In a derelict industrial complex just outside of Kiev, soldiers of the Ukrainian National Guard are demonstrating their technical and tactical competence. Enlisted men and officers of the Ukrainian National Guard are designing, engineering, innovating, and manufacturing custom tanks developed to meet the evolving challenges throughout the Ukrainian battlespace. Warfighters with pre-war experience in engineering, mechanics, robotics, and technology have combined their skills with their battlefield experience to create adaptable technology tailored to their mission sets.
These soldiers are re-engineering the abandoned husks of armored vehicle platforms, which were once scattered or forgotten across the nation by a neglectful post-Cold War Ukrainian military. Approximately 100 meters from the entrance of the impromptu factory, a Soviet Amphibious Bridging System—Tracked is parked, worse for wear and missing its pontoon bridge. Upon closer inspection, the track and boat-like bow appeared to be serviceable on a chassis similar to the Soviet MT-T artillery prime mover. The winches and cab had seen better days, but the bilge pump systems at first glance seemed intact.
The condition of the vehicle was astonishing, considering where it came from. My host explained that this particular vehicle was found in the thin tree lines that separate the fields of farmers in the east of the country. The farmer told the recovery unit that the vehicle had been there for countless years, and had it not been discovered by a dismounted patrol of the Ukrainian National Guard, he would have completely forgotten it was there. Found tactical vehicles are not uncommon in many former Warsaw Pact nations, as the speedy breakup and restructuring of the governments led to an unprecedented amount of unaccounted for equipment since the 1990s. On the bright side, this chaos has allowed for a few pieces of this lost equipment to make their way into productive hands and for a good purpose.
The former amphibious vehicle has a similar backstory to the other vehicles under construction within the complex. The larger vehicles seen in the video are being constructed using similar, large engineering-vehicle hulls. These larger vehicles, which have the look of a souped-up M113, once completed, will host a dual stabilized mortar system in the back supported by twin cannon turrets with complementary coaxial machine guns near the mid-front of the vehicle. The engine and armor specifics are classified. All of this is manufactured in-house and built onto a stripped-down hull using an industrial plasma cutter, welders, and an impressive amount of ingenuity. A team of approximately 10 soldiers and officers are dedicated to the research, development, and deployment of this vehicle series, as well as the other projects under development within the complex.
Also seen under production in the facility is what can best be described as an antique BTR. Yet the R&D staff of the Ukrainian National Guard found fortune in what others may consider a museum piece. Using lessons learned from the battlefield and recognizing the necessity of speed and stealth, these engineers will give this old armored car new life as a marvelously unique scout and reconnaissance vehicle. Currently installed on the vehicle is a run-silent electric engine, chassis modifications to allow quick 180-degree turns for quick exfiltration, as well as select and classified surveillance technologies.
Unseen in the video, as it was not permitted, is an extraordinary clone of a Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System or MAARS. While not as high-speed and sleek as the U.S. version, this battlefield innovation will allow for the deployment of remote-controlled robotics to enter the Ukrainian playing field. As I did not see the budget, one can only suspect the development and manufacturing costs were significantly less than those in the West. Cost is but one factor making this possible. There is also necessity.
Ukraine’s military is still undergoing a massive overhaul; the volunteer battalions have been absorbed into the National Guard, and the allotment and development of new and mission-essential technologies are not a priority to a nation massively overstocked on military surplus from the Cold War. Despite these complications, soldiers across the globe have been known to employ fieldcraft to improve their safety and warfighting capability. When I took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as part of an airborne unit, our vehicles were light and soft. We swiftly adapted by way of the local acquisition of steel for armor, sandbags, and flak vests, much like the Ukrainians who are adapting to the threats of their environment.
This article previously published by SOFREP 11.09.2015