After a year of hard fighting, the Ukraine war zone is a scrapyard for more than 10,000 wrecked armored vehicles, both Russian and Ukrainian. The sheer scale of the losses helps to explain why both sides are getting a little desperate for replacement vehicles.
This desperation justifies a lot of creative—some might say “bizarre”—choices. The Russian and Ukrainian armies both are mixing and matching whatever old weapons, turrets and chassis they can get their hands on to produce weird hybrid vehicle designs that, just a few months ago, might’ve been unthinkable.
These Frankenstein’s monsters include a new family of self-propelled mortars that the Ukrainian army has created from salvaged Russian turrets and spare chassis. These tracked mortars could play an important role if—when—the Ukrainian army shifts from defenses to offense in the coming weeks and months.
The Ukrainian Frankenmortars are riffs on the classic 2S9, a 120-millimeter mortar in an armored turret on the tracked chassis of a BTR-D light armored vehicle. The Motovilikha Plants factory in Perm, in central Russia, built around a thousand 2S9s over a decade starting in the late 1970s.
Think of the nine-ton, four-person 2S9 as occupying a kind of middle ground between a long-range howitzer and a crew-served direct-fire weapon such as a heavy machine gun. Firing a 30-pound shell out to a distance of around six miles, a 2S9 isn’t as destructive as a howitzer is, but it’s more responsive—heavy firepower the infantry can call up on short notice.
The Russians are fond of their 2S9s. They’ve begun assigning six of the tracked mortars to the new “assault units” they’re forming.
The Ukrainians have 2S9 envy. They began the current war with just 40 or so old 2S9s left over from Soviet stocks. The Russians have destroyed at least two of them. The three dozen or so that are left aren’t enough to meet the army’s demand for front-line fires. Demand that only will grow once the Ukrainians go on the attack.
So Kyiv’s technicians have done what they do best: they’ve improvised—and added 2S9 turrets to chassis from BMP-1 fighting vehicles and BRM-1K scout vehicles. The Ukrainians apparently call this Frankenmortar a “2S17.”
It’s unclear where the technicians are getting the turrets, but it’s worth pointing out that Ukrainian troops have destroyed, damaged or captured around 30 Russian 2S9s or wheeled derivatives. The chassis might not have been salvageable—and even if they were, almost any other hull is preferable to that of the very thinly-armored BTR-D.
We don’t know how many 2S17s the Ukrainian army might build. At least four are visible in one video that appeared on social media. Expect that number to grow.
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