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 fairly quickly becoming 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. Perhaps the most potent to this day was a version of the vehicle fitted with the Kliver TKB-799 turret designed by the KBP Instrument Design Bureau based in Tula, which has historically been the main designer and producer of Soviet aircraft and ground-based autocannons, as well as several anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) or self-propelled anti-aircraft gun (SPAAG) designs. This BMP-1 fitted with a modern turret was offered in the late 1990s, but would never be adopted by any user.
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.
Russian 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.
It was in this context that the KBP Instrument Design Bureau, based in Tula, around 200 km south of Moscow, would begin working on a turret design that could be fitted onto old Soviet armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles in order to bring them to a more modern standard firepower-wise. Tula was in a fairly decent position to study such a design, with the design bureau having extensive experience designing autocannons, ATGMs, and their mounting into armored fighting vehicles. Among Tula’s most famous designs was the turret for the advanced 2K22 Tunguska SPAAG, pretty much all Soviet widely-used autocannons designs, and ATGMs such as the Metis and Konkurs. In the field of ATGMs, Tula was notably working on a new, more modern system, which would become the Kornet. The turret design studied by Tula for older Soviet APC/IFVs would first be unveiled, in a model form, in 1996.
Turret – the TKB-799 “Kliver”
The turret designed by the KBP design bureau would be designated TKB-799 and be given the nickname “Kliver” (cleaver). The turret was first showcased in 1996. By this point, a functional turret had been manufactured but was mounted on a BTR-80. The BMP-1 equipped with the Kliver would first appear at IDEX 97 in Abu Dhabi. It appears at least two vehicles would be fitted with the turret for trials and marketing purposes.
The Kliver was a weapon station designed with its own turret basket. The BMP-1 appears to have been the main platform intended for the turret, even though the turret was first showcased on the BTR-80. As such, the Kliver was designed for the BMP’s 1,380 mm turret ring diameter and with a light weight of 1,500 kg and could be installed without modifying the hull. The turret was operated by a single crew member, sitting on the left side of the turret, with the armament somewhat offset to the left.
Armament – 30 mm 2A72
The main armament of the Kliver turret was the 30 mm 2A72 autocannon, a modified 2A42 autocannon. The cannon fired 30×165 mm ammunition and had a rate of fire of 350 to 400 rpm. The gun was belt-fed, and overall remarkably light, weighing only 84 kg. The barrel length of 2,416 mm took a significant part of the weapon’s weight, at 36 kg, and was typically thicker and more durable than most barrels for 30 mm autocannons.
A number of 30×165 mm shells were available for the 2A72. For use against light fortifications, infantry, soft-skinned vehicles, and other unarmored targets, the 2A72 could fire the 3UOF8 High-Explosive Incendiary (HE-I) shells. This shell had 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 was 390 g, and that of the whole cartridge 842 g. In high-explosive belts, it was complemented by the 3UOR6. This shell forsook most of the explosive charge, with only 11.5 g remaining, in order to mount a very large tracer. Fired at the same muzzle velocity of 980 m/s, it was used for fire correction purposes, though over large distances, the trajectory of the two shells differed. With a fuse lasting 9 to 14 seconds, the explosive shells would generally detonate after about 4 kilometers away if they did not meet a target, though autocannons were typically used effectively at much closer ranges. The rate of tracer to high-explosive rounds in a 30 mm belt tended to be 1:4.
For armor-piercing duties, two types of 30 mm shells existed. The older 3UBR6 was a fairly classic armor-piercing shell with a core of hardened structural steel. This steel core weighed 375 g, with the entire projectile weighing just 25 grams more, at 400 g, and the entire shell having a weight of 856 g. It featured a tracer that burned for 3.5 seconds after being fired and had a muzzle velocity of 970 m/s. Its penetration values against Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) at an angle of 60° were 29 mm at 700 m, 18 mm at 1,000 m, and 14 mm at 1,500 m. These were fairly mediocre performances, able to defeat little more than light armored vehicles in the vast majority of cases.
A more modern armor-piercing shell existed in the form of the 3UBR8, an Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) shell with a tracer. It featured a lighter 222 g piercing core of tungsten alloy. The projectile as a whole was 304 g and the cartridge 765 g. Fired at a muzzle velocity of 1,120 m/s, this shell seemed 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 offered much more promising performances than the older 3UBR6 against modern infantry fighting vehicles.
