet) and funnel
- Slave cables (one for each group of vehicles)
- Mounted vehicular air compressor with air reservoir (150 psi) and sufficient air hose
- Jack support plate (1 foot by 1 foot piece of metal)
- Consumables, to include oil, radiator hoses, fan belts, heavy duty tape, air and gas filters, twine, annealed wire
TOPIC: Observation at Great Distances
DISCUSSION: A person standing on a hill 300 m high can see, depending on the landscape, for 20 or 30 km on a clear day. But land that looks flat from the hill actually has two ridgelines in that distance. The uniform color of the land and the even lighting at midday make it difficult to distinguish changes in elevation at great distances. The effect is similar at near range. Soldiers frequently aim at an enemy vehicle with a recoilless rifle without noticing the stretch of low ground in between. The round falls short. It is not a question of carelessness, but of optical illusion. This has an effect on range estimation and targeting.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: The casual observer will frequently miss intermediate features in the landscape. An observer must think about what he sees and look for the unexpected. (Such problems in observation decrease at dawn and dusk, when shadows define terrain features.)
TOPIC: Route Reconnaissance
DISCUSSION: To compensate for a lack of adequate maps, it is best to reconnoiter desert operations areas in advance of large-scale troop movements. Route reconnaissance is especially important in field artillery. Alternate and supplemental positions should be seen ahead of time, and proposed and alternate routes should be gone over and marked. If at all possible, guides should return to the main element at the completion of the reconnaissance to help the unit adhere to the prescribed routes of march. Deviation from planned routes can cause lengthy delays and breakdowns that will ultimately degrade available fire support.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Thorough ground reconnaissance and adherence to prescribed routes of march will improve artillery fire support in desert operations.
TOPIC: Routes of March
DISCUSSION: There are few hard surface roads within the interior of Saudi Arabia, and many of them are not well maintained. Secondary gravel roads and trails crisscross the landscape, but they too are not maintained and quite frequently are like driving on a "washboard." Except for the main arteries, there are few road signs or trail markers except those constructed by the Bedouins.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Routes of march will quite often be cross-country over rugged and changing terrain with only partially adequate maps and a compass.
DISCUSSION: Some observers have complained that the TOW antitank weapon kicks up an excessive dust signature with its backblast. The complaint does not deserve a great deal of attention, since the TOW is such an effective weapon overall. If it is placed intelligently (that is, away from soft sand), its visibility to an enemy would be minimal. Furthermore, in the heat of battle, dust would be generated by anything moving. This would camouflage the signature made by TOW.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: TOW is a highly effective antitank weapon in the desert. Its dust signature, albeit a consideration, is not a serious drawback.
TOPIC: High Failure Repair Parts
DISCUSSION: Dust, sand, rough terrain, and temperature extremes cause an estimated 50 percent increase in repair parts required to support a combat unit. In general, parts subject to friction fail with greater frequency in the desert than under U.S. or European conditions. In this category are practically all engine parts, brake shoes, upper and lower control bushings, wheel bearings, and carburetors. Carburetor failure can be forestalled by preventive maintenance. Vehicles parked for long periods in the sun tend to sustain damage to exposed plastic and rubberlike dashboard tops, wipers, and trim. Rubber seals are prone to dry rot. A combination of heat and dryness makes plastic parts in the engine compartment particularly susceptible to breakage.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Mechanics will need additional stocks of friction-bearing parts, plastic and rubber parts, and rubber seals. Also, cracking and breaking of cast metal parts is common due to constant excessive vibration during operations.
DISCUSSION: Portable training devices and life support equipment that rely on batteries malfunction frequently unless the batteries are kept out of direct sunlight. Heat quickly discharges the stored energy in batteries. Although power generators are an alternative, they can also cause problems. When exposed to extreme heat, wind, and windblown sand, they become a maintenance nightmare. Specific devices immobilized by electrical problems for the above reasons include target mechanisms, radios, and remote control units. Vehicle batteries have been found to go dead after relatively short periods of vehicle inactivity (5 to 10 days).
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Whenever possible, hard wire stationary electrical devices to commercial power sources. Exercise vehicles regularly.
