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)

Special Boat Service [SBS] – Weapons Analysis

In this video/article we’re going to take a look at a short internal British Ministry of Defence film about the SBS called ‘Oil Safe’. Produced in 1980 by the SSVC, the Services Sound & Vision Corporation, the 11 minute film provides an introduction to the Special Boat Service’s capabilities and procedures for retaking off-shore oil and gas rigs seized in a potential terrorist operation. 

‘Oil Safe’ is not to be confused with another oil rig hijack film made the same year – ‘North Sea Hijack’ with Roger Moore.

It gives some insight into how the SBS would go about recapturing a rig seized by terrorists, showing in some detail the procedures used in operations associated with offshore gas and oil installations. The film takes us step by step through the operation from the moment the SBS are notified to the moment they exfiltrate after the operation to retake the rig is successful.

It’s definitely worth watching the whole thing, its available up on the. In this video we’ll take a look at some of the weapons featured in the film.

The first weapons we see are those of the SBS assault team as they are preparing their weapons and kit for the journey out to the oil rig. On the table we see no less than eight MAC-10s. While the MAC-10 would later be surpassed by the HK MP5 it was in service with UK special forces throughout the 1970s. Here it appears to be the assault team’s primary weapon.

The MAC-10, designed by Gordon Ingram, could be paired with a sound suppressor – but these do not appear in the film. The MAC-10’s small size and considerable firepower seem well suited to the team’s task.

Also on the table are numerous L9A1 Browning Hi-Powers, a Remington 870 shotgun, a pair of AR-15s, an L1A1 self-loading rifle and an anti-riot Grenade Discharger – for CS gas. The Colt AR-15 was favoured for its firepower and light weight. The SAS and the Royal Marines’ Mountain & Artic Warfare Cadre favoured the AR-15 for the same reasons. Colt Model 602, 603 and 604s were the most prevalent models. In the film the rifle is seen with both 20 and 30 round magazines.

During the operation to retake the rig we see the team armed with the MAC-10s, AR-15s and Hi-Powers. The terrorist seen guarding the rig’s landing pad is shot by a member of the SBS armed with the Remington 870, another terrorist is shot by two SBS members with Hi-Powers who raid the rig’s cafeteria.

The terrorists are portrayed as being armed with a magazine-less M1 Carbine and a Luger P08 pistol. After the terrorists are neutralised the film explains that their weapons are taken by UK Police as part of an investigation into the seizure of the rig. Royal Marine Commandos who arrive by helicopter following the SBS’ initial assault are armed with L1A1 SLRs and L2A3 Sterling submachine guns.

Check out our earlier article/video analysing a 1984 British Army video on the SAS here.

I highly recommend watching the full film over on the Imperial War Museum’s online archive.


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


Bibliography

SBS Procedure: Part 3 – Oil Safe, SSVC/UK MoD via IWM, (source)