BMP-3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle


Tomasz Szulc

Translated by Hudi


When the BMP-1 IFV appeared in the 60s, western experts were amazed. Never before any infantry transport vehicle had such capabilities. It had exceptionally heavy fire power, delivered by the 73mm cannon and Malutka anti-tank missile, which allow it to successfully engage all tanks of that time. The eight soldiers carried it the rear section, which faced the wall while sitting, could fire their personal weapons through fire holes. The transport section had 2 large rear doors and 4 large hatches, which allows rapid and safe troop loading. Additionally the vehicle was low, very mobile off-road, could overcome water obstacle without preparations, and the slanted front armor panels were immune to small caliber gun shots. At that time, no armored vehicles had such features. Under the influence of BMP-1, generations of western vehicles were produced, begging with the German Marder from 1971 to the Swedish CV-90 of 1993.


Almost immediately after the beginning of BMP-1 production, the Russians initiated its modernization program. They found that the chassis was quite modern and mainly the weaponry requires upgrades. They tested 73mm cannon with a longer barrel, but the combination of 2A42 30mm automatic cannon and new 9M113 anti-armor missile were far better. They were installed in a new, two person turret. The number of soldiers carried decreased from 8 to 7; the vehicle was more heavy but retained floatability. Object 675, designed in 1974 were produced under the BMP-2 designation, however further modernization program were continued. Improved BMP-1 and BMP-2 were created, but the generals required a new vehicle of next generation, superior to its predecessors. Many facts concerning the creation of BMP-3 are still secret today.


It is not clear whether the new IFV was chosen from several competing projects (BMP-1) or was ordered to one bureau like the BMP-2. The second theory seems more probable as there are only two construction bureau had the expertise in building such vehicles: Kurgan Machine Factory producing BMPs and the Wologograd Tracktor Factory manufacturing BMDs. It is not excluded that the construction of alternative vehicles were order to other companies (f. ex. Gorkowski factory, specialized in wheeled vehicles), but there are no proves.


 The protoplast of the new IFV was the light tank – Object 685 designed in Kurganmasz by the team of A. Blagonrawow from the 70s. It history is also full of reticence. IT was probably the successor of PT-76 and was competing with Object 934 from Wolograd. Both of them had the same main weapon – 100mm 2A48 cannon with autoloader, fire control system, probably the same 2W-06, 295kW engine. As none of them entered serial production, one could suppose that the Soviet Ministry of Defense lost interest in them or changed the requirement that none of the “Objects” could not fulfill. Probably the new requirement was the 125mm cannon, which could not fit in the turrets of these vehicles.


The traction system, chassis and engine of the Object 685 seem so promising and well designed that it was used for the new IFV. The chosen light tank construction was not optimal for IFVs. The engine was at the rear and the fuel tank in the front, the torsion bar suspension system did not guarantee a comfortable ride. One can presume that the team under the supervision of Blagonrawow (later A. Nikonow) could easily move the engine to the front and the counterbalancing fuel tank to the rear, but this was not done. A new, extraordinarily flat, UTD-29 engine without turbo charge was installed instead. The V shaped engine had a maximum power of 330kW, the angle between cylinders was 144°, and therefore it is close to boxer configuration. It was equipped with a hydro-mechanical, 4 gear planetary, transmission and a hydro-kinetical turning mechanism (GOMP). The engine intake was placed on the rear, right part of the chassis, and the exhaust on the lower, right, under the intake (the exhaust is probably mixed with cold air to lower thermal signals). While afloat, the air intake closes automatically (this also happen when the sensors register a nuclear explosion), and a 400mm high chimney above the intake is used instead. The fuel volume is 690 dm³ and it was most likely the first soviet armed vehicle, which did not have external fuel tanks. Despite of that, its range is around 600km.


The hull was raised slightly, without changing its shape. It is made from hardened aluminum alloy, which is comparably light and assures immunity against small-caliber gun fire. Supposedly the front, additionally protected by the steel breakwater and ploughshare for self-trenching, could not be penetrated even by 30mm rounds, and the general protection was 1.7 times greater than BMP-1s steel armor. Thanks to the light armor BMP-3 only weights 17 tons. It is interesting that Object 685 allegedly had steel hull and titanium turret, but it could be inaccurate, as in the case of steel hull, nothing justify the usage of titanium for turret (in the case of aluminum alloy hull it would be reasonable). The caterpillar 380mm wide allows BMP-3 to achieve a lower track pressure than BMP-1. For the first time soviet IFV were driven by propellers while afloat (the remnants of the floating tank?), which not only allowed the vehicle to reach a higher speed (comparing with driven by tracks), but also better a mobility on water.


