Saturday 11 June 2022

Ingenuity In Isolation: Transnistria’s Humvee Copy

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

Transnistria, officially known as the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), has churned out a number of highly interesting armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) designs over the past decade. Unable to replace its dated inventory of Soviet weaponry ever since proclaiming independence in the early 1990s, the country has instead sought to supplement its vehicle park with a number of homegrown vehicle designs. Many of these are based on already existing AFVs, which are then modified to suit an entirely new role. Arguably the best examples of this are the MT-LB SPAAG and the BTRG-127 'Bumblebee' APC, the latter of which originally started its career as the GMZ-3 minelayer vehicle. [1]

The latest design to come out of Transnistria is a four-wheel drive light utility vehicle based on an old truck chassis. The design appears to draw some inspiration from the famous American Humvee – and by lack of a better name is therefore from here on out referred to as the Transvee. The Transvee was first sighted during a special forces demonstration in February 2022. [2] Here it appeared alongside the GAZ-66 off-road military truck, on whose 4x4 chassis the Transvee is based. Performance is likely similar to that of the 1960's-era GAZ-66, which is well regarded for its ease of maintenance and ruggedness in the field.

To ease production and to keep costs to a minimum, engineers sought to incorporate as many of the GAZ-66's components as possible. Interestingly, this not only includes the GAZ-66's chassis, but also the front section of the GAZ-66's cabin. Two separate GAZ-66 cabins are used for each Transvee, with the second welded facing the opposite direction to the front section to form the vehicle's frame. Large numbers of GAZ-66s are available to the local military, which over the past decade has managed to replace at least some of them with Ural-4320 and KamAZ 6x6 trucks imported from Russia as civilian trucks.

Little else is known about the design, or how many examples have been produced so far. With the number of GAZ-66 trucks exceeding the operational requirements of the Transnistrian Army, it doesn't seem unlikely that production could one day reach sizeable numbers, beyond just the small initial batch that is likely to have been manufactured. If further production takes place, amendments to the design addressing issues brought up during its preliminary introduction are likely to be implemented, meaning the vehicle's appearance and characteristics may still be in flux.

The 4x4 GAZ-66 light utility truck.

The Transvee is designed primarily for personnel transport and light cargo duties behind front lines, for which it comes equipped with a tent-covered cargo compartment at the rear. During the exercise, the Transvee was used for the insertion of special forces units. Like the early versions of the Humvee, the Transvee has no armour protection and would have to rely on its speed and cross-country mobility to get out of harm's way. Though having to make do without any armour of substance, the Transvee does sport a gunner's station fitted with a 7.62mm PK(M) light machine gun (LMG).

Transnistria's Army already has experience in the design and conversion of a number of assault vehicles based on the ubiquitous UAZ-469 and even the Lada Niva off-road vehicle. As these vehicles are readily available throughout the unrecognised republic, and could even be imported as civilian vehicles, it is little surprising that the local military still relies on them for just about any role imaginable, including offensive roles. Most of these designs are armed with a single light or heavy machine gun, although a variant sporting a 9M111 Fagot ATGM launcher also exists.

Transnistria's homegrown Humvee is a perfect example of ingenuity in isolation – of making do with what's available when what's available is really not much at all. With Transnistria's status as an unrecognised republic unlikely to be resolved in the foreseeable future, the region will undoubtedly be the scene of more unconventional conversions.

[1] DIY On The Dniester: Russia’s Transnistrian SPAAG(s)
[2] A Forgotten Army: Transnistria’s BTRG-127 ’Bumblebee’ APCs
[3] Праздник защитников Отечества
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