High Hopes for a Low-Tech Barrier Upgrade

You quite literally cannot go anywhere in the war zone without seeing the ubiquitous Hesco barrier — the fabric and mesh modules filled with earth that defend forward operating bases from bad guys and the elements. FOBs in Iraq and Afghanistan are made from Hesco barriers sometimes stacked three or four high. The units arrive like folded up packing boxes, but when troops or combat engineers fill them with dirt, they form the backbone of a base’s outer barrier.

The thing is, you often need a lot of heavy construction equipment to fill up enough Hescoes to build a base of the size you want. Then, when commanders want to pull the troops out and close the base, it’s seldom worth breaking all the china to send engineers or Seabees back to the base to break down the Hescoes. So that can mean that American or allied forces have no choice but to effectively hand a defended position to the bad guys. Not only does that give them a new base, it’s bad “optics” — a propaganda victory.

“In two weeks you end up in the local press — there’s Terry Taliban standing on top of your barrier with his flag,” said Jake McQueen, Hesco’s sales manager. The company has a solution, though: New barrier units will come with a simple pin that opens the container to let troops spill out the dirt. So it’ll be easier for soldiers to move and break down new Hesco barriers, the company says, because it can just spill out their contents without the need for heavy equipment. When allied troops pack up to leave, all Terry Taliban will get are piles of dirt.

  • Yep

    Long as the talibs dont go pulling those pins first!

  • http://www.facebook.com/ThePostmodernCowboy Kevin Metcalf

    I was going to say… I’m not sure how this barrier ‘improvement’ will do anything but jeopardize prepared positions which use the new style of H-bastions. If we look objectively, the ability to quickly demolish or render ineffective a prepared position can easily be reversed by an enemy who manages to get close enough. I understand there is a PR cost for HESCO whose ‘ubiquitous’ bastion does appear (like COP Keating) in pictures alongside insurgents who have assumed control of fortifications. That said, Keating was captured temporarily by the Taliban and I doubt highly whether the HESCOs were of much effect in defending against the subsequent aerial bombardment. I’d say rather than literally undermining this highly useful tool in prepared fortification, work on a new design entirely. It’s also theoretically possible to seed an existing wall with some kind of stable explosive allowing it to be thoroughly demolished on a moment’s notice. Giving the enemy a weak point to exploit just to prevent awkward public relations is a bad precedent for a contractor that does such good business with the MIC.

    • Big Guy

      What if the release mechanism is on the inside of the wall? What if they put a simple lock on it? What if it was more complex than one pin, but less complicated than the current issue of removing all the dirt? Some of your issues are easily overcome with minor adjustments, versus re-engineering the entire structure.

      Also, it is obvious that those occupying the old positions could be easily defeated by various types of ordinance, but the issue here was propaganda based, not that the base was impenetrable. Besides, why waste all that money when the fix is simple?

    • Bronco46

      If you have sappers inside your perimeter (in the wire, so to speak) you have bigger problems then dirt being let out of your barricades.

  • elizzar

    i suspect it might be slightly more complicated than a big red pin with “pull me” written next to it … a lockable system to achieve this, positioned on the inside of course - if ‘terry’ can get to that, you’ve already got problems cos he’s in the base! as for stable explosive, how stable is the most stable when being hit by other explosive things like mortars (i ask this seriously, i don’t know). is there any risk of sympathetic explosion?

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      “is there any risk of sympathetic explosion?”

      That depends on the exact explosive in question, as well as the quantities. Many new munitions use explosive formulations especially developed to be insensitive to things like bullet or fragment impact, fire and, yes, sympathetic detonation. The way the munition/explosive is packaged can also make a big difference.

      But having said that, I am not aware of any explosive stable or insensitive enough that I would feel comfortable about putting it in the barrier that’s supposed to protect me from incoming fire. A shaped charge (think RPG-7) for example will set off virtually any explosive.

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

      • joe

        Regardless of which, it’s got to be more complex, and hence more expensive and less reliable, than a set of retaining pins….

        All it needs is for it to be a task taking a minute per “block” and, as noted, coloured with a “this side towards base interior” on it.

  • Yep

    Or we could just line the insides with some det-cord prior to exfil and poof there goes the magic dragon..

  • Jayson

    Instead of pins, hard connect them and pre rig explosive charges to the hinges, if the taliban decide to pluck away at it they get their own taste of IED in their face. And when it’s time to pull out, hit the red button and instant dismantled as the last transport is heading out. And it’ll look cool too.

