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.
The rifles were almost certainly 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Canadian Ministry of National Defense has released a short video showing some of the training Canadian personnel in the UK are delivering to Ukrainian troops as part of Operation Unifier (the Canadian element of the international Operation Interflex.)
The video focuses on some of the field exercises and urban training being provided and heavily features Bulgarian Arsenal AR-M9F (5.56x45mm) AK-pattern rifles.
Update – 14/02/23: A video shared by the Australian Department of Defence showed Australian troops training Ukrainians with Arsenal AKs during Operation Kudu.
Update 15/02/23: The Danish Army has also shared several photographs of Danish troops training Ukrainians in the UK, Arsenal AKs can again be seen in the photographs (fitted with BFAs).
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Assault Rifles, Arsenal, (source)
Operation Unifier, Canadian Armed Forces, (source)
Operation Kudu, Australian Defence Force, (source)