TOPIC: Vehicle Cooling Systems
DISCUSSION: Operations in hot weather or on rough terrain increase the chances an engine will overheat. Lengthy high-speed operation, hard-pulling operations, and low-gear negotiation of steep grades or soft sand have caused overheating. Cooling system efficiency drops with the calcification of water channels caused by use of water with high mineral content. Poor cooling will also result from dirt between radiator cooling fans.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Avoid continuous use of vehicles in low gear range. Replenish radiators with potable water except in emergencies. Blow dirt out of radiators with compressed air or a jet of water.
TOPIC: Vehicle Filtering Systems
DISCUSSION: Air, fuel, and oil filters require daily servicing in the desert. Ambient air that appears clean is actually laden with fine dust, even on a clear day. Replacement of all filters must be on a more frequent basis than recommended. Close attention to filters pays in fewer maintenance problems. It is not uncommon for an air filter to become completely useless in 3 days even with daily or more often cleaning.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Greater numbers of filters of all types should be stocked for use in desert operations.
TOPIC: Vehicle Lubrication
DISCUSSION: Oil should be changed about twice as often as recommended, not only because grit accumulates in the oil pan, but also because uncombusted low-octane fuel seeps down the cylinder walls and dilutes the reservoir.
Diluted oil lubricates and cools less effectively and evaporates at high temperatures generated during engine operation, necessitating more frequent topping up. High-grade 20W-50 oil has served well in desert conditions.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Oil changes and lubrication of undercarriage points at more frequent intervals will prolong engine and vehicle life under desert conditions.
TOPIC: Lubrication of Weapons
DISCUSSION: Some field-experienced personnel strongly believe that soldiers operating in the desert should not lubricate any weapon unless it is being taken into combat immediately. Conventional lubricants attract more dust and dirt than would accumulate if the weapon were left dry. There is no danger of rust most times of the year. Especially conscientious soldiers stuff oily rags down barrels or wrap the rags around jam-prone mechanisms. Weapons system manufacturers continue to recommend generous lubrication in their consulting visits to SANG, emphasizing that lack of lubricant affects the weapon both in storage and in operation.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Weapons should be lubricated in accordance with U.S. standards while in storage; however, when weapons are in use, they should not be heavily lubricated.
TOPIC: Wire Deterioration and Usage
DISCUSSION: Field wire (WD-1 ) is used to supplement 32-pair wire in the SANG field telephone system. Problems arise in attempting to maintain a continuous circuit and a reliable land-line communications system. Heavy vehicles driving over buried wire cause breaks and cuts. Dry rot on insulation exposes wire. It then will not conduct, or, at best, conducts poorly, resulting in dead or intermittently operational lines. Also, irregular tension on lines causes connections to pull away, breaking the communications link.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Shielded cable is more sturdy and reliable than wire presently used by the SANG. Shielded cable is less prone to the problems listed above, and would more effectively maintain telephone communications under desert conditions.
TOPIC: Eye Protection
DISCUSSION: The importance of wearing eye protection in the desert cannot be overstressed. Some people prefer sunglasses, others like goggles. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but both accomplish the goal of keeping out direct and reflected sunlight and reducing the numbing effect of cold winter winds.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Wear sunglasses or goggles in the desert.
TOPIC: Consumption of Liquids
DISCUSSION: Unacclimated Westerners dehydrate extremely rapidly in the desert. The only sure solution is forcing fluids--drinking even when not apparently thirsty on some sort of schedule, if possible. Experience indicates that if a man feels thirsty in the desert, he is already on the borderline of trouble. The Arabs drink a very sweet, hot tea. It is possible there is good reason to imitate them.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Force liquids. Drink water even in the absence of thirst.
TOPIC: Bad Water
DISCUSSION: There have been a few cases among Westerners of gallstones and other urinary disorders following completion of extended periods in central Saudi Arabia. Some persons have drawn a link between the illness and the local water, which is high in mineral content. Purified water is available for drinking, but it is possible that it too might affect certain sensitive individuals.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Expect a higher than normal incidence of urinary disorders, possibly as a result of poor drinking water.
TOPIC: Effect on Eating Habits
DISCUSSION: Fresh fruit and ice cream definitely raise people's spirits and brighten the menus on long maneuvers. It is a problem to transport and preserve these foods in the desert heat, but the payoff in improved morale is worth the trouble.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Certain foods, though hard to keep under desert conditions, have intangible value to men in the field. These foods should be set aside before an operation for shipment to key elements at the right time.
