Armor: BMPs, M113s and MRAPs Abide

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May 16, 2022: Ukraine asked for light armored vehicles to carry and protect personnel or equipment. The United States promptly sent 200 M113s, presumably the M113A3 version which is the standard for most of the 10,000 M113s still used by the U.S. Army and reserve forces. The U.S. will send hundreds more if Ukraine finds the initial shipment suitable. Israel is the second largest user, with over 5,000. About 30,000 M113s are still used by several dozen nations. Most M113s still operational are used for support roles although Israel still uses them in combat.

The M113 is a boxy armored vehicle that entered service in 1961 with army armored units and from 1963 on saw combat in Vietnam. It served effectively during the Vietnam War and was the main American APC throughout most of the Cold War. About 80,000 M113s were manufactured between 1960 and 20o7. At 13 tons, although often closer to 15 tons with added armor and other accessories, the M113 is lighter than the M2 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) and wheeled Stryker that replaced it in the combat role after the 1980s.

The major shortcoming of the M113 is the time and expense of keeping them running compared to wheeled armored vehicles. That’s because M113 runs on tracks, like a bulldozer. That means it has a max speed of only 65 kilometers an hour compared to at least 100 for wheeled armored vehicles. Those tracks wear out quickly and have to be replaced at great expense (over $10,000 a set) every 6,000 kilometers or less. Traveling on roads wears out the tracks faster. The tracks also limit how much weight you can add. All American M113s have gone through the RISE (reliability improvements for selected equipment) upgrade that included a new, more powerful engine, several other improved mechanical components as well as new electronics. RISE began in the late 1980s when the U.S. Army had 20,000 of them. Export customers carried out similar upgrades or had the Americans do it.

The M113 is still in use because it proved to be a very flexible platform, lending itself to modifications by many of the dozens of armed forces that still use it or once did. Some countries have added turrets, mounting 25mm cannon. Israel, however, wanted more protection for the urban fighting its reserve troops (who rely on the M113) often encountered. By the 1990s an updated M-113 cost less than $2 million each. This late model M-113 had much better armor protection and reliability but was still inferior to the M-2 that replaced it as an infantry combat vehicle.

Ukraine is also receiving over a hundred MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) wheeled armored vehicles from several donors. The U.S. can send hundreds of these as well. Ukraine and Russia have been using BMP IFVs, most of them older BMP1 and BMP2 models. Russia also sent in some of its latest models, the BMP3M along with some new BMP1AM versions.

BMP-3M has been upgraded with a new turret and engines. The electronics include an automatic fire control system, 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 APDS (Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot) rounds and two other ammo types. As an alternative, you can have a 30mm automatic cannon. The basic armor protects against machine-guns 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. BMP-3 is lightweight (19 tons) compared to Western vehicles like the U.S. M2 (31 tons), and about 20 percent smaller. 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 in the M2 and 11 in the roomier M113. The original BMP-3, which entered service in the 1990s, was an improvement over the BMP-2 of the late 1970s, but still is cramped and uncomfortable for its passengers. The Russians believed the smaller size made it harder to hit, and cheaper to manufacture, as in 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 M113 has a crew of two and there have been many upgrades, including gun turrets and one that carried four TOW (still in use) ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). Ukraine has performed similar upgrades on BMPs for its own use or for export.

BMPs entered service in the late 1960s as the first IFV. Improved models appeared in 1980 (BMP-2) and 1987 (BMP-3). About 20,000 BMPs were produced by Russia from 1965 to 2008. Another 20,000 were produced under license or as illegal copies. BMPs were the primary infantry vehicles for Russian troops in Ukraine, numbering over a thousand and lost nearly half of them to battle damage, breakdowns or capture. Ukraine. which still had 1,200 BMPs, did not use them for offensive operations as the Russians did, but mainly for transporting troops and supplies through areas subject to artillery or machine-gun fire. This is what most of the larger and roomier M113s will be used for. All BMP, M113 and MRAP users employ these vehicles as an effective way to protect troops and supplies moving through a combat zone. Russia ignored the risk of exposing BMPs to heavy enemy fire and suffered huge vehicle and troop losses as a result. The further reduced confidence in the BMP by Russian troops forced to use it in Ukraine. There are not enough Russian MRAPs or wheeled armored vehicles to replace all the BMPs in Ukraine. This is changing as more BMPs are lost in Ukraine and all that survives are their MRAPs and wheeled armored vehicles.

 


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