Walkaround: Bovington Tank Museum Vehicle Conservation Centre

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of being able to take a stroll around the Vehicle Conservation Centre at the Tank Museum at Bovington.

The VCC was built in 2013 to ensure the vehicles not on display were stored undercover and there are some real treasures in there including rare tanks from the First World War onwards.

Thank you to the Tank Museum for letting me take a walk around the VCC. Can’t wait to visit the museum again!  Check out their website here.

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Switchblade Loitering Munitions in Ukraine

So far during the fighting we’ve seen everything from M14s to Brimstone missiles transferred to Ukraine. One weapon which was hailed as a game changer when it was announced was the Switchblade loitering munition. While not game changers we have begun to see evidence of their use in the field and they are definitely an interesting new weapon.

Switchblades are a loitering munition capable of being launched and then remaining on station to be tasked to destroy a ground target once the target has been identified. Back in March it was announced that as part of the US’ military aid to Ukraine Switchblades made by AeroVironment.

Pvt. 1st Class Brandon Norton launches a Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System (LMAMS) for aerial support during a Robotic Complex Breach Concept assessment and demonstration, at Grafenwoehr, Germany, April 6, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gregory T. Summers)

The system was originally developed for use in Afghanistan with the first US Department of Defense contract awarded in 2011. These have been designated the Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System (LMAMS). AeroVironment currently offers two models, the Switchblade 300 and the larger Switchblade 600.

On the 16th March the US announced it would provide Ukraine with “100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems”.[1] It was widely theorised that these would in fact be Switchblade loitering munitions. 

So what is a Switchblade? It is a tube-launched, rapidly deployable munition which can strike beyond-line-of-sight targets with precision at a range of up to 10km. The system is small enough to be man-packed weighing 5.5lbs (or 2.5kg). 

It can also be launched from a multiple launch system which can be vehicle mounted. Once launched its wings deploy and its electrically-powered propeller spins up, it can remain in the air for 15 minutes. It has a maximum altitude of 5,000 feet and cruises at around 60 miles per hour (but can dash at speeds up to 100mph).[4] AeroVironment claim the system can be set up and launched in under 2 minutes.

Its payload is described as ‘modular’ by AeroVironment, who also mention it carries a ‘Northrop Grumman advanced munition’, which some sources suggest is roughly equivalent to a 40mm grenade – said to be capable of knocking out light armoured vehicles. The warhead has a highly directional fragmentation charge which is triggered by a sensor that detonates it as a specific distance from the target in mid-air. 

Remains of a Switchblade 300 following detonation of its warhead (via social media)

The system is controlled manually or autonomously and uses a dedicated ruggedized laptop with a built-in mission planner (which is also pre-loaded with a simulator). The Switchblade is equipped with electro-optical and infra-red cameras which provide the operator with real-time video and can be directed by fly-by-radio frequency signal. Once launched Switchblade is not recoverable and does have a wave-off and redirection capability. 

On 1 April, a fresh military assistance package was announced which expressly named ‘Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems’ but did not indicate a quantity.[2] These were believed to have been ordered direct from the manufacturer under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) which allows procurement of systems and capabilities from industry rather than delivering equipment Department of Defense stocks. 

On 7 April the US Department of Defense’s fact sheet on aid supplied to Ukraine referred to ‘hundreds of Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems’[11], a week later the wording had changed to a more specific ‘Over 700 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems’.[12]

An intact, undetonated but damaged Switchblade 300 captured by Russian forces (via social media)

On the 6 May AeroVironment were awarded a contract modification worth nearly $18 million for “Switchblade hardware production” for a Foreign Military Sale to Ukraine. This contract is estimated to be completed by 4 May, 2023.[3] The US Department of Defense announced on 10 May that it would supply a total of 700 Switchblade systems, but did not state the split between 300s and the newer, more capable Switchblade 600s.[10]

We’ve yet to see evidence of Switchblade 600 use in Ukraine, likely because the system has only been produced in pre-production runs and substantial orders for the munition have not been made yet. The 600s capabilities are regularly compared to those of an Anti-Tank Guided Missile. With a 40km (25 mile) range and a 20 minute loiter time they offer considerable capability and much longer range than ATGM like Javelin or Stugna P. For now only 300s have been visually confirmed in use in Ukraine. But the larger 600s have the potential to have significant impact on the battlefield.

On the 6 May the Ukrainian 53rd Separate Mechanized Brigade shared a clip showing a Russian machine gun position being struck by a Switchblade, we can see the characteristic mid-air blast and fragmentation pattern.[5]

On the 24 May the SSO, a Ukrainian special forces unit, shared a video of a Switchblade 300 strike against a Russian tank crew which had dismounted and were sat on the vehicle’s hull. Memes are one thing the war in Ukraine isn’t short of and the video features the Star Wars theme and concludes with a Curb Your Enthusiasm credit reel meme.[9]

A Switchblade 300 in the field in Ukraine (via social media)

On the 25 May a pretty comprehensive video showing the launch and targeting of a Switchblade, said to be on the eastern front was shared.[6] The video shows the launch tube and control laptop. A largely intact Switchblade 300 was recovered by Russian troops on 26 May, with photos of the munition shared online.[8] This is potentially an example of the munition running out of loitering time or one which has potentially taken damage from ground fire.

