BMP-1 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (Russia)

The Russian BMP-1 IFV is one of the most significant innovations in infantry tactics in the Twentieth Century. It was the world's first IFV and represented a major shift in the employment of mechanised infantry as the IFV could now provide the infantry with a mobility, protection and firepower that were unheard of. The BMP (Boyevaya Mashina Pyekhota) has been followed by the American M2 / M3 Bradley, German Marder and British Warrior to name but a few, but with over 55,000 having been built since 1966, it is numerically one of the most important armoured vehicles produced. The appearance of the BMP was actually quite surprising given that the Red Army was quite a way behind in the
BMP 1
BMP-1
development of armoured personnel carriers (APC - effectively the forerunners of the modern IFV), particularly the USA, UK and Germany who had produced the M3 half-track, British Universal Carrier and the SdKfz 251 respectively. These were the first attempts to provide infantry with a means to keep up with tanks on the modern battlefield, forming an important part of the combined arms concept. The Red Army did not receive any armoured personnel carriers during World War two as they were deemed a low priority. After the war, the Soviets began to mechanise their infantry having acquired examples of the US M3 half-track and British Universal Carrier through lend-lease and capturing German SdKfz 251 half-tracks.

The first attempt was the BTR-152, which was modelled on the wartime half-tracks but was wheeled. It was, on the whole, rather unimpressive, but was cheap to produce and maintain, important when you consider the Soviet Army had around 120 Rifle divisions to mechanise. In the early 1950s, many Western countries began experimenting with fully tracked armoured personnel carriers that were fully enclosed, such as the British FV432, US M59 and West German HS.30. The Soviet Army began experiments with tracked infantry vehicles after 1945, with designs such as the K-75 (carrying 17 troops developed from the T-70 light tank), Obiekt 112 (carrying 25 infantrymen in a fully armoured rear compartment, it was too complicated for the time but formed the basis of such vehicles as the 2S3 152mm self-propelled gun), and K-78 (which became the basis of the BTR-50 APC). The BTR-152 was replaced by the BTR-50P, which could carry twenty troops or two tons of equipment and was of a simple box design similar to that of the PT-76 light tank. The BTR-50P was not entirely satisfactory either, as it was difficult to enter and exit, the troops having to clamber up and down the sides and on the roof. Additionally, the Soviets began to realise that APCs should be tailored to fit squad size, and Army doctrine began to reflect the growing importance of tactical nuclear weapons.

The APC was essentially a battlefield taxi, meant to deliver the troops to the battleline from where they dismounted and fought on foot. On a nuclear battlefield, this would expose them to radiation and / or a chemically contaminated environment. Also, the power of nuclear weapons meant that forces would have to be very mobile and mass for the attack almost at the very last minute to avoid presenting a tempting target for enemy nuclear weapons. Armoured vehicles provided the solution to protecting the infantry - but it would have to be reconfigured so that the infantry could fight from within. Thus was born the idea of the IFV. There was a problem however, with cost, in terms of both the initial procurement price and the operating costs over the vehicle's lifetime. Wheeled vehicles have, in the main, been much cheaper to buy and maintain. The Soviet Army thus adopted a 'high-low' approach to infantry mechanisation, with the cheaper BTR-60PB APC equipping most of the Rifle divisions and the BMP would equip the forward deployed Motor Rifle regiments in the divisions facing NATO and in the Western USSR. Later on, the distribution of the vehicle would become more generous with almost all Motor Rifle divisions having at least one regiment equipped with BMP. The requirement was issued by the Main Administration of the Armoured Force (GBTU) towards the end of the 1950s. The armament had already been decided and was going to based around a compact one-man turret mounting a 73mm low pressure gun (2A28 Grom), a co-axial 7.62mm machine gun (PKT) and a rail launcher for the 9M14 Malyutka (AT-3 Sagger) anti-tank missile.

The Soviet Army was still wary of an all-tracked configuration and decided on a competitive design developed between several design bureau's, which included the Gavalov KB (located in Volgograd and went onto develop the BMD-1 airborne fighting vehicle), Isakov KB (Chelyabinsk) and smaller design teams in Rutsovsk and Briansk. The various bureau's came up with a mixture of designs (Obiekt 1200, 19, 911, 914 and 765) with only two (914 and 765) being fully tracked conventional designs. The two differed in the location of the engine and the means by which the infantry exited the vehicle. In the end, Obiekt 765 was chosen (from the Isakov KB) as it had a front-mounted engine, the infantry could exit from the rear doors, and the rear troop compartment had a better layout. Production began in 1966 - 7 to produce the prototypes for trial (the trials taking place at the Rzhev and Kubinka proving grounds) and acceptance into service occurred in 1969. A new facility was developed and built to house the Isakov KB that has become the main development and production centre for the BMP with a subsidiary plant in Chelybinsk. After ironing out a number of difficulties (such as the weight imbalance caused by the frontal location of the engine - a problem that was solved by lengthening the hull) the 765 went into full-scale production as the BMP-1. The choice of the BMP-1 provoked quite a vigorous debate in the Ground Forces as many tank officers saw the vehicle as being very expensive with regard to being an infantry vehicle (especially when the BTR was available cheaply in large numbers) and which was still poorly armed and armoured compared to a tank. The Soviet Army's doctrine was changing too. As the USSR began to achieve parity with the USA in terms of strategic weapons, a European War was less likely to be a nuclear affair and more likely to have been restricted to conventional forces only. In this scenario there were questions as to the BMP's survivability in the face of strong anti-tank defences.

