Friday, July 30, 2010

HESCO Bastions

From the extremely high tech world of rockets, missiles, and space flight, we will now take a turn for the primitive. What is known as the HESCO barrier or HESCO bastion is quite possibly one of the simplest and most effective systems in use today by the military. There is a great need to make bases relatively safe, especially from small arms, grenades, and rockets, as well as the shrapnel of other weapons like mortars. Classically, soldiers hand filled sand bags for use as protective fortifications. This worked okay from a protection point of view, but was extremely labor intensive. You can only fill so many sand bags in a given period and if you are trying to fortify a large FOB or airbase, it would take a real long time. Then, someone invented this:

This is the HESCO Bastion, originally designed as a temporary or semi-permanent flood control structure. They were used to reinforce levees after Hurricane Katrina. In 2008, during the extensive flooding in the Midwest, 27,000 feet of HESCO barriers were shipped to Iowa and set up. Today they are used on almost every US and NATO base in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are made up of a collapsible wire mesh "wall" with a thick synthetic fabric liner. The name comes from the British company that invented them more than 10 years ago. The real name of the product is the "Concertainer" playing on the classic concertina wire barrier. HESCO is actually the name of the company that produces it. In general use, they are often simply called Hescos.

The HESCO first began to be used in the security context in the 1990s. They can be stacked two or three high and make a formidable barrier for weapons. They are very cheap and can be assembled by people with little or no training. The are shipped collapsed and weigh very little. The Hesco comes in several sizes, dimensions of typical configurations are 4’6” x 3’6” x 32’ to 7’ x 5’ x 100’.

Protecting the most important part of the base

One of the best features of the the HESCO is the ease in which it is set up. Get it flown in or pull it off a truck, unfold it, use a front end loader or other heavy equipment to fill it up with dirt, sand or gravel. It is not instantaneous, but the speed that it can be set up in is pretty impressive. One soldier operating a front end loader and four more unfolding the shells can set up a wall in just couple of hours. They can essentially work ten times faster than crews filling sandbags. There is a new system of set up where the barriers are loaded in the back of trailer and dropped out in a line, a few people following behind set up them up and the loader filling them. This way a wall several hundred feet long can be in place in minutes and finished in a day.

Of course the real question is how effective is the HESCO bastion as a fortification? Well one answer is below. This is a Hesco that was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. You know, the things that can destroy armored vehicles.

When filled with sand, a barrier that is 24 inches think will stop almost all small arms projectiles and shell fragments. Given the very deep penetration of shaped charge weapons, guidelines state that for protection against RPGs, the barriers should be at least 5 feet thick. So based on that, we can see that the HESCO bastions, appropriately placed, would likely be a very good protector against several of the most common weapons on the battlefield. Even though the bases are still vulnerable to high angle attacks such as mortars and RPGs being used as rocket artillery, placement of bastions inside the base can greatly diminish the blast area by containing it. By the same studies' findings, car bombs (or VBIEDs if you prefer acronyms) can usually be defeated with 4 feet think sand filled barriers. I say usually, because you could have some really large bombs (like Oklahoma City) if you have the resources and motivation. Very little could impede a blast like that.

So there you have it. Cheap, easy and very fast to set up, fairly impervious to the elements, and will stop bullets, bombs and rockets. I like solutions like this and who ever thought the HESCO bastion up, that guy needs a medal. Or at least a beer.

Norwegian base surrounded by Hescos, note the barriers in between the tents to stop mortar and rocket fragments.


  1. Jimi Heselden the man who invented this did get a medal. he was an Englishman, and was awared the OBE.

    Sadly he died in a freak accident yesterday.

  2. Are you familiar with Defencell? It is a USA-made product that doesn't use metal. As a metal-free bastion it doesn't have the same risks from secondary damage (the metal can create more shrapnel), and it's much cheaper I think.

  3. Defencell is good for certain applications, but the mesh provides a great deal of the structural stability of the gabion basket, and even then when built badly can fail


    Low volume logistic burden, no metal content, but slow and difficult to build with 'tent frame type' stability frame.


    Everything else, especially where longevity and stability are required.

    Also consider: Metalith, creative building products similar wall, blastbloc and maybe sandbags.

    SSgt RE