PANAGYURISHTE, BULGARIA — When the news broke that the West was ready to give tanks to Ukraine, BulgarianMilitary.com shifted the focus of its analysis. We have repeatedly mentioned two main problems. First, some of the important components of tanks, such as armor, are a state secret.
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The risk of the eventual capture of the Challenger 2 or the Abrams leads us to the conclusion that Great Britain and the United States will supply “spoilt” tanks. Secondly, Ukrainian infrastructure, especially bridges, is not adapted to the weight of Western tanks. They were built for Soviet-designed tanks, which were much lighter.
Our analysis in this direction turned out to be more than a precise hit. The US has announced a new military aid package for Ukraine worth an estimated $400 million. The aid includes ammunition, but note – delivery of the M60 Armored Vehicle Launched Bridge [AVLB].
We dare say that the M60 AVLB is a much more important supply for the Armed Forces of Ukraine [AFU] than the tanks themselves. Because someone somewhere in the defense ministries of both countries has guessed – tanks don’t fly, they need bridges.
Why is a chassis bridge needed?
Ukraine will receive the largest number of Leopard 2 tanks. Of the three models expected for delivery, they are the lightest, but still heavier than Soviet and Russian tanks. In recent months, the Russian armed forces have been purposefully bombing Ukraine’s infrastructure. These bombings have intensified following the news that several countries in their “tank coalition” have agreed to supply Western tanks.
The war in Ukraine is not being fought on the road. It is conducted through wooded areas, the motorized rifle and tank divisions most often camp around steep ravines, wide streams with dirty water, weak soil at the bottom of these streams, rivers, etc. Still unfavorable characteristics according to the landscape infrastructure.
However, if these are the conditions of nature, let us not forget that this is war. The enemy is also prepared and trying to stop the advance. He digs deep trenches and ditches, blows up the remaining bridges, etc.
To pass, a tank division needs mobility and decisions of the moment. The military engineer bridge, most often mounted on a tracked chassis, is this solution. Arguably, what cannot be crossed alone by a tank or other type of armored combat ground vehicle requires a military engineering bridge.
There is no difference
In the west and in the east, mobile military bridges are necessary, but their use is slightly different. We will look at the Western model. Ukrainian troops are supposed to receive training and tactical guidance.
To the west, bridges are used in assault operations. Therefore, these facilities are part of the assault brigades. They are mostly made up of tank chassis, which is good. This way they are also highly passable and easily accessible where the tanks are. Also, the western bridges have armor like a tank. This allows them to be on the front line, very often even in the front positions, to make way for their next tank division.
Russian tactics are a bit different. The bridges are like those in the west, but they are not part of the army’s assault unit. Russia has a specialized triad of engineering troops. These bridges are part of this triad. I.e. whether assault units or engineer troops, the bridges on both sides of the barricade will be the battlefield, and on the front lines at that.
Undoubtedly, Ukraine needs more Western bridges, because it is assumed that Western tanks will have to advance. If we take western tanks out of the equation, neither Russia nor Ukraine has bridges for western tanks to cross. This makes sense because the Soviet Union, Russia, and Ukraine all built tanks of Soviet/Russian design.
If one constraint is already removed, there is a second one – the length of the induced intersection. These bridges can prove useless if they cannot span the terrain that is expected to be crossed from one end to the other. All this leads us to the next conclusion, namely – Russia will attack the bridges.
Russia will attack
Destroying a Western tank will be the goal of Russian artillery. But mobile military bridges automatically become the number 2 target for the Russians.
There are several scenarios for the failure of a military engineering bridge. First – a kamikaze drone. The easiest and most logical, considering that the protection of these military facilities is very small. This makes mobile bridge rigs easy prey.
Second, roadblocks. As already mentioned, ditches and trenches. However, this method requires the presence of a larger human staff where the trap is placed. This will put them at risk, take more time, and ultimately, while it exists as an option, it may not always be successful.
Third, air and artillery attacks. After using the drones, this sounds the most logical. Even in an artillery attack on the Ukrainian mobile bridges, drones can play an essential role in more precisely targeting the projectiles. Air attack is likely, but puts Russian aircraft [attack planes or helicopters] at risk because they will have to fly at low altitudes. Thus, they become easier prey for the man-portable anti-aircraft missile systems that Ukraine has.
“The American Old Man”
To some extent, the title of “old man” of the engineering service is fully applicable to the M60 AVLB, simply because it was developed and put into service long before the appearance of most samples of Western armored vehicles, which are now planned to be transferred to the Ukrainian troops.
The production of the bridge-layer M60 AVLB began in 1964. Moreover, the release of the new AVLB took place in two particular waves: the first lasted from 1964 to 1967, during which the M60 tanks and its modifications M60A1 were used as a base. Then, after a long period, due to the increased military needs of the United States, production resumed in 1987 and continued until 1996, during which the lion’s share of the vehicles was assembled on the chassis of already used M60A2 tanks.
In total, about 400 bridge layers were produced. For 2022, the US had about 260 M60 AVLBs – 30 of them in the Marine Corps. They are now slated to be replaced by M1074 engineering vehicles based on the Abrams tank.
By design, the bridge carrier is a heavily redesigned chassis of the M60 tank and its modifications in terms of internal and external equipment. However, there is nothing radical that separates this particular specimen from the entire family of engineering equipment in this class.
For obvious reasons, the vehicle does not have a tank tower: instead, hatches and towers are installed with observation devices for the entire crew of two people: the commander, located on the right, and the driver-operator [driver] on the left. There is also a reservoir for hydraulic fluid and an armored cover for the ventilation system.
In the nose of the M60 AVLB, where the driver was previously located in the tank version, there is a hydraulic system with power taken from the main engine, which, with the help of a lifting device on the front bumper, raises and unfolds the bridge, or raises it from the ground and folds it, if the passage of vehicles ends. It is worth noting that these manipulations can be carried out without the crew members going outside, although in most cases the commander of the vehicle observes and controls the process from the outside.
The bridge itself is made of aluminum alloys and consists of two folding sections, providing a length of the crossing in the unfolded state of 18 meters. In general, this indicator is still considered quite satisfactory, especially when it comes to the load that this bridge can withstand.
It should be understood that the terrain in the zone of military operations in Ukraine is not very favorable in itself, and it is not only about the black earth and a quarry in which both tanks and trucks sink.
It is full of natural ravines, rivers, and other things that hinder progress. And if we add to that fortified areas dotted with trenches and moats? By the way, it is the strengthening component in this situation that is one of the main factors determining the need for engineering equipment.
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