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HomeNewsSeized Russian weapons strengthen Ukraine's fight – DW – 08/10/2023

Seized Russian weapons strengthen Ukraine’s fight – DW – 08/10/2023


Russia is competing with Western countries to supply weapons to Ukraine,” joked Colonel Oleksandr Saruba, of the center within the Ukrainian armed forces that investigates the weapons captured during Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine since February 2022.

More specifically, Saruba is referring to Russian armaments and equipment seized by the Ukrainian military which are now being used by Kyiv in its counteroffensive against Moscow. Ukraine now has more than 800 former Russia-owned artillery systems, tanks, armored personnel carriers, along with a number of other vehicles, in its possession. The haul even includes a mobile sauna.

The captured weapons also consist of related equipment used in combat operations, for example, electronic warfare and air defense. “Small” weapons, such as machine guns and grenade launchers numbering in their thousands, have also been collected.

How Russia uses Western tech in bombs bound for Ukraine

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In many cases, such weapons were seized during offensive operations launched by the Ukrainian armed forces. The faster Ukrainian troops advance, the more likely it is they will be able to find abandoned Russian equipment with minimal damage. Saruba explained that  Kremlin-backed soldiers simply leave their equipment behind, often due to a minor defect. Everything depends on the condition of a particular weapon — if it’s usable, it’s registered with the military unit and permitted for use on the battlefield. Otherwise, it may be repaired first. If military personnel are not experienced in handling that particular weapon, they are trained accordingly.

Howitzers, ammunition and many tanks

During the liberation of Izyum in the northeast Kharkiv region late last year, Ukraine’s 95th Air Assault Brigade was able to capture multiple Grad rocket launcher systems, said a soldier using the call sign Pirate. However, the system needed to be repaired before it could be used in combat. Nearby, the assault brigade also managed to obtain a modernized Russian 2A65 Msta-B howitzer — first developed during the Soviet era — plus the ammunition needed to use it.

“When we crossed the Oskil River [near the border with Russia — Editor’s note] we looked for possible [Russian] positions, then drove around and collected hundreds of pieces of ammunition,” reported another soldier with the brigade.

An abandoned Grad weapons truck stands idol in a burnt out area. .
​​​​The Grad weapons system is a truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher used by both Ukrainian and Russian forcesImage: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Saruba said Ukrainian forces have captured a large number of Russian tanks — currently around 300, enough to supply 10 tank battalions. Several Russian T-72 tanks were taken by the Ukrainian 92nd Mechanized Brigade during an offensive near the eastern city of Kupyansk in the Kharkiv region.

Among them were T-72 B3Ms which were modernized in 2014 and 2015, explained Chicago, a tank driver with the brigade. “Compared to our T-64s, which we still fight with, their [Russian] tanks are a lot more mobile and faster. The T-72 is much better in terms of features, it has greater maneuverability and better armor,” he added.

In combat, he added, the Ukrainian military uses all the tanks at its disposal, both its own and those which have been seized. “The T-64 is so loud you can hear it at a distance of 3 or 4 kilometers [up to 2.4 miles — Editor’s note], but the Russian T-72 is much quieter. You can get close to the enemy, and they won’t notice the tank until the first shot has been fired.”

In search of the latest technology 

These war trophies, however, aren’t the only seized weapons which can be reused — destroyed military equipment, debris, missile remnants and combat drones, in addition to instruction manuals, are also  extremely useful. In other words, everything which allows the Ukrainian forces to study the weapons used by Russia and develop their own tactics and countermeasures. This is one of the tasks of Saruba’s center, in addition to looking at the latest technology Ukraine can use when it comes to weapons development.

The center has made some interesting discoveries, such as details about the Russian Strelez reconnaissance system. This computer system is worn by soldiers over a bulletproof vest and is connected to a range finder, a transmitter and a digital information transfer system. It can be used on the battlefield to target enemy forces and transmit data in real time to specialized weapons systems.

According to Saruba, Russian developers claim around 40% of front-line targets can be detected with the assistance of this technology. While he considers these figures to be exaggerated, he stressed that from a technological standpoint it is an “interesting finding.”

Other interesting things have been found in Russian armored vehicles. Before 2014, Russia cooperated with a number of countries when it came to the technical modernization of its weapons, said Saruba. As a result, Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers now have the latest targeting sights and modern electronics manufactured in other countries.

Russian Army servicemen look at a T-72-B3 main battle tank during military exercises
The Kremlin has said Western sanctions over the Ukraine war have failed to cripple the Russian economyImage: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Russian missiles often also contain foreign components, namely microelectronics, optics and electric motors, said Saruba. “For example, the Ch-101 missile, which is commonly used against Ukraine, has around 53 components, such as microchips and other parts, which are manufactured abroad. This is true for the entire range of cruise and ballistic missiles. Foreign-made components can be found in the enemy’s artillery systems, be it electronic warfare or air defense,” he said. 

Weapons study focuses fresh sanctions on Russia

Analysts studying the captured weapons have found that Russia adapts its production of military components depending on what it currently has in stock, or what it expects to receive.

For example, the use of widely available programmable logic integrated circuits means they can be programmed for any electronic device — be it a washing machine or a missile. Meanwhile, Orlan-10 reconnaissance drones incorporate ordinary video or photo cameras, which were actually developed for domestic video surveillance use. 

“Since the world is globalized, elements are standardized and the manufacturers of these electronic components are interchangeable,” said Saruba. His center is constantly discovering and documenting components of foreign origin in Russian weapons — evidence which could be used to focus the next round of international sanctions on Russia.

This article was originally written in Ukrainian.


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