To Keep Open Its Supply Line Into Bakhmut, The Ukrainian Army Rolled In One Of Its Armored Bridgelayers

Ukraine’s foreign allies have pledged to the war effort potentially dozens of armored bridgelayers. And the ongoing battle for Bakhmut has illustrated why these vehicles and their fast-deploying bridges are so important.

Video that a soldier from the Ukrainian army’s 93rd Mechanized Brigade shot on or around Wednesday depicts Ukrainian troops speeding along a dirt road into Bakhmut and crossing an armored bridge spanning a narrow obstacle—a stream or shallow ravine.

That bridge is a lifeline for the Ukrainian garrison in the besieged town. There are just two main roads leading into Bakhmut from Ukrainian territory to the west. The southern road, the T0504, threads so close to the front line that Russian troops can pepper it with machine guns, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.

The northern road, passing through the settlement of Khromove, is somewhat safer for the Ukrainians—especially after limited Ukrainian counterattacks in recent days pushed back Russian troops in this sector.

But nine months of unrelenting combat in and around Bakhmut have dropped at least one of the permanent bridges on the O0506 road through Khromove. At some point, perhaps recently, the Ukrainian army rolled in one of its armored bridgelayers as a replacement.

An armored bridgelayer is a tracked chassis—usually a tank chassis—with a folding or telescoping bridge on top. The crew can deploy and lay the bridge in just a few minutes while under fire.

The Ukrainian army entered the current war with a small number of ex-Soviet MTU-20 bridgelayers based on T-55 tank hulls. The MTU can span a 59-foot obstacle and support vehicles weighing up to 60 tons.

Those MTU-20s were too few, and perhaps lacking in reliability. So over the past year, the United States and Germany have donated to Ukraine newer, better bridgelayers. The Germans have offered up 16 Biber bridges, based on Leopard 1 tank chassis, that can span 66 feet and carry 50 tons. The Americans have pledged an unspecified number of M-60-based bridgelayers that span 63 feet and support up to 70 tons, depending on the bridge model.

It’s not clear which bridgelayer the Ukrainians deployed outside Bakhmut. The American models probably haven’t arrived at the front yet, so it probably was a Biber or MTU-20.

The armored bridge is a necessary expedient in a dangerous environment. It helps to keep Bakhmut accessible for now, albeit at great risk. It’s clear from the 93rd Brigade trooper’s video that Russian troops are close enough to target the bridge, perhaps with indirect artillery fire. A wrecked Ukrainian BMP fighting vehicle is visible on the Bakhmut side of the bridge.

That bridge into Bakhmut might not last forever. But it doesn’t have to. If and when the Russians blow it up—with artillery, a drone or an air strike—the Ukrainians could roll in another bridgelayer and replace it. The United States and Germany have made sure Ukraine has an ample supply of the vehicles.

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