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July 6, 2020: Russia is having a hard time selling their 44-ton BMPT 72 Terminator 2 combat support vehicle. This specialized “tank” was developed in the 1990s to accompany regular tanks in urban combat and protect the tanks from enemy infantry using RPGs and other close-range weapons, like explosives or firebombs thrown from the tops of buildings. These tactics proved devastating for Russian tanks that went into the Chechen capital in 1994 and were quickly defeated. By 2000 the Terminator 1 showed up, but it only had a single 30mm autocannon and four ATGMs (Anti-tank guided missiles). Changes were made and Terminator 2 was ready in 2002. Like the earlier version, it used the chassis of a T-72 tank, with the 125mm gun turret removed and replaced with a smaller turret containing two 30mm autocannon, four ATAKA laser-guided ATGMs with a range of 6,000 meters plus a 7.62mm machine-gun with 2,100 rounds. Each 30mm autocannon had 850 high-explosive rounds and both were aimed and fired as a single weapon. One or both could fire and fired together they could take down helicopters or slow low flying (up to 2,000 meters/6,400 feet) fixed-wing aircraft. The 30mm autocannons were very accurate at up to 1,500 meters against ground targets, like infantry in buildings. The turret and T-72 chassis had additional protection against RPGs and the vehicle had an APS (Active protection system) to defeat ATGMs. The Terminator has a three-man crew (driver, commander and gunner). The commander can also act as a gunner and both he and the gunner have access day/night viewing devices with zoom.

Since Russian manufacturers depend so much on export sales, they pay close attention to user comments. The Russian military received some evaluation models of the BMPT and some of these were sent to Syria in 2016. Russia placed an order for several dozen BMPT in 2017. Between 2010 and 2016 the manufacturer sold 320 BMPTs to Kazakhstan and Algeria. There are a few more potential buyers but now the Chinese have a competing vehicle that does what the BMPT does and much more.

China has been very successful at taking Russian weapons designs and building better ones. Not just by copying the original Russian models, but by checking with users (often Chinese troops) to discover likes and dislikes as well as desired changes. As a result, the Chinese copies are increasingly a major improvement over the Russian original.

Case in point was the Chinese QN-506 Fire Support Vehicle that showed up in 2018. The 35-ton QN-506 is built on the chassis of a Type 59 (Russian T-54) tank with the original turret removed and replaced with a smaller one that is filled with weapons and sensors. The three-man crew (driver, commander and sensor operator) are within the body of the vehicle. The commander and sensor (vidcams, thermal imager) operator also operate the multiple weapons that are remotely controlled from inside the vehicle. These include a 30mm autocannon, a 7.62mm machine-gun, four QN-502 ATGM (anti-tank guided missiles), twenty 70mm laser-guided missiles (similar to the several models used in the West), four vertically launched S570 missiles that are actually small propeller-driven loitering missiles with a range of 10 kilometers that can act as reconnaissance aircraft for about 10 minutes before being sent against a target or self-destructing. There is also a quad-copter on board that can fly out to ten kilometers from the vehicle and returns. The vehicle also has an APS (active protection system) for protection against RPGs and ATGMs. ERA (explosive reactive armor) is added to protect against tank shells and inside the vehicle, there is a modern fire suppression system. The QN-506 vehicle is marketed for counterterrorism operations, especially in urban areas. The small crew and complexity of the QN-506, which is more complex than your average tank means it, like an aircraft, needs a crew of maintainers to keep all the sensors, weapons and heavy tracked vehicle operational.

The QN-502 was inspired by the Russian BMPT 72 Terminator 2, which is similar in design to the QN-506 which is a far superior design. The Russians started out designing the BMPT as a tank escort vehicle while the Chinese saw that the most effective use of such a specialized vehicle was as a counterterror or irregular warfare weapon. Russia seems to realize this as Terminator 3 is to be built on the Armata common chassis used for the new Russian T-15 infantry fighting vehicle (and T-14 tank). Terminator 3 will have more weapons and will function more like the QN-506. But the QN-506 is available now and Terminator 3 won’t be showing up until the mid-2020s when, the way the Chinese operate, there may already be a new model of the QN-506 if the design proves useful enough to the buyers. So far there have been no reported export sales and the QN-506 has not shown up anywhere dealing with irregular forces either in urban areas or out in the open. The QN-506 is designed to handle both situations and, since it was developed by one of many Chinese weapons manufacturers with company funds, the government loses nothing if there are no export sales. The Chinese government encourages this sort of experimentation and will help obtain export sales.Success with that usually means the Chinese military will buy some and perhaps later on a lot of such new systems.

With the Russians, the military budget pays for all these new weapons and takes a hit if a new design is not successful with export sales, which keep most Russian defense manufacturers in business. The Chinese system is more effective but only works if you have a robust, diversified economy. The Chinese have one of those, the Russians do not.

 


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