As the arms build-up escalates in Russia and throughout the Middle East, the Russian airborne forces chief has ordered the development of “airborne snowmachines” that can be airdropped to paratroopers, modified to shoot and even keep their drivers warm in arctic conditions.

Col. General Viadimir Shamanov is referring to an ordinary Taiga-551 snow machine that can be dropped where needed from the back of an airplane. The Taiga weighs about 750 lbs. and powers from a liquid-cooled 65 horsepower engine. It has a 14.5 gallon capacity fuel tank and a top speed nearing 61 mph. It also has heated handles. But these snow machines will have some very specific modifications, according to the Russian newspaper Komsolskaya Pravda.

The most difficult modification will be perfecting a design that allows the snow machines to be dropped in place from a helicopter or airplane without sustaining any damage. ()

The vehicles will have an armored fuel tank similar to those on combat helicopters, so if the snow machine is shot it “self heals.” There will also be an enhanced cooling system to prevent the engine from overheating. Designers have already added mounts suitable for machine guns and grenade launchers.

The Russian corporation Russkaya Mekhanika will be in charge of building the 130 snow machines and an additional 110 all-terrain vehicles for use by the Russian army. Speculation is that this new project is in support of the country’s increased military presence in the northern Arctic region, where they have spent the past year boosting the number of troops and combat aircraft.  With the aggressive takeover of Ukraine still fresh in the world’s mind, this buildup in the Arctic has caused some concern.

Just this past March Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a snap Arctic exercise for the military that involved 38,000 troops including ground forces, sailors and airmen, and had II-76 model transport planes rehearsing rushing those troops to the north. That exercise was countered by a NATO response a month later, sending fighter jets and B-52 bombers to the Arctic to practice intercepting Russian aircraft.

The combat snow machines may be more proof that the contest over control of the Arctic is far from over and a fight for the frozen tundra may well involve ground forces in addition to sea and air resources.

Photo credit: Flickr CC