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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Ukraine’s Homemade Tank Destroyer

On 12 August videos of an improvised vehicle built by Ukrainian troops began to circulate online. While we’ve seen technicals and an increasing number of trucks turned into multiple rocket launcher systems, usually using spare or salvaged parts, in recent months the new vehicle is even more interesting.

Gun at full elevation (via ArmyInform)

The available footage shows an MT-LB tracked armoured fighting vehicle paired with an MT-12 anti-tank gun. Traditionally, the MT-LB and MT-12 aren’t an unusual pairing as the MT-LB was, and is, often used to tow artillery, including the 100mm MT-12 anti-tank gun.

Gun in action (via ArmyInform)

The Ukrainian General Staff shared a video of the homemade tank destroyer or self-propelled gun (SPG) in action on the 13 August, with the caption:

“Ukrainian soldiers demonstrate their own development, made from captured muscovite equipment. MTLB army tractor + MT-12 Rapira anti-tank gun = self-propelled anti-tank gun. The infantrymen did all the design and construction work on their own. The system has already been tested and is in the combat zone.”

The caption said that the footage had been filmed in the Mykolaiv region in early August by members of the Department of Public Relations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. A further video shared by ArmyInform, simply titled ‘Kraken’ (perhaps the name given to the vehicle as the Kraken is a popular symbol among Ukrainian forces), shares much of the same footage and the same description text.

The gun and vehicle are both of Cold War vintage with the 100mm smoothbore MT-12 entering service in the early 1970s and the MT-LB coming into service in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

The hydraulics supports added to the rear of the MT-LB (via ArmyInform)

From the footage we can see that the vehicle has been substantially modified to mount the gun, part of the rear roof of the vehicle appears to have been removed to allow the crew to operate the gun with some protection and to also achieve the gun’s maximum 20-degree elevation. Perhaps most interestingly, at the rear of the vehicle the builders have added a pair of hydraulic supports to stabilise the vehicle when firing, these can be seen descending from the rear of the MT-LB. These may be built using the MT-12’s original trail.

A view of the rear of the gun and vehicle (via ArmyInform)

The video even shows that a barrel travel lock has been fitted to lock the gun in place when the vehicle is on the move. The video does not show the interior of the vehicle so it is unclear how much the vehicle and the mounting point for the gun has been reinforced. The gun itself weighs just over 3 tons or 2, 750kg, though some of this weight from the carriage has likely been removed through the cannibalisation of the carriages when the gun was mounted. The video doesn’t indicate how much ready ammunition the vehicle can carry either. The video also shows the gun being fired by crew outside the vehicle pulling a long lanyard. Sources in Ukraine have said that in the field the system is fired by both the lanyard and the firing lever on the gun.

Barrel travel lock added to the vehicle (via ArmyInform)

While at first glance the gun looks like it could also be an older DD-44, which have been seen in use, the characteristic muzzle brake suggests its the later MT-12. While the official Ukrainian Army statement suggests both the MT-LB and gun were captured both were in Ukraine’s inventory in significant numbers before the current conflict. Before the Russian invasion in February the Ukrainian Armed Forces were said to have up to 500 MT-12s in service, in 2020. Similarly, Ukraine operated over 2,000 MT-LB before the invasion but there is visual confirmation of numerous Russian MT-LBs being captured.

Gun ready to fire (via ArmyInform)

So why go to the trouble of adapting an MT-LB to be capable of firing a gun from its roof? Perhaps the most likely answer is speed into action. While an MT-LB towing an MT-12 can in theory get the gun into action in under 2 minutes the creation of this ad hoc tank destroyer allows the gun to be brought into and out of action faster. With the need to unlimber and position the gun removed the improvised self-propelled gun can, in theory at least, shoot and scoot.

A photo of an adapted MT-LB, possibly a different vehicle from the one seen in the video shared by the Ukrainian General Staff (Photo redacted for OPSEC purposes)
A view of the rear of the vehicle showing the considerable reinforcement where the roof has been cut away (Photo redacted for OPSEC purposes)

Sources in Ukraine suggest that more than one of these vehicles has been constructed with work ongoing since at least July. Photographs shared with TAB support this with the vehicle pictured sporting the Ukrainian digital camouflage pattern. The photographs show the mount and the reinforcement done to the vehicle to support the MT-12. They are reportedly used more as assault guns, than ‘tank destroyers’, with the guns being used against Russian fixed positions and in support of infantry manoeuvres.


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Ukrainians Training with SA80s

In a recent video/article we looked at the AK-pattern rifles that the UK Ministry of Defense has procured to train Ukrainian troops with in the UK. In that video I touched on the use of British SA80/L85 pattern bullpup rifles used during the training of the Ukrainian troops. With fresh imagery it seems that the British rifles are playing a significant role in training the Ukrainian personnel at several training centres across the UK.

Ukrainian soldier seen with an SA80A2 with SUSAT during training, when visited by the Prime Minister in late-July (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

The SA80 rifles were first seen in the initial imagery released around the announcement of the training scheme but have appeared again since. They featured in photographs of Defence Minister Ben Wallace’s visit in early July and again a couple of weeks later during another visit by General Sir Patrick Sanders’, Chief of the General Staff. The rifles were seen with iron sights and fitted with blank firing adaptors. Interestingly, at least some of the Ukrainian personnel have been shown how to field strip the British rifles. 

Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Havrylov with visits Ukrainian troops training in the UK, 19 July (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

On 19th July, imagery from a visit by the Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Havrylov, also showed Ukrainian troops equipped with SA80A2s fitted with blank firing adaptors. As before the rifles were not fitted with optics.

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.’

Ukrainian troops field stripping and cleaning SA80A2s in early July (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

Because the rifles don’t have railed forends some thought they might be the earlier SA80A1s. We can tell that these rifles are SA80A2s from the up-turned scalloped tear drop charging handle which also doubles as a brass deflector. The rifles have the non-railed green polymer handguards fitted.  While the Daniel Defense produced railed forends have come to characterise what many thing is the A2 configuration, these were actually developed in response to an urgent operational requirement for troops deploying in Afghanistan. Many of the rifles overhauled by HK to the A2 standard retained the classic green handguards. Some, like those recently provided to the Royal Bermuda Regiment, actually have a green handguard designed by HK. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Ukrainian troops (Andrew Parsons/No.10 Downing Street)

We can easily identify British troops involved in the training, as we can see that they are equipped with the new SA80A3 with the characteristic new MLOK forends and Cerakote finish. 

On the 21st July, the UK Prime Minister’s office released photos and video of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to Ukrainian troops training in the North East of England. The imagery showed Ukrainian troops training in urban combat, known by the British Army as Fighting In Built Up Areas or FIBUA. This supports the theory that they are being issued for FIBUA and field exercises that require blank firing. Unlike in the earlier imagery the Ukrainians were armed with SA80A2s largely equipped with SUSAT sights. 


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Bibliography:

‘Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visits Armed Forces of Ukraine as training programme starts across the UK’, UK MoD, 9 July, 2022, (source)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the North East, UK Govt., (source)

Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Havrylov meets with Ukrainian trainees in UK, UK MoD, (source)

UK Purchases AKs To Train Ukrainian Troops

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.”

Ukrainian soldier at the range July 2022 (UK MoD / Crown Copyright)

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”.

Ukrainian soldiers seen here receiving training from 3 RIFLES, July 2022 (UK MoD / Crown Copyright)

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.

British instructor with M70 rifle (UK MoD / Crown Copyright)

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.’

Ukrainian soldier at the range July 2022 (UK MoD / Crown Copyright)

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.


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:

‘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)

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.


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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)