(KYIV, Ukraine) — In a quiet bay of the Dnipro River, a one-hour drive from Kyiv, a group of Ukrainian engineers and special forces soldiers tested what they believe can be a game-changer in the Ukrainian counteroffensive: the Poloz-M16 combat kayak.
What otherwise looks like the familiar watercraft has been redesigned for special military purposes – in the Kherson region, for example, where the front line parallels the wide Dnipro, with multiple islands between its banks.
“To design something like this you have to build boats for 30 years. That’s what I’ve been doing,” says Serhiy Ostashenko, CEO of the Adamant Verf company, which produces the kayaks. He designed the Poloz-M16 overnight, he said, after special forces soldiers came to him with a need, and an idea.
“Poloz-M16 is similar to what the American and British soldiers have been using, but it’s ten times cheaper, around 2,500 dollars per item,” Ostaschenko explained to ABC News.
Ukraine has two seas –- the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov – and around 3,000 rivers, so kayaks like the Poloz-M16 are a must-have, engineers and soldiers said.
The Poloz-M16 is designed not for assault but rather for covert operations. It’s quiet, lightweight and maneuverable, with the ability to carry up to three people and 250 kilograms of cargo, around 550 pounds. It’s also durable, made of a special polyethylene that can weather extreme temperatures, mechanical damage and last 50 years, or longer. The Poloz-M16 can be transported by a land vehicle or dropped onto the water from a helicopter. It can also be controlled on the water remotely.
What particularly makes the Poloz-M16 a combat kayak is a Ukrainian-produced NATO-type UAG-40 grenade launcher mounted in the bow, which can fire a projectile at a distance of up to just over a mile. A special mechanism absorbs the weapon’s recoil, keeping the kayak stable on the water.
“So our Poloz is not afraid of any bulletproof speed boat. It can hide in the reeds and fire at the enemy like in a shooting range,” Ostashenko said.
The combat kayaks have already proven themselves in action. In October of last year, Ukrainian soldiers used the Poloz-M16 in an operation on the Oskil River in the Kharkiv region. Sergiy, callsign Koyot, who took part in the operation, said he and the other soldiers conducted nighttime reconnaissance near Russian positions on the riverbank, transporting explosives and ultimately securing the passage of an assault group that forced Russian forces to retreat a dozen kilometers to the east.
The Poloz-M16 is just one of hundreds of things that Ukrainian specialists have created since the start of the Russian invasion, said Ostashenko. He and his engineering colleagues add that when you’re short of conventional weapons, you have to be creative.
While some of the solutions might not see mass production, they’re cheap and do the job. Others can be part of a powerful military tech industry that could involve billions of dollars in a few years, Mykhailo Fedorov, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, told the Ukrainian media platform Ukrinform earlier this year. Fedorov oversees digital transformation projects, and in particular what’s called the Army of Drones: small, but which inflict painful strikes on Russian military bases and even large warships.
To help facilitate innovation that can in turn assist the Ukrainian military, the government created the BRAVE1 platform, where inventors meet investors and consumers. The platform features things like different types of drones, including those for clearing mines, as well as mobile stations, yacht radars turned into anti-UAV searchers, walkie-talkies that can’t be jammed, ground robotic complexes, fire stations and more.
“Ukraine has been a large exporter of IT products. A lot of people are studying in this field, that’s why it’s time to turn into a country making products that are capitalized, work for the whole world and are worth billions of dollars,” Fedorov recently said in nationally televised comments. “We will be the strongest in military-tech – that is, everything related to innovations in the military field. Cyber security, any physical security related to innovation, and protection of critical infrastructure facilities will also evolve.”
“A competency that is unique in the world is already being born in Ukraine,” Fedorov said.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.