The Soviet BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle is a historically very significant vehicle, responsible for popularizing the IFV concept on a massive scale worldwide. The vehicle itself remains to this day the most produced infantry fighting vehicle in history, with about 40,000 produced in total in the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, not counting various copies which could bring up that number by several thousands.
This ubiquitous status of the BMP-1, as well as the vehicle being long obsolete has led to a number of upgrade packages being studied and offered. Post-Soviet collapse Russia, which inherited thousands of BMP-1s, was the source of several of these. Likely the simplest to undertake, yet a still non-negligible upgrade, was created by mating the BMP-1 hull with a turret from the BMD-2 airborne IFV. The resulting vehicle was the BMP-1-30.
The IFV of the Soviet World: Brief Summary of the BMP-1
Generally considered to be the first modern infantry fighting vehicle, the BMP-1 was designed by the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant in the early 1960s as the Object 765. It was adopted by the Red Army in 1965. Mass-production began under the name of BMP-1 in 1966.
The BMP-1 was a welded hull, amphibious armored fighting vehicle mounting a central one-man turret armed with the 2A28 Grom 73 mm low-pressure smoothbore gun and fed by an autoloader mechanism. The vehicle also featured a coaxial PKT 7.62 mm machine gun and a 9M14 Malyutka missile launcher mounted on top of the Grom’s barrel. To the rear, a troop compartment allowed the vehicle to transport 8 dismounts.
When first pushed into service in the late 1960s, the BMP-1 was a major addition to the Red Army’s arsenal, and despite the existence of some previous vehicles, such as the West German HS.30, it is often considered to be the first truly modern Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) to be adopted in massive numbers. Nevertheless, it was for the Eastern Bloc at least. The vehicle could be used to support armored assaults in all types of terrains thanks to its amphibious capacities, and was notably able to carry a section of infantry even in heavily contaminated terrain, which would typically be expected after the use of NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) weapons. Support for accompanying tanks as well as dismounting infantry would be provided by a 73 mm Grom infantry support gun and a Malyutka missile launcher, with four missiles stored inside the vehicle. This was a considerable evolution in comparison to Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs), which typically mounted little more than a heavy machine gun. In the Soviet Union, production of the BMP-1 lasted until 1982, with more than 20,000 vehicles produced. Almost equally large quantities were manufactured in Czechoslovakia as the BVP-1, while India produced a number under license, and a number of countries would produce more or less identical copies (Type 86 in China, Boragh in Iran, Khatim in Sudan). Operated in massive numbers by the Soviet Army and widely exported, the BMP-1 became perhaps the most ubiquitous infantry fighting vehicle in the world, despite a more modern type, the BMP-2, entering service in the early 1980s.
Russians BMP-1s in a Post-Soviet World
After years of a decline that the best efforts of various Soviet leaders could not prevent, the Soviet Union finally collapsed in December 1991, after most of its Warsaw Pact allies had gone their own way in 1989 and various Soviet Republics started declaring their independence from 1991 onward.
Russia, the largest, most populated, and most industrialized Republic of the former union, inherited most of the Red Army’s armament. Although the most significant aspect of this would likely be exclusive control of the USSR’s tremendous nuclear arsenal, it would also manifest in tens of thousands of armored fighting vehicles produced and fielded during the Soviet years. This included massive numbers of BMP-1s, perhaps up to ten thousand. The BMP-1 was at this point already fairly obsolete, with its 73 mm Grom main gun notably proving fairly puny and anemic, with a short effective range and only limited armor-piercing or high-explosive potential provided from its small shells. While some Soviet efforts, such as the BMP-1P upgrade (notably replacing the old Malyutka ATGM by a more modern Konkurs or Fagot ATGM and adding Tucha smoke dischargers), had been applied to part of the fleet, it nonetheless remained obvious that the BMP-1 was antiquated. More modern options were already in existence. The BMP-2 was in large-scale service for around a decade by the time of the collapse of the USSR and was armed with a 30 mm autocannon, far more useful than the Grom. The new BMP-3, a recent addition to the Soviet arsenal when the USSR collapsed, provided both a 30 mm autocannon and a 100 mm gun firing high-explosive shells and ATGMs, overall proving to be a very modern option. As such, it would appear the BMP-1 could perhaps entirely have been relegated to reserve use as these new vehicles entered service.
The 1990s, however, quickly turned into a dreadful decade of economic collapse, widespread corruption, violence, and chaos for Russia, putting potential plans of a quick modernization of the army into disarray. The production of many high-end vehicles designed towards the later years of the Soviet Union, such as the T-72BU, which would be redesignated into the T-90, or the BMP-3, had to be slowed down or prioritized towards exports instead of domestic use, meaning old vehicles such as the BMP-1 proved to be longer-lived in Russian service. In these economically trying times, potential upgrades for Soviet vehicles used abroad could also potentially be a lucrative prospect for Russian design bureaus to try and exploit. At the same time, the Russian Army was desperately cash-strapped, so an affordable upgrade could have had some potential.
