Ukrainians Training with Bulgarian Arsenal AKs

At the end of January a series of photographs taken by Canadian Army photographers showed Ukrainian troops being trained at sites in the UK as part of Operation Unifier. Unifier is a training mission carried out by the Canadian Armed Forces with training currently taking place in the UK alongside the multi-national training mission Operation Interflex.

What is interesting about the new imagery is that the Ukrainian troops in training are all armed with Bulgarian-made Arsenal AK-pattern rifles. This is the firs time this particular AK has been seen in use. If you saw our earlier videos looking at the other types of AK-pattern rifles procured by the UK for their training of Ukrainian personnel you’ll have seen Zastava M70s, Chinese Type 56s and East German MPi KMS-72s are in use.

It’s unclear who procured the rifles but given the training is being undertaken in the UK, they were probably procured by the UK Ministry of Defence and like the other AK-pattern rifles being used for training they will probably remain in the UK to be used in the training of future Ukrainian personnel. 

A soldier with the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, instructs Ukrainian recruits during a weapons class as part of Operation UNIFIER in the United Kingdom, on January 26, 2023. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The Arsenal AKs were seen for the first time in photographs taken on the 23 January, during a lesson on field craft. The Ukrainian troops can be seen taking notes with the rifles slung at their sides. 

The rifles appeared in photographs again  on 25 January, when Canadian medics were instructing Ukrainian recruits on the application of tourniquets. One of the rifles was seen slung over the shoulder of a Ukrainian soldier rendering aid. 

Subsequently on 26 January, soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were photographed instructing Ukrainian recruits during a weapons class. The class saw Ukrainian troops learning how to operate NLAWs, grounded on the floor next to them are their Arsenal AKs.

A series of images from a counter-explosive training session on searching and spotting mines and booby traps showed a platoon of Ukrainian trainees equipped with the Bulgarian AKs.

Ukrainian recruits under the supervision of Canadian soldiers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment practice searching for and identifying booby traps, during Operation UNIFIER on 28 January 2023 in the United Kingdom. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The rifles seen in all of the photographs appear to be basic model rifles, none of the weapons have railed handguards or Picatinny on the receiver cover for mounting optics. This suggests that they are either AR-M9Fs or AR-M14Fs (at least according to Arsenal’s website). The ‘F’ refers to the folding tube metal stock which helps identify the rifles as Arsenal-made AKs. The characteristic flash hider and furniture also identify them as Arsenal rifles.  It is difficult to identify what calibre the rifles are chambered in as the Ukrainians are never seen with magazines loaded into their weapons (as they’re unnecessary for the training being carried out). 

The AR-M9 and M14 are bother available chambered in 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm. Logical arguments could be made for either calibre: the UK MoD has confirmed that other AK-pattern rifles that have been procured are chambered in 7.62x39mm so this chambering would give them ammunition commonality with other AK-pattern rifles in use. Alternatively, the UK has ample stocks of 5.56x45mm and this would also more closely mimic the 5.45x39mm AK-74 rifles the Ukrainians are likely to be issued when they return home. Either way they are AK-pattern rifles which enable training on manual of arms, handling and firing with similar weapons the trainees will probably be equipped with.

Ukrainian recruits under the supervision of Canadian soldiers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment practice searching for and identifying booby traps, during Operation UNIFIER on 28 January 2023 in the United Kingdom. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The rifles have black polymer furniture and appear to be either new or in excellent condition with few visible scratches or scrapes to the finish or furniture. Notably each rifle has green tape around the base of the folding stock onto which a rack number has been written in black marker pen. 

Addendum:

As is sometimes the case with writing these articles and videos while in the process of research and production new source material emerges. On 1 February, the UK MoD shared a series of new photographs from the training of Ukrainian troops. In these a number of the Arsenal AKs were seen fitted with blank firing adapters (BFAs). This is interesting for a number of reasons – previously we have seen Ukrainian trainees using British L85A2s with BFAs for the elements of their training which required blank fire. We have covered this in an earlier article/videos – it requires additional, and largely unnecessary training on the use of the British bullpup.

