Mine-Clearing System Seen Being Used As Devastating Urban Artillery In Ukraine
The mine-clearing vehicle that fires an explosive line charge was apparently captured from the Russians, and has now been turned against them.
A remarkable video from the war in Ukraine shows what is purportedly a Ukrainian-operated UR-77 Meteorit mine-clearing vehicle’s rocket-assisted line charge being used not to carve a path through a minefield but instead as a powerful offensive weapon against Russian troops in an urban setting. The Soviet-era Meteorit is a system that we’ve seen in use since the start of the war in Ukraine and it seems to have become increasingly popular as a type of ad-hoc artillery, in addition to its original combat engineer role.
The video in question appears to have been first posted to the Telegram messaging app, before being shared on Twitter. On the latter platform, user @Tendar provides the following description, claiming that the footage relates to the ongoing fighting for control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut:
“I reported yesterday that Russians got pushed back and behind the Korsunskogo Street in Bakhmut and here we have visual evidence, and what evidence indeed. A Ukrainian UR-77 fired right into Russian positions and triggered the charge which pulverized them.”
The video certainly appears to directly support at least some of that description, although we can’t say for sure exactly when it originates from, or if it was operated by Russian or Ukrainian forces.
The UR-77 Meteorit mine-clearing vehicle is based on the tracked chassis of the widely used 2S1 Gvozdika self-propelled gun. Each Meteorit is fitted with a launcher and two mine-clearing line charges (MCLCs) that are propelled by rockets into the minefield to be cleared. Once deployed, the charge creates a shock wave that destroys or triggers mines or unexploded ordnance, creating a corridor some 20 feet wide and up to 300 feet long. So you can see how it could be used 'off label' as a wide area effects weapon, although its range is very limited.
The @Tendar Twitter account states that Ukraine started the war without any Meteorit systems in its inventory but that, via capturing Russian examples, it now has “at least 13.” The Oryx blog, which collates Russian losses using open-source intelligence, puts that number at 16, although not all are necessarily operational.
Accounts of Ukraine capturing Meteorit systems date back to the first days of the war. Back on March 3, 2022, The War Zone reported on some of the wide variety of Russian vehicles that had been captured by Ukrainian soldiers and civilians alike during the first waves of the Russian invasion. These included a Russian Meteorit apparently captured in the Sumy Oblast in northeastern Ukraine and subsequently seen being towed by a tractor.
Using the Meteorit in an offensive capacity, especially in an urban environment, would seem to make sense, with the ability to bring down a ferocious amount of explosive force over a wide area with a fair amount of accuracy, while at the same time offering a significant psychological affect for any enemy troops exposed to it.
In the above video, the operator appears to place the explosive charge parallel to a housing block. As well as destroying troops and materiel in the open, the Meteorit would also be effective against dug-in positions of the kind that have proliferated in this conflict, especially in eastern Ukraine.
And while the Meteorit was originally designed to support friendly troops by breaching minefields that stood in their way, its destructive effect has been used, for some time now, against the enemy as a particularly terrifying piece of extemporized artillery.
Back in 2015, for example, the U.S. Army’s then-current edition of the Worldwide Equipment Guide, Volume 1: Ground Systems provided the following description:
“Some mine-clearing systems (UR-77) use thermobarics for clearing lanes and are particularly effective in clearing streets (of enemy) in urban areas.”
While the Meteorit is not a thermobaric, or fuel-air explosive (FAE) weapon in the traditional sense, it shares some of the same properties. Typically, a thermobaric weapon uses oxygen from the surrounding air to generate a high-temperature explosion and a much more powerful blast wave over a longer duration than a conventional condensed explosive. In Russian use, the TOS-1A “heavy flamethrower” is a unique type of multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) based on a T-72 tank chassis, and is perhaps the most (in)famous thermobaric weapon.
Certainly, the destructive power available in a single Meteorit vehicle is made very evident when one of these systems itself becomes a target. The video below shows the results of an apparent drone-launched grenade strike on a Meteorit, still carrying its MCLCs.
Russian use of the Meterorit as an offensive weapon, especially in urban areas, precedes the Ukrainian conflict, with various accounts of them being used by Russian and/or Syrian forces in the Syrian Civil War. In this video, we apparently see a Meteorit being used to destroy what are described as “militants’ hideouts,” somewhere in Syria.
Since then, Ukraine has also seemingly begun to harness the power of the Meteorit for offensive purposes. As well as the video at the top of this article, the following footage may well also show a captured UR-77 being turned against its former owner, although we can’t be certain about that.
It’s worth noting that the purported video of a Meteorit being used by Ukrainian forces near Bakhmut could also show another, similar system. While there’s no doubt that Ukrainian troops do have some access to UR-77s, they have also recently received U.S.-supplied MCLCs, like the trailer-mounted M58, that could be used in the same way.
Whatever the case, it appears that MCLCs in general are now a fairly well-established offensive weapon in Ukraine and elsewhere. It shouldn’t come as a surprise if we see more evidence of these weapons in the future, especially since they would appear to offer a fairly unique combination of destructive power and potentially devastating psychological effects.
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