As First-World States Amp Up Their High Tech, The Opposition Sticks To Basics

Over the last hundred years or so, uncountable amounts of money have been spent by various countries, to develop ever more sophisticated weapons and vehicles, many times, almost literally reinventing the wheel. The latest gargantuan expenditures that come to mind are the M1 Abrams tank, the Zumwalt destroyer and the F-35b airplane.

And yet, the most ubiquitous, most-used, most flexible and most cherished series of combat vehicles in the world is the humble Toyota Hilux, and its close cousin, the Toyota Land Cruiser.

Why this should be so, is of great discomfort to both defense companies and armies, around the world. The reason defense companies are worried is that the civilian Toyota vehicles are "good enough" for most combat applications. They are simple, rugged, durable, easy to understand and operate, and most importantly, cheap.

On the military side, these are also concerns, but the military - by necessity - goes deeper: the very ubiquitousness of the vehicles (driven by market, not military forces), in addition to their built-in ruggedness, makes it supremely difficult to both identify and attrit an asymmetric enemy's mobile infrastructure without attacking civilian targets at the same time.

It has long been known that light vehicles equate to light cavalry. Unfortunately, conventional militaries have a distinctly difficult time dealing with forces that can master the techniques of light cavalry campaigns.

Similarly, it has long been recognized that simple, robust weapons systems give unconventional forces near-parity of effectiveness at the "boots on the ground" level of combat. As long ago as 1940, in the US Marine Corps - in its "Small Wars Manual"  - recognized that as technology developed, and lightweight, fully-automatic weapons spread, the tactics the manual outlined would be rendered obsolete.

Modern small arms development has essentially plateaued in the years since 1946. Once the move to self-loading rifles was complete, what remained were alterations to ergonomics and attachments. The weapons could be massed produced with a very high degree of mechanical simplicity built in...this, of course, resulted in the development of the near-universal AK-series of assault rifles in the hands of both urban and rural guerrilla forces, as well as the later tribal militias, to say nothing of its continued use by regular armed forces throughout the world.

Adding to the difficulty for conventional armies, is the widespread deployment of highly effective, yet almost laughable uncomplicated, heavy support weapons at the squad level, primarily the RPG-7 and the General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG).

The RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher, while becoming less-capable against frontline combat vehicle armor, is still more than capable against light vehicles, light or hasty fortifications, and even some aircraft. A robust and simple design, the RPG-7 is a valuable weapon in any force's arsenal, and is widely available.

Likewise, the Soviet-designed PKM GPMG is another simple, robust and highly capable weapon system, easily a match for anything produced by the West.

Of course, except for the Toyota pickup trucks, the two things that the above weapons all have in common is that they are both products of Cold War-era Soviet Army design bureaus, and were handed out in vast numbers to many armies and guerrilla groups as the Cold War ground on.

And yet, their effects remain.

The challenge for both conventional forces, defense companies, and perhaps especially the political leadership of First World powers, frankly, is to find a way to equip the large security forces necessary to ensure a counterbalance to terrorist groups that operate like multinational corporations, while not cutting off their noses to spite their faces, by bankrupting the countries they are trying to sell their products to.

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