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. Initially sharing only one, fairly low res, photograph the official announcement stated that:
“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.”
The types of AK-pattern rifles procured was not announced but from the initial photograph released it was clear that at least one of the rifles was a Serbian-produced Zastava M70AB2, chambered in 7.62x39mm.
The programme is the latest phase of Operation ORBITAL, the British Army’s name for the long term support and training programme undertaken since 2015. To-date ORBITAL has reportedly trained some 22,000 Ukrainian personnel, with the initial phase being run in Ukraine until early 2022 when the threat of imminent invasion saw the training personnel in Ukraine withdrawn. At the same time Canada and the US have run similar programmes in Ukraine. T he UK has agreed to train 10,000 Ukrainians within 120 days and in comments to the press the Uk’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace saying that “if the Ukrainians ask for more, we’ll be open to more”.
The rifles procured will likely be retained in Britain to train successive cadres of Ukrainian personnel, however, the UK has gifted a substantial amount of uniform and kit with the Ministry of Defence’s 9th July statement saying that each soldier will be issued with:
- Personal protective equipment including helmets, body armour, eye protectors, ear protectors, pelvic protection, and individual first aid kits
- Field uniforms and boots
- Cold and wet weather clothing
- Bergens, day sacks and webbing
- Additional equipment required for field conditions including ponchos, sleeping bags, and entrenching tools
The training is being undertake by around 1,050 UK service personnel largely drawn from 11 Security Force Assistance Brigade. The brigade was formed in 2021 and is tasked with “building the capacity of allied and partner nations”. Personnel from the 12th Armoured Brigade Combat Team and 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade as well as Ukrainian-speaking interpreters are involved.
The course the Ukrainian troops are undergoing is a condensed basic infantryman course which includes weapons handling and marksmanship fundamentals, battlefield first aid, fieldcraft, patrol tactics and the Law of Armed Conflict. From the file dates on the imagery released it appears that many of the photographs were taken in late June and early July.
From examination of further imagery released it appears that the AK-pattern rifles procured for training the Ukrainian troops are all chambered in 7.62x39mm and the 2,400 rifles procured include: wooden-stocked Zastava M70 (or M70B)s, milled receiver M70As, folding stock M70AB2s, Hungarian FEG AK63Ds and East German MPi KMS-72s.
Interestingly, some photographs and video suggest that as part of the training at least some of the Ukrainian personnel have been shown how to field strip the British SA80/L85 rifles. These are believed to have been used with blank firing adaptors during training this theory was supported by Ukrainian troops being pictured with SA80/L85 pattern rifles, with the easily recognisable yellow blank firing adaptors fitted, during a visit by General Sir Patrick Sanders’, Chief of the General Staff, to meet Ukrainian troops doing Fighting In Built Up Areas (FIBUA) training. The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that while AK-pattern blank firing adaptors have been procured, SA80’s with blank firing adaptors have also been used to ‘maintain strict safety conditions for both British and Ukrainian soldiers during training and to meet the urgency of the training requirement.’
The reasoning behind the procurement of rifles chambered in 7.62x39mm rather than the more regularly issued 5.45x39mm AK-74 pattern rifles is also unclear. Perhaps this was due to weapon availability and regardless of calibre the manuals of arms remains the same. There is no indication that training with support weapons such as general purpose machine guns or light anti-armour weapons is being provided.
When approached for comment on the sources and types of AK rifles procured, the Ministry of Defence told The Armourer’s Bench:
“The Government has rapidly procured AK variant assault rifles through a combination of international donations and private purchase, meaning Ukrainian soldiers can train on the type of weapons they will be using on the front line. All weapons were tested in accordance with UK legislative and safe working practices.”
While this doesn’t offer much detail it does suggest that the rifles were procured via donations and private purchase – the scale of the donations and private purchases remains unclear.
It has also been confirmed that elsewhere British personnel are training Ukrainian mechanised troops on various vehicles including Spartan, Husky and Mastiff at Bovington as part of ‘Project Spring Generation’. It was confirmed by the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, on 18th July, that the first cadre has now completed its training in the UK. Wallace also noted that Dutch personnel will be joining the British effort to train Ukrainian troops in the future.
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‘Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visits Armed Forces of Ukraine as training programme starts across the UK’, UK MoD, 9 July, 2022, (source)
‘First Ukrainian Volunteer Recruits Arrive In UK For Training’, Overt Defense, (source)
Video 11 July, 2022, UK MoD, (source)
Video 12 July, 2022, UK MoD, (source)
Video 15 July, 2022, UK MoD, (source)
‘Thousands of Ukrainian ‘battle casualty replacements’ are being trained in England’, Sky News, (source)
‘British troops training Ukrainian forces seen ‘huge improvements”, Forces News, (source)