Australian soldiers demonstrate section level attacks and how to handle captured enemy personnel to Ukrainian recruits during the first rotation of Operation Kudu in the United Kingdom. (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

BFAs for the 7.62x39mm AK pattern rifles procured earlier by the UK appear to have been deemed either unsafe for use in British training areas or BFAs and blank 7.62x39mm ammunition haven’t been readily available. The new photographs show that BFAs are in use with these Bulgarian AKs – likely because they were procured with the rifles direct from the manufacturer.

These UK MoD photographs also show the rifles with magazines – which indicate the rifles are chambered in 5.56x45mm. As I theorised earlier the UK has ample stocks of both blank and ball 5.56x45mm which would simplify the logistics of training the nearly 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers expected to be trained in the UK in 2023.

Australian Army soldiers from the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, receive weapon handling lessons from the British Army’s Small Arms School Corps as part of the “train the trainer” portion of Operation KUDU in the United Kingdom (Australian Department of Defence/Commonwealth copyright)

The Australian Army has also shared a large number of photographs from their involvement in the training of Ukrainian troops in the UK. The Australian military have dubbed their effort Operation Kudu. They describe Kudu as: “A contingent of up to 70 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are deployed on Operation KUDU to assist with the UK-led and based training program.” The Australian photographs show the training and familiarisation of Ukrainian troops with the Arsenal AKs with both Australian and British instructors seen in the photographs.

An Australian Army soldier from the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, assists Ukrainian recruits with cleaning their rifles during Operation KUDU (Australian Department of Defence/Commonwealth copyright)

The photographs feature members of the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and senior instructors from the British Army’s Small Arms School Corps, instructing trainees in the classroom before undertaking some fire and movement drills with blanks.


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Bibliography:

Assault Rifles, Arsenal, (source)

Operation Unifier, Canadian Armed Forces, (source)

Operation Kudu, Australian Defence Force, (source)

Ukrainian Troops Train with G36s

We’ve previously looked at Ukrainian troops training with the British L85A2 and Chinese Type 56s AK-pattern rifles. In June, the first images of Ukrainian troops training with G36s emerged, shared by the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence. 

The baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have been staunch supporters of Ukraine’s and Lithuania’s military has been providing training of various sorts since 2015. Back in April, Lithuania’s Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Valdemaras Rupšys announced that Lithuania would train an undisclosed number of Ukrainian troops on how to use various anti-tank weapons at locations within Lithuania. There has so far been no imagery released of this training.

Lithuania’s Military Academy has also provided a distance learning course online for junior leaders and at the end of October it was announced that 120 junior officers had received training across 4 two-day courses.

In the summer an in-person course that has seen Ukrainian personnel travel to Lithuania for training was established. A course at the Division General Stasys Raštikis Lithuanian Armed Forces School ended in early June. The four week course included weapons handling and marksmanship, map training, fieldcraft and tactics. Organised as part of the NATO Defence Education Enhancement Program (DEEP) it was during these courses Ukrainian personnel have been seen training with Lithuanian G36s.

Ukrainian troops training in Lithuania (Lithuanian MoD)

Additionally, Lithuanian instructors have also been training Ukrainian personnel in other countries including the UK. It was announced on 19 October, that a team of military instructors formed from members of the Lithuanian Armed Forces Great Hetman Jonušas Radvila Training Regiment, Division General Stasys Raštikis Lithuanian Armed Forces School, General Adolfas Ramanauskas Warfare Training Centre and the Military Medical Service had joined a multi-national training effort providing basic military training for Ukrainian troops at bases in  the UK.

In mid November it was announced that instructors from Ukraine had also taken part in an international instructor course. The course reportedly covered training techniques, weapons training, instruction organisation. The Lithuanian Ministry of Defence also noted that throughout December, there had been more specific courses for Ukrainian personnel on CBRN-contaminated operational environments, courses on UAVs and on intelligence collection from open sources.  

Summarising the training provided the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence said 18 different courses had been delivered including: basic individual skills, junior officer command, instructor, special forces, demolition and demining courses.  Operators and maintenance for different types of military equipment were also trained.

Ukrainian troops training in Lithuania (Lithuanian MoD)

Lithuania adopted the HK G36 in 2007 and has used several variants including the G36KV1 and the G36KA4M1. None of the photographs show the rifles mounted with optics and in three of the photographs the rifles can be seen fitted with Heckler & Koch’s adjustable blank firing attachment for the G36. 