On 1 June footage of another Switchblade 300 launch was released but no indication of if it struck its target. The video is said to have originated from the Kharkiv region.[7] On the 6 June a further photo of a Switchblade 300 appeared. The photo shows the remnant of the Munition – given the front portion of the Switchblade is missing it appears that it fired its payload. Around the 12 June further photos of an expended Switchblade 300 were shared online with very little of the fuselage remaining.

Footage released by the Ukrainian Armed Forces of a Switchblade 300 strike against a machine gun position

On 15 June, a short clip of another fired Switchblade gives us a close up look at the electronics inside the weapon and at the propeller at the rear which powers it. Again given the damage and the fact the front portion of the munition is missing it would indicate that the Switchblade detonated its payload.

On the same day more footage of what might be the same expended Switchblade 300 appeared in a Russian news report. The report allegedly shows the location where the Switchblade detonated, somewhere near Avdiivka in Donetsk.  The nature of the Switchblade 300’s forward firing payload it is suited to softer targets like infantry in the open or in the case of at least one video claimed to be from a Switchblade attack against dismounted vehicle crews. 

Some have criticised the Switchblade 300 for its apparent lack of punch but they were never designed to take on Russian armour, they were designed as a focused munition intended to take out soft targets with the minimum collateral damage. In Ukraine the use of commercial drones has rapidly proliferated, many of these are delivering grenade-based gravity bombs onto enemy positions and assets. It could be argued that these systems, rather than a sophisticated loitering munition like the Switchblade 300, are arguably more cost effective, efficient, more versatile and easier to use. The larger, more capable loitering munitions, such as the Switchblade 600s, will likely see the concept come into its own and have the potential to have a more significant impact on the battlefield.


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Sources:

M14s in Ukraine

Over the past month or so we’ve seen an increasing number of photographs of M14 rifles appearing in Ukraine. Developed in the 1950s and chambered in the brand new 7.62x51mm cartridge it entered US service in early 1960. They’ve since seen service around the world, most recently in Ukraine.

While the US Department of Defense has confirmed the transfer of 7,000 assorted small arms so far, these rifles are largely thought to have originated from the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia who have been extremely supportive of Ukraine since the weeks preceding the Russian invasion in February. We can’t be certain from which country or countries the rifles originated from. The Baltic states received large numbers of the rifles from the US via Security Assistance packages when they began to work towards compliant with NATO standards in the 1990s. The transfers were reportedly made under the Excess Defense Articles program. All three of the countries eventually joined NATO in March 2004. 

Latvian marksmen with upgraded M14s (Latvian Armed Forces)

Latvia received its first batch of 10,000 M14s in 1996 with a larger second back of 30,500 arriving in 1999. Latvia’s National Guard continues to use M14s in a designated marksman role with an interesting new railed forend for optics and accessory mounting. No M14s in this configuration have been seen in Ukraine.

Lithuania reportedly received 40,000 from the US in the late 1990s and continues to retain the rifle in its inventory, updating substantial numbers to their M14 L1 spec, with scopes. Other elements of the Lithuanian Armed forces also use the MK14 EBR. In 2019 it was reported that the US had transferred a further 400 rifles fitted with scopes and bipods. The M14 is also in use with the Lithuanian National Defence Volunteer Forces

Lithuanian troops with M14s c.2012 (Lithuanian Armed Forces)

Estonia also received a considerable number of the rifles in the 1990s, with estimates suggesting that 40,500 were transferred in 1998. Estonia is in the process of a major small arms modernisation programme and may have transferred surplus rifles to Ukraine. Estonian troops used scoped M14s in Afghanistan and at least two accurised versions of the rifle have been developed, the M14 TP in 2000 and the M14 TP2 in 2008. The M14 TP2 utilises a Knight’s Armament RAS- 14 rail mount and a Schmidt and Bender, Inc. 3-12×50 mil dot reticle day scope.

The M14s seen in Ukraine have some variation. There has been a mix of both wooden stocked and fibreglass stocked rifles, some have been fitted with optics, others have only standard iron sights. The first sightings of M14s came in mid March with both wooden and fibreglass stocked rifles seen. The rifles first began to appear in mid-March. 

Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force personnel training, June 2022 (Ukrainian MoD)
Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force personnel training, June 2022 (Ukrainian MoD)

Then in April another photo of an M14 with a wooden stock and iron sights emerged, reportedly in the hands of an international volunteer. In May, several more photographs surfaced with Territorial Defence Force troops seen with fibreglass stocked rifles. A short video which appears to show a standard M14 in the field also appeared via TikTok while the first video demonstrating disassembly of the rifle also surfaced towards the end of the month.

