Russia built a dozen special air-defense vehicles specifically for shooting down enemy warplanes in the brutal cold of the snowy Arctic. But the Tor-M2DT had its combat debut in Ukraine, 3,000 miles south of the North Pole.
It went badly. In the two months since the first Tor-M2DTs showed up in Ukraine, Ukrainian forces have destroyed at least two of them. One Tor-M2DT came to a bad end shortly after Russian media featured the vehicle in a T.V. segment.
The basic Tor air-defense vehicle entered service in 1986. It’s a self-contained, short-range system whose main role is defending combat battalions near the front lines.
In January 2020, an Iranian Tor shot down a Ukrainian airliner over Iran after mistaking it for an attacking warplane. All 176 passengers and crew died.
There are several Tor variants, but all include a vehicle mounting both a radar and a launcher for up to 16 400-pound missiles, each with a seven-mile range. The vehicle spots a target with its built-in radar, launches missiles then relays—via radio link—the target’s changing position to the missiles. A process called “command guidance.”
For 40 years, arms firm Almaz-Antey produced Tor vehicles that it optimized for European conditions. Chilly winters, mild summers, ground that, if it snows over, does so only briefly.
But as climate change warmed the Arctic, opening new trade routes and mineral resources, the Kremlin began organizing forces specifically for combat in the extreme north. Almaz-Antey installed the Tor’s radar and missiles on a DT-30 tractor. The DT-30’s wide tracks and low weight help it to traverse snow and ice.
The Kremlin first tested the Tor-M2DT back in 2019. Almaz-Antey manufactured an initial 12 vehicles. As Russian losses deepened over the first year of Russia’s wider war on Ukraine starting a year ago—the Kremlin has written off nearly 100 air-defense systems—the Tor-M2DTs made their way south.
It’s not that parts of Ukraine don’t get cold and snowy in winter. But the Russians deployed their Tor-M2DTs along with the 80th Arctic Motor Rifle Brigade to Kherson Oblast in southern Ukraine, which lately has been free of snow.
While it’s true that the DT-30’s low ground pressure could help the Tor-M2DT to navigate Kherson’s marshes, the Tor-M2DTs seemed … out of place. That didn’t stop Zvezda News from celebrating the Tor-M2DT’s deployment in a December segment.
Six weeks later, drones belonging to the Ukrainian army’s 406th Artillery Brigade tracked down the Tor-M2DTs in Kherson Oblast. The gunners reportedly fired GPS-guided Excalibur shells to destroy two of the Arctic Tors just a few days apart in late January or early February.
The first strike was the most dramatic. After one Excalibur set ablaze the Tor, Russian soldiers raced in with a handheld fire-extinguisher and tried in vain to extinguish the flames. “The fire-extinguisher did not help,” the Ukrainian defense ministry quipped. A second shell ended the farce.