Ukraine’s 42nd Brigade Has The Best Stryker Fighting Vehicles—And The Worst MT-LB Fighting Vehicles, Too

The United States has given Ukraine a lot of Stryker wheeled infantry fighting vehicles: 189 in several batches starting this spring. But the plan, at the time, was to equip just one brigade, the 82nd Air Assault, with three battalions each with 30 Strykers.

That left enough of the speedy, eight-wheel, 18-ton IFVs to equip three battalions while still leaving some vehicles as attrition replacements and a maintenance float. The 82nd in a month of hard fighting as part of Ukraine’s long-anticipated southern counteroffensive has written off three of its Strykers.

One of the Ukrainian army’s newest brigades is among the lucky beneficiaries of this IFV largess. After forming more than a dozen 2,000-person brigades this spring specifically for the counteroffensive, the Ukrainian general staff kept right on recruiting—and, over the summer, formed additional brigades. Including the 42nd Mechanized.

And the 42nd now has Strykers: at least a battalion’s worth. But it’s worth asking why it doesn’t have more.

The wheeled IFVs join an eclectic mix of armored vehicles. While the 42nd Brigade’s tanks are the usual T-64BVs—Ukraine’s main, locally-made tank—its infantry vehicles include Strykers, ex-American MaxxPro armored trucks and so-called “BMP-1LBs” that aren’t actually Soviet-designed BMP-1s at all, but Ukrainian-designed chop-jobs.

The BMP-1LBs are interesting. They combine the hull of a 12-ton MT-LB armored tractor with a crude remotely-controlled weapons station—a turret packing a 14.5-millimeter heavy machine gun that an operator controls via a display and joystick inside the vehicle’s hull.

There are many hundreds of spare MT-LBs lying around in Ukraine and in Russia, making the simple, 13-person vehicles the platform of choice for improvised fighting vehicles. The Russian marine corps has bolted unstabilized, 1950s-vintage 2M-3 naval turrets to some of its MT-LBs, producing very crude IFVs that might not shoot very straight.

The Ukrainians by contrast have installed a variety of modern stabilized turrets to some of their own MT-LBs. These turrets include the latest, locally-made Serdar and BM-7 turrets. But they also include hand-built turrets that, while fitted with modern optics and presumably stabilized, might lack the robustness and reliability of a Serdar or BM-7.

All that is to say, the Ukrainians clearly need more IFVs than they have—even after getting big consignments of Strykers. And while there are plenty of spare MT-LB hulls, there aren’t enough good, stabilized turrets to arm them.

Which begs the question: why not give the 42nd Brigade more Strykers instead of forcing crude MT-LB IFVs on the unit? The answer might be that some other brigade—perhaps one we haven’t yet seen in action—already has dibs on the wheeled IFVs.

The 42nd Brigade might be unevenly equipped, but that isn’t stopping it from joining the fight. The brigade reportedly already is on the front line near Kreminna, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting a defensive action against a Russian countercounteroffensive.

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