Just an ordinary day in the desert − when we “made a flight” in an AMV
Text: Olli Dahl Photos: Patria team
The theme of the day is a test firing of the weapon system, which usually begins with a “shakedown”, that is, doing a bumpy couple of hours’ drive in the desert. As usual, there is hardly any briefing before we start off. The local armed forces simply man the vehicle and take off − we must stay alert to keep up with them! The vehicle crew consists of the weapon system manufacturer's vehicle commander/armed forces gunner as a work pair in the turret, a local professional driver driving the vehicle, and, in the combat compartment at the back, a couple of officers, the weapon system supplier’s project manager and Olli from the Patria team of four. This time, we can assume the journey to be a little longer, as we have an escort, a couple of 4x4s of the armed forces coming along. The rest of the Patria team, Mikko, Hannu and Pasi, join the convoy in their Toyota.
The ride continues towards the north, with the driver driving in a knolly landscape without any distinctive features with the hatch closed, mostly driving according to his own observations. The north wind drives a thick cloud of dust into the eyes of the drivers following us in their vehicles. The weapon system is operational, because that is what we are testing here. The speed is so high that the escorting 4x4 section is sometimes left behind in the knolly terrain, but at the turning point they catch up with the AMV. We take a short drinking break during which the local crew, with the exception of the driver, move over to the 4x4s. Having turned back, the driver goes even faster, if possible. From the viewpoint of leading the mission, the setup is challenging. Four men are wearing the intercom headset: the driver, the gun system operator in the turret, the weapon system representative in the combat compartment, and Olli, who monitors the situation through the images from the hull SAS cameras. Three languages are in use, Finnish, English and Arabic, of which the driver understands only the last mentioned.
The speed keeps on getting higher, rising to about 80 km/h according to the telemetry reading. The vehicle keeps on making quite big leaps. All of a sudden, there is an upward knoll – quite tangible even at the back of the vehicle – where the vehicle’s nose raises upwards, then falls down again, and hits the next slope, rocking even more. The moment when the AMV’s nose is pointing upwards does not actually take more than milliseconds, but feels long inside the vehicle – silence – we are flying in the air – and the we feel a crash that makes out teeth rattle. Then the same again, with all the stuff inside jumping in this direction and that, the vehicle not slowing down at all. The weapon system representatives are screaming in terror. Olli shouts to the driver in Arabic, god knows how many times: "Stop, stop, stop!". The suspension system makes a crashing sound at the back that is nowhere near the normal soundscape. Finally, after about 70 meters, we can bring the vehicle to a halt and get to assess the damage. Even the vehicle convoy finally catches up with the AMV.
When they see that the AMV is not going to go anywhere for a while, all the men disappear into their vehicles as if the earth had swallowed them up, the weapon system guys swearing they will NEVER step into the AMV again! The Patria team of four is left alone in the desert to examine the damage.
Based on the measurements we made, we came to a conclusion that the vehicle had jumped into the air, flown about 18 metres, hit the ground in a completely abnormal position with the tail down, its whole weight falling on the right-hand side wheel of the fourth axle, bottoming out the spring and damaging the wheel suspension so that the wheel no longer held its position after damage to the joint. The impact had been hard because, among other things, the back of the subframe had made an about 5 cm deep hole in the rock-hard ground. The bounce into the air had been followed by another bounce, which in turn made the front armour hit the ground hard on the way down. Despite the hard blow, the actual damage was relatively small, but it required detaching the wheel housing and replacing a few components.
We were in the middle of a desert, all the others had taken off god knows where, and the nightfall was only a few hours away. How to get away? Where to get the spare parts? Where to repair the vehicle? Furthermore, the next morning we were also expected to do a high-level presentation to the armed forces command; would we make it in time? After a quick assessment of the situation, we concluded we would need to return to the camp, get the spare parts from a container at the garrison about 100 kilometres away, prepare the AMV for transfer at the crash site and make the repairs at the field camp. Mikko and Hanski started to prepare the vehicle for transfer using the tools at hand. Pasi and Olli returned to the camp, from where Olli drove back as soon as possible with a cross-country vehicle loaded with the necessary tools and something to drink and savoury snacks, because, when leaving, we had not been prepared for spending hours in the desert. Pasi set off with a local contact person on a long road trip to pick up spare parts needed for the repairs from the storage container. To make the repairs even more urgent, we were aware that we were in the danger zone of the unit scheduled to do the next round of firings. Before going anywhere, we had to enter the GPS coordinates into the navigator. Otherwise finding our way back to the crash site and then to the camp from there might have proven quite challenging!
Mikko and Hanski, who remained at the site, started the preparations. When Olli returned with the necessary equipment, the damaged wheel had already been placed in the vehicle's combat compartment ready for transport, and the vehicle’s nose had been driven downwards to lighten the rear. The wheel housing was jacked up and attached with a heavy-duty ratchet strap, and then Hanski limped with our 7-wheel AMV rest of us following in the cross-country vehicle towards the camp. It was already getting dark, and finally even our hosts took a sudden interest in the fate of the AMV. Our column was met with a patrol in cross-country vehicles: “Can you manage? Do you know your way back?” “Don't worry”, we assured them. When we reached the camp, even the colonel in command got worried: “How are you doing, do we need help, should we take the AMV to the garrison, do we need a crane, do we need to get spare parts from Finland?” “Don't worry – back in order in the morning; we are used to doing this kind of repairs out on the field”, we assured to the concerned testing commander.
By the time Pasi returned from his 200-kilometre journey with the local military support officer, the vehicle’s wheel suspension had already been taken apart, with the sweaty and dirty men waiting for the new parts to install (despite the nightfall, the temperature had hardly dropped at all, the thermometer still showing about +37⁰C, and the sunken location of the camp did nothing to alleviate the heat). We continued installing the new components bathed in sweat. In less than an hour, we had completed the work under Pasi and Hannu’s expert leadership, the AMV was back in order, and Olli was ready to present a brief summary of the process to the colonel in command:
The next morning we were ready for combat at the hour and the place ordered!
A few days later, we presented the equipment to a delegation from the local general headquarters. One of the colonels mentioned that he had heard of a minor accident in which an AMV would have jumped almost 100 metres... Well, we had to correct him on that, at least a little bit!
What a great team...