Saturday, 15 January 2022

Blue’s Clues: Turkmen Otokar Urals And Cobras

By Stijn Mitzer
The Otokar Cobra is one of the world's most successful infantry mobility vehicle (IMV) designs. Since the vehicle's inception in 1997, thousands of Cobra Is have been exported to more than twenty countries worldwide. Otokar would follow up on the original design with the improved Cobra II, which has meanwhile entered service with four more countries. Otokar has also designed a series of larger AFVs, of which the Arma APC and Tulpar IFV are arguably the most famous. Less well known is the export of Otokar Urals along with Cobra Is to Turkmenistan somewhere during the mid-2010s.

Rather than entering service with the Turkmenistan Army, the Otokar Urals were delivered to the Ministry of Internal Affairs while the State Border Service took possession of most if not all of the Cobra Is. The exotic blue camouflage pattern of the Ural IMVs contributes little to masking their presence in about any terrain imaginable, but with the service acting as the country's police force it can be argued that this is actually intended. Nonetheless, the 12.7mm NSV heavy machine gun (HMG) installed in the cupola clearly suggests that the Ministry of Internal Affairs has an auxiliary combat task as well.

The more than hundred or so Cobras delivered to the country have been seen in several different camouflage patterns throughout their active career, which in Turkmenistan are known to change on a frequent basis. [1] The most recent one - seen during the 30th anniversary of independence parade in September 2021 - is broadly similar to some of the patterns worn by the soldiers of Turkmenistan's Ground Forces, albeit with far larger pixels or dots. Although arguably less spectacular than the pattern worn by the Urals, it's certainly more effective as an actual camouflage pattern.

Otokar Cobra I IMVs of the State Border Service on parade just outside of Ashgabat, September 2021.

Most of Turkmenistan's IMVs are equipped with a remote weapon station (RWS), and this also happens to be the case for the Cobra I fleet. In fact, a Cobra I fitted with a regular heavy machine gun cupola has only been sighted once in Turkmenistan. This consisted of a 12.7mm M2 HMG with a gunshield added, which however only provides meagre protection against incoming fire from the front. It appears plausible that this was a local modification, with most of the Cobra fleet armed with an Israeli IMI Wave 300 RWS fitted with a 12.7mm NSV RWS.

Note the Israeli IMI Wave 300 RWS.

Although the Otokar Ural's most plausible use in service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs would be crowd control, it can also act as a fast transport for up to seven police officers. The Cobra similarly seats up to seven border guards in addition to the driver and commander. Both vehicle types come with rear doors to allow fast embarkation and disembarkation when needed. The Cobra also has an additional side door and top hatch for use by the passengers, greatly increasing the opportunities of escape when the vehicle has been hit or is on fire.

Unlike most other IMVs in Turkmen service, both the Ural and Cobra feature protection of their windows against the impact of rocks or other debris that could otherwise damage the windscreen and obscure the view of the driver. When dealing with an enemy armed with conventional weaponry, the armour protection of both vehicle types is sufficient to protect its occupants against small arms fire, artillery shrapnel and to a limited degree against anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines and IEDs. [2] [3]

Otokar has achieved significant success with its infantry mobility vehicles in Turkmenistan and other countries across the globe. The country currently seems poised to further increase the capabilities of its armed forces through the introduction of new arms and equipment. Perhaps this could one day see the introduction of more Otokar products. Currently operating a large fleet of BTR-80 APCs and BMP-2 IFVs inherited from the Soviet Union, Otokar is certain to one day offer its Arma APCs/IFVs and Tulpar IFVs to act as their replacements.

The Otokar Cobra II (left) and Otokar Arma 8x8 IFV (right).

Special thanks to Sonny Butterworth.