Ukrainian military engineers have converted a Soviet-era tank into a modern armored support vehicle, which has possibly been tailored to support Kyiv’s long-awaited Spring offensive, according to recent news reports.

 Images of a Ukrainian T-64 tank that has had its turret removed and retrofitted with an armored crew compartment and other upgrades first appeared on a Ukrainian TikTok channel on April 16.

 The video and later images that appeared on YouTube, showed Ukrainian soldiers maneuvering the vehicle to tow a light MT-LB armored vehicle. Subsequent news reports said the vehicle was spotted in the eastern town of Bakhmut.

The Ukrainian military information platform mil.in.ua said the vehicle had been repurposed as a heavy recovery vehicle and that modifications included explosive reactive armor (ERA), a heavy machine gun, and “possibly” a tow winch at the rear. In the video, soldiers are seen connecting the modified tank to the MT-LB with a towing cable, but no winch was visible.

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 Some observers speculated the vehicle could also be used to support infantry assaults against heavy opposition, pointing to very dense layers of Kontakt-1 ERA across the vehicle’s front and sides, the presence of twice the number of smoke grenade launchers normally seen on the T-64 tank, an out-sized ammunition box for the DShK .50 caliber machine gun and a reinforced antenna.   

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 The original manufacturer of the T-64, Ukraine’s Kharkiv Tank Plant, produced a test conversion of the T-64 tank called BTR-64E in the mid 2010s. It had the turret removed, the engine moved to the front, steel frontal armor re-welded at an acute angle, and a crew compartment fitted at the rear. Observers said it was possibly a conversion of the tank into an infantry assault vehicle.

The vehicle spotted in Bakhmut had some similarities to the experimental BTR-64E, but with additional add-on armor and an unmodified front end.

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 Vehicles able to take hits and keep going would be most valuable to Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) ground forces for use in combat assaults and casualty evacuation.

 Designed during the early 1960s at the height of the Cold War the T-64 is still widely in use in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), even though it is considered to be outmoded when compared to modern tanks such as the US Abrams, the British Challenger 2 and Germany’s Leopard 2.

 Modern tanks are fitted with more advanced fire control systems than Russian first-line tanks and NATO-standard vehicles are protected with layered composite armor widely considered superior to the armor on tanks manufactured in the Soviet Union. 

 Since the late 1990s, Russian and Ukrainian tanks have been fitted with explosive reactive armor (ERA). ERA consists of blocks of explosive designed to detonate and dissipate the force of an incoming shell or guided missile and has been widely installed on to try to compensate for the limited protection offered by steel armor.

Photo: Screen grab of a modified Ukrainian T-64 tank helping recover a broken vehicle in an urban setting in the Bakhmut sector. April 16 image taken from social media and published by the UNIAN news agency.

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