The cavernous hanger sitting in an empty corner of Astana International Airport was now packed with sixty Iveco assault trucks, many still packed with plastic wrapping over the seats and partially incomplete with gun turrets and other components unassembled.
British mechanics and welders combed the hanger as the clang of metal on metal echoed throughout the open spaces and sparks flew into the air.
Deckard and Sergeant Major Korgan oversaw the delivery and installation of critical vehicle assemblies as they examined the trucks with the foreman from the British firm that produced them. The trucks had been put together in situ back in the UK, with only smaller components needing to be furnished and put together after transport.
Samruk’s commander drank another gulp of coffee from a Styrofoam cup. He had been managing on only a few hours of sleep a night. The combat training had been completely turned over to his contractors, who were quickly working themselves out of a job. The Kazakh mercenaries turned out to be quick learners.
Once the umbilical chord was finally cut, he’d keep some of the Western mercenaries on the payroll to teach specialized courses in advanced communications, technical surveillance, and certain infiltration techniques. Of course they could also break their contract and sign on as soldiers, provided they were willing to accept a change in role and work under a Kazakh sergeant.
In a matter of hours the trucks would be completed, and he’d need the contractors to begin a new program of instruction that covered mobility training. Tactical off-road driving was a skill like any other, one that soldiers needed to acquire.
The Sergeant Major climbed up on the hood of one of the assault trucks and watched a welder use a oxy-acetylene torch. Korgan muttered something barely audible over the construction underway.
“He wants to know what the welder is doing,” Deckard told the foreman. He had been learning, as well, his Russian gradually improving beyond the level of a chimpanzee.
“Welding on the brackets,” the foreman said, pointing to the metal ammo can holders. “It will move with the entire turret, but this is just the mounting bracket for the can. You can have the links feed from whichever side you like.”
Deckard had familiarized himself with the vehicles, from front to back, and grilled the sales managers before placing the order. He’d even called the CEO and the senior engineer in the UK to get their assurances faxed to him on paper. Thankfully, they had delivered, if barely meeting the deadline stipulated in the contract. Over the years he had seen plenty of defense contracts and arms deals go bad.
The trucks were lined up in the hanger, like a legion of hulking Roman soldiers, waiting for orders.
They came painted in a kind of dull tan color that was pretty much standard for NATO forces operating in the desert. He would have them repainted as necessary.
The front end was fairly standard in appearance, looking like an Iveco LMV with armor plating and bulletproof glass out of layered polycarbonate thermoplastics that surrounded the cab. Inside, the driver and passenger would sit with a communications suite between them. The metal rack with the mounting brackets was in place even if the encrypted radios themselves hadn’t arrived yet.
On the front of the trucks were a heavy duty winch, dual visible and infrared headlights for driving under night vision goggles, and several antennas.
Directly behind the cab was the gun turret, fitted with a rotating ring that the gun pedestal itself rested on to provide three hundred and sixty degree coverage by the machine gunner. The gunner was left standing, unless he improvised a strap to sit on while the turret was rotated manually by depressing a lever. Storage space was provided for a half-dozen cans of ammunition.
Behind the gun ring were eight seats made of bulletproof ceramics that sat back to back, four on each side facing outward. The metal struts that also supported the gun turret ran over the top of the seats, providing some overhead cover, in case of rollovers and additional storage space, probably where most squads would place the spare tire. Running along the sides of the truck were two long storage compartments where the assaulters’ boots would rest while seated. The metal shelves could house additional ammunition, fuel and water cans, military rations, or other mission-specific equipment.
Seat belts were provided as Basic Issue Items along with tow bars, tow straps, and jacks, but how the men used and carried them would be left to platoon SOPs and the recommendation of Deckard’s instructors.
On each flank was an additional swing arm that could mount machine guns for the assault team to utilize while in transit, providing even more firepower. For the time being each pedestal would be fitted with a PKM machine gun, at least until they got their hands on something heavier for the gun turret.
The back of the truck provided some more storage space for recovery equipment and metal stirrups for any hangers-on.
He had seen lots of military vehicles over the years, but these were the most versatile assault specific trucks he had encountered. Four wheel, all terrain, day/night, long range, and with an emphasis on offensive capabilities, they even looked nasty.
While the welder continued his work, they watched another technician installing a larger antenna on the back of the truck. The jammer it connected to inside the cab created a twenty five-meter electronic bubble around the truck, preventing any signals from reaching any potential remote-detonated improvised explosive devices they might encounter. On the other hand there was not much they could do about command-detonated IEDs other then use tactical convoy formations and mount an effective counter attack.
With the final shipment arriving less then twelve hours ago, they would soon have enough trucks operational to have the entire battalion outfitted, with an additional three medical evacuation vehicles, one going to each company.
Korgan lit up a cigarette, blowing off industrial safety standards, but that was how they rolled and no one was going to say anything to him about it. The foreman glared enviously for a moment, then back toward Deckard questioningly. Finally, he lit up one of his own.
He loved it when a good plan came together.
* * *
“To use a proper ramming technique, you need to slow down to about ten miles an hour.”
The Kazakh mercenaries, turned students, huddled around the sand table with open note books.
“As the driver slows down, he needs to look out over the center of the hood to make sure he is on target with the rear quarter panel of the blocking vehicle.”
Gordon demonstrated the desired result on the sand table. Lines had been drawn out in the sand to represent roads. Two toy cars were used to show the friendly assault truck and the enemy vehicle blocking the street. This was one of the few techniques Deckard had forbade the ex-Special Forces Team Sergeant from actually training the men hands on. The cellophane had just been peeled off the trucks, and the mechanics were not to earn their pay quite yet.
