Knock on wood

By: Radel Paredes July 01,2017 - 10:50 PM

PAREDES

If necessity is the mother of invention, then poverty would be its father. The lack of resources forces people to find creative solutions to certain problems, to make do with whatever is available and to try to make them work.

The shortage of vehicles needed for public transportation during the early years of postwar reconstruction led some Filipino mechanics to convert military jeeps left behind by American soldiers into local versions of the minibus.

And during the war itself, when oil was scarce, some Pinoys found a way to power their vehicles with leftover vegetable oil, an early version of biodiesel. Others even claim to have invented hydrogen or water as fuel during those periods of dire need.

Indeed, war has ironically been the great dynamo of invention. To combat various threats, a nation is forced to gather its best scientists and engineers to develop new weapons and other machines needed for war. Industry is given new impetus by massive need for arms production. Tremendous amount of research and experimentation lead not only to developments in war machines but in technology that has peacetime applications.

But for non-industrialized countries, indigenous inventions rarely lead to mass production. At most, local inventors could only expect to be awarded with patents but find no opportunity to manufacture their inventions. Worse, unable to register their patents internationally, their ideas are easily stolen by foreign capitalists who are able to mass produce them for profit.

Still, despite the lack of manufacturing capability, we see no end to Third World ingenuity. What we call DIY (Do-It-Yourself) culture today arises from a need for self-reliance, to be able to make easy, cheap and quick fixes.

Observing the current war between the military and the Isis terrorists in Marawi, we are amazed at how combatants from both sides were able to show ingenuity in finding solutions to certain problems arising from scarcity of resources in combat.

We saw how the Isis terrorists have demonstrated skills on making their own bombs or improvised explosive devices (IED) and the use of weapons manufactured by blacksmiths at guerrilla camps, such as the .50 caliber sniper rifle locally called “Barit” (an imitation of the U.S. Barrett sniper rifle of the same caliber) and copies of rocket propelled grenades (RPG).

The terrorists have also been using what the military call “fuel bombs” or improved versions of the Molotov cocktails. At one point, they also used a commercially available drone to take aerial videos of military positions. Early propaganda photos showed terrorists riding on a stolen bank armored car and firing a machine gun mounted on a pickup truck.

To counter RPG attacks, the military, on the other hand, have added wooden planks and even thick layers of carton boxes on their tanks and armored personnel carriers, most of which have armor plates designed to stop bullets of only up to 7.62 mm like that of the AK-47 and the M14 rifles.

When we first saw them on TV, we thought this was ridiculous. But in one TV interview, a tank crew shows the reporter a burned portion on stacks of carton boxes tied to the copula of his V-150 armored personnel carrier and explained how it actually enabled the RPG rocket to explode prematurely as it detonated upon contact with the cardboard material, thus lessening its impact.

The same tank personnel also show a dent on a metal sheeting added to the front of the same armored vehicle and said that this makeshift armor reinforcement worked effectively to lessen the effect of enemy antitank rockets.

This DIY solution has attracted the attention of defense analysts worldwide. In fact, an article in Popular Mechanics explained how this simple innovation actually worked to stop projectiles called high-explosive anti-tank (Heat) or “shaped charges” as they detonate upon contact with this material and thus dissipate before they penetrate the armor. Locally-made RPGs use shaped charges and are thus rendered ineffective by these wooden armor reinforcement, which are way cheaper than the more high-tech reactive armor currently used in tanks of rich countries.

Reactive armor that looks like metal “applique” tiles are added to the armor of a tank. Each tile is actually a sandwich of metal with either an explosive middle lining that explodes to push back a shaped charge projectile upon contact and thus prevent it from penetrating the vehicle’s main armor or some non-explosive inert lining like rubber which burns as it dissipates the incoming jet of the antitank round.

Our soldiers have proven that a stack of wood or even cardboard may work just the same. Still, it’s not totally fool-proof as not all parts of the tank may be covered. A rocket may hit a wheel or the tiny glass window of the tank’s driver, for example. In which case, our soldiers can only knock on wood and hope that their tank won’t be knocked out.

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