Russia’s DIY Armored Vehicles Might Be Getting A Little Better. Emphasis On Little.

Just when you thought Russian forces’ do-it-yourself armored vehicles couldn’t get weirder … they just got weirder.

Photos that appeared on social media on Thursday depict Russian paratroopers posing in front of an MT-LB armored tractor sporting a single B-8V20 rocket pod, which fires unguided rockets—and normally arms helicopters.

That’s odd but it’s not new. Russian forces in Ukraine, honoring a long tradition among Soviet-style armed groups, already have deployed BTR wheeled armored personnel carriers and tracked MT-LBs armed with helicopter rocket pods.

What’s new about the MT-LB-B-8V20, for lack of a better moniker, is the rocket pod’s mount. It seems Russian technicians borrowed the articulated base of a 2B9 automatic mortar.

So where Russia’s Frankenstein armored vehicles usually combine just two previously unrelated components—a chassis and weapon, usually—the MT-LB-B-8V20 combines three.

In one sense, however, the MT-LB-B-8V20 represents an improvement over the previous rocket-armed MT-LB, which actually had a B-8V20 on one end and a 2B9 on the other. That unwieldy combination probably required the crew either to use the rocket pod or to fire the mortar.

But not both. The rocket exhaust would fry the mortar crew.

In that way, the MT-LB-B-8V20 might actually signal the evolution of Russia’s Frankenvehicles from their devolved state. As Russia’s wider war on Ukraine grinds toward its third year and Russian vehicle losses exceed 11,000—at the same time that Russian industry struggles to produce enough replacement vehicles—it perhaps was inevitable that the Russians would improvise “new” fighting vehicles with whatever old chassis and weapons were available.

But as improvisation becomes the norm, the improvisation also should improve. Consider Ukraine’s own MT-LB-based Frankenvehicles, which the Ukrainians call BMP-1LBs. A year into the wider war, these vehicles were sporting modern, stabilized BM-7 turrets.

That said, there probably is a limit to how effective an MT-LB-B-8V20 can be. The 80-millimeter S-8 rockets the B-8V20 fires are reasonably accurate in their heliborne role, as Russian attack helicopters have fire-controls for computing the rockets’ aimpoints.

It’s unlikely an MT-LB has the same controls, meaning a crew firing rockets from the vehicle is doing a lot of manual computations—and crossing their fingers for luck. The mortar base might help the crew to point the rockets, but it can’t tell them how to aim.

It’s not for no reason that B-8V20-armed vehicles are “predominantly employed when more suitable munitions are not available,” Yuri Lyamin and N.R. Jenzen-Jones wrote for Armament Research Services.

A volley of S-8 rockets, ground-launched from a mile or two away, might force the enemy to take cover. But like the 25-millimeter gunfire from the crude Russian MT-LB-2M-3, the volley is unlikely actually to hit anything of value.

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