Modern Swedish Armor

Pansarbandvagn 501

Kingdom of Sweden (1994-2008)
Infantry Fighting Vehicle – 5 BMP-1s Purchased For Trials, 350 Purchased For Service And Modernized, 83 Purchased For Spare Parts (438 Total)

The Soviet BMP-1 was and remains a ubiquitous infantry fighting vehicle. The most produced vehicle of its type to this day, with almost 40,000 assembled by the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War, the vehicle was, with a few exceptions, fielded by pretty much all of the Soviet Union’s allies.

With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, several of these Soviet allies and BMP-1 became much closer to the former Western bloc. The newly reunified Germany inherited the large weapons and armored vehicles stocks of East Germany, including a fleet of more than a thousand BMP-1s. Though a local upgrade program was carried out, in the form of the BMP-1A1 Ost, Germany quickly sold the vast majority of its BMP-1 fleet to European customers interested in acquiring large quantities of surplus infantry fighting vehicles, pretty much off-the-shelf. One of these buyers would be Sweden, which would run its own refit program for the BMP-1. The vehicle was designated Pbv 501 in Swedish Army service.

The Swedish Army and Mechanization in the Early 1990s

At the conclusion of the Cold War, the Swedish Army (Svenska Armén) had a relatively limited fleet of armored vehicles able to carry infantry sections. The only type in any significant service was the Pbv 302, with about 650 vehicles produced. Even then, the vehicle’s production stopped in 1971, and it really was only sufficient to outfit the infantry complement of some armored units.

A Swedish Army Pbv 302. The type would remain in service with the Swedish Army until 2014, being entirely replaced by the CV90 as of today. The Pbv 302 notably served in UN operations in Bosnia and in Kosovo (KFOR). Source:

In practice, the standard transport vehicles in Swedish infantry units were the Tgb 20 (Terrängbil 20) truck and the Bv 206 (Bandvagn 206) tracked articulated all-terrain carrier. In spite of the Bv 206’s positive features, which have resulted in the vehicle continuing in service and having had a successful export record, simply put, it could not fulfil the role of an infantry fighting vehicle The Tgb 20 was a simple truck, and the Bv 206, while tracked and able to mount a machine gun if need be, was not armored.

The Bv 206. It is a potent and capable vehicle able to carry up to 14 infantrymen, far more than the BMP-1’s 8, but it is in no way an infantry fighting vehicle or even an armored personnel carrier. Source: Wikimedia commons

At that time, there was ambition within the Swedish Army to mechanize more of its armored forces. The development of the Strf 9040/CV90 was underway, and the vehicle appeared as a promising future infantry fighting vehicle. However, back then, it had still not entered service, and the possibility of training crew and mechanics to the operation of infantry fighting vehicles before receiving this advanced new vehicle appeared attractive to the Swedish Army.

The German BMPs

A possibility for Sweden to purchase foreign infantry fighting vehicles at an incredibly cheap cost soon emerged from Germany.

NVA Schützenpanzer BMP-1s crossing a river during an exercise. Amphibious capacity was a major aspect of the BMP-1’s design. Source: Pinterest

When first pushed into service in the late 1960s, the BMP-1 was a major addition to the Soviet 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, at least for the Eastern Bloc. The vehicle could be used to support armored assault 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 in the vehicle.

More than 1,100 BMP-1s (of which a very significant part, or perhaps all, were Czechoslovakian-built) were acquired by the East German NVA (Nationale Volksarmee Eng. National People’s Army), and eventually ended up in the Western-aligned Federal Republic of Germany following German reunification.