TOPIC: Jet Lag
DISCUSSION: People arriving in Saudi Arabia from the United States need at least 2 or 3 days recovery time after the long flight. Jet lag affects eating and sleeping habits, mental agility, and general attitude. A newcomer cannot "hit the ground running."
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Jet lag is a serious consideration in desert operations undertaken by men arriving by plane from a great distance. A recovery period should be allowed, ideally one day for every time zone crossed.
TOPIC: Respiratory Disorders
DISCUSSION: The air, even on a clear day, is laden with dust particles which trigger sinus problems and other respiratory ailments. It is not practical or feasible to attempt to filter out the dust particles on a daily basis; however, on particularly bad days, personnel do don surgical masks or cover their nose and mouth with a bandanna to reduce the intake.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Expect a higher than normal incidence of respiratory disorders.
TOPIC: Nonpotable Water
DISCUSSION: Because local water in central Saudi Arabia is highly saline, supply units are often called upon to provide "sweet" water (that is, drinking water) for cleaning and maintenance. Saline water calcifies in automobile cooling systems, reducing cooling capacity. It corrodes metals when used for washing. There are isolated open wells in some of the wadis. Abundant water is only available from wells which are drilled to tap underground rivers and lakes at depths of 3,000 to 8,000 feet. The water from this source has an extremely high mineral content which makes it unsafe to drink.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Plan on supplying unusually large quantities of drinking water because of the unsuitability of local water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and maintenance. Experience in the SANG battalions indicates that a unit will require at least 7 gallons of water per man per 24-hour period.
TOPIC: Fuel Contamination
DISCUSSION: One source of fuel contamination is the reuse by the SANG of gasoline tankers to transport or store diesel fuel, and vice versa, without first flushing. The Saudi government-owned fuel company, Petromin, controls the only facility in the country for flushing out tankers. Because there is no other place to perform this service, the pressure of operational necessity often forces the driver to skip this important procedure.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: If a unit is required to flush a tanker to transport a different product, the availability of local facilities should not be included in the planning.
TOPIC: POL Storage
DISCUSSION: Operation of mechanized forces in the desert will require a considerable number of POL storage sites. In most desert areas in Saudi Arabia, storage systems are antiquated. Devices for determining the state of POL contamination may be lacking. As an example, local systems are not equipped with sampling and gauging hatches. Standard U.S. sample beakers will not fit down refill hatches. The local storage tanks also have no strapping charts for determining the precise volume from tank fluid levels. Bottom samples cannot be drawn up to test for contamination.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: It is not possible to determine the precise volume of fuel in local storage tanks or to determine the degree of contamination without special equipment.
DISCUSSION: Experience indicates that artillery ammunition is consumed in greater quantities than would normally be expected in a different environment. This is due to the expansive open terrain upon which an engagement would probably occur. Erratic ballistic behavior has been observed on artillery and tank rounds due to excessive heat.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Increase consumption planning for artillery and antitank ammunition. Ammunition should be stored in areas with a double sun shade. Wherever possible, in addition to the double sun shade, the ammunition should be stored approximately 1 m below the desert floor. This method reduces the ambient temperature in the storage site below 100 degrees F.
TOPIC: Desert Fog
DISCUSSION: In the desert, temperature fluctuation and moisture in the air may produce fog that forms a belt that may move rapidly through an area of operation or hang suspended for extended periods. In numerous instances, operations involving the SANG have been disrupted by this desert fog.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Because visibility is cut to almost zero during desert fog, vehicle operations, land navigation, target acquisition, enemy observation, and direct fire are seriously affected. However, units with thorough knowledge of the terrain in their areas of operation can effectively use this fog to disengage from the enemy, or conduct raids or ambushes.
TOPIC: Effects on Optics
DISCUSSION: Optics in central Saudi Arabia are completely free of moisture related-problems. However, in areas adjacent to the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea, problems with condensation and moisture occur more often than usual. The major threat to optics is wind blown sand, which gradually degrades its performance by pitting and scratching the lenses.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Regular maintenance and inspection of optics will help eliminate or control moisture-related problems. Lens covers should be used to prevent damage from dust and blowing sand. If possible, keep the system completely covered until ready for use.
DISCUSSION: Any bunching of vehicles in open areas is easily detected at ranges up to 10 km from the air or high vantage points.
LESSON(S) LEARNED: Unit elements should be dispersed to the greatest degree possible using all available natural cover and concealment.
Environmental Effects on Equipment
Tips on Fighting in the Desert
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