The transport section connected with the drivers and is located in the center of the chassis.  This solution is used in wheeled transporters BTR-60/70/80/90 but is far from optimum for loading/unloading troops. On the sides of the vehicle 4 shooting holes with periscopes, additional shooting holes is installed on the right rear door, however it can be only used in the lying position. To ensure safety during enter/exiting the vehicle, a corridor with 2 rear doors was made above the engine compartment. On top of the corridor 2 large, rectangular hatches were installed, which open toward the side and partly shield the soldiers. In the large hatches, 2 smaller, oval openings were made, which allow the soldier to f. ex. fire from grade launchers or anti-air missiles. The armaments of the vehicle were installed in a flat, crewless turret. It was to be formed of 30mm 2A42 automatic cannon, 7.62mm machine gun and 2 9M133 Kornet launchers (at that time Kornet only existed on paper, but their size was well defined). In the front part of the vehicle, 2 PKT machine guns were installed. These were operated by the transported soldiers and could move from -5 to +15° in vertical and 35° horizontally. The aiming point was defined by a light fiber system, the commander could designate targets to the shooters by a light designator, and locked in the neutral position, they can be fired by the driver. Such configured vehicle named Object 688, was prepared for test in 1981. Vehicles with factory numbers 602 and 603 were tested first; in 1982 2 more vehicles 601 and 604 equipped with new turrets designed by KBP from Tula joined them.


The new turrets were armed with uncommonly heavy weapons. It composes of 2A70 100mm thin-walled, threaded cannon which weights only 330kg and a collinearly mounted 2A72 30mm automatic cannon, which can be raised up to 60°. Both weapons were designed specially for BMP-3 and other usages were not initially planned (f. ex. the barrel of 2A72 was too frail to be fired accurately without supported by the barrel of 2A70). The ammunition storage is 40 rounds for 2A70 (from which 22 are in the carousel autoloader, ensuring a fire rate of 10 rounds per minute), 500 for 2A72 and 6000 for 7.62 machine guns. The main gun can fire ZUOF-17 HE-FRAG projectiles and 9M117 anti-tank missile in the form of ZUBK-10-3 integrated projectile (8 pcs, manually loaded). To ease the guiding of the 9M117, a 1D16-2 laser rangefinder (later 1D-16-3) is installed above the barrel, like T-55AM2-B and T-62MB.


In the slightly tilted forward turret (its floor is parallel to the bottom of the chassis) a modern 2K23 fire control system is installed. It composes of 1W539 ballistic computer, 1K12-2 gun sight (later 1K13-2) with OU-5 and PPB-2 (anti-air) infrared reflector on the right side of the gun and 1PZ-10 anti-air gun sight. The first test vehicles were equipped with unstabilized TKN-3 Kristal commander observation apparatus and OU-3 reflector. The second had a newer, stabilized TKN-4S Agat-S (on serial production vehicles the cheaper passive-active type of TKN-3s were installed. “601” receive a weapon stabilizer form Czelabinsk, “604” had a simpler, modified 2E52 stabilizer from BMP-2, developed in Kowrow. The commander (on the right side) could independently fire the main weapon (probably without the antitank missiles). Steel panels were installed on the turret and 6 3D6 81mm Tucza smoke grenades were placed on the panels. The size of the vehicle changed minimally: 6715x3140x2300 mm, only the length including the gun barrel increased to 7200mm.


As the new turret was unquestionably better than the original turret of Object 688, the tests were cancelled and the next vehicles “605” and “606” were equipped with the new turret. Their weight increased to 18.7 t. (track pressure 6.1N/cm˛) but still was much lower than equivalent western IFVs (Bradley 30.3t, Marder1A3 29.2-33.5t). 27 trial vehicles were built, which were involved in factory tests and later since 1985 in state test (4 vehicles). Meanwhile 611 and 612 were tested in the Gulf of Sewastopol, achieving perfect performance in swimming and afloat fire tests. The serial production began in KMZ in 1986, with the 370 kW UTD-29M engine, ensuring a max. speed of 80km/h. In March 1988, first 10 BMP-3 were directed to a regiment in the Belarus Military District for “experimental military exploitation”.


