October 3, 2016:
A Russian firm has developed yet another improved BMP-3, a tracked armored vehicle that always promised more than it could deliver. The new BMP-3D (for Dragoon or Dragun) is a 21 ton IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) that will begin Russian Army evaluation tests in 2017. Prototypes were shown off in 2015 and potential buyers were impressed at how the BMP-3D was redesigned for easier use by passengers and crew. As part of this the BMP-3D moves the engine towards the front of the vehicle and uses a RWS (remote weapons station) which handles the three weapons (anti-tank missile launcher, 30mm autocannon and 7.62mm machine-gun) in that very crowded, but now unmanned, turret. BMP-3D has improved armor as well as the ability to quickly attach even more lightweight armor. Russia hopes the BMP-3D design will be the basis for a new family of armored vehicles. That’s very optimistic given the history of the BMP.
The original 13 ton BMP-1 came out in 1966 and while over 43,000 were produced by 1982 it was always considered a second rate IFV by its users but impressive looking by the governments that bought it. The 14 ton BMP-2 appeared in 1980 and had better weapons and electronics. It was quickly followed by the 18 ton BMP-3 in 1987. Coming as it did just before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, not many were produced (about 2,000 so far), mostly for export. Deliveries of the BMP-3 to the Russian military 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 them because of quality problems.
There’s been a lot of these new variants since the 1990s. In 2016 there was the 18.5 ton BT-3F, a new amphibious version for Russian naval infantry. 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 uncomfortably, which is OK for short trips from ship to shore. In water the BT-3F moves as 10 kilometers an hour.
Before that there was the BMP-3M, which was a bit of a problem after it was introduced in 2005. In 2013, after a three year delay the Russian Army finally agreed to accept new BMP-3Ms from the manufacturer. Initial attempts to deliver in 2010 were refused because of quality and reliability issues. This was kept quiet as that might 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. Those quality problems took three years to get fixed and tested by troops.
What made the original BMP-3 so attractive is that it was a BMP had 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 BMP-3 is a lightweight (at most 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 original BMP-3 sits seven in the back, compared to six more comfortably in the back of the M2.
The original BMP-3, which entered service in 1987, was a major improvement over the original BMP models of the 1960s 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 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. But the commanders of the post-Soviet army were no longer willing (or obliged) to accept a lot of the poorly designed and made armored vehicles being churned out by the late 1980s. That’s another change that does not get nearly as much attention as it should.