June saw a number of photographs of the rifles shared on line. On the 31st May, the 121 Kirovohrad Territorial Defense Brigade, shared photos taken during training showing M14s with wooden stocks and iron sights. As well as a photograph from a Czech photographer showing a fibreglass stocked M14 with an optic, at the base of an International Volunteer unit operating near Donetsk.

On June 3 the Armed Forces of Ukraine social media shared a series of photographs heavily featuring a member of the southern department of the Territorial Defence Force with a scoped, wooden stocked M14.

A member of the 121st TDF Brigade with an M14 (Ukrainian MoD)

So far we haven’t had any clear photographs of rifle markings and we don’t yet know just how many M14s have been transferred to Ukraine. The TDF training photographs shared by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence at the start of June give us some indication of how some of the rifles might be issued and used. We see that in a squad two scoped M14s have been issued alongside an RPK-pattern light machine gun and some AK-74s. The nature of issue for the non-scoped rifles is still unclear.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

M14 Rifle History and Development, L Emerson, (2010)

USA transfers more than 400 upgraded M14 rifles to Lithuanian Army, Army Recognition, (source)

400 More M14s, Lithuanian Army, (source)

Why The Estonian Military Nickname For America’s M14 Rifle Means “Fully Terrible”, National Interest, (source)

M-14 rifles modernized with the help of financial support from the population are already in the armed forces of the country’s army, Delfi, (source)

M14, Lithuanian Army, (source)

Afghanistan Estonian Scout Sniper Combat Firefight on Helmet Cam (source)

Frontline Diary: The enemy is 7 miles away. But he has eyes everywhere, Seznam Zpravy, (source)

Explosive Hazard Awareness Cards for Ukraine

The project to increase EOD hazard awareness with playing cards comes from Fenix Insight and Cold War Collectables who kindly sent me a pack. Each card features a photograph and designation of various ordnance ranging from small arms, grenades, RPGs, anti-tank mines to cluster munitions, Grad rockets and air dropped thermobaric bombs.

From the fundraising page:

The war in Ukraine has left vast quantities of abandoned and unexploded ordnance (bombs, grenades, landmines, missiles, rockets, shells etc) scattered across the country. These munitions pose a major risk to everybody living and working there, including local people, aid workers and soldiers. Awareness cards can help save lives.

Find out more & support the project here

Follow the project on Twitter and Facebook.

Walk Around: Hack Green Cold War Event, Spring 2022

A few weeks ago I visited the Soviet Threat Cold War Event at the Hack Green Bunker in Cheshire. You might have already seen my video chatting to the MECo group about their Malayan Emergency display.

I didn’t get to speak to as many people as I would have liked to but hopefully this rough and ready walk around video, looking at some of the other displays, will give you and idea of what the great little event was like. 

Lots of vehicles and jeeps in attendance including the cockpit of an RAF Jet Provost trainer aircraft. There were a number of Cold War British Army displays showing off British Army of the Rhine and Falklands War era kit along with a few Land Rovers. Next to them was a really interesting Bundeswehr display. There was an Operation Banner inspired checkpoint at one of the bunker’s gates and inside the bunker there was another Malaya display with some interesting ephemera from the Foreign Field Living History Group.

Back outside in the bunker’s grounds there was a display of Cold War communications, medical and other assorted kit. Alongside the MECo Malayan Emergency display there was also a sizeable British Army in the 1980s display from the Forces 80 group which included GPMGs, Brens, L1A1 SLRs, 66mm LAWs and a LAW80 which was a nice surprise.

There were some other small but interesting displays on civil defense, numerous smaller communist militaries, the Chinese PLA and the Swiss Cold War Army. All in all some really interesting displays at a pretty unique venue. 


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German DM22 Directional Anti-Tank Mines In Ukraine

While there has been much discussion of Germany’s transfer of RGW90 (Matador) anti-armour weapons, MANPADS and Gepard anti-air systems one weapon which has been overlooked is the DM-22 PARM.

The initial version of the mine, the DM12 PARM 1 or Panzerabwehrrichtmine was developed in the late 1980s and it entered Bundeswehr service in the early 1990s. An improved mine the DM22 PARM 2 entered production in the late 1990s. The weapons are directional anti-tank mines. These are sometimes described as off-route mines – a concept we have looked at before in our video on the British L14A1 off-route mine. The mines are deployed with a 40 meter long fiber optic trigger cable, which is laid over the area to be blocked. If there is contact with the cable, such as a vehicle driving over it, the directional mine is triggered. The mines can also be remote detonated. 

sPiBtl 901 training with a drill DM22 (Bundeswher)

The mine fires fin stabilised HEAT warhead which can accurately strike targets up 40 meters (for the DM12 PARM 1) and up to 100 meters away (for the DM22 PARM 2). Data on what the mine’s shaped charge can penetrate varies but it is capable of penetrating more than 100mm of rolled homogenous armour. The mine is made up of a warhead and a firing unit – these are mounted on a tripod which is manually sighted using a set of iron sights on the top of the mine.