The TKB-799 offered some, at the time, very modern fire control systems for a Russian IFV, enhancing the capacities of this 2A72 autocannon. The Kliver turret offered an independent two-plane sight stabilization and a day/night sight in the form of a thermal imager, as well as a laser rangefinding device. The turret featured an automatic electromechanical firing system. It would provide sighting and ranging, as well as weapon laying including both lead, elevation, and traverse, which would provide better accuracy, particularly against moving targets. The turret was also designed to allow fairly generous elevation angles of -10º to +60°, which would allow for moderate anti-aircraft capacities, particularly against helicopters. In general, with the FCS provided by the turret, it was hoped the 2A72 would have an effective range of about 2 km in good, flat terrain. It appears 300 rounds of ammunition were provided for the 2A72. The weapon was slightly offset to the right but was still the most centrally mounted of all of Kliver’s weapon systems.
Secondary armament was provided in the form of a coaxial 7.62×54 mmR PKTM machine gun mounted to the right of the autocannon. This less crucial system is generally less documented in writings on the Kliver. It appears it was only provided with a limited ammunition supply of 200 rounds. Considering the capacities of the 2A72, there would be little reason to use the PKTM outside of enemy infantry in the open or some minimal suppression fire.
An Early Platform for the Kornet
In addition to the 2A72, the Kliver turret featured another crucial weapon system, this being Russia’s new anti-tank guided missile, also designed by the Tula design bureau, the 9M133 Kornet. This was a large caliber (152 mm) system. Work on it began a few years before the fall of the USSR, and it was first unveiled in 1994. In 1996, when it was showcased alongside the Kliver, it was still a new, cutting-edge system, which was yet to enter service in the Russian Army in a large scale.
The Kornet used semi-automatic beam-riding guidance, meaning the missile was aimed using a laser beam aimed at the target from the firing vehicle. The previous 9M113 Konkurs offered by Tula was, in comparison, a wire-guided semi-automatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) system, which required the firing vehicle to constantly maintain the target in line-of-sight in order to retain guidance. This more modern guidance system, in addition to the higher maximum speed of Kornet ATGMs (going from 250 to 300 m/s, depending on the missile, whereas Konkurs reached a maximum of around 200 m/s), makes the Kornet a safer and more accurate missile in general.
In addition to its superior guidance system and speed in comparison to older Soviet ATGMs, the Kornet also is of a larger caliber than most (being 152 mm, whereas the older Konkurs is 135 mm). This, in addition to more modern shaped charge designs and components, made it much more effective against armored fighting vehicles. By the time of the Kliver turret’s creation, the 9M133-1 missile was rated for around 1,100 to 1,200 mm Rolled Homogenous Armor (RHA) penetration on average, and the use of a tandem HEAT warhead reduced the protection offered by ERA against it. The large caliber of the Kornet also allowed for other uses than merely anti-tank. This manifested with the 9M133F-1 missile, which instead of an armor-piercing shaped charge, contains a thermobaric warhead, equivalent to 10 kg of TNT and provides significant incendiary effects. Both of these missiles have a maximum flight speed of 250 m/s and an effective range of 100 to 5,500 m.
On the Kliver, four Kornet pods were mounted, hanging to the right of the main turret body itself. It does not appear any reloads were provided with the vehicle, certainly not in the small turret. The potential of four Kornets was still fairly significant. The possibility to use either HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) or thermobaric missiles also gave some considerable adaptability for the vehicle, allowing it to mount a complement of HEAT missiles if likely to face high-end enemy armor, or thermobaric missiles if facing an opponent unlikely to use heavy armor, but rather using well-fortified positions.
Marketing the BMP-1 Kliver
In the late 1990s, Tula appears to have embarked on a serious marketing campaign in order to attempt to sell its Kliver turret for either domestic or foreign BMP-1s. BMP-1 with Kliver turret prototypes were showcased on a number of occasions in Russia, but also abroad. Prototypes were notably present in the 1997 and 1999 IDEX (International Defence Exhibition) which took place in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates. Designers made some quite bold claims about the capacities of their turret, which they claimed to be superior to not only the turrets used in the BMP-1 and BMP-2 but also to those used in the American Bradley and German Marder. Though they may seem somewhat extravagant, their claims were not necessarily far-off from the truth. The Kornet ATGM featured with the Kliver turret was a more modern system than the TOW or Milan featured on these Western IFVs, and the 30 mm 2A72 was also a fairly high-end autocannon.
However, this was only part of the picture. Tula remained mostly a weapon designer, not one of military vehicles and it failed to provide an upgrade of the BMP-1 hull alongside its Kliver turret. Tula’s upgraded BMP-1 may very well have provided equal or superior firepower to most modern Western IFVs, but it still had what was essentially a 1960s hull. Problems with the BMP-1 platform had long been identified: it was notoriously cramped, even for soldiers of fairly moderate size, and featured a number of redundant features, such as nearly useless firing ports. The armor was almost symbolic, incapable of providing protection from anything above small arms and shrapnel. And, mechanically, many vehicles, even including Soviet refurbishment programs, would still be used and exhausted after decades of use.