  • Matt

    If the Taliban can get close enough to “pull the pin” on these barriers the troops have bigger problems. Namely suicide bombers (or, I suppose, planted explosives in a war against a more modern enemy).

  • ncb1010

    Insurgents wouldn’t be stupid enough to camp out at a base like this…would they? It would be smarter to put a big sign up viewable from the sky saying “bomb us”.

  • Heath

    Pin goes on the inside. Problem Solved. I seriously suspect that once full of two tons of earth, that pin isn’t going to just pop out of that barrier. Good on Hesco atleast making A solution available. The bigger problem is, what do I do with the literally hundreds of emply H-bastions that I now have? Anyone who has ever moved one emply knows they are not really light, and once its popped open, I’ll still have to pull it out of the pile of dirt it leaves behind. We’re talking some serious haulling capability to move that many barriers. If I’m shutting down a major base, in a relatively peaceful area, and de-militarizing it, then yes - it will certainly make it easier, but in the circumstances listed above, I’m liable to just have a large pile of broken H-bastionsbehind my giant piles of dirt.

    But if your solution is you want me to bury explosives in my own perimeter? Nuts.

    • chaos0xomega

      Well if you’re pullin out and you cant deconstruct the h-barrier, its simple, set some demo charges on the perimeter when you’re ready to leave, get out of the area, detonate remotely. Problem solved.

  • blight

    Do we still use Volcano APERS mines? Just fire a bunch into the site and let the Taliban walk in and get killed, or risk a great many personnel to attempt to disarm them.

    It’s not like there a bunch of Taliban EOD guys out there. However, it does look bad to add to the Soviet mine collection in Afghanistan.

    Even if they pulled out their HESCOs, the Taliban would just stick a flag in the pile of dirt from the HESCO.

    • Hunter78

      Over 150 nations have signed on to the Anti-Mine Treaty. This would not be doing US advantage in winning the hearts and minds of the world’s peoples. A good old bomb would do just as well, without the extra moral burden.

  • Hunter78

    You’re filling these Hescos with dirt. They can be abandoned. I’m not convinced rigging them up with high explosions for their self-destruction is a good idea.

    As others have said, these are great air targets.

  • jsallison

    So Mr Taliman occupies these things after we leave? I’mna seeing a golden opportunity here, at least the first coupla times. Gotta be a bored buff driver circling about somewhere just waiting for the word to be given.

  • what

    After the US Military is done using the base, just leave the fences as they are and then wait for the Taliban to enter, then drop a “Daisy Cutter” bomb on the Taliboob fighters. KABOOM!

  • Schwerpunk_t

    “When allied troops pack up to leave, all Terry Taliban will get are piles of dirt.” Wait . . . wut?

    That’s said as if big piles of dirt is, well, dirt. Come on now, it will be big heaping piles of dirt in the shape of a base. These will be just as useful . . . insurgencies don’t need dirt to be nicely packaged, horizontal, logical, and in neat piles like ISFOR.

    Why in the hell are we doing even “low-tech barrier” protocol half-assed? Take the time and effort to move that dirt out of there for crying out loud. Flatten it, spread it around . . . don’t just leave “big piles of [high, dense, defensible] dirt” for your enemy to squat in.

    • Guest

      I agree, just leaving a big pile of dirt is unacceptable. Let the soldiers build a sandcastle in the form of a giant hand with all but one finger bended.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joris.gadellaa Joris Gadellaa

    How a bout a weld torch?

  • itfunk

    Nothing says the central government will keep you safe like a deflated sand-castle.

  • blight

    I love how we’re talking about precious engineer time and equipment just to destroy mounds of dirt. I approve of blasting bunkers, but if taking down Hescos means another night outside the wire in a /dismantled perimeter/ in Indian country…?

  • 1-26

    When we left the ODA Compound in Samarra, we let the enemy have our vacated positions… Then we shelled the shit out of them.

  • Ryan

    Hesco Is based 3 miles away from my house and my Dad works there..

    The owner has actually died now and it is been run by his 7 relatives who dont have a clue what todo with the company.

    He is going to work and seeing 30-30 people been laid off and made redundant .. the chinese are makeing cheaper less secure Baskets which the government see more price worthy..

    Basically my dad will have no job and no way to feed my younger 9 brothers and sisters .

    • Blight

      The owner, who also started Segway died in 2010. I’m not surprised that relatives don’t know what they are doing, it is often the bane of a family business with one genius in charge.

      I imagine that commercial users would happily switch to the cheaper Chinese product, but that the US military will remain committed to hesco product.

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