Year BMP-1 Version
1984 878 Sp 2
1986 58 Of them 12 K2 version
1987 85 BMP-1P of them 6 command version K1 and three K2
1988 92 BMP-1P including 12 command K1, three K2, and three K3
Total 1113
Source –

In December 1990, the decision was taken to maintain a number of these in service, and to this end, the BMP-1 would be ‘westernized’. This resulted in the BMP-1A1 Ost, a BMP-1 which forfeited the missiles, removed toxic asbestos from the vehicle, added German-standard headlights, rear lights, wing mirrors and Leitkreuz low-light identification markers, locked the 5th gear, and added an additional handbrake. Around 580 vehicles werebe converted from 1991 to 1993. The majority of these modernized vehicles, around 500, were sold to Greece in 1994, but around 80 modernized vehicles as well as hundreds of unmodernized ones remained in Germany’s stocks.

BMP-1A1 Osts at the conclusion of their upgrade in the Neubrandenburg repair facility where it was performed. Source:

Sweden Tests the BMP-1

With Sweden eager to purchase infantry fighting vehicles at a cheap cost, and Germany providing just that in the form of hundreds of BMP-1 offered at a bargain price, interest soon arose. In early 1994, interested in the German BMPs, Sweden purchased five vehicles to run trials of the type and see if it would meet the requirements for what the Swedish Army was looking for.

Out of the five trial vehicles, one was used in ballistic trials to estimate the protection of the vehicle. The other four were given Swedish registration plates and named after famous commanders from the Second World War: 204992 ‘Patton’, 204994 ‘Monty’, 204997 ‘Rommel’, and 204998 ‘Guderian’.

“Monty”, one of the four BMP-1s which were used in trials in early 1994. The vehicle sports an unusual infrared spotlight. Source:

The trials were run pretty quickly. The BMP-1 was, in many ways, not a vehicle which could beadapted to western standards, as the Germans themselves had taken notice and attempted to correct with the BMP-1A1 Ost. If Sweden was interested in purchasing large numbers of vehicles, which would necessarily include some which had not been modernized, a new upgrade programme would have to be devised for the vehicle to be compliant with Swedish army regulations.

Nonetheless, the BMP-1 had some interesting qualities. It was thought to be highly mobile, notably thanks to its amphibious capacities, and as such was considered to outfit the Norrland brigades, infantry brigades operating in northern Sweden specialized in sub-arctic warfare, for which mechanization was desired. Sweden also took interest in German surplus MT-LB multipurpose lightly armored auxiliary vehicles, which would, on the other hand, be given to units operating in southern Sweden.

“Rommel”, another one of the BMP-1s which were trialed by Sweden before adoption of the type. Source:

In June 1994, convinced that the BMP-1 was a worthwhile addition to the Swedish arsenal, Sweden decided to formally acquire 350 BMP-1s to enter service. A further 83 were also purchased for spare parts. These 433 BMP-1s comprised 81 BMP-1A1 Osts, all the leftovers which had not been purchased by Greece save for one or two examples kept by Germany, 60 BMP-1s which had been through the BMP-1P upgrade during the Cold War (which included a new ATGM and smoke launchers), and 292 BMP-1s which had not gone through the BMP-1P upgrade.

The cost of these BMPs was reportedly extremely cheap, at 33,000 Deutschmarks (or roughly €17,000, or US$19,000) a piece, or one tenth of the price of purchasing a new Bv 206, of which the Swedish Army had thousands. The reason for such a cheap price was that Germany was eager to rid itself of these BMP-1s because of newly put in place military restrictions and to recoup the financial cost of the BMP-1A1 Ost refit program.

Two photos of a Pbv 501 during exercises of trials. The vehicle bears a Tank Gunnery Simulator System on the barrel and turret top, meant to simulate firing and hits during military exercises. Source:

Turning BMPs Into Pbvs

As said, the BMP-1, as it was, would not satisfy Swedish standards and would have to go through a modernization process to be operated by the Swedish Army. This, however, would not be conducted in Sweden or by a Swedish company.

While 11 BMP-1s, seemingly of the modernized BMP-1A1 type, would be sent to Sweden to continue trials and experimentations, all others, which were to be modernized, would instead be sent to the Czech Republic. There, the Swedish Army contracted the VOP-026 repair workshop to conduct the modernization which the Swedish Army had decided to carry out.