Conclusion – The Future of BMP-1 Upgrades
It should not come as much of a surprise that, despite all its promises, the Kliver TKB-799 turret upgrade for the BMP-1 would never see any adoption. Outside of this obsolete hull, the new turret, while capable, would also likely be too expensive for a still cash-strapped Russia, due to its inclusion of many modern systems. One can see, for example, how, all the way to this day, the Kornet is yet to fully replace the Konkurs or Fagot, and as recently as 2022, most BMP-2s and BMD-2s spotted in the Russian invasion of Ukraine are still equipped with the old ATGMs, with the BMP-2M Berezhok modernization seemingly absent from the frontlines. One may still note how, at the same time as the Kliver turret was still being marketed, many Russian soldiers and conscripts would be faced with the failures of unupgraded BMP-1s to provide meaningful fire support in an urban environment during the bloody episode of the 1999-2000 Second Chechen War. Despite all the drawbacks of the old platform, a BMP-1 with Kliver turret would almost certainly have proved a more useful asset than one still featuring the Grom in this conflict, as well as others Russia has gotten involved in the last two decades.
The Kliver turret would be far from the only upgrade which would be proposed for the BMP-1. In a similar timeframe, another proposal from Russia which reached prototype stage and used already produced components would be to simply fit the turret of the BMD-2, which featured a 2A42 30 mm autocannon and a 9K11 Fagot ATGM, to the BMP-1. Though using less advanced weapon systems than the Kliver, it would still improve the capacities of the BMP-1 and likely be a lot cheaper, but like the Kliver, it was not met with any orders. In the early 2000s, Ukraine offered the BMP-1U, which featured the Shkval turret, fairly similar to the Kliver in design, though it used weapon systems available to Ukraine, such as the 30 mm KBA–2 autocannon and the Konkurs. It would actually prove more successful than the Kliver, with Ukrainian BMP-1Us being sold abroad to Chad, Georgia, where 15 would be captured by Russia in 2008, and Turkmenistan. Ukraine continued to develop their offering of BMP-1s armed with their turret during the 2010s in the form of the BMP-1M and BMP-1UM, the later featuring a major hull redesign, which the TKB-799-equipped BMP-1 lacked so much.
In more recent years, Russia has finally carried out a BMP-1 modernization project, though it would be on a much more limited scale, with the BMP-1AM, which was revealed in 2018 and saw a small upgrading run, 35 vehicles being operated for units operating the BMP-1 in eastern Russia. The BMP-1AM is in many ways inferior to the Kliver, mounting the BPPU turret of the BTR-80A and BTR-82, which only features the 2A72 30 mm autocannon and a coaxial PKTM. All ATGM capacities in such a vehicle are relegated to a Metis-M launcher not mounted on the vehicle itself, but to be operated by the dismounts, outside of the vehicle, a far cry from the four integrated Kornets of the Kliver turret.
While many would have thought the BMP-1 would no longer be an asset in the Russian Army by this point, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24th, 2022, would prove the contrary. Small numbers of Russian BMP-1s were seen turning up abandoned or destroyed, including outside of sectors where Ukrainian separatists operate, albeit in smaller numbers than the BMP-2s and BMD-2s which have been lost in an order of magnitude greater number. While the situation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine certainly is not tied simply to the quality of Russian vehicles, one can imagine how a BMP-1 with a Kliver turret would prove a far more useful asset in a modern conflict in comparison to one still fitted with the antiquated and anemic 73 mm Grom.
|BMP-1 with Kliver TKB-799 turret Specifications|
|Dimensions (l-w), m||6.735 – 3.150|
|Weight||~ 14 metric tonnes|
|Road clearance, mm||420|
|Engine||UTD-20 6-cylinder 4-stroke V-shaped airless-injection water-cooled diesel (300 hp at 2,600 rpm)|
|Maximum speed, km/h (road)||~65 on road|
|Maximum speed, km/h (water)||~ 7-8|
|Operational range||~550 km (road)|
|Fuel capacity||420 l|
|Crew||3 (Commander, gunner, and driver)|
|Main armament||30 mm 2A72 autocannon (300 rounds)
4x 152mm 9K133 Kornet launchers
|Secondary armament||7.62 mm PKTM (200 rounds)|
|Armor||~19 mm maximum|
Military Technology – MILTECH – 8/96, “Some Considerations on LAV armament retrofit”, Arkady G. Shipunov, Vasilij P. Tikhonov, Sergei M. Brezin, 1996