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Instant fortresses modified for instant demolition

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October 19, 2011

A Hesco Bastion being filled by a front loader in Iraq

A Hesco Bastion being filled by a front loader in Iraq

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For a soldier, there's no greater comfort than having a nice, thick wall between you and the enemy. However, building fortifications takes time and materials that an army in the field often doesn't have. Building materials like concrete are costly and difficult to bring in, while the traditional standby of sandbags is laborious and time consuming - and it doesn't help that someone might be shooting at you while you're shoveling dirt into bags.

The answer to this problem for Coalition forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan came in the form of the Hesco Bastion. Invented by British ex-coal miner Jim Heslden and marketed by his company Hesco Bastion Ltd., it was one of those ideas so simple that it's a wonder nobody thought of it decades before.

The Bastion, also known as the Concertainer, is a three-foot square (.28 sq.m.) wire-mesh steel basket, hinged together with a helical coil system and lined with non-mesh geotextile cloth that folds up like flat-pack furniture. In the field, it's unfolded and filled by a standard front loader or backhoe, with any dirt or rubble that's locally available and tamped down hard. By lining these baskets up and stacking them like building blocks, army engineers can build a wall ten times faster than sandbagging, with fewer people. The result is an earthen wall thick enough to shrug off a rocket propelled grenade.

Though it was originally designed for flood control, the Bastion has proven popular with armed forces around the world since the British Army started using them in Bosnia in the 1990s, but they do have one drawback: They are very easy to put up, but very hard to tear down. That's a real problem when a combat unit is moved from one area to another in some place like Afghanistan, where the Taliban are more than happy to take possession of a ready-made fortress that they can claim they "liberated."

The answer to this problem was surprisingly low tech and as simple as the Bastion itself. Hesco incorporated a pin into the wire mesh that can be pulled out. When that happens, the Bastion unzips and all the earth pours out, leaving the enemy with a mound of dirt.

This innovation was recently unveiled by McQueen at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army. He pointed out that not only does this improvement mean that military assets can be denied to the enemy, but the Bastion components can be reused, which means a considerable savings in fuel and logistical support. "We wanted to reduce the logistics problems for the guys," he said. "They've got enough going on fighting the war."

Let's just hope that the soldiers remember to keep the pins on the inside of the fort where the Taliban can't get at them, or there could be some embarrassing reports back to HQ.

Source: DefenseTech

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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8 Comments

Stupid idea. Why not just grade the sand into a nice big berm. Much quicker, easier and cheaper and you only need the driver and not people to move the bags, open them etc. Worked a treat in Namibia for the SA Defence Force.

Jonathan Blindell
19th October, 2011 @ 07:28 pm PDT

I can imagine a big hay-baler with a trash dumpster type arm on the back. Automatic fortress builder machine.

I can also see this becoming some very convenient disaster relief buildings.

@Bill Bennett: So I assume you are OK with dying at the hands of a terrorist right? I'll go make sure that the soldiers know you don't care that they are giving their lives to protect you. Have some respect.

ebrush870
20th October, 2011 @ 04:14 pm PDT

The problem is in the abandoning of territory while enemy guerrillas, or in this case terrorists are still in the field.

Or you could leave a nice large bomb under the fort to ruin the morning of anybody who tries to move in.

re; Bill Bennett

War is more terrible than anything, except surrendering to the fascist scum we are fighting.

Slowburn
20th October, 2011 @ 06:56 pm PDT

@ Jonathan Blindell: The Concertainer was originally designed for flood control. Maybe it's more resistant to the elements than a simple earthen berm? You don't want your fort to dissolve in the first rainstorm to roll through, after all :)

Jim Stouffer
20th October, 2011 @ 07:31 pm PDT

Plain sand or dirt berms take up more than 3x the ground space and more than 3x the material to achieve the same height as using these containers.

If the angle of repose of loose material was 45 degrees, it would only be 3x the space and material, but the angle for dry sand is 34 degrees and for dry dirt is 30 to 45 degrees, depending on what materials it's composed of.

Any shock to a pile of loose material at its angle of repose will cause it to collapse to a lower angle.

Pop a few RPGs into such a berm and it slumps down, making it easier to drive vehicles over or climb over.

With these containers, they can pull the pins and drag out the supports and liners, leaving a lumpy and low berm which is far easier to flatten into uselessness than a bigger one with over 3x the material in it.

Unlike solid walls, barriers made of loose materials dampen the blows of explosive ordnance and are simple and easy to repair.

After cannons made stone walls obsolete, fortification engineers developed walls made of stone or concrete with earthen embankment on the exterior. The downside was the slope eliminated the need for an escalade type of attack (using ladders) since the invading army could simply climb up to the top of the walls, if they had enough people to overwhelm any defensive fire.

Fortifications became obsolete as armies became more mobile, especially with aircraft capable of carrying vehicles or large numbers of troops. See the Maginot Line for the ultimate design for defense against an invasion by ground - which the Nazis simply flew over to invade France. It was a design based on the ground combat of the previous war.

Gregg Eshelman
20th October, 2011 @ 08:05 pm PDT

Not a stupid idea. trying to shoot uver a berm can get your head shot off. too gentle a curve. Also, a berm must be much wider built, and will be thinner on top,(where the soldiers need the most protection. Good overall design. And if you think war is a waste, bill, try turning the other cheek when they are shooting at you. Remember: those who beat their guns in to plowshares, will be governed by those who did not."

kellory
20th October, 2011 @ 08:10 pm PDT

re; Gregg Eshelman

While it is true that technology has rendered strategic fortifications such as the Maginot Line, which the Nazis went around not over, obsolete. Tactical fortifications is still important, especially against forces without significant artillery and/or air power.

Slowburn
20th October, 2011 @ 09:57 pm PDT

Agreed Slowburn. The idea behind this is an expedient way to stop fragments and small caliber bullets, not huge massed artillery. It's better than nothing and easy to dismantleand WAY easier than digging a foxhole.

VoiceofReason
21st October, 2011 @ 07:51 pm PDT
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