The 83 IFVs bought for spare parts were also delivered to the Czech company, to cannibalize them if there was a need to replace damaged parts in vehicles which were to enter service. Contracting a Czech workshop was a logical decision. Czechoslovakia had been, by far, the second largest manufacturer of the BMP-1, locally designated as BVP-1. Around 18,000 had been manufactured, and as such, there was a large infrastructure and workforce which had good knowledge of the vehicle. At the same time, Czech companies offered their services at a very affordable cost. The deliveries of these modernized BMP-1s would start in 1996, at a rate of twelve vehicles a month. Once modernized and pressed into service with the Swedish Army, the vehicles would become known as the Pbv 501 (Pansarbandvagn 501).

The paint scheme given to Pbv 501s was either a unicolor green scheme or a bicolor green-and black scheme. The registration number would typically be inscribed on the rear right infantry door. Previously, when in German service, the vehicles had a typical Soviet khaki green paint scheme.

Bringing the Vehicle to Western Standards

The core of the Pbv 501 refit consisted of a large number of small upgrades which focused on bringing aspects of the Pbv 501’s ergonomics and safety to standards expected of Swedish Army vehicles.

A future Pbv 501 in VOP-026. The vehicle has received the side light but has yet to be fitted with the protective cap for the ventilation inlet and outlet. Source:

First would be the removal of asbestos. Some of this toxic element was found inside the BMP-1, notably brake and clutch linings, but it was found to be dangerous for humans after too much exposure, and was banned in most Western countries. Asbestos elements were purged from the vehicle and replaced by harmless materials. The Germans had done the same with their BMP-1A1 Ost refit.

On the outside, the vehicle received new external lighting which would conform to NATO standards. It notably received indicators to be able to pursue safer driving on roads. Two rectangular lights were also present on the side of the vehicle’s hull. Outlets were also added to start up the Pbv 501 from outside of the vehicle.

A rear view of Pbv 501 Nr501089 during exercises, with dismounts sticking out of the deck hatches. This photo provides a good view of the new rear lights and indicators which were present on the vehicle, as well as the black and green camouflage scheme used by the Swedish Army for the type. The crewmember appears to carry a Soviet communication helmet. Source:

The exhaust pipe of the vehicle was improved, while a number of changes were made to the hull’s exterior so it could be easier to move around for soldiers. A number of patches of anti-slip coating were added. These were notably present around the hull sides and the center of the large hatches present on the deck.

The external change which allows for the easiest external identification of the Pbv 501, however, is likely a rectangular box present to the left of the turret. This is a protective cap over the outlet and inlet of the ventilation.

Internally, a number of changes were carried out to make the vehicle more comfortable for the crew. An autonomous heater was added to ease the life of crews and dismounts during the winter months. A fire detection and extinction system with possibility of automatic operation was installed inside to allow for the quick extinction of fires. The batteries were moved from their original place and isolated from the ventilated crew compartment inside the sealed box. Protective covers were added around the observation devices so the dismounts would not hurt themselves on the sharp corners, something the Germans had previously adopted on the BMP-1A1 Ost. The weapon holders were changed to be able to hold Swedish weapons, with the Ak 5 assault rifle also being able to be fired from the vehicle’s firing ports.

An internal view of a Pbv 501. The vehicle features a number of improvements in the dismount compartment, such as adding covers on the vision devices to prevent injuries. However the small size of the compartment could never have been fixed without a deep transformation of the vehicle. Source:

Safety Features Limiting the Vehicle’s Armament

A few further modifications concerned the Pbv 501’s armament. Some of them significantly reduced the combat capability of the IFV, however it was a necessary evil needed to lower the operational risks.

First, the autoloading mechanism was removed outright, meaning the gunner present in the turret would have to manually load rounds into the breech. Additionally, the rail for the Malyutka ATGM and all control devices for the missile were removed as well. At last, a new safety mechanism was installed so that the 73 mm Grom and coaxial 7.62 mm PKT machine gun could not be fired when any of the vehicle’s hatches were open.

