the Ukrainian army is also a bit ‘MacGyver’

The Ukrainian army has entered the battle with Russia with adapted equipment. For example, missiles and missile systems are mounted on trucks and speedboats.

Helene Cooper and Eric SchmittSeptember 6, 202203:00

The billions of dollars in military aid that the United States has sent to Ukraine includes some of the most advanced and deadly weapon systems in the world. But Ukraine has also achieved great success in the war by deploying those weapons and equipment in unexpected ways. Some even cobble together the Ukrainians at random, according to military experts.

Ukrainian forces have used the US and other weapons in ways few expected, experts and officials from the US Department of Defense say. They saw this in April from the sinking of the Moskva, Russia’s flagship in the Black Sea, to the attack on a Russian air base in Crimea in August.

For example, by mounting missiles on trucks, the Ukrainian army has brought them within firing range more quickly. By placing missile systems on speedboats, they have increased their capabilities for naval warfare. And to the amazement of weapons experts, Ukraine has continued to destroy Russian targets with slow-moving Turkish-made Bayraktar attack drones and cheap, plastic planes modified to drop grenades and other ammunition.

The Russian flagship Moskva that was sunk in April.Image AFP

“People use the MacGyver metaphor,” said Frederick Hodges, a former US Army commander in Europe. He refers to the 1980s TV show in which the title character uses simple, improvised constructions to get himself out of tricky situations.

Death toll

After six months of war, the death toll on both sides is high: US officials estimate that up to 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded, while the Ukrainian army, which has been outclassed in arms, says it is losing 100 to 200 troops a day. Yet the ingenious ingenuity of the Ukrainians stands in stark contrast to the slow, plodding and doctrinal nature of the Russian advance.

In the attack on the Moskva, for example, the Ukrainians developed their own anti-ship missile, the Neptune, which they based on the design of an old Soviet anti-ship missile, but with significantly improved range and electronics. They appear to have mounted the Neptune missiles on one or more trucks, according to a senior US official, and brought them within range of the ship, which was about 120 kilometers from Odessa. Striking the Moskva was essentially proof that the Neptune was working; it was the first time the new Ukrainian weapon was used in a real war, and it managed to hit the flagship in the Black Sea.

“In the attack on the Moskva they put in place a very effective anti-ship system.MacGyvered putting it on the back of a truck to make it mobile and move it,” said Hodges, who is now a senior advisor at Human Rights First.

Ukrainian forces have done so well with the Bayraktar drone that the company’s CEO, Haluk Bayraktar, praised their ability to “get the most out of these systems” in a recent interview with a Ukrainian news program. It remains a mystery to US military officials why Russia’s layered air defense systems have not been more effective at stopping the drones: They have no self-defense systems, are easily spotted by radar and fly at a speed of only about 50 miles per hour.

Missiles on fighter jets

A senior Pentagon official said Ukrainian armed forces had also fitted American-supplied HARM anti-radiation missiles to Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighter jets — something no air force had ever done. The US HARM missile, designed to search for and destroy Russian air defense radars, is not normally compatible with the MiG-29 or the other Ukrainian fighter jets.

A Ukrainian tank.Image NYT

Ukraine managed to rearrange the aiming sensors so that pilots could fire the US missile from their Soviet aircraft. “They have actually successfully integrated it,” the senior official told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon. Under the rules of the Biden administration, he spoke on condition of anonymity.

Officials say the missiles could hit Russian air defense systems up to 150 kilometers away.

That same ingenuity can now be seen in Crimea. In recent weeks, Ukraine has come under fire in a series of attacks on the Black Sea peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.

In the attack on the Russian air base, Ukrainian troops destroyed eight fighter jets. A few days later, clandestine Ukrainian fighters operating behind enemy lines hit several locations in the occupied territory. These were locations that Russia deemed safe, including ammunition depots and supply lines.

Then a military airport outside Sevastopol, the largest city in Crimea and home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, was hit by explosions. Russia claimed the blasts of the attack were the sound of successful anti-aircraft fire.

Heart of the defense industry

“The Ukrainians are able to exploit their knowledge in the area,” said Dara Massicot, a senior policy researcher at the US think tank Rand Corp.

The weapon’s distinct use is rooted in Ukraine’s history as the heart of the defense industry of the former Soviet Union. For decades, Ukraine was where the Soviet Union — and then Russia — developed turbines for warships, tanks and even airplanes, such as the Antonov An-124, one of the largest cargo planes in the world and used by Russia to ship weapons to Ukraine. transport.

Saki military airport, where Ukraine carried out the first of its recent attacks on Crimea on August 9. Image AP
Saki military airport, where Ukraine carried out the first of its recent attacks on Crimea on August 9.Image AP

In any case, US military commanders who have worked with Ukrainian troops say the Ukrainians are always willing to improvise.

Hodges says he noticed “on a tactical level how smart the Ukrainians were” when he worked with them in 2013 and 2014. He said adapting the US-supplied HARM missiles to run on MiGs demonstrated the strong technological know-how of the Ukrainian military.

“You can’t just hang a rocket on an airplane – there are a lot of restrictions on avionics,” he says. “Still, they succeeded.”

more aggressive

The attacks in Crimea underscore Ukraine’s increasingly aggressive military tactics as the government in Ukraine’s capital Kiev calls on special forces and local partisans to strike deep behind the front, disrupting Russian supply lines and extending Russian advantages over the area of ​​weapons and equipment to counter.

US officials say the United States has provided detailed intelligence to help Ukrainian forces attack Russian targets. But Ukraine carried out the first of its recent attacks on Crimea — a series of explosions at the Saki military airport on Aug. 9 — without notifying US and other Western allies in advance, officials said.

A US official who was later briefed on the attacks said Ukrainian commandos and partisans had used an improvised array of weapons, explosives and tactics in the attacks.

“It’s all homegrown,” the official said, speaking anonymously to discuss operational details. “We were not informed in advance.”


That first attack on the airfield destroyed much of the air force and ammunition stocks of the 43rd Naval Aviation of the Black Sea Fleet. It was also intended to have a psychological effect on Russian forces in Crimea, the US official says, speaking of the “Doolittle effect,” a reference to a US attack on Japan in World War II.

The bomber attack led by James Doolittle was a daylight attack in April 1942 that caused only minor damage to military and industrial targets. But it was a boost to the American home front that suffered a series of setbacks in the Pacific, beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. It also dispelled the idea that Japan was invulnerable to American air strikes. as claimed by the Japanese government.

In a Telegram post following the Saki attack, Andriy Tsaplienko, a Ukrainian military journalist, said the damage suggested a truck-mounted heavy rocket launcher called the Grim, or Sapsan, had been used in the attack. That system was developed by Yuzhmash, a state-owned Ukrainian aerospace manufacturer. However, the Kremlin rejected the possibility that a Ukrainian-made ballistic missile system had anything to do with it.

“Activities in the Crimean Peninsula likely mark a new phase in the war,” said Mick Mulroy, a former Pentagon official and CIA officer. “In doing so, the Ukrainians have gone on the offensive with a campaign of irregular warfare designed to drive Russia out of an area they firmly believed to be safe.”

The article is in Dutch

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