Ukraine’s Super-Upgraded M-55S Tanks Are Urban Demolition Vehicles

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The new 47th Assault Brigade is one of the most interesting formations in the Ukrainian army. It’s got a unique mix of armored vehicles that literally no other brigade in the world has.

Emirati Panthera-made T6 and American-made MaxxPro armored trucks, M-2A2 Bradley fighting vehicles also from the United States as well as all Slovenia’s entire arsenal of 28 super-upgraded M-55S tanks.

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The M-55Ss—ex-Soviet T-55s that Israeli and Slovenian firms updated with British L7 guns and modern optics—aren’t really tanks anymore. Their protection—200 millimeters of steel plus some bricks of reactive armor—is light compared to a more modern tank.

No, the M-55S these days is what Western armies call a “mobile gun”: a powerful cannon attached to a thinly-armored hull.

Mobile guns are great for certain missions and terrible for others. You wouldn’t send a mobile gun barreling across an open field while under fire in order to close with, and destroy, an enemy tank force.

You would send a mobile gun into an enemy-held city to blast cleverly-paced machine-gun nests and stubborn basement bunkers and to blow holes in walls. Think of a mobile gun system, or MGS, as an urban demolition vehicle whose main job is to help out the infantry when the infantry get stuck.

The 47th Assault Brigade is an all-volunteer unit that formed as a battalion back in the spring of 2022 and, over that summer, expanded into a full brigade with around 2,000 troops and a strong roster of non-commissioned officers.

The brigade stood up in Kharkiv, in northeast Ukraine near the border with Russia. At least one analyst believes the unit now is somewhere near Kyiv, perhaps completing its training ahead of deployment elsewhere. Maybe the south or east, where many observers expect the Ukrainians to launch counterattacks in the coming weeks or months.

The urban east would make more sense for the 47th Assault Brigade, as the unit is shaping up to be a powerful urban fighting force.

Just ask the U.S. Army, which has some recent experience with mobile guns. The Army operated eight-wheeled Stryker Mobile Gun Systems until finally divesting the unreliable vehicles last year. A new tracked MGS is replacing the wheeled MGS in U.S. service.

In American doctrine, a mobile gun helps the infantry advance through a contested city. An MGS “can allow for the relief of infantry caught in decisive engagements in restrictive terrain,” U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Ben Ferguson and Army captain Lennard Salcedo wrote.

The Stryker brigades, back when they had wheeled MGS, used the vehicles singly or in platoons of three “to create openings in walls, destroy bunkers and machine gun nests and defeat sniper positions and light armor threats” up to and including T-62 tanks, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester explained in a 2011 report.

The M-55S could do the same. It’s worth noting that all three mobile guns—the M-55S, the wheeled Stryker MGS and the new tracked Mobile Protected Firepower vehicle—are armed with similar 105-millimeter cannons.

Once the Ukrainian army finally launches its long-anticipated counteroffensive, it will run into plenty of Russian-held cities—especially in the east. If the 47th Assault Brigade follows Western doctrine, it would deploy its infantry in stages, starting right outside a city.

The vulnerable Pantheras and MaxxPros would drop off their infantry, who then would advance into the city alongside the heavier Bradleys. Rolling from intersection to intersection under infantry escort, the Bradleys would pepper fortifications with 30-millimeter cannon fire, suppressing the Russians so the Ukrainians can advance.

If a position is too tough for an M-2 to suppress or destroy, the attackers would pause, radio for an M-55S then screen the tank—er, mobile gun—as it crawls forward, takes aim with its 105-millimeter gun … and puts the “assault” in “assault brigade.”

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