C. Four-wheel driving
When you are on mission, you will often be required to drive around in a four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle. Although you may already be used to driving one, it is important to know what makes a 4WD unique. In case you are out of practice or you do not have much experience in driving a 4WD vehicle, arrange a couple of four-wheel driving lessons before leaving on a mission.
Four-wheel drive means that four road wheels provide power for the vehicle; 4WD is often selectable, but in some cases all wheels provide drive all the time (constant 4WD – Range Rover, for example). In most cars, only two wheels provide power and the others ‘freewheel’. In the past, the driving wheels were usually the rear wheels, but now front-wheel drive is more common. Most 4WD vehicles have stayed with traditional rear-wheel drive in normal situations, with front- wheel drive also engaging when the driver selects 4WD. To reduce wear, noise and fuel consumption, 4WDs are often fitted with freewheeling hubs on the front wheels.
Why do 4WD vehicles need special handling?
There are a number of important differences between a normal car and a 4WD vehicle. The 4WD is usually about the same weight as an ordinary vehicle, but has a higher centre of gravity, so it is less stable. It may have a shorter wheelbase and a larger turning circle. The tyre size and tread pattern may be more suitable for off-road conditions than for sealed roads. The two driving axles and the transfer case allow for the use of high or low ratio and four-wheel drive. All these differences go to make up a vehicle that requires specialhandling skills. The art of successful four-wheel driving takes practice and skill, and comes with experience.
1. General principles of four-wheel driving
The following general principles apply to driving off- road or on a poor road in a 4WD vehicle:
- Assess and plan. Get out and physically check the obstacle before committing yourself to crossing it.
- The first attempt at crossing an obstacle is usually the best, especially in muddy or slippery conditions.
- The right gear. The right timing. Select a suitable gear before attempting the obstacle. Changing gear in the middle of an obstacle may cause wheel spin and loss of traction.
- When in doubt, trust throttle control. In difficult conditions, allow the vehicle to inch along, finding its own way purely with throttle control (i.e. engine revs at idle speed or just above idle speed, no clutch or brakes).
- Do not over-rev the engine. Use only the amount of engine torque needed for the job.
- Slow down. To overcome wheel spin, take your foot off the accelerator.
- When braking, avoid locking up the wheels. If wheels do skid, ease off the brakes until traction is regained.
- ‘After you!‘ When two or more vehicles are travelling in convoy, cross an obstacle one at a time.
2. Vehicle checklist
The following is a list of items that you need to keep an eye on or take with you at all times:
- tyres (make sure they are in good condition and have sufficient air pressure!);
- oil, coolant, fuel (check fluid levels regularly, never allow your fuel tank to be less than half full);
- tools (make sure they are all in place, including the wheel jack);
- spare fan belt, extra fuel in cans, if needed, and a spare, properly inflated tyre;
- individual protective gear, if required (e.g. helmet, flak jacket);
- drinking water;
- spare/emergency food;
- first aid kit;
- sleeping bag/blankets (always worth taking in cold climates or for first aid);
- vehicle logo/flag (if your organisation has one);
- lights (functioning headlights, tail lights, brake lights, indicators and lights to illuminate your logo/flag);
- documents required by organisations or local authorities, (e.g. log, registration and insurance papers).
3. Armoured vehicles
Armoured vehicles are usually of the 4WD (four-wheel drive) variety. All vehicles (e.g. the cabin of a convoy truck) can be protected with armour if required. There are many different levels of protection available. The higher the degree of protection, the greater (normally) the weight of your vehicle. The added weight resulting from these higher levels of protection might even require special driving skills because of the handling peculiarities this creates. Practise driving the armoured vehicle or get a specialist driver for it. It takes time to get used to it. Increasingly, missions require you to hold a ‘C’ driving licence rather than a standard ‘B’ licence to drive an armoured car. Check if you need a ‘C’ driving licence for your position (e.g. if you are a border monitor).
Armour plating can provide good protection against rifle fire and the blast effect from shells, anti-personnel mines and, to some extent, other mines. Just because you have an armoured vehicle available, do not treat it as your personal go-anywhere tank. It can and will protect you against less-powerful threats, but you should not expect it to protect you against everything. In other words, be sensible. If the risks are high, turn back. An armoured vehicle is not normally designed to withstand the larger sniper bullets, anti-tank mines or a direct hit from an artillery or mortar round. Do ask what level of protection your vehicle gives you.
Armoured vehicles should be used for vital missions in high-risk areas and when entering an unknown, but possibly high-risk area for the first time. They should normally be used in vehicle pairs for added security, especially in the event of a breakdown. If conditions warrant the use of armoured vehicles, then you must also wear your helmet and flak or ballistic jacket for added protection.
Likewise, if the situation calls for the use of protective equipment, you should ensure that a first aid kit is always carried in your vehicle and seek training in its use. Always carry two compression bandages with you. They are small, simple and easy-to-carry purpose- built pads that can be quickly applied to wounds to stop bleeding and thus save lives. Ask your medical department or field nurse for them (you can also make them yourself).
Other forms of vehicle protection
Ballistic-protective blankets, or ‘mine blankets’, are designed as an economical way of providing some minimal protection in vehicles not equipped with the armour described above. These blankets – made from the same type of material used for ballistic jackets – are laid on the floor of the vehicle. They are quite heavy (almost six kilos per square metre). The blankets augment the protection offered by the vehicle’s floor against shrapnel from grenades, exploding ordnance or anti-personnel mines. However, you should not let these passive protection aids give you a false sense of security. They will not protect you or your vehicle against anti-tank mines.
Sandbags can be laid on the floor of vehicles to provide added protection against mine threats. They are effective against blast and shrapnel from anti-personnel mines, but should only be expected to reduce the blast effect of anti-tank mines. In other words, do not expect full protection. However, sandbags add to the vehicle’s weight and reduce its stability.