Russia replaces a tank engine in 48 hours, does it on the front

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has drawn our attention to the critical task of repairing and maintaining both Russian and Ukrainian equipment. In particular, the challenges associated with the vast distances involved and the urgent need for swift repairs have come into sharp focus. So, let’s take a closer look at how Russian armored vehicles are specifically repaired and by whom. 

Burnt tanks return to Russia, repair plants refuse repairs
Photo credit: Defense Express

Our in-depth understanding of the subject comes from Gennady Alyohin, a Russian reserve colonel and combat veteran. Alyohin points out a key distinction between the two sides: unlike their adversaries, Russian repair battalions operate near, and often directly on, the front lines. 

The reasoning behind this is quite straightforward. The equipment positioned at the front line – from tanks, armored personnel carriers, and infantry fighting vehicles to drones and armored vehicles designed for ambulance services and tractors – is what supplies the cover, transport, and firepower necessary for current military operations. Without it, carrying out these operations would simply not be feasible. 

Repair under enemy fire

But here’s the thing – every piece of equipment is prone to breakdowns, especially in a harsh war zone environment. This military hardware is under constant strain, rapidly wearing down as a result. To keep downtime to a minimum, repairs, and maintenance need to be performed under highly pressurized conditions, even under the threat of enemy fire. 

How is this achieved? The Russians utilize specialized mobile repair workshops named MTO-UB 1, which are housed on the chassis of Ural-4320 vehicles. For major repair jobs, a factory located near the front line serves as the source of necessary spare parts.

Russia changes a tank engine in 48 hours, does it on the front - MTO-UB1
Photo credit: Twitter

Post-repair, before being recommissioned, all equipment goes through a rigorous testing phase to ensure any issues are ironed out, minimizing the risk of failure under battle conditions.

What the ‘aggregate method’ is?

When military equipment such as tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and rocket launchers get damaged in conflicts, they are usually refurbished through the process known as the ‘aggregate method’. Essentially, this involves substituting exhausted modules with brand-new ones. This technique is favored for its ability to conserve precious time – a crucial factor highly appreciated by armed forces on the battlefront. 

Russia changes a tank engine in 48 hours, does it on the front
Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

Likewise, when engines suffer significant damage, they are instantly replaced with new ones. The damaged engine, on the other hand, is transported back to the factory for repairs. Alyokhin mentions, “This efficient method helps us cut down on both distance and time without having to compromise on quality.” He continues, “The team cares for it as their own. Because it’s not just about achieving combat goals, it’s the soldiers’ lives that are at stake.” 

More often than not, these vehicles cannot make it to the repair and recovery battalion on their own. Hence, soldiers from this unit also pitch in to evacuate the damaged machinery from the battlefield. Additionally, in such circumstances, servicemen who have been drafted in from the reserves as part of partial mobilization also contribute to undertaking combat tasks. 

The working conditions

Alyokhin points out that the working conditions of makeshift workshops match that of supreme factory workshops. Plant manufacturers lend a hand working hand-in-hand with the military crew. 

The Russian Ministry of Defense released videos depicting the relentless efforts of the Western Military District [WMD] divisions. They continue to maintain and repair weapons and military machinery [WMD], displaying unwavering dedication even during special operational circumstances.

Fieldwork is a round-the-clock job for military personnel. The Russian Defense Ministry underlines the importance of diligent maintenance and repair of weapons and military equipment. This is especially important when troops are stationed far from provisional and permanent deployment sites. 

Stocks of spare parts

Watch: Russia repairs its tanks in abandoned buildings in Ukraine
Photo credit: Russian MoD

Maintaining a high level of combat readiness among the units is crucial. Thus, it’s important to restore or promptly repair any necessary weaponry needed for the execution of combat operations. 

To expedite the recovery of weaponry and military equipment, Russian repair crews often swap out damaged parts for working ones. These serviceable replacements are either drawn from repair stocks or commandeered from confiscations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ equipment. The process of engine replacement on a tank, for example, occurs within two days, thanks to the tireless efforts of a multi-shift battalion capable of reviving two or three tanks in a single day. 

The repair crew regularly handles a variety of damages on these war machines, with the primary focus on wheel, gearbox, engine, and communication equipment replacement. Worn-out anti-recoil devices on tanks due to repeated firings also require attention. 


Watch: Russia repairs its tanks in abandoned buildings in Ukraine
Photo credit: Russian MoD

Before being sent to repair units, equipment is typically extracted from the battlefield. This is where units like the BREM-1M, a tracked machine used by the Russian Air Force’s Engineering Forces, come into play. This machine often used for towing T-72, T-80, and T-90 tanks, doubles as a mobile repair shop equipped with a hydraulic crane, a winch, and an electric welding machine.

The Armored Recovery Vehicle [ARV] serves a critical role in providing technical support, rescuing emergency vehicles from enemy fire zones, and aiding maintenance and repair crews. 

Skilled engineering

Military experts have noted the pivotal role of skilled engineering and repair units in expeditiously restoring nearly all types of weaponry and military equipment that sustain minor damage either on the march or during combat. Alyokhin, a respected figure in the field, proposes that “with an efficient division of labor in repair units and facilities, as much as 70% of damaged military equipment can be restored to active service.” 

Under the diligent guidance of specialists, complex operations such as the replacement of artillery system barrels on the battlefield have been effectively streamlined. As Alyokhin explains to Russian media, “Even large-caliber systems like the 203-mm self-propelled gun Malka—which features an 11-meter and 11-ton barrel—can now be serviced in a matter of hours.” 

As a reminder, this impressive artillery system is widely utilized in the Northern Military District [NMD] to neutralize enemy command posts, concrete fortifications, and heavy machinery. With a firing range extending over several kilometers, Malka gun crews can reload and adjust aim in only 40 seconds. However, the weapon’s barrels, rated to endure around 1.5 thousand shots, tend to wear out swiftly under sustained fire. 

Repair in a short time

The replacement of artillery and tank barrels likely employs similar specialty equipment that effectively replicates the function of factory mechanisms. Alyokhin concludes, “Provided industrial and logistical mechanisms remain steady, repair processes these days can be accomplished within a remarkably short time frame.”


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