The BMP-1-30 appears to date from 1997. It is not associated with any single design bureau, and considering how its creation may have been a very easy affair, it is possible it was simply a creation of the Russian Army.
Replacing the Grom main armament has been the focus of many of the more extensive BMP-1 upgrades which have been created. For this, many different solutions have been studied. For example, in the same period as the BMP-1-30 was created, the city of Tula’s KBP Instrument Design Bureau offered a BMP-1 refitted with a new turret, armed with a powerful 30 mm 2A72 autocannon as well as new Kornet ATGMs. However, one would not necessarily need to create a new turret to improve upon the BMP-1.
By the 1990s, a number of new IFVs had appeared. Among them was the BMD-2, the second in the BMD line of airborne infantry fighting vehicles. The first BMD, the BMD-1, featured the same turret and armament as the BMP-1. However, when the USSR moved from Grom-armed to 30 mm-armed IFVs, turret commonality could no longer be achieved between the BMP and BMD, as the new BMP-2 introduced a two-man turret with a larger turret ring. Another turret was thus designed for the BMD-2, which used the same 2A42 autocannon and 9P135 ATGM launcher as the BMP-2 but was smaller, retaining only one crewmember and, crucially, the same 1,380 mm turret ring as the turret of the BMP-1 and BMD-1. In the context of the 1990s, this suddenly made the BMD-2’s turret a really suitable turret in order to upgrade BMP-1s, as it featured superior armament while having the same turret ring diameter, greatly simplifying the refit process.
The B-30 Turret
The B-30 turret which outfitted the BMP-1-30 was a small, one-man turret with a 1,380 mm turret ring.
The cylindrical turret has a higher volume than the BMP-1’s, and as such, the gunner could be said to be slightly less cramped. However, internal space is still limited and the turret can be judged to be very uncomfortable by the standards of Western IFVs. The seat of the gunner is slightly offset to the left of the turret, while the main gun is slightly offset to the right. Two periscopes are present in a bulge on the left side of the turret, while two others are to the right of the hatch, mounted on the main turret body. These periscopes are of the TNPO-160 type, which provide a 78° horizontal and 28° vertical field of view. The gun sights are mounted to the front, and include a main day/night sight and a secondary high-elevation sight mostly used to target aircraft. Overall, visibility is considered to be good for the gunner, typically superior to the BMP-1 turret, making the issues of a one-man turret slightly less pronounced.
The 30 mm 2A42
The main armament of the B-30 turret is the 30 mm 2A42 autocannon. This is a widely used gun, also used on the BMP-2, but also modern Soviet combat helicopters, such as the Mi-28 and Kamov Ka-50 and Ka-52.
The 2A42 fires the Soviet 30×165 mm cartridge. It uses a dual-feed system. There is a digital display showing the number of shells still available in the turret, as well as a switch allowing for a quick change in the type of ammunition fired. The weapon features a 2,416 mm barrel, fitted with a double-baffle muzzle brake. The autocannon has two dedicated fire rates, a slow one at 200 rpm and a quicker one at 550 rpm. During sustained fire, the rate of fire can reach higher values. The turret allows for a very high elevation of +60° which, coupled with a dedicated high-elevation sight, makes the 2A42 a more dangerous threat for helicopters than what would be expected from a ground vehicle.
A number of 30×165 mm shells are available for the 2A42. The total number of shells carried inside the BMD-2 turret is 300. If enough work was put into it, it is likely the larger hull of the BMP could allow for higher ammunition stowage.
For use against light fortifications, infantry, soft-skinned vehicles, and other unarmored targets, the 2A42 can fire the 3UOF8 High-Explosive Incendiary (HE-I) shells. This shell has an explosive filling of 49 grams of A-IX-2, the standard Soviet explosive autocannon shell formula since 1943. The overall mass of the projectile is 390 g, and that of the whole cartridge 842 g. In high-explosive belts, it is complemented by the 3UOR6. This shell forsakes most of the explosive charge, with only 11.5 g remaining, to mount a very large tracer. Fired at the same muzzle velocity of 980 m/s, it is used for fire correction purposes, though over large distances, the trajectory of the two shells may begin to differ. With a fuse lasting 9 to 14 seconds, the explosive shells will generally detonate after about 4 km if they have not met a target, though autocannons are typically used effectively at much closer ranges. The rate of tracer to high-explosive rounds in a 30 mm belt tends to be 1:4.
