Off Label Use
Since mid-March, the Ukrainian City of Rubizhne has bravely been holding out against Russian attackers. To say the Ukrainians have taken a beating would be quite an understatement. Putin’s army has tried every means thinkable to take the eastern Ukraine town of 56,700 (before the war) citizens. Some weapons were used in unconventional ways. Take, for instance, their use of the UR-77 Mine Clearing Vehicle, nicknamed the Meteorite.
It doesn’t look much like a badass machine capable of tremendous destruction, but have a look at what it does. Video courtesy of YouTube and Crux.
Destroying Civilian Structures
During the battle of Rubizhne, Ukrainian fighters were using the campus of the RPK Poray-Koshitsy college as a hold-out fighting position. As you can see in the video above, a rather ordinary-looking tracked vehicle launches a projectile into the center of an already devastated urban landscape. However, if you look closely, you can see something resembling a rope trailing the projectile; that’s a 90-meter-long explosive charge.
The building it is heading into is (or was) the five-story Institute of Physics, Mathematics, and Information Technology.
The explosion you witness in the video is 1,600 lbs of PVV-7 plastic explosive detonating all at once.
The attack on the college in Rubizhne wasn’t the only known offensive use of the Meteorite in Ukraine. It was also used when Russian troops tried to take Donetsk International Airport multiple times in Mariupol. In addition, there is a history of Meteorites being used by the Russians as offensive weapons during the Chechen war. However, their efforts on this front didn’t always have the intended effect. Twenty-eight Russian Special Forces operators were killed near Grozny in a friendly fire incident involving the UR-77.
During the course of recent hostilities in Ukraine, its army has managed to capture at least 9 of the Meteorites either through force or after their Russian crews abandoned them.
A Fire Spewing Dragon
The Soviets designed the UR-77 in the 1970s to help their engineers clear minefields quickly. NATO has equipment with similar capabilities. In addition to the nickname “Meteorite,” you’ll sometimes hear this piece of equipment colorfully referred to as the “Gorynych Serpent,” a reference to a fictional fire-spewing dragon from Russian fairy tales and myths.
The Meteorite uses the same tracked chassis as the 2S1 Gvozidika self-propelled howitzer. Its roof-mounted launcher can fire two line charges. First, a rocket is fired, pulling the explosive line charges over a minefield where they are detonated. The overpressure of the explosion blows up many types of mines and displaces others.
These are intended to be operated near the front lines of battle but were not purpose-built to participate directly in combat. Since this is a lightly armored vehicle, other mechanized forces and artillery are required to provide cover fire when they are employed near enemy positions. What little steel armor there is protects the crew from small arms fire and shell splinters. Ironically, the UR-77 mine sweeper does not feature protection against mines.