Bundeswehr video showing the DM-22 in action

Once aimed across the expected area of enemy movement the trigger cable can be deployed. The fibre optic cable can be replaced with a passive infrared sensor which extends the mine’s triggering range out to 60m. The DM22 PARM 2 is said to have a more complex sensor, an effective range of 100 metres and enhanced penetration. 

A photograph of a DM-22 said to be in Ukraine which surfaced in late April 2022 (via social media)

Both mines are still in German service but only DM22s have been sighted on the ground in Ukraine so far. The first examples were photographed around the 25 April and the example was said to have been captured by Russian forces in the Izyum region. Since then further captured examples have been photographed during May 2022. The mines appear to have manufacture dates ranging from October 1997 to September 1998.

A photograph of a DM-22 said to be in Ukraine which surfaced in May 2022 (via social media)

According to a Spiegel report, from 17 May, Germany transferred 1,600 DM-22 off-route anti-tank mines and 3,000 DM-31 conventional anti-tank mines. It is unclear if there are further shipments planned.
At this time there’s no data on if they’ve been used in the field and if they have how effective they’ve proven. The current nature of the fighting would certainly appear to suit the intended purpose of the mines for use denying axis of advance and ambushing enemy vehicles.

Update 2/06/2022:

Further images of the DM22 with Ukrainian forces have been shared.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

Report on German Transfers of Mines to Ukraine, Spiegel, (source)

Germany sent anti-tank grenade launchers and mines to Ukraine, Mil.In.UA, (source)

German Landmines – An Inventory, BITS, (source)

Saxon APCs in Ukraine

The fighting in Ukraine has frequently drawn comparisons with the Cold War and while plenty of Eastern Cold War vehicles have been seen in use one of the interesting Western Cold War warriors seen action is the Saxon armoured personnel carrier. 

Knocked out Saxon APC (via social media)

The AT105 Saxon was developed by the UK in the late 1970s to provide some protected mobility for British forces deploying from Britain and moving up to the front line after an anticipated Communist offensive. Based on the Bedford TM series of trucks, the four-wheeled Saxon was slated to protect against small arms fire (up to NATO B7 standard to withstand 7.6x51mm) and shrapnel. With a welded steel body and blast deflecting chassis plate the Saxon is powered by a 6 cylinder diesel engine. Primarily designed as a battle taxi it could carry up to 8 men and a driver. They were armed only with an L7 general purpose machine gun. Entering service with the British Army in the mid-80s the Saxon saw service in the Balkans, Iraq and Northern Ireland. It was finally removed from service in 2005.

The British Army appears to have begun disposing of them in the late 2000s with many gifted to other countries and some sold to private dealers. In 2013, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense purchased 75 second-hand Saxons from a private dealer, these were delivered in two shipments in 2015. Sources suggest the vehicles were bought for around £50,000 each or a total procurement cost of $3.8 million. The first 20 arrived in February and were handed over the the Ukrainian National Guard for testing. Oleksandr Turchynov, then Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said the vehicles would be upgraded by Ukroboronprom and fitted with machine guns. The second batch of 55 vehicles were delivered in June.

Still from 1985 British Army equipment video (British Army)

With the news of the transfer General Richard Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, told the Telegraph newspaper that “My Concern is the inadequate nature of these vehicles which I ordered out of British Army front line service when I was Commander in Chief Land Command 2005-2006. They were withdrawn from Iraq and never deployed in souther Afghanistan. To suggest that the UK is making a significant gesture of support by supplying vehicles which we took out of service ten years ago, because we deemed them unsafe, seems bizarre at best and downright dangerous at worst. They are quite useless semi-armoured lorries that should be nowhere near anyone’s front line.” The UK MoD responded saying that “they offer protective mobility to personnel… but they are not close combat vehicles.”

While arguably obsolete the Ukrainians themselves reportedly felt they were fairly decent vehicles with the armour providing the expected level of protection. Ukrainian National Guard testing in February 2015 showed that the armour could withstand B-32 7.62x54mmR API. There was a well reported accident involving a pair of Saxons with on overturning and another hitting the central barrier on a motorway in March 2015. Its clear that the Ukrainians thought at the time they were cost-effective, capable vehicles which they wisely didn’t push into close combat roles.

Saxon APCs outfitted with a DShK and two PK-pattern machine guns, c.March 2015 (Ukrainian MoD)

Contemporary reports suggest that a number of the vehicles, perhaps 10 or 20, received additional armour for the troop compartment and mounts for as DShK heavy machine gun and a pair of PK medium machine gun positions. The work reportedly took about two weeks. The majority, however appear to have been rerolled as command or MEDEVAC vehicles and were reportedly initially assigned to 25th Airborne Brigade, 79th, 81st and 95th Airmobile and 36th Naval Infantry Brigades. Though it is unclear if or when they were reassigned from these units. They saw action in Donbas for the first time in June 2015. 

