Armor: Ukraine Gets Desperate And Creative


March 23, 2015: In an effort to deal with the need for modern military equipment to fight the Russian-backed rebels, the Ukrainian government is focusing on its local resources to rebuild its armed forces. This is a necessity because most Western countries refuse to supply Ukraine with weapons because Western leaders believe it would not help Ukraine on the battlefield and would simply escalate the conflict. Ukraine disagrees and in order to maintain a credible defense against the Russian backed rebels (which often include Russian troops) Ukraine is rearming itself with local resources. Despite the vigorous European and American rhetoric, this support has mostly diplomatic and economic. Foreign attempts to assist in modernizing the Ukrainian armed forces have been token gestures. Ukraine needs new and improved armor vehicles.

In response Ukraine is refurbishing existing equipment with Ukrainian resources. Emphasis is on armored vehicles, which Ukraine has lots of. Most are elderly, but little used in the past but still effective. The best tanks available to Ukraine right now are 250 T-64BMs and 350 T-64BVs. Ukraine also has 1,000 older T-64B tanks in storage. Only the T-64BM and T-64BM are operational and are in use with the Ukrainian Army. The Since 2007 Ukraine has been upgrading about one of the older T-64Bs to the T-64BM each month. This costs about $600,000 per T-64B. Ukrainian arms factories are also building the T-84 Oplot-M tank and fifteen are already in service and another 40 are to be ready by the end of 2015, and 120 more in 2016 at a cost of $3.7 million each. All this is possible because Ukraine contained many Soviet era armored vehicle plants and inherited them when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.

Ukraine also renewed development of heavy infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) using the chassis of the T-64. A Ukrainian firm (Kharkov Morozov)  created prototypes of this 35 ton IFV, called theBMPV64 in 2005 but was never able to get any orders and suspended the project. Now the Ukrainian government wants to buy BMPV64s and development has resumed with production to begin by the end of the year. The BMPV64 is a T-64 with the turret removed and the upper portion of the hull raised in order to increase internal space. In addition the engine is moved to the front of the vehicle to give the crew and passengers (10-12 infantry) more space, protection and doors in the back for the infantry to exit the vehicle. There is a three man crew. The crew drives the vehicle and operates (from smaller turret than the original one) a 30mm autocannon and a 7.62mm machine-gun. Two anti-tank missiles are mounted on the left side of this turret.  On the front of the turret are three smoke grenade launchers. On top of the turret is a 23mm machine-gun and a 30mm automatic grenade launcher. The T-64 armor has ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) that can protect against most tank gun shells. In all it’s a formidable weapon that provides exceptional protection for the infantry

Specialists from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (MoD) are also trying to adapt Zaslon APS (Active Protection System) for the BMPV64. Zaslon consists of a radar to detect incoming missiles and small rockets to rush out and disable the incoming threat. A complete APS weighs between 500 and 1,000 kg (depending on the type of vehicle it is installed on). If the APS is added there will also be upgrades to the BMPV64 fire control system to handle it. Zaslon is already installed on the T-64BM tanks.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine revitalized the Ukrainian armor vehicle industry, which has been just getting by with small contracts to maintain or upgrade existing vehicles. Thus there was a lot of unused capacity in this Cold War era industry and the companies are scrambling to entice former workers to return or come out of retirement to make it all work. If the Ukrainian armored vehicle industry can rise to the challenge they will have vehicles to sell to export customers. That is always easier when what you offer is inexpensive and “combat proven”.

Ukraine has suffered heavy losses to its existing armored vehicle force. At least 150 tanks and another 350 IFVs of various types have been lost in combat since early 2014. Currently the primary Ukrainian IFV is the ageing BMP-2, which offers protection only against small arms fire and is very vulnerable to shaped-charge weapons (like RPGs), cannon fire, or even armor-piercing heavy (14mm) machine gun bullets. Ukrainian BMP-2s have been lost in numbers greater than any other vehicle type in Ukrainian service. The BMPV64 IFV weighs more than twice as much as the 14.3 ton BMP-2 and more similar to the 32.7 ton weight of the US Army's Bradley M2A3 IFV. While Ukrainian T-64s have also suffered a high loss rate the additional armored protection that a heavy BMPV64 provides is something Ukrainian infantry are looking forward to.

Converting MBT hulls into IFVs is not a new concept, with Israel in particular well known for converting first Centurion tank hulls, and now Merkava tank hulls into heavy IFVs. This is because in urban warfare speed is less relevant and all-round protection is critical. The Ukrainian T-64 IFV is, however, dwarfed by the Merkava-derived Nemer IFV, which weighs 62 tons.

Ukraine had earlier proposed tank based IFVs but never got as far into development as the BMBV64. The first effort was the BMT-72. This effort to convert the T-72 into a heavy IFV involved the turret of the T-72, complete with a 125mm gun and 30 rounds, plus the 12.7mm and 7.62mm machine guns, remaining. But the T-72 was modified to carry five infantry. Unfortunately the troops had to get out via top hatches. Ukraine solved that problem with the BTMP-84, which was a variant of the locally designed T-84. This heavy IFV had the T-84's turret, including the ability to carry 36 rounds for the main gun but, like the BMT-72, it carried only five troops. Thus the BMPV64 was a much better IFV design even though it was based on an older tank.

Ukraine is also considering refurbishing its 167 T-80UD and 1,032 T-72M1 tanks. The vast majority of Ukraine’s T-80 and T-72 battle tanks were manufactured in Russia and therefore parts were expensive to get from Russia.  Because of the Russian invasion Ukraine has now made the effort to set up production lines for manufacturing some T-72 parts so they could make more of their T-72s operational. – Ryan Schinault





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