Russia demonstrates TDM-2K’s smokescreening work in Ukraine

Amid ongoing tensions, smoke screen vehicles have emerged as a staple in the Russian military’s toolkit. In the recent past, numerous TDM-2K vehicles have been deployed along the Ukraine contact line. These specialized military assets are tasked with a distinct primary responsibility – the creation of dense smoke screens to conceal the movements of infantry and battle tanks. 

Russia demonstrates TDM-2K's smokescreening work in Ukraine
Video screenshot

A video offering a rare peek into these operations was recently released by the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Defense. This video spotlights an interview with a tactical unit commander deeply involved in concealing the movements of Russian units. Although his identity remains confidential, he delivers a comprehensive briefing on how his respective unit operates. 

According to an anonymous commander, the TDM-2K is lauded for its exceptional ability to produce a smokescreen spanning a thousand meters. “It maximizes the survivability of our troops as it shields them from the enemy’s view,” the commander explains. Russian reports indicate that since the start of this year, there has been a significant increase in TDM-2K deployments on the battlefield. This spike potentially stems from the ongoing ammunition scarcity in Ukraine’s armed forces. As a result, the Russian military has stepped up the frequency of its aerial bombardments and ground advances. In these trying circumstances, the TDM-2K has emerged as an essential asset for ground troops. 

Russia demonstrates TDM-2K's smokescreening work in Ukraine
Video screenshot

The TDM-2K operates using a blend of diesel fuel and specialized smoke-generating substances. When this concoction is ignited, it results in a dense cloud of smoke. The vehicle is fitted with a series of nozzles and sprinklers which project this smoke broadly, effectively layering a smokescreen.

The vehicle itself is based on the chassis of the BTR-80, an eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier used by the Russian military. This gives the TDM-2K a high degree of mobility, allowing it to move quickly to where its services are needed on the battlefield. 

The TDM-2K is not limited to just creating smoke screens. It can also disperse aerosols that interfere with infrared sensors, further enhancing its ability to cloak friendly forces. This makes it a versatile tool in the arsenal of the Russian army.

Russia demonstrates TDM-2K's smokescreening work in Ukraine
Video screenshot

The concept employed by such vehicles is not exclusively associated with Russia. Similar technologies are well-established in the armories of several other nations. For instance, the American M58 Wolf is a prominent example in this field. Functioning on principles similar to the TDM-2K, the M58 Wolf owes its design to the Western chassis, the M113. Originally conceptualized as a light, fully tracked armored personnel carrier, the M113 is capable of air transport while maintaining a moderate level of armor. It boasts the capacity to accommodate significant payloads, troops, and a three-member crew. 

Moving our focus to Europe, Rheinmetall, one of the most distinguished military manufacturing enterprises based in Germany, is known for creating a variety of smokescreen vehicles. Noteworthy among these are the LVPVS 66 or the Light Vehicle Protection System, Maske, a member of the Multispectral Smoke Grenades family, and the ‘Rosy’ or Rapid Obscuring System. Each one has been engineered with the objective of providing protective cover for infantry and offensive armored military equipment.

Naturally, adversaries possess methods to counteract the smoke screen and observe troop and equipment movements. Some experts propose deploying thermal optical instruments. This approach, however, is not always successful, primarily because the dispersed smoke contains aerosols capable of reducing the immediate air temperature in the area where TDM-2K operates. In other words, thermal-optical technologies do not guarantee full success. 

Russia demonstrates TDM-2K's smokescreening work in Ukraine
Video screenshot

Yet, such assurance can be proffered by SWIR technology. SWIR technologies represent the cutting edge in military optics and have undergone intensive development in recent years. The main goal is for them to eventually supersede thermal-optical devices. SWIR cameras possess a critically important feature – they can not only identify the thermal characteristics of an object but also see through dense fog. Here’s how it works.

Military optical ShortWave InfraRed [SWIR] technologies can see clearly through dense fog due to their unique ability to operate in a specific wavelength range. This range, which spans approximately 0.9 to 1.7 micrometers, is less susceptible to scattering caused by atmospheric particles such as fog, dust, and smoke. 

Unlike visible light, which can be easily scattered by small particles, SWIR light has longer wavelengths. These longer wavelengths are not easily deflected by the tiny water droplets that constitute fog. As a result, SWIR technologies can provide clear, detailed images even in foggy conditions.

Russia demonstrates TDM-2K's smokescreening work in Ukraine
Photo credit: SensorSinc

Furthermore, SWIR technologies are not only passive but can also be active. Active SWIR systems emit their own light, which can further improve their ability to penetrate fog. By emitting a beam of SWIR light and then capturing the reflections from objects, these systems can generate images even when there is little or no ambient light. 

Another important aspect is that SWIR technologies are less affected by thermal noise. In other words, they are less likely to be disturbed by heat sources, which can be a significant advantage in military operations. This makes SWIR technologies particularly effective for night vision and low visibility situations.

Finally, SWIR technologies can also see through certain materials that are opaque to the human eye. This capability can be critical in military applications where identifying hidden or camouflaged targets can be a matter of life and death. Therefore, the ability to see clearly through thick fog is just one of the many advantages that make SWIR technologies invaluable for military use. 

Russia demonstrates TDM-2K's smokescreening work in Ukraine
Photo credit: YouTube

There is no publicly available information to suggest that Ukraine’s armed forces have received SWIR cameras from allies. However, since the beginning of the war, we have occasionally seen equipment captured that was not declared by the supplying country.

One of the leading manufacturers of military Short-Wave Infrared [SWIR] technology is FLIR Systems. This company produces a variety of SWIR cameras and imaging systems, including the X6900sc, a high-speed infrared camera, and the A6260sc, a compact SWIR camera, specifically designed for science and R&D applications. 

Another key player in the SWIR technology market is Sensors Unlimited, which is a part of Collins Aerospace. Specializing in InGaAs SWIR technology, they manufacture a range of SWIR cameras and systems. Their SU640 series of cameras are particularly notable for their exceptional resolution and sensitivity. 

Princeton Infrared Technologies, based in the United States, is also a prominent manufacturer of SWIR technology. They are known for producing the LineCam12, an InGaAs line-scan camera that is widely used for spectroscopy and machine vision applications.

Xenics, a Belgian company, is a global provider of advanced infrared detectors, cameras, and customized imaging solutions covering the short-wave infrared [SWIR] spectrum. Their Bobcat-320 series of cameras are widely used in various military applications. Leonardo DRS, an American defense contractor, is another significant manufacturer of SWIR technology. Their Tamarisk family of thermal imaging modules is employed in a variety of military and commercial applications. Last but not least, Santa Barbara Focalplane, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, is renowned for their high-performance infrared imaging products, including SWIR technology. Their InSb SWIR detectors are celebrated for their high resolution and sensitivity. 

Ultimately, the effectiveness and longevity of the smoke screen deployed by the TDM-2K, like any other military smoke screen, would be situationally dependent. It’s a tactical tool designed to provide temporary concealment, and its exact duration would be tailored to the needs of the specific operation.

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