Armor: Degrading Upgrades For BMP


November 6, 2017: In mid-2017 Russia ordered 540 upgraded BMP-2 and BMD-2 IFVs (infantry fighting vehicles) as part of its 2018-2025 military modernization program. Upgrading the current fleet of BMPs and BMDs will take a while as 540 vehicles are a small portion of 4000 BMP-2 and BMD-2 IFVs in service and considered part of the modernization. There are also a few newer BMP-3 IFV (500 vehicles) that are already quite up-to-date and what troops have been calling for are upgrades for the more numerous but dated BMP-2s.

The modernization will mainly be about improving firepower and fire control capabilities while other areas like armor or mobility remain unchanged. The 14.6 ton BMP-2 and 11.5 ton BMD-2 were designed in the 1980s as upgrade successor of famous BMP-1 from 1960s. The BMP-2 needs major mechanical and engine upgrades to support major upgrades. That’s why the BMP-2M weighs about 15 tons and basically has a new turret and fire-control system. The BMD-2 is for airborne forces and is lighter but is otherwise similar to the BMPs.

The BMP-2M IFV will receive the Berezhok turret, fitted with four ready-to-launch Kornet ATGMs ( laser guided anti-tank missiles) in two twin launchers on each side of the turret. Kornet has with the range up to 5,500 meters and is much easier to use. Kornet is a big improvement over older Fagot or Konkurs single tube ATGMs previously used on IFVs. Not only were these older systems outdated versus more capable enemy IFVs but with only one launch tube had to be reloaded manually by the crew. These four ready to fire missiles are especially useful because Kornet can firea two missile salvo at one target. Moreover the 30mm cannon will receive improved stabilization and remote controlled weapon station fitted with 30 mm automatic AGS-30 grenade launcher. The commander/gunner sight, thermal imagers, missile guide channel and laser rangefinder will receive an upgrade as well. These upgrade will raise BMP-2 weight by half a ton. Nearly half of that is missiles and ammunition for the AGS-30. Meanwhile the airborne BMD-2M will receive similar weapons upgrades but with only two Kornet missiles.

This upgrade will seriously upgrade BMP-2 and BMD-2 firepower capability and make it equal or superior to Western vehicles like the PUMA, CV90 or VBCI. This creates an interesting situation in which Russia will have very well armed IFV but very poor armored IFV compared to western designs which lack firepower (no ATGMs on CV90 or VBCI). Moreover this upgrade seems like a desperate attempt to modernize their mechanized forces because the new Kurganiec-25 IFV based on Armata chassis is untried in combat and very expensive. Russia has basically declared the Armata based vehicles will remain at low production levels (a few a month at most) for years while problems are discovered and worked out.

This Armata approach also applied to the BMP/BMD-2 upgrades. That’s mainly because of the problems encountered with getting the BMP-3 into service. That became obvious in 2013 when, after a three year delay, the Russian Army finally agreed to accept new BMP-3M IFVs. Initial attempts to deliver in 2010 were refused because of quality and reliability issues. In 2013 the army had 300 BMP-3Ms and 400 BMP-3s and the BMP-3 was supposed to replace all earlier models. Deliveries were halted after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and began again in 2007, with about 40 a year until 72 were shipped in 2010, and that’s when the army began refusing to accept what the manufacturer was delivering.

The 3M model of the BMP has been upgraded with a new turret and engines. The turret and its fire control system are what the BMP/BMD 2 are getting. The BMP-3M electronics included an automatic fire control system and a gunner's sight with a thermal imager and laser illuminator. The commander's periscope has a laser infrared illuminator. There is a new ammunition loading system. The 100mm gun fires laser-guided projectiles, high explosive/fragmentation rounds, 30mm APSDS (Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot) rounds, and two other ammo types. Also in the turret there is a 30mm automatic cannon with 500 rounds of ammo and a 7.62mm machine-gun. On top of the turret there is a 14.5mm machine-gun. The basic armor protects against machine-gun rounds up to 12.7mm. Explosive reactive armor can be added. There is also an active anti-missile system, as well as air conditioning for the crew.

But the BMP-3 was a lightweight (19 tons) compared to Western vehicles like the U.S. M2 Bradley (31 tons). It is smaller at 7.14 meters (23.4 feet) long, 3.2 meters (10.5 feet) wide, and 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) tall compared to 6.6 x 3.6x3 meters for the M-2. Moreover, while both have a crew of three (commander, driver, and gunner) the BMP-3 sits seven, very uncomfortably, in the back, compared to six more comfortably in the back of the M2.

The original BMP-3, which entered service in 1987, was an improvement over the original BMP models of the 1960s and 1970s, but was still cramped and uncomfortable for the passengers. The Russians believed the smaller size made it harder to hit and cheaper to manufacture (20-40 percent cheaper, depending on add-ons). It's the additional electronics and other gadgets which really drives up the costs of these vehicles.

The BMP-3M quality problems were kept quiet as it would also interfere with export orders. But rumors did leak and a Greek order for 460 BMP-3s was delayed then cancelled in 2011. The quality problems with the BMP-3 had been around for a long time and became more of an issue back in 2006, when Russia decided to greatly increase its military procurement. This was necessary to replace aging Cold War era equipment. Even those new orders were miniscule compared to Cold War era production. Before 1991, the Soviet Union would produce about 10 times as much gear annually. But in 2006, for the first time in 15 years, the Russian army began receiving significant quantities of new and refurbished equipment. -- Przemysław Juraszek