Russian Turtle Tanks Are ‘Blind, Loud And Stupid’

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Desperate to clear mines in the no-man’s-land between Russian and Ukrainian positions—and equally desperate to protect the mine-clearers from Ukraine’s explosive drones—the Russian military devised a new kind of vehicle this spring.

It’s an up-armored tank with mine-exploding rollers and shed-like improvised armor to shield the crew, and any infantry passengers, from first-person-view drones.

The Ukrainians quickly nicknamed the do-it-yourself assault vehicle a “turtle tank.” Potentially scores of them have appeared all along the 700-mile front line of Russia’s wider war on Ukraine.

Two months after the turtle tank’s debut, the Russians are still building copies at front-line workshops—and at least one regiment is asking for donations from everyday Russians to finish the work.

“We are very happy,” one Russian tanker from the 218th Tank Regiment in southern Ukraine said in a video he recorded for members of the public who donated drone-entangling chains to the regiment’s turtle tank crews.

His optimism is notable—and perhaps delusional. The 218th Tank Regiment has been conducting a grinding offensive in southern Ukraine aimed at recapturing the twin towns of Staromaiorske and Urozhaine in southern Ukraine.

The months-long campaign has resulted in modest gains but has cost the 218th Tank Regiment and adjacent units dozens of vehicles, including at least one T-72 turtle tank, which was repeatedly struck by FPV drones.

It wasn’t an isolated loss. As often happens in war, the Ukrainians quickly adapted to the turtle tanks. Rearmed with American munitions, they struck at the DIY vehicles with artillery, missiles and air-dropped grenades—and even with the very mines and FPV drones the turtle tanks were designed to defeat.

The Russian tanker’s comments should put to rest any lingering debate over the purpose of the turtle tank concept. “We’re making tanks that’ll go in front to clear mines and attack the enemy,” he said.

But his video, along with Ukrainian videos of a captured turtle tank, underscores just how crude the turtle tanks actually are. They’re cobbled together with literal scraps as well as donated materials.

In one close inspection of a T-62 turtle tank the Ukrainian army’s 22nd Mechanized Brigade captured along with its two crew in early June, Ukrainian Lt. Col. Serhiy Misyura listed the vehicle’s flaws. “The driver has almost no visibility,” Misyura said. “The tank’s turret is fixed in place. There’s no ammunition and the main gun doesn’t even shoot.”

According to Misyura, the only new pieces of equipment on the 60-year-old, up-armored T-62 are a modern radio and a suite of anti-drone radio jammers. It’s worth noting that the jammers didn’t prevent FPV drones from immobilizing the tank.

The Ukrainian tanker who drove the captured vehicle back to Ukrainian lines recounted the clatter and smoke the 1960s-vintage T-62 emitted. The turtle tank, a “marvel of modern Russian engineering,” is “blind, loud and stupid,” Misyura said.

“This hardware needs to be retired, not pressed into active service,” the driver said. But with more and better Ukrainian drones swarming overhead, and countless mines left to clear, the Russians are doubling down on the concept—for lack of a better alternative, if for no other reason.

“We’ll keep adding and welding all of this on,” the Russian tanker tells his donors in his video. “We’ve already done a lot, thanks to you.”

“Victory will be ours,” he added.

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