As such, when taking into account the combat capacities of the Pbv 501, it was likely one of the least capable BMP-1 models ever fielded. This was not an issue for the Swedish Army though. The Pbv 501 had not been purchased with the idea to field a large number of ex-Warsaw Pact infantry fighting vehicles as frontline combattants of the Swedish Army. Rather, the type was to form crews and mechanics around the operation of an infantry fighting vehicle, preparing for the entry of service of the infinitely more capable Strf 0940.

Stripbv 5011 Command Vehicles

Fifteen of the BMP-1s were not converted to be Pbv 501s, but rather Stripbv 5011 command vehicles. These went through the same upgrades as the Pbv 501, with the only changes being the addition of three Swedish radios: a single Ra 420 and two Ra 480, instead of the single Soviet R-123M which was retained in the Pbv 501. This heavier radio equipment took more space and meant the number of dismounts would be reduced from eight to six. Externally, the vehicle could be differentiated by the presence of three large radio antennas, in comparison to just one on the Pbv 501.

A Stripbv 5011. One can observe the three radio antennas on the vehicle. The open door and crewman inside also give an idea of the small size of these vehicles for the average Swedish soldier. Source:

Deliveries and Disappointments

After deliveries of the Pbv 501s began in 1996, a number of plans the Swedish Army had to be modified because the vehicle had not lived up to all the expectations of the Army.

A Pbv 501 camouflaged with foliage during its short service in the Swedish Army. Source:

First, the vehicle’s mobility, while generally being considered satisfactory in most conditions, actually struggled quite considerably in the snow, to the point where the vehicle was actually judged not sufficiently mobile to be fielded to the Norrland brigades. As such, the plans to outfit these with the Pbv 501 and brigades from the south with the MT-LB, now designated Pbv 401, were reversed, with the Pbv 501 instead being delivered to southern brigades, more precisely the 2nd, 4th, and 12th infantry brigades of the Swedish Army.

In service, the Pbv 501 proved to have a rather satisfying mobility in the south, but a significant number of issues, some of which could not be removed easily, were found with the vehicle. The first was with the ammunition, and was one which the vehicles shared in German service.

It was discovered that a certain amount of the nitrocellulose had been discharged into the air when firing the 73 mm Grom cannon. It was found potentially harmful to the health of the crew. Swedish trials seemingly found that this was an issue mostly with the PG-15V HEAT round, with the OG-15V high-explosive shell seeming safe in comparison, though the firing of all 73 mm shells appear to have been prohibited in peacetime. In the German Army, the issue of potential nitrocellulose poisoning was solved by restriction, meaning the crews were not allowed to fire the gun, at least not with potentially toxic rounds, in peacetime.

Sweden went even further though. No large stockpile of PG-15V was acquired, meaning even if the need was ever to arise, the Pbv 501 in Swedish service practically had no meansto deal with enemy armor. It appears a small amount of rounds was purchased for conversion into safe training rounds, but it is unclear if this ever took place. In addition to the problem of lack of anti-armor round, the Pbv 501 had removed the autoloader for the sake of safety. This made gunners overtasked, as they had to observe the outside of the vehicle to spot targets, aim and fire, and then reload the gun, a configuration one may cynically relate to be similar to pre-1940 French tanks. Furthermore, as found by the majority of Grom users, the gun was considered to be very inaccurate beyond practically very short range.

A Pbv 501 during maintenance, with the rear road wheel removed. The vehicle’s reliability was generally not too much of an issue, but if it was to break down, replacing the engine would be. Source:

The vehicle was found to be rather reliable, however, if a mechanical issue was to arise, the removal and replacement of the engine block was found to be a long process, about 10 times longer than in the more modern Strf 9040 in fact. The radios were also a considerable disappointment; in comparison to Swedish models, as they were found to have a poor transmission quality and reduced range, and would require preheating for up to half an hour before functioning.