The results did not give a single conclusion. On one hand, BMP-3 had high weapon capabilities – it gained 70% direct hits to surface targets of size 60x30cm, 3.5km away. On the other hand, it was troubled by extremely high malfunction rates. Nevertheless, the number of breakdowns decreased systematically: in 1986, for every 1000km there were 171 failures, in 1988 - 4.6, in 1990 - 2.46, in 1992 - less than 1. Initially, the electric system, engine air filter and cooling system failed, and the technical service took 3 times more time than BMP-2. The untypical engine location caused its replacement to last for 20h in combat conditions, and the GOMP, which required frequent regulation, could only be reached after removing the engine. The energy consumption was so large that two 12ST85R batteries could barely supply. However such situation was common for new vehicles, but the attitude of the Army was very critical. The non-optimal troop placement, which is configured like conventional tanks, was also mentioned. The driver is in the front center of the chassis, commander and gunner in the turret. One infantry seat on each side of the driver, three along the rear compartment wall, two on the sides (also in the rear). As the possibility of moving from the front to the rear exists only on paper, the shooters could leave the vehicle only through their top hatches. The field repair works also caused various problems: evacuation vehicles based on BMP-1 (BREM-Cz) can not haul BMP-3, and there was not a shortage of qualified welders and welding equipment operating under neutral gas conditions for repairing the armor. Following parties of vehicles were sent to experimental units and gradually to preselected front units. The first regiment equipped entirely with BMP-3 belonged to the Siberian Military District, which received their vehicles between 1988 and 1992. Later the disintegration of USSR and Russian economic crisis restrained the BMP-3 production to such a degree that no other large unit was equipped totally with the BMP-3, and the regiment mentioned above returned their BMP-3s in 2000 for “long term storage” and rearmed with MT-LB. This was caused by the severe price growth, in the beginning of 1991, BMP-3 cost 0.9 million rubles, but at the end of 1992 – 12 million. What is interesting, that according to western sources, even those most updated, the approximate number of BMP-3s fielded is about 700 (a number which apparently elevated).


However, BMP-3s were not used in any Chechen campaigns. This is justified as it was designed for the “great war” – a high intensity conflict, where both sides employ a large number of newest weapons and the smallest technical advantage could decide the outcome.


It would be over for BMP-3 if not its unpredicted export success. In 1989, United Arab Emirate tested BMP-2 with a positive result, and UAE planned to acquire a large quantity of it. However, at the end of the test, the information of the new vehicle was released and the rich customers wished its presentation. The new vehicle made excellent impression on the Arabs and both UAE and Kuwait ordered 650 and 150 each (till the end of 2000, 450 and 61 were delivered). They were equipped with the French Mamut-Athos thermosight (the same as in the Leclerc MBT), installed in a armored box at the rear of the turret, which enables the crew to fire at targets 3.5km away. Later, 43 vehicles were sold to Cyprus Greeks and 40 were given to South Korea as payment for debts. The information about selling BMP-3 to China is false; this country bought the license for producing the 2A70 cannon and fire control system. It is hard to confirm the information, that Sri Lanka received some BMP-3s. Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan “inherited” some BMP-3. The price of it on the world market is extremely competitive; the base model costs about 800 to 950 thousand USD, which is less than half of the Bradley.


Thanks to the export, Kurganmaszzawod began a series of modernization. First, the UAE vehicles were equipped with an upgraded BieLOMO (SOZ) gun sight and a laser rangefinder. The KDT-2 block above the barrel is no longer needed. The SOZ is equipped with an effective cooling system which enables firing 10 antitank missiles without turning it off. Later a very interesting offer was proposed – the installation of Arena active defense system. As the usage of ERA on light armor is dangerous, the active system is safe and increases the protection against cumulative projectiles and antitank missiles by a factor of 2. Such solution has one significant drawback – it is expensive (Arena could cost 1/3 of the IFV). The modified vehicle, public presented in 1999, weight 20.2t, has a digital ballistic computer, improved observation and aiming equipments (Bukiet), a French, stabilized thermosight Iris, BZS-1 daytime gun sight, rotateable TKN-A1 commander observation apparatus. An electronic self-diagnosing system with voice informing equipment Larisa and air-condition.  Additional armor protects the rear and sides of the vehicle against 12.7mm armor piercing projectiles. The most visible modification is the new turret. It is surrounded by explosive shrapnel containers of Arena, which gave the turret an upturned, cut cone shape. Six smoke grenade launchers were placed between the Arena containers, and the old turret armor are only visible from top. Even after discharging all  explosive charges, the container can act as passive shield against cumulative projectiles. At the rear of the turret, a massive block of Arena sensors are placed. For the upgraded IFV, Barnaultransmasz designed the UTD-32 engine developing 485kW with a fuel consumption of 165g/KM/h, which could be installed in the engine compartment without adaptation, despite being slightly heavier (980 against 910kg), 27mm longer, 92mm wider and 360mm[1] higher. An alternative is the Ukrainian offer – the 3TDF with 440kW.


