‘Tsar Mangal’: Russia Innovates To Counter Ukraine’s Drone Attacks On Tanks


Drones have dominated the battlefield in Ukraine, with cheap, unmanned ground/aerial vehicles taking out tanks worth several thousand dollars. The Russian forces, one of the largest and most advanced in the world, are forced to strategize their operations to counter aerial threats from Ukraine – a much smaller force backed by NATO.

An odd-looking big Russian tank was spotted in eastern Ukraine a few months ago. Covered with thick armoured sheets, modified T-72 and T-90 are Russia’s response to Ukrainian drones. The Russians call them ‘Tsar Mangal’, and Ukrainians call them ‘Turtle Tanks’.

Innovation on the Battlefield

The threat from drones became imminent. Cheap UAVs emerged as an economical option over the expensive American Javelin heat-seeking anti-tank guided missile.

Videos of tanks attacked by First Person View (FPV) drones started emerging last year when Russian T-72s, T-80s, and T-90s Main Battle Tanks became targets of these small armed aerial threats. Drones are used not just for limited-scale offensive operations but also for surveillance and guiding precision artillery fire.

The ‘Tsar Mangal’ has a thick metal sheet protecting the roof, sides, and rear of a tank. Tsar Mangal has another layer of a metal grill protecting the metal sheets.

this thing is huge. If it’s role is purely plow the mines, it can work. However it’s clear that it can’t aim properly.

The tracks are still very vulnerable. however the FPVs are really hard to aim into the tracks, because of high chances of losing control over the drone at the… pic.twitter.com/JdIfLlPGzX

— ✙ Constantine ✙ (@Teoyaomiquu) May 5, 2024

The spot between the hull and the turret is vulnerable because of the thin armour plating. Meanwhile, the rear of the tank is prone to attacks because of the engine compartment and armour box.

On April 9, these tanks were seen for the first time in Krasnohorivka, a city in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk. A Ukrainian FPV drone attacked the tank, which was ultimately repelled. Reports say ‘Turtle Tanks’ or ‘Tsar Mangal’ have radio jammers for electronic warfare. Electronic jammers have proven effective in countering approaching FPV drones.

Tsar Mangals are also used for mine-clearing operations for infantry fighting vehicles and infantry units, but the metal roof restricts the 360-degree movement of the turret, limiting the manoeuvrability of the tank and reducing the visibility for the driver and the gunner.

Yesterday, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense shared a video of a drone attacking a ‘Turtle Tank’ and said, “Occupiers made a ‘turtle’ tank but forgot to close a hatch…drone pilots don’t forgive such mistakes.”

Occupiers made a ‘turtle’ tank but forgot to close a hatch…
?? drone pilots don’t forgive such mistakes.

?: 93rd Mechanized Brigade pic.twitter.com/rHNxGbqgSk

— Defense of Ukraine (@DefenceU) June 5, 2024

Lessons From Ukraine

A few months ago, Russia attached metal cages on top of tanks to protect their roof but proved ineffective. Also known as ‘Cope Cages’, the metal roofs were first used during the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. The lessons from different battlefields proliferated, and Israel attached ‘Cope Cages’ to its Merkava IV tanks during its operation in Gaza. Even the Indian Army has installed metal roofs on its tanks located in Ladakh.

The Black Raven battalion in Ukraine’s 93 Mechanized Brigade, widely regarded as one of the most effective units in the forces, has carried out multiple drone strikes.

Ukraine has set a target of producing a million drones by the end of the year as the war drags on for another year and a shortage of arms and ammunition sets in amid a funding crunch from Washington.

 Drones have dominated the battlefield in Ukraine, with cheap, unmanned ground/aerial vehicles taking out tanks worth several thousand dollars.    

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