“If possible, make contact with the lighter end of the vehicle. The trunk will be easier to push, with the engine being the heavier portion in the front. Now at the last moment, just as you make contact with the blocking vehicle, accelerate and push through the blocking position.”
On the sand table he showed them how the blocking vehicle would spin around and out of the way, allowing the assault truck to power through and clear the blockade.
“Do I have any questions?”
The former Master Sergeant had taught the Kazakh’s the Standard Operating Procedures on the sand table, having eaten up most of their morning covering down driver drills, down gunner drills, recovery drills, bailout techniques, and much more, breaking each drill down into easy-to-digest steps with model cars and plastic army men.
It may have looked amateurish, but the classes were not designed to insult the intelligence of the Kazakh soldiers. The same training methods were applied when teaching the soldiers of First World armies.
“No questions?” The translator repeated his request while he watched them put away pens and paper.
“Good, pack up and go see Kurt.”
Sitting down beside the recently completed barracks, Gordon gulped down some Gatorade as the Samruk soldiers began moving out with their NCOs to the next training station. The battalion would spend the week doing circuit training, moving from one station to the next.
They would be given a basic familiarization with the trucks and the recovery equipment by Richie, practice actual recovery methods of damaged vehicles with Kurt, and conduct driving training with Mendez and Chuck, both on and off road. Next week came live fire drills, reacting to ambushes and IEDs, as well as conducting night driving training.
As the next group arrived around the sand table from Richie’s station, Gordon set down the Gatorade bottle.
“The first subject we will cover here is pre-mission checklists,” Gordon began.
* * *
Five assault vehicles glided slowly and silently over cracked asphalt, running off battery power as they neared the objective.
Wind howled across the steppes, blowing through the brick buildings. A door slammed shut repeatedly somewhere in the distance, echoing through the empty streets.
Stopping, the assault trucks rocked gently on their suspension, and rubber soles of combat boots slapped against the street, quickly moving into squad formations. The mercenaries left the trucks behind, manned by the driver, gunner, and truck commander riding in the shotgun seat.
Splitting into two elements, the platoon moved down both sides of the street in columns, pulling cross coverage above on the buildings opposite of them, rifle muzzles sweeping across open windows and rooftops. The senior sergeant stepped it out with his men trailing behind as he led them towards the objective.
Moving tactically down three blocks, the assault squads followed their platoon sergeant as he made a left-hand turn down one of the side streets, the infiltration route having been briefed and reviewed hours before.
Reaching the objective building, the platoon sergeant halted the men and called forward the lead squad. All three squads were similarly outfitted with their standard kit, as well as specialized equipment for gaining entry. Individuals in each squad carried metal pry bars for manual entry as well as sawed off shotguns for ballistic breaching.
On this objective they needed to flood the building with as many assaulters as fast as possible, calling for a demolition breach with a dual-primed flex-linear charge, constructed by the mercenaries during the planning stage of the operation.
One Kazakh pulled security on the door while another rolled the charge down the left hand side of the door, sticking the explosive in place by its adhesive. Defeating the hinges was often easier then trying to blast through multiple locking mechanisms on the other side of the door.
Trailing out from the end of the charge were two plastic tubes, which the security man placed a foot on to hold in place while the other mercenary unrolled the shock tube back to safe position. Once the ignition system was attached to the shock tube, he signaled for the security man to run back and join the stack of assaulters behind him.
Inside the plastic tubes was a coated filament core that when ignited by the device in the breacher’s hand, would stimulate a chemical reaction, shooting down the tube at 7,000 feet a second. Standing next to the breacher, the platoon sergeant began the countdown over the assault frequency.
“I have control,” Russian words chirped over a hiss of static. “Five, four, three, two,-”
The last number was never heard as several things happened at once.
For a microsecond, the shock tube flashed bright blue in the night as the chemical reaction took place, two blasting caps setting off the detonation chord in the flex-linear charge and searing the wooden door in two.
Four blocks away, the drivers idling by in the assault vehicles heard their platoon sergeant’s cue over the radio and turned over their engines.
Three assault teams rushed forward in their stacks, flowing through the doorway, stomping over what was left of the door.
The shouts of squad leaders were drowned out by flash-bangs exploding throughout the structure, bright flashes casting shadows in the night. Several gunshots rang out as the assault trucks spun around the corner and surrounded the building, effectively isolating it from the rest of the town with machine guns pointed outward and locking down the streets.
A few more bursts from the Kalashnikovs could be heard above sergeants giving orders before one of the squads unceremoniously ushered out a man who had been blindfolded and handcuffed, loading him onto one of the assault vehicles.
Taking up security positions around the truck, they waited as the platoon sergeant consolidated his element and prepared to exfiltrate off the objective.
Deckard was impressed.
Watching from a nearby rooftop, he monitored the assault along with his Sergeant Major and Executive Officer.
The Kazakhs had made extraordinary progress in an exceedingly short period of time. Long hours of training had paid off. As he had predicted, the Kazakhs were nearly at the same level of competency commonly associated with the elite troops of more developed countries. The mercenaries were loading onto the assault vehicles, when the cell phone in Deckard’s pocket began to buzz.
Looking at the phone’s screen, the text message from Samruk’s corporate offices alerted him to stand by for an information dump.
“I need to get back to the office,” he announced to Sergeant Major Korgan and the Serb second in command.
Deckard tossed Korgan his radio. They could communicate with the platoon sergeant, simulating orders from headquarters sent down to the platoon as would happen during actual combat operations.
“Have them hit the followon objective, then IED the convoy on their way out of the city,” Deckard said, referring to the faux-explosive device loaded with pyrotechnics. Roadside bombs were the new reality and needed to be trained for, whether their next mission took them to Sudan or Iraq.
Deckard had a feeling he would find out where that mission would be sooner rather then later.