Russian troops in Syria have been seen testing a new FAC (Forward Air Controller) vehicle. Called BOMAN (BOyevaya Mashina AviaNavodchika), this FAC vehicle uses a standard Russian army Tigr 4x4 vehicle. But instead of a machine-gun or RWS (Remote Weapons Station) on top, there is a RWS-like structure containing a laser rangefinder/designator and a thermal sight plus antennae for various communications devices. Inside there are various types of radios including equipment that links the FAC to Strelets KRUS, the new Russian battlefield networking system. Data is displayed on a laptop or tablet and the FAC personnel in BOMAN can communicate digitally with aircraft and UAVs overhead as well as any headquarters or other unit equipped with Strelets. This is similar to a system American forces have been using for nearly two decades and most other Western nations have adopted.
For Russia, Syria and Ukraine are the first battlefield test for Strelets and the BOMAN vehicle. As the Americans discovered earlier in Iraq and Afghanistan, FACs in armored hummers can get close enough to the action (300-400 meters) to be safe from RPG fire and able to get a good view of targets, and then use laser rangefinders to get a precise location for calling in an air strike. Russia still uses a lot of unguided bombs because they cannot afford to go completely “smart bomb” like Western forces. The Russians have made the most of that by using the modern fire control system common to most fighter-bombers since the 1990s. These systems enable pilots, with some practice, to very accurately deliver unguided bombs or rocket fire on a ground target. American forces sometimes use these systems for strafing runs with their 20mm autocannon but that is rare these days because it exposes the aircraft (usually an F-16) to ground fire or coming in too low and clipping some object with a wing and crashing. That has happened a few times since 2001 and the American air forces have since banned it except in extreme emergencies. The A-10s still do this work but they are slower, armored and generally built for it. The Russian version of the A-10, the Su-25 regularly does this low-level work and the latest version of the Su-25 recently arrived in Syria where it is working with BOMAN.
Since 1999, when Russia invaded Chechnya to defeat separatists and Islamic terrorists who had taken over, Russian firms have been developing versions of the more recent Western combat vehicles, equipment and even weapons (like modern sniper rifles and accessories). In the decade after that the Russian economy improved to the point where the Russian military could buy a lot of this stuff. Exports are still essential to keep production going and profitable. As always the Russians would sell to anyone who could pay and that is more likely if the new item has been “tested in combat.”.
Since 2005 a Russian firm has been producing a vehicle remarkably similar to the armored version of the U.S. HMMWV "hummer" (the M1114 model) called Tigr (Tiger). Initially the major buyer was the Russian Interior Ministry for its police and paramilitary units. Chechnya was a particularly popular destination for this new vehicle. It is based on a hummer-like vehicle, the Gaz-2330. Like the M1114, the Tigr weighs five tons, carries a crew of four, and a load of about a ton (or an additional five men, if configured for that). At first, the Tigr cost $88,000 each, compared to $145,000 for the M1114, and was offered for export as a less expensive alternative to the M1114. The Russian military began using Tigr in 2006.
The M1114, an armored, version of the hummer got a lot of publicity because of its popularity among troops in Iraq, where the 5.5 ton vehicle arrived early on. The M1114 had already been around for a decade. Originally intended for peacekeeping operations, it was successfully used in the Balkans during the 1990s. The M1114 was based on an earlier version that had served in the 1991 campaign in Kuwait. The M1114 is basically an armored car, with a crew of four and a payload of one ton (plus two tons that can be towed.) A 190 horsepower engine gives it a top speed of 80 kilometers an hour and a max range (on one tank, on roads) of 480 kilometers. All the armored protection (against 7.62mm machine-guns and rifles, bombs, landmines and nearby bursting shells of up to 155mm) has more than doubled the cost of the M1114 ($140,000 compared to $65,000 for an unarmored model.)