In early December Lithuania announced that in 2023 training of Ukrainian troops would be stepped up with 1,100 personnel to be trained in Lithuania. Part of the courses scheduled in 2023 will be a part of the new European Union’s Military Assistance Mission Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine).


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UK Has Procured Chinese AKs to Train Ukrainian Troops

In recent weeks we’ve examined how the UK has procured various 7.62x39mm AK-pattern rifles for use in training Ukrainian troops in the UK. The latest video and photographs from the training the UK is providing show that alongside the previously identified AK variants a number of Chinese Type 56-1s have also been procured.

Ukrainian troops with Type 56-1s at the range undertaking marksmanship training and completing weapon handling tests and passing the ACMT live firing assessment (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

On the 9th July, the UK’s Ministry of Defence announced that as part of its agreement to train 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers it had acquired a significant number of AK-pattern rifles. The MoD’s original press release stated:

“The Government has rapidly procured AK variant assault rifles for the training programme, meaning Ukrainian soldiers can train on the weapons they will be using on the front line. This effort was supported by the Welsh Guards, who tested more than 2,400 such rifles in 17 days to ensure they were ready for the Ukrainians to commence their training.”

From imagery published by the MoD we previously confirmed that the AKs procured included: Zastava M70 (or M70B)s, milled receiver M70As, folding stock M70AB2s, Hungarian FEG AK63Ds and East German MPi KMS-72s. The latest photographs released, which appear to have been taken in late July at Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA), and show a type of rifle we haven’t seen previously – the Type 56-1.

Ukrainian trainees conducting weapon drills with Type 56-1 (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

They show rifles with under-folding stocks, stamped receivers, rivet positions and enclosed front sights which indicate them to be Chinese Type 56-1s. Where did the UK procure these rifles from? While it has been suggested that the UK may have seized the rifles during operations to interdict the arming of Houthi rebels in an earlier statement to The Armourer’s Bench the MoD said that the rifles has been “rapidly procured… through a combination of international donations and private purchase.”

Ukrainian trainees conducting weapon drills (magazines off) with Type 56-1 (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

The same cadre training at SPTA were also seen undertaking Fighting In Built Up Areas (FIBUA) training with British L85A2 rifles. It is believed that the British bullpups are being used for exercises requiring blank firing due to a likely combination of a shortage of AK blank firing adaptors (BFAs), blank ammunition, and the AK BFAs not being deemed safe enough for British training areas. The MoD previously stated that the L85A2s and their BFAs were being used to ‘maintain strict safety conditions for both British and Ukrainian soldiers during training and to meet the urgency of the training requirement.’

As with the other AK-pattern rifles procured by the UK for the training of Ukrainian personnel the Type 56s won’t be returning to Ukraine with the trainee soldiers, the UK MoD has stated that they are providing uniforms, protective kit and other equipment but not individual weapons.


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Malta’s Service Rifle: The AK

A comment in my recent video about the Royal Bermuda Regiment’s use of the Mini-14 sparked my interest. It noted that Malta, another small island military, uses the AK. I wasn’t aware of this so I decided to do some research.  

Malta’s military, known as the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) is roughly the size of a brigade. In recent years the Armed Forces of Malta have had a strength of between 1,600 and 1,800 personnel. It has three battalions a maritime squadron and an air wing. Malta is a neutral nation and as such the AFM’s role is territorial defence, internal security and border control.

Malta gained independence from the UK in 1964 and became a republic in 1974, this is when the AFM was founded. With the former link to the UK much of the AFM’s initial equipment was of British origin and the 7.62×51mm L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle was used as the AFM’s service rifle for many years this appears to have changed in the late 1970s early 1980s. The FN FAL-derrived L1A1 is still used as the AFM’s standard drill and parade rifle.

AFM personnel with Type 56/II AK-pattern rifles (AFM)

The AFM celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020 and shared this time line of their uniform and equipment in their service magazine On Parade which gives us some idea of how their small arms changed over time. We can see that the AK-pattern rifles have been in service since at least the 1980s. 

