Iraq's war on the Islamic State has seen the birth of a myriad of DIY designs, mostly initiated by Shiite militias looking to improve their firepower in order to gain the advantage over the enemy. The Islamic State is certainly no exception however, and it relies virtually exclusively on the ingenuity of their many arms workshops to turn the huge arsenals captured in and around Mosul into deadly weapons for use on the ever changing battlegrounds of Syria and Iraq, or simply for producing counter-measures against the Coalition's aircraft, which have so far denied the use of heavy weaponry by the Islamic State in several offensives.
The conversion of a BTS-5B armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) to a battle bus is such an example to turn an otherwise useless (to the Islamic State) vehicle into a potent weapons platform. Iraq acquired a number of BTS-5Bs in 2006 to serve alongside Iraq's increasing fleet of T-72s, but due to the inefficiency of the Iraqi Army the ARVs spent most of their service time languishing in forgotten corners of their bases. As a result, the Islamic State captured several ARVs near Mosul, including the WZT-2 and and BTS-5B seen below.
Of little use to the Islamic State in its original role, the BTS-5B was heavily modified to transport an armoured cabin over its original body. For this purpose, the crane, the snorkel and various crates containing additional tools were removed. The dozer blade and winch were retained however.
Blocks of armour and plating were installed on top of the newly erected platform while rubber side skirts were fitted to protect the tracks. Combined, it provides the occupants with protection against most light and heavy small arms fire from the front and sides. As a result of the blockage of the driver's hatch by the support beams of the platform, the driver had to enter his seat by a hatch on the floor of the platform. The support beams also blocked the driver's viewing port, forcing the driver to stick his head out while maneuvering the vehicle. Armoured glass was installed to make up for this increase of vulnerability however.
Armament consists of a shielded pintle-mounted 12.7mm DShK and several mounts for light-machine guns. The occupants also made use of M16s and AKMs to complement the single DShK during the vehicle's first and only use on the battlefield. All in all, the conversion was an impressive project which must have cost the Islamic State a large amount of man hours to accomplish, which is also why its poor battlefield career comes as somewhat as a surprise.
Shekhan was the site of a series of heavy attacks by the fighters of the Islamic State. The typical pattern of such an attack would include one vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) followed by an attack with M-1114s, Badger ILAVs or M1117 ASVs. As Peshmerga forces held the high-ground, and saw the vehicles coming from miles away, the exact logic behind these attacks remains unclear, especially after MILAN ATGMs reached the Peshmerga forces. It might serve as a testimony to the fact that although the fighters of the Islamic State are often quick to adapt to any combat situation, including operating armoured fighting vehicles in coordinated attacks, comprehension of suitable tactics in this situation remained beyond the Islamic State fighters' grasp in this region.
During the attack on Shekhan, several (up-armoured) M-1114s, one up-armoured Badger ILAV, one M1117 ASV and the battle bus moved up to the nearby mountain. Although under heavy fire from anything from small arms to RPGs and even tank fire, most of these rounds either missed or ricocheted from the vehicle's improved DIY armour. As a result, several vehicles managed to advance close to the mountain before being taken out. The battle bus on the other hand got stuck in a ditch, was hit by an RPG and probably also a mortar round, killing its exposed crew. Although this ended the career of a potent DIY armoured fighting vehicle, it also serves as a good example of the extent of the Islamic State's efforts towards increasing the firepower of its combatants. Footage of the failed attack can be viewed here.
The Islamic State going DIY, 122mm D-30 howitzers used as anti-aircraft guns
The Islamic State going DIY, from earthmover to earthbreaker