Ukraine has combat kayaks now

The latest Ukrainian weapons system puts an automatic grenade launcher on a two-person kayak for river attacks.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
The Poloz-M16 combat kayak in testing. (Screenshot via Twitter)

The war in Ukraine has seen Kyiv field all kinds of unconventional and makeshift weapons, from crowdsourced maritime drones to anti-UAV rigs made up of World War I-era Maxim machine guns. Now Ukraine has combat kayaks. Yes, combat kayaks.

More accurately, a “Poloz-M16 combat kayak,” was developed for the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The two-seater boat is currently being tested by Ukrainian troops; it has not yet been deployed into combat in the rivers, streams, lakes, and other bodies of water in the country.

According to specs shared by Ukraine, the Poloz-M16 uses an electric motor that is “almost silent,” although it can be propelled the old-fashioned way with oars. The kayak can also be steered remotely if both occupants are otherwise unable to do it by hand. 

The biggest tool on the combat kayak is its main weapon on the nose of the kayak: a UAG-40 40mm automatic grenade launcher, which Ukraine claims can fire at a distance of more than 2 kilometers. Theoretically, it’s a great tool for river-born ambushes of Russian forces, but not for open naval combat. 

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A video shared by Ukraine shows the Poloz-M16 “in action.” That action mainly consists of two fighters paddling their kayak through a lilypad-laden body of water, eventually gliding forward while manning their grenade launcher, aiming with it but not firing. The whole video is, as has become common for footage from the war, set to rock music. The short clip did not demonstrate any live weapons testing or obstacles. 

Ukraine is also developing single-seat and three-seat versions of the Poloz-M16. The two-seat version can carry a load of 480 kilograms. Ukraine’s armed forces also noted that the kayak has equipment for “long trips” including a tent, machete, and even stoves for cooking. 

This maritime technical is the latest in unconventional weapons Ukraine has used to repel the Russian invasion. When the war started in 2022, Ukraine was heavily outgunned in both artillery and armor. Volunteers and the armed forces used weapons such as technicals mounted with machine guns and rocket launchers. Battle buggies, anti-drone systems using century-old Maxims, and other makeshift equipment have become a key part of Ukraine’s fighting force, even as modern artillery, rockets, and tanks from Western nations have streamed in. 

Maritime weapons have been extremely helpful in Ukraine’s efforts against Russia. Kyiv has repeatedly utilized drone boats to target Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, damaging multiple ships. The small kayak-like vessels have a low visual presence and enough speed to get past some naval defenses. Video in late May appeared to show a pair of Ukrainian drone boats causing an explosion on a Russian intelligence ship. 

As it is still in the testing phase, it’s unclear how Ukraine plans to use its combat kayak fleet in the war. 

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