In co-operation with Nil Stali a variant of BMP-3 equipped with passive-reactive armor in special containers was designed named BMP-3W, it can not float, but the modernization is much cheaper than the installation of Arena. The usage of multi-layer armor segments and special coating guarantee the preservation of the main armor’s proper shape after the explosion of ERA and protection against cumulative charges like 500mm steel armor. The mass of the additional armor (consisting 84 reactive elements of four types and passive shields) is 4150kg. This illustrates the complexity of the solution, as similar armor for T-55 weights only 1320kg. Another set of ERA for BMP-3 was offered in 2000 by GIAT in co-operation with SNPE.


The next version of the vehicle, designed in co-operation with KBP, has a new turret, hosting Bachcza-U complex – the same weapon, but with a newer ballistic computer and thermosight. The commander has a panoramic observation equipment with laser rangefinder. The turret has a heavier armor and it can fire the newest antitank 9M117M1 Arkan (with a tandem warhead capable of penetrating 750mm steel and a range of 5.5km) and projectile ZUOF-19 (with increased efficacy and range of 7km) through its main gun. It is important that the antitank missiles are loaded by autoloader. The new version could also receive Arena self-defense system.


A series of derivative vehicles were build basing on BMP-3 chassis. The first and probably in production for export (to UAE and Cyprus) is the Object 691 BREM-L Beglianka evacuation vehicle. The prototype of engineer machine TZM Wostog is also completed. Parallel to BREM, in the Rubcowski Factory’s construction bureau, the Object 501 BREM-3 Rys (Lynx) was designed and entered service in Russian army in 1995.


Comparably small changes were made to BMP-3K – tactical command vehicle, the ammunition for the main gun is reduced to 22 rounds in the autoloader and 3 antitank missiles, but with enriched communication equipments, TNA-4-6 navigational complex and AB 1-P30 additional power source. The battalion commander and his two deputies were to be carried. The second, slightly modified vehicle is BMP-3F, thanks to additional chassis and suspension sealing, with 18.3% float reserve, the vehicle could stay on water for 7 hours and fire accurately at sea state (?)[2] of 3. The BMP-3F do not have the steel ploughshare to reduce weight and move the center of gravity. A driver training vehicle was also constructed, it is 2.3 tons lighter and instead of the turret it has a glass cabin.


Hoping to make the BMP-3 a base armored vehicle of next generation, a modified chassis – Object 699 was designed, which weights 12 tons and could carry 6 tons. The Kornet and Krizantiema launchers, 2S31 Wena self-propelled cannon and Finish Amos twin barrel mortar are presently installed on the new chassis. The German Wildcat anti-air system turret (with 2 Mauser 30mm cannon and 4 missiles f. ex. Igla) is also offered. The newest configuration is the turret which is similar to the Pancyr anti-air system. Its model was revealed at the beginning of 2001.


It is hard to give a single judgment of BMP-3. No doubt that it is the newest and most heavily armed IFV in the world. But its armor is relatively light, and the choice of aluminum for main armor is questionable. The decision of placing the engine at the rear also causes skepticism. The main armament has a comparatively large mass, and in the situation where BMP-3 will co-operate with tanks, its firepower could turn out to be inadequate heavy. The usage of BMP-3 as the base vehicle for other purposes is less rational than f. ex. MT-S. During first years of BMP-3 exploitation by Arabs, the ineffective air filtering system was revealed. As the result, the engines were quickly worn out. The cooling system also was considered to be inefficient. The drawbacks which are vital for operating on deserts, were eliminated in following vehicles by installing additional ventilators. The cases of caterpillar splinter were caused by the inappropriate materials used – they were made in other chemical composition. The falling of caterpillars from propelling wheels during fast ride on sand was also a problem. It was solved by adding extra rings on the directing wheels. The stabilizing system and autoloader also required upgrade. It is strange that the only weaknesses which western experts focus on is the incapability to operate effectively at night (which now is eliminated) and the lack of APU (offered by Ukrainians, but probably with a new engine). BMP-3 certainly is an attractive alternative for rich countries which want to possess a modern army. However nothing indicates that it will be as popular as BMP-1 or 2.




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The original article in Polish

[1] I am not sure if this is the correct number, as additional 36cm seems (to me at least) too large to be installed in the old engine compartment without reconfiguration, 36mm would be more logical. But it figures in the original article.

[2] Originally in Polish „stan morza”, I am not sure of the English translation.