Sunday 2 April 2023

A Far Cry: Yara’s HS-100 Tanks

By Teslashark in collaboration with Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
There are lions, and there are lambs. Rule, or be ruled. A Castillo must be a lion. For Yara is full of lambs. (By Antón Castillo)
The 2021 Yaran Civil War was largely overshadowed by the Nagorno-Karabakh War one year prior and the Russo-Ukrainian War shortly thereafter. The war quickly proved a single-cell thunderstorm similar in intensity to the former, yet located right in the middle of America's Caribbean backyard. A significant number of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) were deployed by both the Fuerzas Nacionales de Defensa loyal to the brutal regime of Antón Castillo and the opposing rebel alliance known as Libertad. One of the AFVs that saw intensive action on both sides was a deceptively unassuming tank, the HS-100. Often misidentified and reported as a T-55 or T-62 by even the most seasoned military analysts, the HS-100 MBT is the perfect embodiment of the tumultuous history of the Caribbean island nation of Yara.
By present standards, Yara is a poor country that struggles to provide housing, transportation, and other basic necessities to its population of some six million. Bolstered by the flames of the Cuban Revolution, Soviet-backed communist guerrillas on Yara launched a revolution in 1967 that overthrew the highly unpopular regime of Gabriel Castillo. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 decimated the Yaran economy. Despite economic aid from neighbouring socialist states such as Cuba and Venezuela, Yara continues to experience major economic decline and political instability. In 2014, Antón Castillo, son of the ousted Gabriel Castillo, was elected on the promise of rebuilding Yara, yet quickly cracked down on political dissidents and fundamental human rights in the tropical country. What the president delivered on during his tenure was a far cry from what he had promised during his run for election.

The military junta of Antón Castillo inherited a large yet thoroughly outdated military apparatus. Under communism, Yara had grown dependent on the Soviet Union for military aid and protection. Soviet military aid, provided free of charge to Yara from 1967 until the late 1980s, amounted to more than $225 million per year and enabled the transformation of the Fuerzas Nacionales de Defensa (FND) from a small force aimed at combatting communist insurgents into a massive military tasked with defending Yara against a possible U.S. invasion. Nonetheless, a CIA assessment in the late 1990s reported that the FND's armour and artillery units were at low readiness levels due to 'severely reduced' training caused by a lack of fuel, and that most AFVs had been retired to long-term storage. [1]

The primary tank of the Fuerzas Nacionales de Defensa since the late 1960s has been the HS-100. Hundreds of these MBTs were received up until the early 1980s, with a Soviet-run limited upgrade programme conducted throughout the 1980s and a local modernisation programme of the 2010s ensuring their continued combat viability against whatever force has the audacity to violate the sovereignty of Yara. The Group of Soviet Forces in Yara (GSFY) that once deployed to the island nation similarly fielded the HS-100 (one of which can be seen in the header image) rather than the ubiquitous T-55 or T-62. Despite persistent rumours, no T-72s were ever received by the FND or the Soviet GSFY.

A Fuerzas Nacionales de Defensa HS-100M(V) Versión. 2017. This is one of several dozen HS-100Ms that were upgraded with Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armour (ERA) from 2017 onwards.

The Hudoy Smeshannyy-100 (Slim Hybrid – 100mm [cannon]) was the only tank design of legendary Soviet tank (gun) designer Fyodor Fyodorovich Petrov (1902-1978). In January 1944, when the first T-44s were only just rolling off the assembly line, the design team at Factory NKV No. 9 received a design request from the Soviet High Command for a new tank design that could operate their still under development 100mm D-10 cannon in a fully rotating turret. The base design of HS-100's hull shape was almost directly lifted from the T-44. The road wheel and engine layout is similarly largely identical to that of the T-44. The HS-100's turret instead closely resembles that of the newer T-54 MBT.
A protracted design phase and the evolution of the T-44's design into the highly successful T-54/55 (which housed the same 100mm D-10) meant that the HS-100 would never achieve the critical acclaim its designer Petrov had hoped for. Due to space limitations, he even had to settle for a shortened, lightweight version of the D-10 cannon, designated as the D-10H. Still, the HS-100 was considered satisfactory for use with second-rate Soviet divisions (such as the GSFY) and for export clients, and enjoyed a significant production run throughout the 1950s. The design featured no NBC protection. The MBT's interior can be described as cramped at best, and the turret rotation mechanism proved notoriously underpowered.