New tactics were therefore devised to overcome this. A platoon of tanks would be attached to the vanguard to form a tank / infantry combined arms team and the infantry would follow behind the tanks and deal with the anti-tank defences followed by the BMPs who would give fire support. The BMP was first tested during the Yom Kippur War of October 1973 as a number of BMPs had been supplied to both Egypt and Syria. Both the Egyptians and the Syrians appreciated the low silhouette, low ground pressure, speed and mobility of the vehicle. The down side was that it did become unbearably hot with the hatches closed and leaving them open left the infantry vulnerable to air bursts, the 73mm gun was only really effective at close range and there were difficulties in guiding the Malyutka (Sagger) missile from within the vehicle. Their opponents the Israelis were also impressed the BMP's performance, particularly around the Kantara salt marshes which normally bogged down ordinary tanks. The 1973 War was not really a fair test of the BMP as neither the Egyptians or the Syrians had had their vehicles long enough to adequately train with it. Also, the tactics employed were similar to, but not entirely the same as the Soviet Army. After the war, technical feedback from both Egypt and Syria confirmed a number of shortcomings in the BMP-1 which had been raised in troop exercises in the USSR. The BMP is actually so low that it is likely to hit its own dismounted infantry if they are advancing in front of it. A fifty-metre fire zone was adopted between each squad so that the BMP could fire past them, but such tactics are easier to implement in an exercise than in the confusion of the modern battlefield. The BMP-1 has also seen action with the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, the Iraqi Army in the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War, Libyan forces in Chad and Cuban forces in Angola. The BMP is of all-steel construction and can resist 12.7mm / 0.5 in fire in the frontal arc.

The driver sits in the hull to the left side and has a single piece hatch as well as three day periscopes the centre one of which can be replaced with a periscope that can be extended upwards for amphibious operations. The commander is seated behind the driver and has a cupola with three day periscopes, the centre one of which can be replaced with a binocular one or a variable magnification periscope. The engine (UTD-20 6 cylinder diesel developing 300hp) and transmission are located to the right of the driver and commander. The gunner has a single piece hatch and a 1PN22M1 dual mode monocular periscope sight and a stadiametric range finder. The main armament is the 2A28 73mm low pressure, short recoil gun which is fed by a 40-round magazine (HEAT). The vehicle also has a 7.62mm PKT machine gun mounted co-axially. The launcher for the Malyutka (AT-3 Sagger) missile is mounted over the main gun and is directed by a joystick that is kept under the gunner's seat and released by pulling the handle. The mechanism is then locked into position. Some BMP-1s (known as the BMP-1P) have had their Malyutka missiles replaced by a pintle mounted AT-4 Spigot or AT-5 Spandrel missile on the turret. The troop compartment has room for eight infantrymen seated back to back, four on each side. There are two doors in the rear of the hull, four roof hatches and four firing ports on each side of the hull. The troops will carry their own personal small arms but also RPG-7 anti-tank weapons and SA-7 Grail surface-to-air missiles. The suspension is of a torsion bar type and the BMP has six rubber-tyred road wheels. It is fully amphibious and is propelled in the water by its tracks. It is fitted with an over-pressure NBC system which is linked to a scavenger system to remove gases from fired weapons.

BMP variants are extremely numerous. In Russian service there is the basic BMP-1, BMP-1K and 1K3 (command), BMP-1P (with AT-4 launcher), BMP-1PK (command version of 1P), BRM-1K (Boevaya Razvedyvatnaya Mashina - alternatively the BMP-1 M1976 - a reconnaissance version), BMP-1KShM (unarmed command version), PRP-3 or 4 radar vehicles, RTV repair vehicle, BMP-PPO mobile training centre and IV-31 (or BMP-1 MP-31 command vehicle for air defence). Many BMPs are still in service with the former Warsaw Pact countries as well as former Soviet client states. BMP-1F is a reconnaissance version used by Hungary, BWP is the Polish version of the BMP-1, BVP-1 is the Czech version and the MLI-84 is a Rumanian built BMP-1. There are a large number of upgrades available of the BMP including the BMP-1G offered by Russia, which replaces the AT-3 Sagger with the AT-4 Spigot or AT-5 Spandrel with tandem warheads, a semi-automatic command to line-of-sight guidance system for improved accuracy, a 30mm AG-17 grenade launcher instead of the PKT machine gun and a new powerpack. There is also a new engine offered by Transmash (UTD-23 diesel developing 360hp), the Kliver turret (one man turret with 30mm cannon, 7.62mm machine gun and four ATGWs, appliqué armour (as used in Afghanistan) and a turret from Delco (with 25mm cannon). The BMP-1 is in service with countries such as Russia, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, Iraq, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Libya, Poland, Slovakia and Vietnam.

Hull length: 6.74m. Hull width: 2.94m. Height: 2.15m. Crew: 3+8. Ground Clearance: 0.39m. Weight: 13,500kg (combat) Ground pressure: 0.6kg/sq.cm Max speed: 65km/h. Max range (internal fuel): 550 - 600km on road. Armament: 73mm smoothbore low pressure gun, 1 x 7.62mm MG coaxial, 1 x launcher rail for AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missile.

Zaloga, Steven J. BMP Infantry Combat Vehicle, 2nd Ed, Concord Publications, 1990, Hong Kong.
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Zaloga, Steven & Sarson, Peter. BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicle 1967 - 1994, Osprey UK, 1994, London, New Vanguard Series No. 12.
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How to cite this article: Antill, P. (30 March 2001), BMP-1 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (Russia), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_bmp1.html

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