The limited internal space was found to be an issue for the majority of BMP-1 users. However, Swedish dismounts had probably the worst issues with the Pbv 501’s cramped interior, as Swedish males have an average height of 1.797 m, one of the tallest in the word. This is largely considered to already be in the range where sitting in the vehicle’s dismount compartment would be quite the uncomfortable experience, and finding servicemen who could comfortably operate inside a Pbv 501 was likely even harder for Swedish Army units in comparison to other BMP-1 operators.

Crewmembers and dismounts observe outside of a Pbv 501 during training exercises. Source:

In and Out

All these issues with the Pbv, alongside the entry into service of the Strf 0940 and the reduction in size of European armies following the end of the Cold War and its tensions, played a large part in the vehicle being retired from active service. As such, it would appear that the Swedish Army took the decision to place the Pbv 501 into storage and stop operating vehicles of this type as early as 2000. This was before deliveries were even completed, which would continue into 2001. Some vehicles were placed directly into storage, without even being issued to Swedish Army units.

Pbv 501s in Swedish Army storage facilities in Hammar, southern Sweden. This photo is particularly useful to have a look at the disposition of anti-slip coated parts of the hull roof. Source:

It appears that, in 2005, the decision was taken to phase the Pbv 501 from service and never issue them again. In practice, the vehicles remained in Swedish Army storage in the following years. In December of 2008, they found a buyer. This was actually the owner of the VOP-026 workshop which had carried the Pbv 501 modernization. The company, by that point known as EXCALIBUR, acquired the vast majority of the Pbv 501 fleet which Sweden had in its hands, with the vehicles being moved to its facilities in Czechia. The purchase price was 30 million Swedish Kronor (or roughly US$6 million) for the entire fleet.

It ought to be noted that apparently, the purchase was done under the cover of the Czech state, claiming that the vehicles would be used for the Czech Army, which still actively operates the BMP/BVP-1, and not purchased by a private company within Czechia. Jan Villaume, spokesperson of the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (Swedish: Försvarets materielverk, abbreviated as FMV), the state company tasked with weapon exports, said that when approached by EXCALIBUR:

“We were [at first] informed by them too that they were interested, and we told them that we cannot sell to them, since they are a private company”

When the Czech Republic later expressed interest, Jan Villaume described the position of FMV as:

“They were exchanging parts of their own fleet and were going to use the rest for spare parts […] They seemed serious. We had no reason not to believe them.”

Pieter Wiezeman, spokesperson for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), described Sweden’s side of the deal and the assumption that the vehicles would end up in Czech service after having first been approached by EXCALIBUR as naive:

“Realistically, I think that they should have known that these tanks probably were not meant for the Czech Republic. They should have investigated this more carefully, that would have been very easy to do.”

Iraq Unsheathes the EXCALIBUR Pbv 501s

The Czech company of EXCALIBUR Army continued storing of the Pbv 501s in its facilities at Přelouč, Czechia, waiting for a potential buyer. The vehicles were stored in particularly packed storage presumably in a climate-controlled environment, and seem to have been pretty regularly maintained, with some vehicles being rolled out quite regularly to show the Pbv 501 were still functional and ready for a buyer to take up the offer.

An EXCALIBUR Pbv 501 is driven around for a demonstration and photoshoot in 2012-2013. Other vehicles of the same type can be seen in the background. Source:
Tightly-packed Pbv 501s in an EXCALIBUR warehouse, 2012-2013. Source:
Pbv 501s being refurbished at EXCALIBUR Army facilities, 2015-2016. Source:

A buyer was finally found in the shape of Iraq, which in 2015 acquired a number of the Pbv 501s stored by EXCALIBUR. Several estimates for the number of Pbv 501s delivered to Iraq have varied between 45 and 70 depending on the source. A convoy was spotted heading to Iraq with at least 52 Pbv 501s. It appears a higher number of vehicles could have been purchased too, perhaps as many as 250. Not all EXCALIBUR Army Pbv 501s were sold to Iraq, as the company has continued to showcase some of the vehicles since.

