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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

This tiny tracked vehicle can help Ukraine topple mud season

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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Russians call it “Rasputitsa,” or the Season of Bad Roads. In Ukraine it’s known as “Bezdorizhzhia,” or Roadlessness. They both refer to the same thing: it’s mud season in Ukraine. Days of steady rainfall turn every unpaved road, field and tree line into a quagmire of muck in which most anything will get stuck.

Thankfully, the fall mud season usually isn’t as severe as the spring, but it’s still going to slow things down for both sides. When transporting troops and supplies with standard equipment, it’s usually not a matter of “if” but “when” a vehicle gets stuck.

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Historically, Ukraine’s mud season tends to favor the side not trying to press the fight. If someone is on the defensive and dug in, they’re not moving a whole lot. This was apparent last year. Mud season hit, and Ukraine didn’t have enough of the right equipment to overcome it, slowing the fight to a point that Russia was able to build its complex system of trenches and minefields.

Ukraine can’t afford to let that happen again, and its Western allies certainly don’t want that happening again. Over the last few months, Western aid shipments to Ukraine focused on preparing for winter operations. In addition to cold weather gear, Ukraine’s Western partners donated better cold weather equipment. Ukraine will most likely start operating more of these systems in the coming weeks.

Systems like the Hägglunds Bandvagn 206: an all-terrain tracked carrier. The BV206 was designed in Sweden, but it’s in wide use by businesses and militaries needing to operate in water, snow, ice, mud, sand, gravel or asphalt.

The vehicle consists of two parts. The front unit contains the Mercedes-Benz engine. It’s also where the driver sits, along with up to five other soldiers. The rear unit can hold another 11 troops, or equipment, or it could be left open and converted into a mobile mortar or missile launcher. In Ukraine, it’s easy to imagine drones launching off the back.

The BV206 doesn’t offer the same sort of protection as a tank or other armored vehicle, but it’s also not really designed to do that. One of the key features that make the Bandvagn special is its maneuverability. It accomplishes this by being light on its tracked feet and the way it steers.

Unlike other tracked vehicles that turn by slowing down one track or the other — an action that causes the track to grind into the ground — the BV206 articulates. Essentially, it bends at the waist. The Bandvagn’s articulation and weight distribution enable it to move with relative ease through soft snow, sand, marshlands or right across lakes and rivers. Its body is fully sealed, making the Bandvagn an amphibious tracked vehicle as well.

To date, Germany donated 46 Bandvagn 206s to Ukraine. Berlin just announced plans to donate another 14.

In a winter aid package totaling €1 billion, Germany also announced it would increase the number of Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 main battle tanks it’s sending to Ukraine next year. They plan to move more air defense systems to the country by the end of this year.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorious said his country plans to double its military aid to Ukraine in 2024 to €8 billion. Germany is now in second place behind the United States when it comes to Ukraine’s largest supporters.

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RUSSIANS CALL IT ‘RASPUTITSA,’ OR THE SEASON OF BAD ROADS. IN UKRAINE IT’S KNOWN AS ‘BEZDORIZHZHIA,’ OR ROADLESSNESS. WHATEVER YOU CALL IT, IT’S MUD SEASON IN UKRAINE. DAY AFTER DAY OF STEADY RAINFALL TURNS EVERY UNPAVED ROAD, FIELD, AND TREELINE INTO A QUAGMIRE OF MUCK IN WHICH MOST ANYTHING WILL GET STUCK.

THANKFULLY, THE FALL MUD SEASON USUALLY ISN’T AS SEVERE AS THE SPRING, BUT IT’S STILL GOING TO SLOW THINGS DOWN FOR BOTH SIDES. WHEN TRANSPORTING TROOPS AND SUPPLIES WITH STANDARD EQUIPMENT, IT’S USUALLY NOT A MATTER OF ‘IF’ BUT ‘WHEN’ WILL A VEHICLE GET STUCK.

HISTORICALLY, UKRAINE’S MUD SEASON TENDS TO FAVOR THE SIDE NOT TRYING TO PRESS THE FIGHT. IF YOU’RE DUG IN AND, ON THE DEFENSIVE, YOU’RE NOT MOVING A WHOLE LOT. WE SAW THIS LAST YEAR. MUD SEASON HIT, UKRAINE DIDN’T HAVE ENOUGH OF THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT TO OVERCOME IT, AND THE FIGHTING SLOWED TO A POINT RUSSIA WAS ABLE TO BUILD ITS COMPLEX SYSTEM OF TRENCHES AND MINEFIELDS.