Saxon APCs pre-February 2022 invasion (via Volodymyr)

In a September 2015 Ukraine Today report on the Saxons a member of the 81st airmobile brigade said: “it’s a really beautiful vehicle and the armour is good. for evacuating personnel the APC is great.” When asked if the vehicles were difficult to work with he replied “yes, but that’s normal.” Other pre-February 2022 adaptations include at least one of the vehicles outfitted with slat armour in an effort to protect against RPGs.

With the Russian invasion in February the Saxons have seen in a number of photographs, mostly in flat green paint, though at least one had the Ukrainian digital camouflage pattern. The majority of the sighted vehicles have been ambulances and all of the photographs have been of either captured or knocked out vehicles. One of the captured vehicles, which appears to be the same vehicles as in image #2 in the block of photographs above, also appeared in a Zvezda TV report being driven around a depot. Narrator reportedly explains it is a captured ambulance, which originated from the UK and the presenter explains that it has an automatic gearbox and is quite fast and now will be transferred to Separatist DNR troops.

According open source intelligence analysts Oryx a total of 5 Ukrainian Saxon’s have been visually confirmed lost. There have not been any recent sightings of the Saxons and the UK and other supporting nations have now transferred or promised more modern and capable vehicles.

Thanks to Volodymyr for sharing some of the pre-war photographs of the Saxon in service.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography

“Useless” Saxon Vehicles Surprisingly Useful In Ukraine, Defence24, (source)
The Not So Secret Life of the Saxon, Think Defence, (source)
‘Saxon’ armored vehicles to enter service after improvement and test procedure, Censor, (source)
UK’s Delivery of Saxons to Ukraine “Nothing Short of Immoral”, ForcesTV, (source)
Attack On Europe: Documenting Ukrainian Equipment Losses During The 2022 Russian Invasion Of Ukraine, Oryx, (source)
General Sir Richard Dannatt condemns armoured vehicle transfer to Ukraine, The Telegraph, (source)
Saxon armored personnel carriers were first used in real combat operations, Military Informant, (source)
Ukraine tested the delivered British Saxon armored vehicles, Military Informant, (source)
British Saxons in Action, Ukraine Today, (source)
Captured Saxon, Zvezda, (source)

Brimstone Missiles In Ukraine

On 12 May video of what appears to be a test launch of Brimstone Missiles in Ukraine surfaced online. A containerised launch platform can be seen launching a salvo of three missiles. The footage shows what appears to be a repurposed commercial vehicle, such as an IVECO Daily or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter box van. The van appears to have a series of rails mounted inside the cargo area which may have something similar to a Cobham triple launch rail fixed to them. It could be described as a sort of very advanced technical. It is unclear when or where the footage was filmed.

Brimstone salvo being launched from a repurposed commercial vehicle (via Social Media)

In April, the UK Ministry of Defence confirmed the supply of Brimstone missiles to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. It was announced that these would be adapted for surface launch for use against ground targets. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the UK government had been in talks to provide the maritime variant of of the missile (Brimstone Sea Spear) to the Ukrainian Navy and there was speculation that this would be the variant sent to Ukraine. However, on 25 April, Defence Minister Ben Wallace told the UK Parliament that “if we do provide Brimstone, we will look to provide it for the land, using stock that we already hold, but not as yet for the sea.” A day later, on 26 April, the UK’s Armed Forces Minister James Heappey told Parliament that “such is the speed with which our technicians are now working and so effective is the partnership with industry that I am pleased to say that that has been moved forward. It is necessary to inform the House that we will be providing Brimstone in the next few weeks.”

Brimstone is an advanced, rocket-powered, radar-guided weapon which can seek and destroy armoured targets at long ranges with high precision. Developed by in the late 1990s it was designed to be fired from aircraft and entered service with the Royal Air Force in 2005, seeing action in Iraq, Afghanistan Libya and Syria. The missile’s manufacturer MBDA has continued development of the weapon with ground-based and maritime variants designed and proposed. Brimstone uses a 94 Ghz the radar seeker and a sophisticated guidance system which can differentiate and prioritise targets. The missile delivers a tandem shaped charge to destroy armoured targets at ranges varying from 12 to approximately 20km depending on launch platform and conditions and the variant of missile. Brimstone is capable of firing a salvo of missiles which will then fly in parallel before striking their targets in unison. This may be what is seen in the video. Brimstone is a fire and forget missile with the missile able to targeted at a designated killbox to then engage highest value targets it detects.

Diagram showing the layout of Brimstone (via Think Defence)

On 6 May the first evidence of Brimstone’s presence in Ukraine was provided by a series of photographs of the remnants of a Brimstone 1 missile. The recovered tail section of the missile bore a sticker denoting the surviving component as being manufactured in September 2001. Subsequent photographs of fragments from another missile, which perhaps self destructed, surfaced online on 11 May. These suggested that this Brimstone 1 was manufactured in around May 2001.

