The History And Effects Of Vbieds Essay


¶ … Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices Vehicle-born improvised explosive devices are intended to kill and nothing else. -- Chris Greenwood, 2008

Despite the investment of enormous amounts of national blood and treasure, the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan failed to prevent the resurgence of terrorist activity, and the Afghan government remains unable to cope with the growing threat. Some of the more effective tools that were used by insurgents in the asymmetric warfare in Afghanistan that helped achieve this undesirable outcome were improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in general and vehicle-borne IED (or BVIEDs) in particular. To determine how these weapons emerged, the manner in which they were deployed, the problems that are associated with defusing them and the other counter-measures taken against them, this paper reviews the relevant literature concerning these issues, followed by a summary of the research and important findings in the conclusion.

Background and Overview

Insurgents create improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by exploiting any available materials to develop deadly bombs of varying types and explosive intensities. For instance, according to Dowle (2006), "These range from simple pipe bombs to under-vehicle booby traps to sophisticated timer-operated cassette-sized incendiaries" (p. 28). One type of IED that gained increasing popularity with insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan was the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device in which ammonium nitrate is packed in a vehicle that is then used against Coalition forces.

As the term suggests, vehicle born improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) are IEDs that have been installed in some type of civilian vehicle, even animal-powered, in order to maximize the amount of explosives used and facilitate their delivery to the target point (Lubold, 2009). In this regard, Vernon (2008) reports that, "VBIEDs have come in all shapes, sizes, makes, models, and colors of vehicles, ranging from the small, simple two-door passenger car to the large cement or sewage truck. In Iraq and Afghanistan, there have even been instances of fire trucks, ambulances, trailer-mounted generators, and donkey-drawn carts used to attack Coalition forces" (2008, para. 4). While insurgents continue to use suicide belts and vests as well as other delivery modes to wreak their havoc on innocent populations, VBIEDs are especially lethal. These weapons are increasingly popular among insurgent factions because of their cost effectiveness, lethality and flexibility in the choice of materials. For instance, in Iraq, "Insurgents there are still using vehicle-born improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks as their weapons of choice" (Lubold, 2009, p. 2).

Generally speaking, VBIEDs are devices that use a vehicle as the delivery mode for some type of explosive device (VIEDDs, 2015). What makes VBIEDs especially insidious is the fact that virtually any type of vehicle can be pressed into service as a weapon of potentially mass destruction. In this regard, the security consultants at Global Security emphasize that, "[VBIEDs] come in all shapes, colors, and sizes which vary by the type of vehicles available - small sedans to large cargo trucks. There have even been instances of what appeared to be generators, donkey drawn carts, and ambulances used to attempt attacks on Coalition Forces" (VBIEDs, 2015, para. 2). Triggering mechanisms therefore differ from device to device, but most VBIEDs encountered to date have been equipped with the same types of mechanisms used for other types of IEDs (VBIEDs, 2015). For instance, the security consultants at Global Security point out that, "Functioning of devices can vary within the same methods as the package types and can have the same common characteristics or indicators as other IEDs" (VBIEDs, 2015, para. 3).

As noted in Table 1 below, larger vehicles can carry an enormous amount of explosive capacity, and damage buildings and kill people more than a mile away. As shown in Table 1 below, the explosive capacity of VBIEDs ranges from exceedingly lethal to completely devastating, depending on the vehicle and types of explosives used.

Table 1

U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Explosive Standards for VBIEDs

Vehicle Type

Max Explosive Capacity

Lethal Air Blast Range

Min Evacuation Distance

Falling Glass Hazard

Compact sedan

500 lbs (in trunk)

100 feet

1,500 feet

1,250 feet

Full-Size Sedan

1,000 lbs (in trunk)

125 feet

1,750 feet

1,750 feet

Passenger/Cargo Van

4,000 lbs

200 feet

2,750 feet

2,750 feet

Small Box Van

10,000 lbs

300 feet

3,750 feet

3,750 feet

Box Van/Water- Fuel Truck

30,000 lbs

450 feet

6,500 feet

6,500 feet


60,000 lbs

600 feet

7,000 feet

7,000 feet

Source: Based on graph in VBIEDs, 2015,

Recently, there has been some evidence...


