Procurement: Russia Gets Serious About Quality

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October 16, 2013: After a three year delay the Russian Army has finally agreed to accept new BMP-3M IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) from the manufacturer. Initial attempts to deliver in 2010 were refused because of quality and reliability issues. The Russian army currently has 300 BMP-3Ms and 400 BMP-3s. 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.

The 3M model of the BMP has been upgraded with a new turret and engines. The electronics include 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 is 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 it is 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. That order may still be cancelled because of the financial crises Greek has been undergoing since 2008.

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.

The Russian army has been falling apart since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. That's fifteen years of practically no new equipment and a vast downsizing. The Cold War force of 175 divisions dwindled to 25, plus 21 independent brigades (equivalent to another 5 divisions). These divisions were, for the most part, very under strength and poorly equipped. By 2006, the Russian army was smaller than the American army and much less capable.

Most of the 1991 era equipment has been scrapped or cannibalized to keep the new, now quite miniscule (320,000 troops) army going at all. Most of the trucks and tanks were twenty years old, or more. Tiny defense budgets during the 1990s were barely able to buy food for the troops, much less fuel for training exercises. For a generation tank crews trained in vehicles that rarely moved and engines were only started to see if they were still functional, not to move the vehicle around.

After 2006, the army was supposed to get enough gear to equip some rapid reaction forces and get the assembly lines going for a new generation of weapon. To that end, in 2006, the troops began receiving new T-90 tanks, refurbished, Cold War vintage T-72 and T-80 tanks, and some new BMP-3Ms, as well as lighter BMDs for the parachute and air-assault units.

Noting the success of the American Stryker, a hundred new BTR-80 and BTR-90 vehicles were purchased. In addition, some 600 refurbished BMPs, BMDs, and BTRs were also put into service that year. 20 anti-aircraft missile batteries received new, modernized missiles. Some of these batteries had not fired a missile in years because the only ones they had had "aged out" (became too old to safely fire).

 The army received new radios, field uniforms, protective vests, and small arms. More powerful RPGs and grenades were purchased as well. Perhaps most telling, large quantities of small arms ammunition were made available for training. This is another side-effect of the war in Iraq, where Russian planners noted how the American army successfully dealt with training deficiencies by greatly increasing live fire training.

The tactical air force, which supports the army, received about 50 refurbished and upgraded aircraft (Su-24 bombers, Su-25 ground attack aircraft, plus some Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters). 10 new Mi-28 and Ka-50 helicopter gunships were purchased as well.

But most of the $11 billion being spent on new weapons and equipment in 2006 went for nuclear weapons systems, including missile carrying subs and new ICBMs. With such a miniscule army, and such ramshackle equipment, nukes are now the main defense of the largest country in the world.

Quality control in Russian defense industries had been a growing problem in the last decade of the Cold War and it got worse after 1991, as the most skilled managers and workers fled for higher paying (and more satisfying) jobs in the new, and booming, private sector. Complaints from the military kept increasing because the quality problems kept getting worse. Even senior government officials were unable to get the defense factories to shape up. So, in 2010, the army said they would accept no more BMP-3s until they were acceptable for troop use. It took over 2 years for the factories to comply and many military procurement officers fear the fix is not permanent.

 


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