The AFM’s website lists their small arms with personnel being armed with Beretta 92s, a variety of HK MP5s, and what they describe as the ‘AK 47 Variant’. The site lists the rifles as being manufactured by Russia, Romania, China and East Germany. These rifles are all chambered in the 7.62×39mm cartridge.

Where the first AK-pattern rifles came from is unclear, although one source suggests the German and Romanian rifles were bought second hand in the 1990s. From a survey of images and video shared by the AFM in recent years it appears that East German MPiKMS, Romanian PM md.63 and Chinese Type 56/II are in service.

AFM recruits training with Chinese Type 56/II AKs (AFM)

The origins of the Chinese rifles is easy to trace back to a 2003 donation of small arms and light weapons made by the People’s Republic of China. An agreement was signed with China in June 2001 and as part of this a donation of 150,000 Maltese lira-worth of weapons. By 2003, however, it was reported by the Time of Malta that this had increased to 500,000 Maltese lira-worth of weapons. This included Type 56/II rifles, Type 80 general purpose machine guns and RPG-7 clones. The AFM’s acting commander Colonel Carmel Vassallo described the donation as a “dream come true” at the time. It reportedly allowed the entire AFM to be armed with a single type of service rifle.

The reasoning behind the adoption no doubt comes down to financing, Malta being a small island nation does not have an extensive defence budget, reported at 54 million Euros in 2020, and perhaps have chosen to prioritise personnel and procurement of naval and aviation assets over small arms. It is easy to see how the donation of service rifles and other small arms would be welcomed when balancing a modest budget.

AFM personnel with modified AKs (AFM)

Over the last 10 years there have been a number of photos and videos released showing AKs which have been upgraded with some aftermarket modifications. The mods appear to predominantly be sourced from FAB Defense – with their CAA Polymer buttstock and VFR-AK railed forend with a top rail which extends over the top of the receiver cover. This provides the bare bones AKs with some modularity. It’s unclear how widely issued the modified AKs are but from officially release imagery it seems that the basic AK-pattern rifles are more prevalent. In recent years Malta has stood up quick reaction forces and it appears from videos and images shared of the company that they have been equipped with SIG Sauer MCX rifles. 


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Bibliography:

‘AK Variant’, Armed Forces of Malta, (source)

‘AFM sees its dream come true’, Times of Malta, (source)

‘The Historical Timeline of Our Uniform’, On Parade 2020, (source)

“The Budget Speech 2020”, Malta Government, (source)

‘Personnel reveal shortcomings inside Maltese armed forces’, Malta Today, (source)

‘China donates 50 sub-machine guns to Malta, including 10 low-light scopes’, Malta Independent, (source)

Footage:

Various released videos, Armed Forces of Malta, (source)

‘Armed Forces of Malta: Recruit Intakes Nos. 131’, Michael Formosa, (source)

1966 Soviet Weapons Recognition Guide

During the Cold War the British Army on the Rhine was deployed in West German. In anticipation of a conflict with the Soviet Union detailed recognition guides were written for British troops to identify and familiarise themselves with enemy weapons and equipment. A substantial series of these were written covering everything from small arms to artillery to vehicles and aircraft.

In this video and article we will examine ‘Recognition Handbook Foreign Weapons and Equipment (USSR) Group III Infantry Weapons’ originally published in August 1966. It covers pistols, carbines, rifles, light, medium and heavy machine guns, grenades and some infantry anti-tank weapons like the RPG-2.

RPD (Matthew Moss)

The Recognition Handbook is about 100 pages long while the wider series encompasses 12 booklets at approximately 1,200 pages. Each entry in the handbook includes general description of the weapon, its characteristics and recognition features to help identify it. The Handbooks are more detailed version of the smaller Threat Recognition Guide booklets which we have looked at previously.

The video includes clips from a 1979 British Army training film made by the School of Infantry.

RPG-2 (Matthew Moss)

Below is the two page entry covering the ‘7.62mm Assault Rifle Kalashnikov (AK-47)’ with a general description, characteristic and some recognition features.

AK-pattern rifle (Matthew Moss)

Sources:

‘Recognition Handbook Foreign Weapons and Equipment (USSR) Group III Infantry Weapons’, British Army, 1966
Warsaw Pact Small Arms’, British Army, 1986, (source)


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