For armor-piercing duties, two types of 30 mm shells exist. The older 3UBR6 is a fairly classic armor-piercing shell with a core of hardened structural steel. This steel core weighs 375 g, with the entire projectile weighing just 25 g more, at 400 g, and the entire shell weighs 856 g. It features a tracer that burns for 3.5 seconds after being fired, and has a muzzle velocity of 970 m/s. Its penetration values against Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) at an angle of 60° are 29 mm at 700 m, 18 mm at 1,000 m, and 14 mm at 1,500 m. These are fairly mediocre performances, able to defeat little more than light armored vehicles in the vast majority of cases.
A more modern armor-piercing shell exists in the form of the 3UBR8, an Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) shell with a tracer. It features a lighter 222 g piercing core of tungsten alloy. The projectile as a whole is 304 g, and the cartridge 765 g. Fired at a muzzle velocity of 1,120 m/s, this shell seems to penetrate, against similar RHA armor and at the same angle of 60°, 35 mm at 1,000 m and 25 mm at 1,500 m. It offers much more suitable performances than the older 3UBR6 against modern infantry fighting vehicles.
The 2A42 is supplemented by a coaxial 7.62×54 mmR PKTM machine gun. In this particular regard, the B-30 turret is actually worse than the one of the BMD-1 and BMP-1. Both of these use the same machine gun, however, it is fed from a single 2,000 rounds box, making reloading a non-issue for the gunner in most combat situations, a welcome reduction of tasks in a one-man turret. The B-30 turret uses more moderately sized 250 round belts which need to be reloaded a lot more often.
The 9P135 Launcher
The BMD-2 turret is fitted with a 9P135 missile launcher mounted to the right of the turret, fairly high so as not to interfere with the vision from periscopes or sights.
The 9P135 launcher was designed to fire the 135 mm 9K113 Konkurs but is also compatible with the smaller 120 mm 9K111 Fagot, which eases logistical work and adds versatility. The more powerful Konkurs is typically the preferred missile, but in case it cannot be supplied, the smaller Fagot, widely used by infantry, can be used instead. The 9M113 missile is 1.17 m long and has an average speed of slightly above 200 m/s, though it can peak at around 300 m/s. The original missile is fitted with a single 2.7 kg shaped charge warhead which can grant armor penetration of 750 to 800 mm of Rolled Homogenous Armor on average.
In 1991, before the BMP-1-30 was created, a more modern version of the Konkurs, the 9M113M, was unveiled. It focused on improving performances against ERA by adding a secondary charge triggered by a standoff probe, designed to trigger ERA and reduce its effectiveness against the main shaped charge. Besides improved performance against ERA, the 9M113M’s performances are similar to the 9M113. Both missiles have an effective range of about 4km.
The 9M111 missile is smaller (120 mm) and shorter (86.3 cm) with a slower average (186 m/s) and maximum (240 m/s) speed. It features a slightly smaller explosive charge than the 9M113, of 2.5 kg, and is rated only for 400 mm of penetration against RHA, and has a shorter effective range of around 2 km.
By the 1990s, two upgraded Fagot missiles were available. The first, the 9M111-2 was longer (910 mm) and rated for a slightly superior armor penetration (460 mm), and also features a more sustained motor allowing for an improved effective range of up to 2.5 km. The last missile, the 9M111M Faktoriya, highly improved on the armor-piercing performances of the Fagot by adding a tandem warhead. Thanks to this feature, the missile could be expected to defeat ERA and still pierce 600 mm of RHA.
The 9P135 was pintle-mounted on the B-30 turret. The 9P135 sight has a magnification power of 10x, improving on the accuracy of the missile. They are wire-guided semi-automatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) systems, which require the gunner to constantly maintain the target in line-of-sight in order to retain guidance.
One of the main drawbacks of the missile’s mounting into the turret is that it could only be fired by an exposed crew member (the gunner), which would make them much more vulnerable to firearms and shrapnel.
The Malyutka missile first featured in the BMP-1 and BMD-1 could be fired from inside the turret, but the P upgrade, which was applied to both vehicles, replaced these with the 9P135 as well. In this manner, this issue of the B-30 turret was shared by BMP-1Ps with the same armament anyway. There were also some advantages to this mounting. Thanks to being very high, it could fairly easily be made to be the only element of the vehicle reaching over an obstacle when being fired, which would make the BMP-1-30 drastically less vulnerable when firing its missile. This complete external mounting also made the missile easy to remove. Three missiles were stored behind the gunner’s seat in the B-30 turret. It is unknown if more would be stored within the BMP-1 hull.
An Unchanged Hull
While the BMP-1-30 received a new turret, it appears its hull was completely or at least mostly unchanged. This is perhaps not as tragic as for the turret. There are less antiquated features of the BMP-1 hull that can easily be replaced or upgraded. It can still be said that the BMP-1 is a very cramped vehicle, for the crew and even more so for the infantry dismounts it transports. However, solving this issue can only really be achieved by a deep rework of the vehicle, far beyond the scope of most upgrade programs. An example of an attempt at solving this issue is the mid-2010s BMP-1UM offered by Ukraine.
