Ukraine War Taking Toll on Arctic Material and Personnel

The Arctic Tor-M2DT air defense missile systems firing a missile. (Source: Russian Ministry of Defense)

Reports of Arctic weapon systems and military personnel being lost in combat continue to stack up. Air defense missile systems, self-propelled howitzers, and massive transport vehicles all either designed for or stationed in the Arctic have been destroyed by the Ukrainian military.

Forces dispatched to Ukraine from Russia’s Arctic continue to suffer material and personnel losses. Since the beginning of the war Ukrainian forces have successfully destroyed multiple Arctic Tor-M2DT air defense missile systems, heavy tracked Arctic transport vehicles DT-30 Vityaz, GAZ-3344-20 ‘Aleut’ Arctic all-terrain vehicles, and 152mm self-propelled Akatsiya howitzers.

The equipment arrived with ground units from Russia’s Northern Fleet, including the specialist Arctic warfare 80th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade. 

Of the equipment lost on frontlines in Ukraine, the loss of the Arctic Tor-M2DT surface to air missile system is the most noteworthy. The units first appeared on the Ukrainian battlefield in November 2022 and by February 2023 at least three Tor-M2DT had been lost. Ukrainian forces used drones to spot Tor-M2DT and used precision GPs-guided artillery projectiles to destroy it.

The short-range Tor-M2DT air defense missile system was specifically adapted from the basic Tor missile system for use in the Arctic environment with extremely cold temperatures and wide tracks to travel on top of the soft tundra soil. The first units were delivered to the Russian forces in 2018. The system comes with a hefty price tag of $25m a piece

The Tor-M2DT houses sixteen anti-aircraft missiles, which are launched vertically against targets up to 12 kilometers away and up to an altitude of 10 kilometers. The air defense system consists of two connected tracked vehicles, with one providing forward propulsion and housing the driver, while the other houses missiles and radar equipment.  

The original Tor vehicles have been around since the 1980s. In 2017 the Russian ministry of defense expressed interest in a modified version designed specifically for the Arctic region. Russia has now sent at least a dozen Tor-M2DT from the Arctic to the Kherson region together with the 80th Arctic Motor Rifle Brigade.

GAZ-3344-20 Aleut
The GAZ-3344-20 Aleut traveling through snow. (Source: Russian Ministry of Defense)

Transport vehicles also destroyed

As part of the deployment of Arctic forces to Ukraine, Russia also sent the GAZ-3344-20 Aleut all-terrain transport vehicle from the Arctic to Ukraine, the first of which had been destroyed within weeks of the start of the war.

A much larger tracked Arctic transport vehicle, the DT-30 Vityaz, capable of carrying up to 30 tons of cargo, has also been spotted and subsequently destroyed in Ukraine.

The DT-30 is a staple of Russian military transport in the Arctic capable of moving equipment and personnel through snow-covered landscapes and ice-covered waters. Several DT-30s have been reported destroyed going back to the early days of the war.

DT-30 Vityaz
The DT-30 Vityaz tracked transport vehicle. (Source: Russian Ministry of Defense)

Heavy personnel losses

In addition to the 80th Arctic Motor Rifle Brigade, additional forces from the Northern Fleet’s coastal troops have been engaged in Ukraine. The 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade and 61st Infantry Naval Brigade, both stationed in Pechenga near Murmansk, have been sent to fight in Ukraine.

So has the 76th Guards Air Assault Division. Reports indicate that some units have suffered personnel losses as high as 40 percent.

Russia has also sent crews using the 152mm self-propelled Akatsiya howitzer from the Northern Fleet’s ground units into Ukraine. At the end of December 2022 the Russian Ministry of Defense praised the unit’s efforts and indicated that the Akatsiya howitzer was working well during winter operations in Ukraine.

However, reports last week indicate that Arctic howitzer crews have suffered losses near Kurakhove in the Donetsk region at the hands of Ukrainian precision strikes. 

Losses to Russia’s Arctic forces appear limited to ground-based forces as no Northern Fleet warships or submarines have thus far been reported lost.

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