How much loot is in that missile launcher exactly?

Yeehaw! Thars’ gold in them BTR-80 Armoured Personnel Carriers!

While searching for content in the Cyrillic-writing part of the Internet, and I stumbled across a very weird site, the pure existence of which fascinates me: Its a directory for precious-metals recycling for mostly (it seems) aged military equipment and retro consumer products. (link)

What stirs the imagination, is that this oddly specific info for what appears to be a wide variety of Soviet and modern-era hardware is so detailed, as well publicly available. It implies that this kind of army surplus is a commodity of trade, even if just for recycling.

So, what would one find inside a 20ДС Surface-to-air missile? With a strong air of authority, the website assures us that:

The exact weight of the content of precious metals: gold, silver, platinum and platinum group metals (PGM) per unit in grams is given.

  • Gold: 1.3 g;
  • Silver: 256.4 g;
  • Platinum: 4.5 g;
  • Platinum group metals (PGM): 5.8 g”


Thinking about it, it would be obvious that at the end of service lives, this hardware must go SOMEWHERE, and even after being mothballed, eventually warehouses need to be cleaned out. Effectively all of Eastern Europe did attend the Cold-War, so there must be vast amounts of this kind of stuff circulating around, enough to warrant someone putting together and maintain such a website.

Which makes me wonder: what is the deal with recycling of military surplus?

On the opposite side of the sea is the United States, who have been involved in quite a few many warts, adn last I heard, make lots of weapons.

What happens to their gear?

The TLDR: The US is not–surprisingly, swimming in weapons systems. Everything else that is additionally needed to keep these weapons systems sharp and pointy, such as pencil, toilets, tents, very small tables, slightly larger tables, and everything else, is an awful lot.[citation needed] The older weapons systems were rather expensive to make, and it would be economically unwise to throw away, so its used as currency. The bigger, more expensive but perhaps slightly rusty stuff is sold in bulk to friends, and the poor friends can get it for free. The less dangerous stuff is sold to other parts of the US, at even lower prices, under the label of “anti-drug stuff”. I’m not sure that’s exactly why they buy it. After all, a good deal on a 9th-generation-night-vision-goggle-system is a good deal on a 9th-generation-night-vision-goggle-system… and I would totally buy a few cheap helicopters if I had the dough. They might even throw in some matte spray-paint to sweeten the deal. The rest of the stuff that is slightly dangerous is made a bit less dangerous and sold to the public. And the stuff that nobody want gets sent to recyclers approved by the US department of defense.

For the long story, you can get it all here, probably in language more formal than what I have written above.

I won’t express my feelings about how a country spends incredible amounts of money on “defense”, creating a vast industry that produces an unfathomable quantity of weapons, along with a vast collection of other items needed to maintain and repair them, and then when they are outdated, sends them all over the planet as a way to make/maintain friends, and thereby getting rid of what might be the most dangerous form of detritus, because that’s not my business. But it is a fascinating situation to begin to vaguely grasp, all from jumping down the rabbit-hole of this Russian recycling directory.

And looping back to the directory, it would appear that recycling of military hardware is a much looser arrangement in Eastern Europe than the United States. This website covers all kinds of devices and items and parts, and its an interesting thing to explore, with Google Translate switched on, of course.

And in case you find any Russian tanks lying around, don’t be so hasty to chuck it away:

Paul Hoets is a freelance maker who lives in South Korea. If you liked this article and would like to contribute to his empire of dirt, silicon and tech. education, buy him a coffee!

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