Because they are improvised -- sometimes on the fly, the explosive charges that have been used in these devices has varied widely, but there have been reports of rocket motors, mortar rounds, rocket warheads, artillery rounds and PE4 explosives being used (VBIEDs, 2015). Likewise, Vernon emphasizes that, "The explosives component of a VBIED can be anything from homemade improvised explosives to sophisticated military ordnance" (2008, para. 4). There have also been instances where VBIEDs included chlorine, flammables, shrapnel, and white phosphorus (Vernon, 2008). In addition, there have also been reports of multiple vehicles being used as a force multiplier to maximize the impact of the VBIED. In these types of attacks, a lead vehicle serves as a decoy to draw attention away from the real weaponized vehicle or to break through a barrier. When this lead vehicle is neutralized, the actual VBIED careens into a crowded scene in an effort to target as many people as possible (VBIEDs, 2015).
There have been some high-profile incidents in recent years involving VBIEDs, including the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Murrah Federal Office Building explosion in 1995 (Vernon, 2008). In both of these cases, the VBIEDs were created using widely available commercial products such as ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer ingredient (Vernon, 2008). Other high-profile incidents involving VBIEDs include that bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, and the Air Force's Khobar Towers in Khobar, Saudi Arabia (Caudill & Jacobson, 2013).

Given the destructive power available with a relatively low-cost VBIED, it is not surprising that insurgents have increasingly adopted this method in recent years. As Caudill and Jacobson (2013) conclude, "We see the same intent at play in the Taliban's detonation of a truck bomb on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 -- a strike that wounded 89 people, including 77 Soldiers" (p. 31). Certainly, all of this is not to say that that other hazards are not arrayed against Coalition forces, but it is to say that their ease of manufacture and potential destructive capabilities make VBIEDs an especially significant and problematic threat. As Vernon emphasizes, "VBIEDs constitute one of the largest hazards in Iraq and Afghanistan that Coalition forces have faced" (2008, para. 5). This assessment is due to the fact that VBIEDs are a "poor man's Predator drone," providing attackers with the ability to initiate an attack from a distance and employ large amounts of high explosives which maximizes the casualty ratio (Vernon, 2008).

Finally, other general countermeasures that can be used to thwart a VBIED attack include the following potential indicators provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for domestic situation but which have widespread applicability:

Theft of explosives, blasting caps, fuses, or chemicals used in the manufacture of explosives; Delivery of chemicals from a manufacturer to a self-storage facility or unusual deliveries of chemicals to residential or rural addresses;

Chemical fires, toxic odors, brightly colored stains, or rusted metal fixtures in apartments, hotel rooms, or self-storage units; and,

Modification of a truck or van with heavy-duty springs to handle heavier loads (Home on the page, 2009, p. 21).

Technical description of the countermeasures used against VBIEDs

One of the more challenging aspects of developing effective countermeasures against VBIEDs is the fact that they are mostly unique creations that can be assembled from whatever parts are handy. Moreover, many VBIEDs are designed with a specific target or type of target in mind, and insurgents have gained extensive experience in learning what works best under different types of scenarios (Vernon, 2008). Taken together, this means that countermeasures against VBIEDs must also be uniquely adapted to each situation, with only some general guidelines available to serve as a framework in which to neutralize these threats. Some of the VBIED methods that have been used in the Middle Eastern theatre of operations include the following:

Using locally purchased, wireless, battery-powered doorbell devices, car alarms, cordless phones, or cell phones to remotely initiate VBIEDs;

Using speaker and similar type of locally purchased wiring to connect the explosives;

Using decoy devices (bait devices or vehicles) out in the open to slow or stop U.S. forces in the "kill" zones; and,

Using suicide bombers to guide a vehicle into a target (Vernon, 2008, para. 5).

Some of the general rules that should be followed by civilian or military first responders encountering an unexploded VBIED include the following:

Scan the immediate area for any suspicious activities;

Limit the number of personnel allowed within the danger zone;

Restrict use of radio communications until the situation is neutralized (cell phones, two-way radios and field telephone should not be…

Sources Used in Documents:


Blankenship, J. (2015, June/July). Men perform feats of valor under extreme pressure. VFW Magazine, 102(9), 42-44.

Bless, S. J., Wilson, B. A., Pederson, L., Wienman, L. & Garnier, J. (2008, September). National Institute of Justice Final Report: Development of nanothermite projectile for improvised explosive device (IED) and vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) neutralization. The University of Texas at Austin: Institute for Advanced Technology.

Caudill, S. W. & Jacobson, B. R. (2013, May/June). Nowhere to hide: The growing threat to air bases. Air & Space Power Journal, 27(3), 30-35.

Dowle, J. (2006, September). Improvised explosive devices. Law & Order, 54(9), 28-31.
VBIEDs. (2015). Global Security. Retrieved from / intro/ied-vehicle.htm.
Vernon, A. (2008, September 1). Vehicle born improvised explosive devices. Fire Engineering. Retrieved from

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