Marines: Competition In Russia

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September 1, 2016: A Russian firm has developed the 18.5 ton BT-3F, a new amphibious APC (armored personnel carrier) to replace the Cold War era 8x8 BTR-80. These vehicles are used by the 12,000 Russian naval infantry. This force is trained and equipped for amphibious operations on rivers and inland seas like the Caspian, Baltic and Black Seas.

The BT-3F may not be acceptable to the naval infantry because it is based on the BMP-3, a tracked vehicle that always promised more than it could deliver. In any event the Russian naval infantry don’t need more than a hundred new APCs and how much money is available will be a major factor in whether they go with an improved BTR-80 or the BT-3F.

The BTR-80 is cheaper and more reliable that tacked armored vehicles. In 2013 an updated version of the BTR-80, the BTR-82A appeared and that is the competition for the BT-3F. While the United States abandoned wheeled armored vehicles after World War II, Russia kept theirs and constantly improved their BTR series. The BTR-80 appeared in 1986. While not as heavy, or as high tech, as the American Stryker, the BTR vehicles are popular with many nations, especially for use by police and paramilitary forces.

The 15 ton BTR-82A entered service in 2012 and is basically an improved and upgraded BTR-80. Both vehicles are armed with a 30mm autocannon in a turret. This weapon is stabilized, enabling it to fire accurately while the vehicle is moving. The vehicle also mounts a 7.62mm machine-gun. The BTR-82A also has a fire suppression system and a floor built to better protect the three crew and seven passengers from mines and roadside bombs. The hull incorporates a Kevlar layer to provide better protection against shell and bomb fragments. The BTR-82A has an improved engine, electronics, and is still amphibious. The BTR-82A has been well received.

Then there is the BMP-3M. In 2013, after a three year delay the Russian Army 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. Those problems were not fixed until 2013. Deliveries of the BMP-3M 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. Although the 2013 model seems to be working the BMP-3 has a history of poor performance while the BTR-80 does not.

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.

The BT-3F replaced the turret of the BMP-3 with a RWS (Remote Weapons Station) using a 7.62mm machine-gun. Armor protects against most shell fragments and machine-gun bullets up to 14.5mm. With more room inside the BT-3F can hold up to 14 people uncomfortable, which is OK for short trips from ship to shore. In water the BT-3F moves as 10 kilometers an hour.

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 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 and then cancelled in 2011 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 rapidly fell in the decade after the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. That came to about 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. The naval infantry want a small piece of that and they even have a choice of two competing vehicles.

 


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