After upgrading large numbers of its T-55s and T-62s to the improved 'M' standard, the Soviet Union offered a similar upgrade package to HS-100 operators, including Yara. 150 HS-100s (and 50 more of the GSFY) were subsequently upgraded to HS-100M standard, which saw the installation of BDD appliqué armour on the turret, rubber side skirts, a new turret rotating mechanism and smoke-grenade dischargers on the right side of the turret. To save costs, no laser-range finder (LRF) was fitted. From 2017 onwards, several dozen HS-100Ms were upgraded through the addition of locally-manufactured Kontakt-1 ERA tiles on the turret and glacis plate, becoming known as HS-100M(V) Vs. 2017.  

A HS-100M(V) Vs. 2017. Note the haphazard application of Kontakt-1 ERA on the turret and glacis plate.

The end of the Soviet Union in December 1991 had an immediate and devastating effect on Yara. Valuable aid and trading privileges ended for Yara, with Russia no longer interested in providing costly support to its Carribean communist outpost. Yara soon entered a social and fiscal crisis, known as the 'Período Especial' (Special Period). This period had a profound effect on the Fuerzas Nacionales de Defensa as well, as it suffered considerable morale and training degradation as a result of the halt of support from Russia. The dissolution of the Soviet Union also severely impacted the flow of spare parts to Yara, and already within a few years significant numbers of equipment types had to be cannabilised to keep an ever dwindling number of ageing weapons systems and aircraft operational.

A declassified CIA photo shows a number of HS-100 wrecks inside a military base on Yara. These examples have been cannibalised for parts to keep other HS-100s running.

In the 2010s the Yaran Navy followed Cuba and Iran in reconfiguring a number of cargo vessels into makeshift frigates known as the León De Yara-class (meaning: "Lion Of Yara"). For this purpose, six HS-100 turrets were modified and installed onto the frigates along with two P-15M Termit anti-ship missile (AShM) launchers taken from decommissioned Osa II-class missile boats. A total of three ships were converted in two configurations; The León De Yara and Gabriel Castillo (seen below) sported one HS-100 turret on the front deck and one on the rear deck while the Viateur sported two rear-facing turrets side by side on the front deck. At least one more vessel was still undergoing conversion during the civil war and was captured by forces of the rebel alliance, who looted the ship and had it scrapped several years later.

Two FDN León De Yara-class frigates. Note the HS-100 turret on the bow and the two P-15M Termit launchers (taken from decommissioned Osa II-class missile boats) midships.

A close-up of a HS-100 turret installed on a San Miguel-class frigate.

During the 2021 Yaran Civil War, the HS-100s fared poorly in battle because of the widespread proliferation of anti-armour weaponry looted from FND weapons depots. Dozens of MBTs were lost to RPGs, IEDs and improvised munitions dropped from small quadcopter drones, as FND tankers had a habit of leaving their tank hatches open while going out for a smoke. The wrath of the HS-100s continued even after the official conclusion of hostilities however, when former FND soldiers still held up in their military bases turned their tanks into static pillboxes to negotiate favourable reconciliation deals with the victorious Libertad-led new government. 

The wrecks of two FND HS-100s that were destroyed by Libertad RPG fire during the 2021 Yaran Civil War.

Overlooked and underappreciated, the HS-100's history in many ways mirrors that of its most enduring user: The Republic of Yara. Its tumultuous development and slapdash upgrade programmes have resulted in a tank that is almost self contradictory, a piece of equipment that by all standards never should have come into existence. Much like Communism itself on the island, the HS-100 was undeniably inferior to its foreign equivalents, and its continued survival in operational use is nothing short of a miracle. Nevertheless, its obscure yet rich combat records and continued symbolism as Yara's sole MBT will forever secure a special place in the hearts of analysts that study this fascinating country in their free time.

In case you're still looking for the location of Yara on a world map, this story is largely based on the video game Far Cry 6 and is entirely fictitious.

"When Tyranny Is Law. Revolution Is Order. Libertad!''

Be sure to check out Teslashark's novel Encryption Straffe.
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