A couple of years ago the Finnish Defence Forces ordered 106 Valtra N163 Direct tractors for logistic tasks. While the last of these military tractors are still being delivered, the Defence Forces have already ordered more tractors from Valtra, including ten for the Army’s engineers. The customer has clearly been impressed by the versatility and ease-of-use of the tractors.
The tractors used by the Finnish Defence Forces are an integral part of the logistics chain. The army’s tactics were updated a couple of years ago, with troops being spread out more widely than before. This meant that tractors were given a bigger role in the logistics required by this change. Ammunition, fuel, food and other materials are transported by trucks in containers from military depots to logistics companies. The tractors then transport the containers from the logistics companies to the troops on the frontline.
“Our new tactics and equipment have been tested in numerous smaller and a few larger exercises, and they have proven to be extremely effective. The tractors are even more versatile than we had expected. They have been used to plough roads, for loading and unloading, for clearing snow, for maintaining gravel roads, for fortifications and for pulling loads across different terrain. Other branches of the army, including our field artillery and engineers, are now also interested in tractors,” says Jussi-Petri Hirvonen, who is responsible for the Army’s logistics.
The military tractors have been comprehensively equipped on the assembly line and in the Unlimited Studio at the Suolahti factory. The specifications include matt green camouflage paint, auxiliary heaters, weapons racks, additional electrical sockets, protected fuel tanks, and tyres with independent tread blocks. The implements used with the tractors include snowploughs, buckets, forklifts and container trailers.
A surprising yet logical choice
The possibility of using tractors for military logistics was raised in research carried out in the mid-1990s. The idea gained momentum when container trailers became more widely available on the market.
“Initially, the idea of using tractors for logistics caused some amusement, but we nevertheless took a tractor for a two-week test drive and later for half a year. It turned out that the tractor was better suited to the rough train than wheel loaders or forklifts, which cannot pull loads and are also quite slow. In addition to various transportation and loading tasks, the tractors can also be used for other duties, such as snowploughing,” Hirvonen adds.
No lack of drivers
Tractors are especially suitable for use by the Finnish Defence Forces, as Finland has compulsory military service and there are always plenty of experienced tractor operators among the conscripts. Furthermore, in case of mobilisation, additional tractors would be easy to source from civilians.
“All of the conscripts who have undergone tractor operating training have been keen to be assigned as operators and have previous experience with either tractors or other large vehicles. Motivation and skills are not a problem,” says Staff Sergeant Jarno Minkkinen, who trains the drivers in the Kainuu Brigade.
The experience of the conscripts is also very clear in the quality of their work. Viljami Linnakallio does a perfect job with the snowploughing, which is no surprise as he uses the same kind of tractor for snowploughing in civilian life too. Jonne Väänänen similarly uses the front loader to load pallets into a trailer, which is no problem as he comes from a farm and is an experienced tractor operator.
Defence forces in other countries are also interested in using tractors. Valtra tractors have been demonstrated, at the NATO Defence EXPO in Münster, Germany, and negotiations have already commenced with potential customers.