On Friday, footage of Russian troops riding on an unusual piece of equipment over Moscow began pouring onto social media platforms. The footage appears to show a small group of armed Russian soldiers standing on a disk that’s being carried beneath an Mi-8 helicopter, in a tactical extraction system that bears a slight resemblance to the SPIE Method commonly employed by American troops for water extractions.
The system they’re using, called an Airborne Tactical Extraction Platform (or AirTEP) is just that: a 9.5 foot in diameter, 110 pound, foldable platform designed to rapidly insert or extract operators from tight spaces where a helicopter may not be able to land. Using an AirTEP, a good pilot could place the small platform on just about any surface for rapid deployment or extraction of personnel, then take off at high speed. The platform’s manufacturer, Capewell Aerial Systems, says the AirTEP is rated to travel at speeds of up to 100 knots while carrying passengers.
According to Capewell, the platform can carry a massive 3,500 pounds and up to ten people, meaning the platform is considerably under-stressed in the footage of Russian counter-terror operators in Moscow on Friday. This is the first time the AirTEP has drawn attention for its military uses, but it’s also sold for a variety of rescue operations and even as a means of transporting personnel on and off of oil rigs under normal or emergency circumstances.
It is unclear whether Russia is actually employing the AirTEP or some variation, or if it’s a domestically sourced copy of existing technology. Russian special operations forces, in particular, have made a habit of adopting Western tactics and equipment in recent years — sometimes through direct purchase and sometimes through the development of copy-cat technology Russia can source internally.
Although there’s been a rash of outed Russian spies throughout in Europe in recent months and the head of the GRU, Russia’s primary intelligence service, died under questionable circumstances recently, it’s unlikely that the presence of two Russian military Mi-8 helicopters over Moscow — even with a cadre of armed soldiers in tow beneath them — had anything to do with an active threat. This sort of training isn’t at all unusual in major cities all over the world. In fact, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR), commonly known as the Night Stalkers, conducted low flying training operations in New York City in April of this year — resulting in some pretty dramatic images and videos hitting social media as well.
Black military helicopters flying VERY low by our apartment in lower manhattan. (We are 18th floor.) pic.twitter.com/T1fVLAHVVQ
— Susan Temple (@susan_temple) April 18, 2018
It seems likely then that Russia’s counter-terrorism teams were training with this new piece of gear in order to rapidly deploy it if an attack on Moscow were to occur.