Armor: What You Can Afford


March 2, 2021: In the first week of 2021 Russia announced that the army will receive over 400 upgraded tanks and IFVs (infantry fighting vehicles) in the coming year but none will be the new T-14 Armata tanks and T-15 Armata IFV. The Armata is a radical new design for tanks and IFVs but is too expensive given the defense budgets available. In 2014 oil prices went way down and stayed down while the Ukraine invasion resulted in many economic and trade sanctions. Since then, the Russian replacement program for elderly Cold War era gear has had to settle for more rebuilt than brand new stuff.

This means the army received more upgrades of old T-72s to the T-72B3M and a smaller number of T-80BVMs and T-90Ms. Currently Russian troops prefer the T-72B3M. Since 2013 the army has been receiving an updated version of the old BTR-80 wheeled armored personnel carrier, the 8x8 BTR-82A. 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 at the end of the Cold War (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 current export model of the BTR-80 is the BTR-90.

The 15-ton BTR-82A is 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 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 amphibious.

In mid-2017 Russia ordered 540 upgraded BMP-2 and BMD-2 IFVs as part of its 2018-2025 military modernization program. Upgrading the current fleet of BMPs and BMDs will take time as 540 vehicles are a small portion of 4000 BMP-2 and BMD-2 IFVs in service and considered part of the modernization. The BMP modernization is mainly about improving firepower and fire control capabilities while other areas like armor or mobility remain relatively unchanged. The 14.6-ton BMP-2 and 11.5-ton BMD-2 were designed in the 1980s as upgrades or successors of the original BMP-1 from 1960s. The BMP-2 needs major mechanical and engine upgrades to support major upgrades. That’s why the BMP-2M weighs about 15 tons and basically has a new turret and fire-control system. The lighter BMD-2 is for airborne forces and but is otherwise similar to the BMPs. BMD deliveries were soon completed but the upgraded BMP-2M will take much longer. The BMP-2M IFV features the new Berezhok turret, fitted with four ready-to-launch Kornet ATGMs (laser guided anti-tank missiles) in two twin launchers on each side of the turret. Kornet's range is 5,500 meters and is much easier to use than older Fagot or Konkurs single tube ATGMs previously used on IFVs. Not only were these older systems outdated versus more capable enemy IFVs, but with only one launch tube had to be reloaded manually by the crew. These four ready-to-fire missiles are especially useful because Kornet can fire a two-missile salvo at one target. The 30mm cannon received improved stabilization and remote-controlled weapon station fitted with 30 mm automatic AGS-30 grenade launcher. The commander/gunner sight, thermal imagers, missile guide channel and laser rangefinder will receive an upgrade as well. These upgrades increase BMP-2 weight by half a ton. Nearly half of that is missiles and ammunition for the AGS-30. Meanwhile the airborne BMD-2M received similar weapons upgrades but with only two Kornet missiles.

These upgrades will dramatically improve BMP-2 and BMD-2 firepower capabilities and make them equal or superior to Western vehicles like the PUMA, CV90 or VBCI. This creates an interesting situation in which Russia will have very well armed IFV but poorly protected IFV compared to western designs which lack firepower (no ATGMs on CV90 or VBCI). This upgrade seems like a desperate attempt to modernize their mechanized forces because the new Armata tank and IFV are untried in combat and very expensive. Russia has basically declared the Armata based vehicles will remain in development for years while problems are discovered and worked out, and more money is available to mass produce them.




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