On 8 May photographs of a further Brimstone 1, this time intact perhaps photographed before launch or after a failure of some sort, appeared online. If photographed following a failure it would indicate that this missile’s self destruct failsafe did not activate. Though the missile appears in good condition if it landed after a failure. From its markings seen in the photographs it is clear that the weapon’s components were produced in September 2001 and February and June 2004. We do not yet know how Ukrainian forces are employing Brimstone or how effective it has been.

Further footage from Ukrainian Brimstone launches emerged on 15 May, showing some close-ups from inside the launch vehicle. A Cobham triple rail can be seen mounted and several launches were shown as part of a compilation video shared by Ukrainian forces. In this video we only see two missiles being launched rather than a salvo of three although in one clip we can see three missiles mounted on the rail. The footage also shows us that the system appears to be mounted on a palletised frame work which could seemingly be easily mounted on more capable vehicles.

Brimstone offers greater range than the infantry-operated anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) like the western Javelin or the Ukrainian Stunga-P. This greater range coupled with its ability to be fired in salvos offers a valuable capability to Ukrainian forces.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

Brimstone, MBDA, (source)
Brimstone Guided Missile, Think Defence, (source)
Footage: Brimstone Missiles Deployed in Ukraine, Overt Defense, (source)
What is the Brimstone missile?, BBC, (source)
Ukraine Update 25 Apr. 2022, UK Parliament Hansard, (source)
Ukraine 26 Apr. 2022, UK Parliament Hansard, (source)

NGSW: The US Army’s First Suppressed Service Rifle & Some History

A couple of weeks ago the US Army finally announced the winner of their long running Next Generation Squad Weapon program, selecting the SIG Sauer MCX Spear rifle as the XM5 and the LMG-6.8 as the XM250.

The topic of whether this was the right choice and if the 6.8mm round they chamber is the right direction to move in is the topic for another day. I wanted to highlight one important aspect of the program that’s been somewhat overlooked. The weapons will be issued with suppressors as standard.

All of the NGSW submissions had suppressors developed by various manufacturers as it was an Army requirement. SIG developed their own design in house. When fielded over the next few years the XM5 will become the US Army’s first service rifle to be suppressed as standard.

But this isn’t the first time the US Army has examined large scale issue of suppressors. The US Army first examined the usefulness of suppressors way back in 1910, over a century ago.

XM5 / MCX Spear and XM250 / LMG-6.8 (SIG Sauer)

The first viable firearm suppressors appeared just after the turn of the 20th century with a series of patents being granted on various designs between 1909 and 1920. One of the first suppressor developers was Hiram Percy Maxim, son of Sir Hiram S. Maxim, He experimented with valves, vents and bypass devices, however, he eventually finalised his basic idea based on baffles and developed a series of practical suppressors; which were sold through the Maxim Silent Firearms Company. He filed his first patent on 26th June, 1908, which was granted in March the following year (US 916,885).

During the 1910s Maxim sold a successful range of ‘silencers’, as they were then largely known, on the commercial market. As early as 1907 Maxim was looking at ways to suppress the Army’s new Springfield M1903.

M1903 Springfield with a Maxim Silencer
M1903 Springfield fitted with a Maxim Model 1910 Silencer (Cody Firearms Museum)

The US military first took interest in silencers in 1908. However, the 1909 annual report of the Chief of Ordnance wasn’t too enthusiastic stating that “the silencer be not adopted for use in the service in its present form” citing visible gases leaving the silencer and the difficulty of mounting a bayonet. The following year the Chief of Ordnance believed that the improved the Model 1910 silencer overcame “most of the defects found in the original” and that “five hundred of the silencers are now being procured with a view to the issue of one or more to each organisation for instruction of recruits in target practice, and for issue to the militia, on requisition.”

The US School of Musketry also tested the Maxim silencer. Twenty four soldiers were issued silenced M1903s for the test. The School of Musketry’s testing found that the report at the muzzle and the recoil felt by the rifleman was reduced when compared to a normal, unsuppressed, M1903. The School of Musketry’s report noted that:

An M1903 with a Maxim 1910 Silencer being test fired, left to right: H.P. Maxim, Lt.Col. R. Goodman, & Capt. E. Church (from the National Guard Magazine)

“The muffling of the sound of discharge and the great reduction in the total volume of sound which permits the voice to be heard at the firing point about the sound of a number of rifles in action, greatly facilitate the control of the firing line.” They also reported that “the silencer annuls the flash” a quality that they felt was a “positive military advantage in view of the extent to which night operations may be employed in future wars.”

Maxim did his best to develop a robust silencer that would meet the military’s needs. He incorporated a mounting point for a bayonet on the military variant of the Model 1910. The model 1910 silencer for the Springfield M1903, however, required the removal of the rifle’s front sight. This attachment method was felt to be the Model 1910’s weakest point and something Maxim himself actively looked to address.