Pbv 501s on trucks in Iraq, circa late 2015. Source:

A convoy of at least 52 Pbv 501s on trucks in Iraq.

This purchase was far from uncontroversial. The main issue was that the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration maintains a pretty strict list of countries which are embargoed from Swedish military sales for a number of reasons, notably regarding human rights or the possibility of the sold equipment to fall into the hands of terrorist groups. Iraq is one of the countries that feature on this list. But the purchase of the Pbv 501 by EXCALIBUR, and EXCALIBUR then selling the vehicles to the Iraqi government, circumvented the Swedish export regulations, which highly displeased some in Sweden. Former Swedish Army weapon systems ending in areas of the world where they did not want them, was exactly what the Swedish Defence Material Administration wanted to prevent.

An EXCALIBUR Pbv 501 is demonstrated in front of civilians in 2017, showing the sale to Iraq did not cover all vehicles and that the Pbv 501 is still on EXCALIBUR’s catalog. Source:

Nonetheless, there was nothing in Sweden’s power to do about Pbv 501s being exported to Iraq. The vehicles ending up in EXCALIBUR’s hands was a shady process to begin with, with FMV and Sweden seemingly not entirely aware that they were selling their vehicles to a private company. Once the vehicles were in the hands and ownership of EXCALIBUR, Sweden had no means at its disposal to prevent the sale except complaints which had little to no hope of being received. Jan Villaume of FMV commented that: “We clearly wouldn’t have made the deal directly with Iraq, so it is now an indirect deal. It seems legal, but is not so good.” It is likely the deal somewhat soured Czech-Swedish relations at least in military matters, but it does not appear any measures or reforms were applied to Swedish export laws. Considering that the vehicles ended up in Iraq as a result of an under-handed process in which Sweden was misguided into selling the vehicles to what they believed to be a legitimate state actor, there may not be too much to even be done except enforcing already existing restrictions.

Into the Iraqi Army

The Pbv 501s were pressed into service into the 34th Mechanized Brigade of the 9th Armored Division of the Iraqi Army (الجيش العراقي). They joined a fleet of ex-Greek BMP-1A1 Ost which had been delivered to Iraq almost a decade prior.

A Pbv 501 in front of modified Humvees during the campaign for Mosul, November 2016. Source:

The Pbv 501 were very heavily engaged in the Iraqi offensive to retake the city of Mosul from the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), and suffered considerable losses during this phase of the conflict. During the 2014 to 2017 period, out of 85 Iraqi BMP-1s spotted as destroyed, 35 were Pbv 501s, despite the vehicle most likely was introduced only in early 2016. It is possible that the Iraqis, while they may have appreciated the comfort upgrades brought by the modernization, were more displeased with the significant reductions in combat capacities it introduced, for example removing the autoloader and missile capacity.

A Pbv 501 destroyed during the battle for Mosul, 6th December 2016. Source:

After the fall of Mosul, the Pbv 501s were engaged in further operations against ISIS, such as the reduction of the last ISIS stronghold in central Iraq, Hawija, in October 2017. The vehicles have notably been seen deployed near the Syrian border in November 2018, and remain in service of the Iraqi Army up to this day, and potentially for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion – The Convoluted Fate of German BMPs

The Pbv 501, alongside its MT-LB cousin, the Pbv 401, can appear as an anomaly in Swedish armored vehicles history, a Soviet vehicle operated by the army that has historically almost exclusively used western and indigenous designs.

When looking at the vehicle’s service life in Sweden, one may be tempted to say the purchase of BMP-1s from Germany was a total failure, with no proper use of the vehicle ever being found in Sweden. While that could be argued not to be far from the truth, at the same time, it ought to be remembered that Sweden was able to purchase ex-East German surplus BMP-1s at an incredibly cheap price, to the point where the investment that had to be placed to purchase 350 BMP-1s was in practice much less than what would be expected for such a large fleet of even outdated infantry fighting vehicles. Despite their very short service, therefore, it is not too far-fetched to say the Pbv 501s may, in the end, very well have been worth their price in the experience they gave to crews and mechanics who would later operate on the Strf 9040.

