Air Defense: Taliban Flak Wagons Trashed


April 24, 2009: In southern Afghanistan, Afghan civilians tipped off foreign troops that the Taliban were mounting Russian made 14.5mm machine-gun on the backs trucks and were apparently planning to use it against military helicopters. In both cases, air reconnaissance confirmed the reports, and both 14.5mm machine-guns were destroyed with smart bombs, once the vehicles clear of civilians. Anti-aircraft weapons mounted in trucks are called flak (after the German term for anti-aircraft guns) wagons.

Both weapons appeared to be the old Soviet ZPU-1 anti-aircraft machine-guns. These weapons have sights for firing at low flying aircraft. The machine-gun itself weighs nearly 200 pounds, and a complete ZPU-1 weighs nearly half a ton. The effective (aimed) range of the 14.5mm machine-gun is 1,400 meters (4,300 feet). Several American helicopters were shot down by these weapons in Iraq, and last year, Sudanese rebels brought down a government MiG-29 that came in low to fire on them as they were making a surprise raid on the capital. Coalition fixed wing aircraft (except for the A-10) rarely come lower than 3-4,000 meters, to avoid such machine-gun fire.

What apparently angered the villagers was the fact that the Taliban were practicing with the 14.5 machine-gun outside a village market. The 14.5mm bullets can travel up to 8,000 meters, and even at that maximum range, the two ounce slugs can kill or wound whoever gets hit. Older Afghans have bitter memories of the Russians using their many 14.5mm machine-guns (which were mounted on most armored vehicles) indiscriminately. The maximum rate of fire of the 14.5mm machine-gun is 600 rounds a minute, and it is usually fired in short bursts of 5-20 rounds.

Many 14.5mm machine-guns were left over from the 1980s war with the Russians, although most were collected by the government in the past few years, in a campaign to get a lot of these heavy weapons (including mortars and light artillery) out of the hands of civilians. But many of these heavy weapons were not turned in. U.S. Marines had been picking up information from villagers that the Taliban were offering big money for anyone who had a 14.5mm machine-gun hidden away. Some Afghans did, and finally unloaded the weapons (which is why Afghans tend to horde weapons and ammo, even things they don't need themselves). The two that were destroyed were put back in working order, and there are probably more around. The U.S. will probably respond by offering to beat the Taliban price, a tactic that has worked in the past.

The 14.5mm machine-gun is the Russian answer to the U.S. 12.7mm weapon. The U.S. 12.7mm weapon entered service in the early 1920s, with the Russian 14.5mm following over twenty years later, after World War II.



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