The Maxim Silencer Company subsequently improved models and encouraged by early military interest Maxim envisioned a military silencer being useful in roles such as sniping, guard harassment and marksmanship training.

But Maxim was not the only designer working in the field and Robert A. Moore, his most competent competitor, also submitted a design for military testing. Moore’s designs used large gas expansion chambers which sat beneath the rifle’s muzzle as well as a series of vortex chambers ahead of the muzzle.

Ordnance Corps photograph of M1903s equipped with Maxim and Moore Silencers (US Army)

US Ordnance tests with Moore silencers began in 1910. When the two silencers were compared the US Army found that there was little difference between the two rival designs with regards to the reduction of sound, recoil and flash. Springfield Armory’s report in July 1912, found that the Moore silencer was more accurate and had a better attachment system. The Maxim silencer, however, was more durable and could withstand more prolonged rapid fire. While the suppressors were tested neither was selected for general issue and large scale contracts didn’t materialise. However, we do know that some of the suppressors were used during the US Army’s 1916 Mexican expedition against Pancho Villa and during the First World War some are confirmed to have made it to the Western Front but don’t appear to have been used in the field despite requests from officers.  

I go into much more detail about the early suppressors, their design, testing and whether they saw action in this article

Now fast-forward 100 years and the US Army is finally poised to adopt suppressors for close combat troops. In recent years the US Army has been testing suppressors at the squad level as far back as 2005 and this fed into requirements for the NGSW programme.

XM5 / MCX Spear (SIG Sauer)

In terms of the weapons selected SIG Sauer have developed their own suppressor designs to pair with the XM5 and XM250. SIG have said that the designs initially grew from their Suppressed Upper Receiver Group for USSOCOM. SIG’s suppressors are manufactured using direct metal laser sintering – essentially 3D printing with metal. SIG Sauer’s suppressor designs reduce sound and flash but also reduce gas blowback into the action and face of users. the SIG suppressors for the XM5 appear to be SLX suppressors, optimised for the reduction of blowback of toxic gases – SIG claim by as much as 70 to 80%) and are quick detach rather than direct thread, using a clutch lock system with an internal tapered seal. One thing the Army has not commented on is the efficiency of the suppressors so we don’t know to what levels the report of the weapons has been lowered to. Another thing that isn’t clear about the XM5 is if the Army had a requirement for mounting a bayonet. It certainly appears not to have been which would make the XM5 the first US Army service rifle not to mount a bayonet.

Of course the US Army are not the first service branch to suppress their rifles. The USMC is currently in the process of issuing Knights Armament QDSS NT4 suppressors for use with their M4A1 carbines and M27 and M38 rifles. The process began in late 2020 with the Corps citing many of the reasons originally identified back in in 1910 – reduced signatures, improved communication and hearing protection. 


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Bibliography:

The Next Generation: SLX & SLH Suppressors, SIG Sauer, (source)
US Marine Corps Selects Knight’s Armament Suppressor, TFB, (source)
Marine Corps Begins Widespread Fielding of Suppressors, USMC, (source)
Silencers, Snipers & Assassins: An Overview of Whispering Death, J.D. Truby (1972)
Firearm Silencers, N. Wilson (1983)
War Department, Annual Reports, Report of Chief of Ordnance, 1909, Vol.6 (source)
War Department, Annual Reports, Report of Chief of Ordnance, 1910, Vol.1 (source)
Silencer for Firearms, R.A. Moore, US Patent #1021742, (source)
Firearm, H.P. Maxim, US Patent #1054434, (source)

Ukrainian Tavors – Fort-221 / Fort-224

In this video/article we’ll examine Ukraine’s other bullpup – the Fort-221 – the Ukrainian Tavor. 

In a recent video/article we looked at the Ukrainian designed and produced IPI Vulcan, a bullpup based on the AK platform, and the two have been confused in some media. The Fort-22 series Tavors originate from Israel’s IWI. Introduced in the early 2000s the IWI Tavor has been purchased and seen service with militaries around the world. Ukraine’s Tavors were offered by RPC Fort or State Research and Production Association “Fort” of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs. The company was originally established in 1991, initially as a regional organisation and in 1998 it became a state enterprise. Located in Vinnytsia, in western Ukraine, the company initially focused on a line of pistols, pump-action shotguns and AKM variants.  

National Guard personnel armed with Fort-221 with M5 optics (Ukrainian National Guard)

From a survey of Fort’s website we know that IWI weapons first began to appear in the company’s product lists in late 2008 following an agreement to potentially license manufacture IWI products in Ukraine. This included pistols, submachine guns, rifles and the Negev light machine gun. 