BMP-1/Pbv 501 as seen during the conversion process in a Czech factory
BMP-1A1 204997 ‘Rommel’ seen during trials in Sweden prior to the bulk purchase of former German BMP-1s, 1994
Standard Pbv 501 in Swedish army camouflage, late 1990/early 2000s

Pansarbandvagn 501 Specifications

Dimensions ( L x w x h) 6.735 x 2.94 x 1.881 m
Weight ~13.5 tonnes
Engine UTD-20 6-cylinders 300 hp diesel engine
Suspension Torsion bars
Forward gears 5 (likely just 4 on BMP-1A1 Ost-based Pbv 501s)
Fuel capacity 462 L (perhaps just 330 L on BMP-1A1 Ost based vehicles due to rear door fuel tanks not being used)
Maximum speed (road) 65 (likely 40 km/h on BMP-1A1 Ost based vehicles)
Maximum speed (water) 7-8 km/h
Crew 3 (commander, driver, gunner/loader)
Dismounts 8
Radios 1 R-123M (Pbv 501), 1 Ra 420 & 2 Ra 480 (Stripbv 5011)
Main gun 73 mm 2A28 “Grom” with autoloader removed
Secondary armament Coaxial 7.62 mm PKT
Armor Welded steel, 33 to 6 mm


“250 Swedish military vehicles sold to Iraq”, Radio Sweden, March 3 2015:
Soldat und Technik, 1994, no.12 p.675 “350 Schützenpanzer BMP-1”
SIPRI Arms Transfer Database
BMP-1 field disassembly, Tankograd:
Swedish servicemen testimonies:
Pbv-501 in the Swedish army:
Pbv-501 in the Iraqi army:
Solyankin, Pavlov, Pavlov, Zheltov. Otechestvennye boevye mashiny vol. 3
73-мм ГЛАДКОСТВОЛЬНОЕ ОРУДИЕ 2A28 Техническое описание и инструкция по эксплуатации (73-mm SMOOTHBORE WEAPON 2A28 Technical description and operating instructions)

Has Own Video Modern Swedish Armor


Kingdom of Sweden (1998)
Light Tank – Unknown Number Built

CV90120 testing
Testing field somewhere in Sweden (source:;)

The CV90120 is a prototype light tank that has undergone continuous development since its first appearance in the summer of 1998 at the EUROSATORY defense exhibition in Paris. However, attempts to mount higher calibered guns on the CV90 can be traced back to 1993, when Hägglunds collaborated with GIAT to make the CV90105 TML, which was equipped with a GIAT Industries TML 105 turret. The initial development on the CV90120 was presumably started by Hägglunds AB and continued when Alvis Ltd. purchased the company in 1997. Development continued under the guise of BAE Systems, which acquired Alvis Ltd. in 2004, Hägglunds included.


The reason behind the development of the CV90120 was to give Sweden an option to equip a lighter vehicle with the firepower of a main battle tank, equivalent to the Leopard 2/Strv 122s. Northern Sweden has very few roads and difficult terrain, both during summer and winter, and the CV90 had already been designed with these conditions in mind. This paved the way for the CV90120’s addition to the CV90 family, combining extreme mobility with extreme firepower, but at the cost of comparatively light armor.

The initial prototype of the CV90120 had a brand new welded turret to accommodate a large caliber tank gun. Externally, the chassis was completely identical to a normal CV90, retaining the same engine, suspension, and internal layout. However, it was modified to accommodate the increased weight of a larger turret, carrying a larger caliber gun. This prototype vehicle weighed around 20 tons.