The Capacities of the BMP-1-30
There is little argument that the BMP-1-30 can be considered superior to the average Russian BMP-1. In comparison to the BMP-1P, used by the Russian Army in the 1990s, the BMP-1-30 operated the same ATGM system in the same fashion, and in combat, the real difference would be the 30 mm 2A42 replacing the Grom. There is little argument that the 30 mm is superior. While the Grom technically has higher armor penetration, it is still outdated and highly inferior to the Konkurs in this matter. On the other hand, the anemic system has a far lower effective range than the 2A42, making the 30 mm autocannon generally a far better system against vehicles with moderate armor protection, such as APCs, IFVs, and occasionally, some older tank types. The autocannon is also far better as a weapon to suppress enemy positions.
While the BMP-1-30 is clearly superior to a classic BMP-1, it is also obvious that it was not the most potent BMP-1 modernization offered in the 1990s. Tula’s BMP-1 with a Kliver TKB-799 turret was significantly superior in a number of ways.
Though the 2A72 autocannon essentially had the same performance as the 2A42 but with a lower maximum rate of fire (due to issues with the recoil of the 2A42 at the quickest rate of fire, the 2A72 used a lowered one as well as a new long-recoil system), the 9M133 Kornet ATGMs were superior in essentially every way to the Konkurs and Fagot. They were faster, carried more explosives, giving them more armor-piercing power, and crucially, used a more advanced beam-riding laser guidance, which allowed the gunner to fire them while remaining inside of the vehicle. The Kornet launcher could also fire missiles with thermobaric warheads, meaning the vehicle could be configured to be more lethal against infantry and fortified position if no armored opposition is expected.
While, armament-wise, the BMP-1 with Kliver could be argued to be cutting edge by the 1990s, the BMP-1-30 was way more average. The vehicle’s capacities could essentially be described as that of a budget BMP-2. Featuring the exact same weapon systems, but slightly less potent in using them due to having a single crew member in the turret instead of two.
However, while the BMP-1-30 was not cutting edge, it had one decisive advantage. It was still a notable improvement over the BMP-1 while using only readily available components and being an incredibly easy upgrade to undertake. There was no costly development, or introduction of any new system not already in supply chains. Everything used in the BMP-1-30 was introduced in the Soviet Army at the lastest in the early 1980s. In a way, it can even be said to be surprising that the idea emerged as late as 1997, when it could have been thought off more than fifteen years earlier already. The only factor in upgrading BMP-1s to BMP-1-30s would have been to produce more BMD-2 turrets essentially.
Conclusion – A Sensible Upgrade, Which Was Never Applied
Despite its general obsolescence, however, the BMP-1 is yet to entirely disappear from the Russian Army, even those still armed with a Grom. As late as the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, alongside large numbers of BMP-2s and BMD-2s, seemingly forming the workhouse of Russian’s IFV fleet and of combat capacities similar to the BMP-1-30, a number of BMP-1s have appeared. These have not just been seen in sectors where separatists operate, but also in parts of Ukraine, like Chernihiv, where only the Russian Army is active. Both BMP-1AMs and, in larger numbers, BMP-1s still using the 73 mm Grom, have been spotted. These are definitely outdated vehicles and while they may not fare particularly well even with the upgrades of the BMP-1-30, it would still be preferable for them to operate on a vehicle with a more modern autocannon, if not one with outright powerful missiles like the BMP-1 with Kliver TKB-99 turret. In a war where even BMD-2s and BMP-2s are being lost in the dozens, and some more advanced BMP-3s and BMD-4Ms are still fairly often knocked out or captured, an antiquated, Grom-armed BMP-1 hardly has a place at all.
|Dimensions (l-w), m||6.735 – 3.150|
|Weight||~14 metric tonnes|
|Road clearance, mm||420|
|Engine||UTD-20S1 6-cylinder 4-stroke V-shaped airless-injection water-cooled diesel (300 hp at 2,600 rpm)|
|Maximum speed, km/h (road)||65|
|Maximum speed, km/h (water)||~7-8|
|Operationnal Range||~550 km (road)|
|Fuel capacity||420 l|
|Crew||3 (Commander, gunner, driver)|
|Main armament||30 mm 2A42 autocannon
9P1235 ATGM launcher (3 missiles at least)
|Secondary armament||7.62 mm PKTM (200 rounds)|
|Armor||~19 mm maximum|
– 35 deg
– 2.5 m
– 0.7 m
Wydawnictwo Militaria 312 BMP-1(BWP)
Solyankin, Pavlov, Pavlov, Zheltov. Otechestvennye boevye mashiny vol. 3
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