UKRAINE CAN’T AFFORD TO LET THAT HAPPEN AGAIN, AND ITS WESTERN ALLIES CERTAINLY DON’T WANT THAT HAPPENING AGAIN. OVER THE LAST FEW MONTHS, WESTERN AID SHIPMENT TO UKRAINE FOCUSED ON PREPARING FOR WINTER OPERATIONS. IN ADDITION TO COLD WEATHER GEAR, UKRAINE’S WESTERN PARTNERS DONATED BETTER COLD WEATHER EQUIPMENT. WHICH IS WHY WE’LL PROBABLY START SEEING UKRAINE OPERATING MORE OF THESE IN THE COMING WEEKS.

IT’S THE HAGGLUNDS BANDVAGN 206: AN ALL TERRAIN-TRACKED CARRIER. THE BV 206 WAS DESIGNED IN SWEDEN, BUT IT’S IN WIDE USE BY BUSINESSES AND MILITARIES NEEDING TO OPERATE IN WATER, SNOW, ICE, MUD, SAND, GRAVEL, OR ASPHALT.

THE VEHICLES CONSISTS OF TWO PARTS. THE FRONT UNIT CONTAINS THE MERCEDES-BENZ ENGINE. IT’S ALSO WHERE THE DRIVER SITS, ALONG WITH UP TO FIVE OTHER SOLDIERS. THE REAR UNIT CAN HOLD ANOTHER 11 TROOPS, OR EQUIPMENT, OR IT COULD BE LEFT OPEN AND CONVERTED INTO A MOBILE MORTAR OR MISSILE LAUNCHER. IN UKRAINE, IT’S EASY TO IMAGINE DRONES LAUNCHING OFF THE BACK.

THE BV206 DOESN’T OFFER THE SAME SORT OF PROTECTION AS A TANK OR OTHER ARMORED VEHICLE, BUT IT’S ALSO NOT REALLY DESIGNED TO DO THAT. ONE OF THE KEY FEATURES THAT MAKE THE BANDVAGN SPECIAL IS ITS MANEUVERABILITY. IT ACCOMPLISHES THIS BY BEING LIGHT ON ITS TRACKED FEET, AND THE WAY IT STEERS.
UNLIKE OTHER TRACKED VEHICLES THAT TURN BY SLOWING DOWN ONE TRACK OR THE OTHER, AN ACTION THAT CAUSES THE TRACK TO GRIND INTO THE GROUND, THE BV206 ARTICULATES. ESSENTIALLY BENDING AT THE WAIST. THE BANDVAGN’S ARTICULATION AND WEIGHT DISTRIBUTION ENABLE IT TO MOVE WITH RELATIVE EASE THROUGH SOFT SNOW, SAND, MARSHLANDS OR JUST RIGHT ACROSS LAKES AND RIVERS. ITS BODY IS FULLY SEALED, MAKING THE BANDVAGN AN AMPHIBIOUS TRACKED VEHICLE AS WELL.

TO DATE, GERMANY DONATED 46 BANDVAGN 206s TO UKRAINE. THE GERMAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE JUST ANNOUNCED PLANS TO DONATE ANOTHER 14.

IN A WINTER AID PACKAGE TOTALING A BILLION EUROS, GERMANY ALSO ANNOUNCED IT WOULD INCREASE THE NUMBER OF LEOPARD 1 AND LEOPARD 2 MAIN BATTLE TANKS IT’S SENDING TO UKRAINE NEXT YEAR AND WILL MOVE MORE AIR DEFENSE SYSTEMS TO UKRAINE BY THE END OF THIS YEAR.

GERMANY’S DEFENSE MINISTER SAID HIS COUNTRY PLANS TO DOUBLE ITS MILITARY AID TO UKRAINE IN 2024 TO 8 BILLION EUROS. GERMANY IS NOW IN SECOND PLACE BEHIND THE UNITED STATES WHEN IT COMES TO UKRAINE’S LARGEST SUPPORTERS.