A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 18, 2024

How Ukraine's 12th Azov Brigade Stole Russian Tank With New Drone Jammers

A Ukrainian raiding party spent three nights in no-mans land getting a damaged Russian tank operational under shellfire, then driving it back to their lines through tank-eating glide bomb craters. 

Turns out the new, multiple jamming systems are jury-rigged by Russian troops in the field and are as ineffective as 'cope cages.' But given the importance of drones to Ukraine's defense, they needed to know if new countermeasures would be necessary. JL 

David Axe reports in Forbes:

Russian tanks began rolling toward the front with multiple jammers in recent weeks. A Russian T-72 festooned with jammers ran over barbed wire east of Ukrainian positions in Terny. A Ukrainian drone zoomed in and exploded. The crew bailed out and then got killed. The 12th Azov Brigade volunteered to retrieve the immobilized T-72. Engineers untangled the tank’s tracks—a job complicated by an anti-tank mine underneath the tank. They manually cranked the turret to unblock the driver’s hatch. The Ukrainians hauled 150 pound batteries, three batteries, compressed air, tools to start the tank and night-vision goggles. The raiding party drove it back through mines, shellfire and tank-eating craters.

Starving for artillery ammunition after Russia-friendly Republicans in the U.S. Congress blocked further aid to Ukraine starting in October, the Ukrainian forces acquired tiny explosive drones as a firepower expedient.

Today these drones—hundreds of thousands of them—are the most important systems in the Ukrainian inventory. This means tactical radio jammers, which can block the signals operators use to control their drones, are the most important systems in the Russian inventory.

So when Russian tanks began rolling toward the front line with a giant new jammer—actually, clusters of multiple jammers—in recent weeks, Ukrainian drone operators were interested. Very interested.

If the new jammers worked, the Ukrainian operators would need to develop countermeasures.

Their chance to find out came earlier this month, when a Russian T-72 festooned with jammers ran over some barbed wire just east of Ukrainian positions in Terny, in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. The wire prevented the tank’s driver from turning fast enough to avoid a collision with a BMP fighting vehicle.

Soon, a Ukrainian drone zoomed in and exploded. The drone didn’t badly damage the 51-ton tank, but it did spook the three crew. They bailed out—and then got killed by more drones.

Ukrainian surveillance drones were overhead the whole time. Scrutinizing the imagery, analysts concluded the lightly damaged T-72 with the tangled track and the heap of radio jammers was the perfect prize.


Sure, the fact that at least one drone struck the tank was a strong hint that the jammers weren’t working very well. Still, the Ukrainians wanted to know why.

The 12th Azov Brigade, one of the Ukrainian army’s elite units, volunteered for what would be an extremely dangerous mission. The objective: to retrieve the immobilized T-72 from the no-man’s-land outside Terny—a ribbon of shell-pocked terrain that is among the most dangerous in the world.

“We all started planning this operation together,” a 12th Azov Brigade tanker named Ilya said in an official video describing the operation. The big unanswerable question was: would the tank even run? “Who can say if its engine was working or not,” Ilya mused. “That's the main question.”

Everyone understood the danger. And when a 12th Azov Brigade company commander instructed a tanker named Baidar to tag along on the raid, he just shrugged. “It's simple for me,” Baidar said. “I'm in the army. I received an order.”

Combat engineers went first, sneaking out at night to probe the approach and check on the tank’s condition. They returned to Ukrainian lines, a mile away, with bad news. While it seemed the tank was operable, its turret was fixed in the forward position—and its 125-millimeter main gun blocked the driver’s hatch.

There was no way to get a Ukrainian driver through the hatch without first rotating the turret—a job for a trained tank crewman.


On night two, a tanker accompanied the raiding party. While engineers carefully untangled the wire jamming the tank’s tracks—a job complicated by the presence of a 21-pound anti-tank mine peeking from the soil directly underneath the tank—the tanker manually cranked the turret to unblock the driver’s hatch and then switched on the tank’s power.

Nothing. “No signs of life at all,” Baidar explained. In its rush to escape, the Russian crew had left the tank on—and drained its batteries. “It would be impossible to start it this day,” Ilya said.

The next night, the raiders returned. Engineers led the way. Infantry escorted them. Medics waited in the rear, expecting casualties. In the main party: Baidar and Ilya. The Ukrainians hauled three batteries, each weighing 150 pounds, plus compressed air, tools and night-vision goggles. The compressed air would help start the tank.

Russian artillery exploded nearby as the tankers worked under the cover of darkness. “Long story short, I inserted those batteries,” Ilya recalled. “I was really hoping it'd come back to life.”

It did. The tank was operational. Now the hard part: driving it a mile back to Ukrainian positions without getting blown up by Russian fire. “We gather all our things, throw them on top and, with crossed fingers, I think, ‘Well, let's go,’” Ilya said. He drove.

It was a clear, moonlit night. Peering through night-vision goggles, Ilya had no problem driving across the no-man’s-land to the ruins of Terny. “But when I drove into the village, very deep potholes began,” Ilya said. “Really, very deep. The tank was jumping. It was hard for me to see.”

Ilya didn’t notice the deep crater, apparently from a Russian glide bomb, that nearly swallowed the T-72. “I rush into this pit at high speed,” Ilya said. “I hit my head on the hatch and black out.”

Coming to, Ilya worried he had failed his mission. Glide bomb craters are deep and full of loose dirt that can permanently mire a 51-ton tank. Luckily for the Ukrainians, the captured T-72’s main gun had speared the soil like a toothpick, preventing the vehicle from sinking down to its hull.

Ilya threw the transmission into reverse and revved the engine to its full 2,000 revolutions per minute. “I make a backward lunge, stay in that position,” he recalled. “Again, on the brakes, I rev the engine again, but now I engage not the first gear, but the second, to make the fastest possible forward lunge and get out even more.”

Rocking back and forth at max RPM, Ilya finally drove the tank out of the bomb crater. Ilya was bleeding from injuries he sustained in the tumble into the crater and periodically blacking out, but he still managed to drive the T-72 past more bomb craters—and through dozens of shells the Russian hurled at the stolen tank.

Finally safe behind their own lines, the Ukrainians inspected the jammers they’d risked their lives to drive off the battlefield.

“It was makeshift,” Ilya said. The individual jammers and their antenna might have been factory-standard, but the overall assembly—multiple jammers roped together atop a wooden shipping pallet—was “homemade,” and probably not every effective.

“Why did they do this?” Ilya asked. “It's extremely inconvenient.”

That’s good news for the Ukrainian drone campaign: good news that a raiding party worked for three nights to deliver through mines, shellfire and tank-eating craters.


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