In 2011-12 media reports suggested the Tavor was being produced in Ukraine and the guns appeared at a number of trade shows with RPC-Fort markings, including a company crest in the moulded stock. There is, however, some doubt about whether the weapons were manufactured in Ukraine, merely assembled or if they were produced in Israel with some Fort markings and shipped to Ukraine. The nature of the partnership is undisclosed but it has been suggested that if Fort gained substantial sales for the weapons then further manufacturer may have been transferred to Ukraine. 

Close up of the RPC Fort on a 5.56×45mm Fort-221 (Ukrainian National Guard)

In 2014, Colonel Vitaly Otamaniuk, the head of the artillery and missile management board of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, announced that the Fort-221 and Fort-223/224 carbines were adopted for arming the Ukrainian army, with an initial 500 ordered. While no further orders were publicly recorded we know that Police and internal security forces were issued the rifle as of 2016. The adoption of the rifles by Ministry of Internal Affairs units and the Ukrainian National Guard (which falls under the Ministry’s control) may be explained by the fact the Ministry owns RPC Fort.

Various Fort-22 series rifles on display (Ukrainian National Guard)

From photographs released before the February invasion we know that National Guard units including the Special Purpose units like the “Scorpion” Special Forces Detachment (Nuclear industry protection) and elements of the Special Operations Forces or SSO. These units are believed to include the 1st and 3rd Special Purpose Detachments based in Kyiv and the 8th Special Purpose Regiment in Khmelnytskyi as well as elements of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Member of the Ukrainian armed forces with a Fort-224 carbine (via social media)

There is some confusion around the Fort-22 series’ designations. From Fort’s website, circa 2020, we can see here that the majority of the IWI rifle range was on offer. There is some confusion around the designations with Fort-222 and Fort-223 not being listed here but there are photographs of Fort-223 marked 5.56  X-95 pattern guns seen trade shows, which suggests that for a time at least the 223 designation was used. But as we’ve seen from Fort’s 2010 website Fort-223s were not listed. The Tavors are listed as follows:

  • Fort-221 in 5.56x45mm and 5.45x39mm (TAR-21) – 468mm / 18.4in
  • Fort-224 in 5.56×45 and 5.45x39mm (X-95) – 330mm / 13in
  • Fort-224 in 9×19 (X-95 SMG) – 330mm / 13in

We can also see that the Uzi Pro is listed as the Fort-226 while the 5.56x45mm Galil Ace is listed as the Fort-227, the 7.62x39mm chambered version is the Fort-228 and the 7.62x51mm version is the Fort-229. The Ukrainians designed the Galatz accurised Galil the Fort-301 and the Negev light machine gun the Fort-401 both of which have been fleetingly seen in the field.

Further survey of Fort’s website shows that the Tavor series of rifles ceased to be listed on the page in March 2021 and IWI and Meprolight were removed from the site’s ‘Partners’ section in April 2021. Perhaps suggesting the end of the IWI-Fort partnership. The Tavor-pattern rifles are not listed by SpetsTechnoExport, Ukraine’s state export enterprise, but the IPI Vulcan is.

Member of the Ukrainian armed forces with a Fort-221 rifle (via social media)

Despite this we have seen a considerable number of the Ukrainian Tavor variants in the field. Since the Russian invasion in February the Fort-22 series have been most frequently seen with internal security forces and Ukrainian Army and National Guard special forces.

Within 48  hours of the Russian offensive Russian forces shared videos from what was said to be a captured Ukrainian National Guard depot. The video shows more than a dozen Fort-221s piled on top of crates. Around the same time they were seen to be equipping Ukrainian forces said to be linked to the Azov Brigade. 

Members of the Ukrainian armed forces with a Fort-224 carbines (via social media)

On 7 March former Ukrainian presidents Petro Porochenko and Oleksandr Turchynov were seen. Rallying Territorial Defence Force units in Kyiv, Turchynov was seen armed with a Fort-221.

On 9 March an unknown number were captured by Russian forces which seized the National Guard armoury near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant. At least one Fort-221 was shown by Russian state media.

A Fort-224 in 9×19mm (via social media)

The Ukrainian Tavors continue to surface in imagery from the conflict but it is difficult to tell where they’re being used and by which units. 

Both the Fort-221 rifle and the 224 carbine have been seen in the field, though it is often difficult to determine their chambering as the clearest indiction – the shape of the magazine – is invariably tucked under the user’s arm.  They are most often seen equipped with Meprolight M5 and M21 sights and a number of the weapons have also been seen to be sporting camouflage paint jobs.  

Thank you to those who have helped me collect images of the Ukrainian Tavors in the field, including Sad_Sand and DixieMauser and thank you also to Remigiusz Wilk.


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography

Interpolitex 2011, Vitaly Kuzmin, (source)

Ukraine Manufacturing Tavor in 5.45x39mm, TFB, (source)

Shield and Sword of Ukraine: Main Achievements of thr Defense Industrial Complex for 2017, Defense Express, (source)

Fort.vn.ua, via WayBack Machine, (source)

Kyiv Police being introduced to 9x19mm Fort-224 carbines in 2016, Kyiv Police, (source)