The vehicle itself has had several iterations across development, stretching from 1998 to 2011. These are distinguished into 3 major forms, starting with the CV90120 Prototype, the CV90120-T marketed vehicle, and later, more complex variants like the CV90120 Ghost.

The prototype CV90120 undergoing field testing somewhere in Sweden (Source: RUAG)

Prototype Specifications

The CV90120 prototype was extremely light for its firepower, sitting at 20 tons when empty. The low mass came with several challenges. The most prominent was making such a light vehicle stable enough to handle the forces produced by the firing of a powerful gun. The 120 mm gun’s origins can be traced back to Switzerland, being a development that was made possible by using steel with increased strength. This also comes as a design challenge to the vehicle itself, as the recoil energy is transferred to the chassis.

The driver is placed in the lower left front of the chassis, alongside the engine. The turret has a complement of 3 crew members, consisting of a gunner, a commander, and a loader. The rear of the vehicle, which was originally used for carrying soldiers, has been turned into ammunition storage.


The chosen gun was the CTG (Compact Tank Gun) 120/L50 smoothbore, a lightweight gun developed by RUAG Land Systems. It was light enough not to hinder the vehicle’s mobility and had low enough recoil force to avoid damaging the vehicle itself. It came with a bore evacuator and a muzzle brake. The gun was designed to accommodate all current and future NATO 120mm ammunition, which were considered more than sufficient to combat threats at that time. The vehicle’s elevation/depression was -8 degrees to +22 degrees. The muzzle velocity when firing the German-developed DM33 APFSDS shell was 1,680 m/s.

The new turret also featured a bustle mounted semi-automatic loader, allowing this light tank a rate of fire between 12 and 14 rounds per minute with an experienced crew. The ammunition is stored with a protective wall separating the crew from the autoloader in case of ammunition detonations or ‘cook-offs’. The semi-automatic loading device was capable of carrying 12 ready-rounds, while 33 rounds are stowed in the lower rear hull. The turret also featured 12 Galix Smoke grenade launchers.

The fire control system is a Saab UTAAS computerized Universal Sight and Fire Control System, accompanied by an Avimo DNGS Thermal Sight. These provided the gunner with a reliable way of hitting the targets with day and night optics and a laser rangefinder.

The prototype did not feature any lighter weaponry such as machine guns.


The vehicle is designed to have a minimally armored hull made of steel to accommodate externally mounted modular armor. These armor packs varied heavily, from composite materials to high hardness steel. The vehicle was developed to have applique and armor packs mounted externally, as testing revealed that add-on armor gave better protection per kilo compared to armor steel. However, unfortunately, the thickness of the base armor is unknown. No further information about the protection offered by the add-on armor packages is available.


The vehicle commander had access to an early version of the Saab Lemur Panoramic sight, which has appeared in multiple iterations over the years. It gave the vehicle commander access to laser rangefinding and the ability to operate in a ‘hunter-killer’ mode. The Lemur could also be used as a Remote Weapons Station to give the vehicle a machine gun.

This Lemur commander’s optics have appeared in multiple variations over its many years of development, in different modular compositions and technology levels as development progressed. It appeared on the first prototype and the updated CV90120-T.

The gunner’s sight provides the gunner with between x3 and x10 magnification. The driver’s view is almost 180 degrees.

Engine & Mobility

The CV90120’s engine was a Scania DI-16 800 horsepower diesel engine, giving the vehicle a maximum speed of 70 km/h on roads, and 40 km/h in reverse. It was designed with excellent mobility in mind, despite its reinforced chassis and newly designed turret. The engine was placed in the front right of the hull, and will also function as protection in the case of penetration from the front, much like the Israeli Merkava design. If needed, the engine could be uprated to accommodate higher horsepower demands, showing modularity similar to other aspects of the vehicle. The gearbox chosen was an Allison Perkins X-300-5 Automatic gearbox with 4 forward and 2 reverse gears.

The running gear has 7 paired road wheels per side, forward sprocket wheel, and rear idler wheel. The tracks were made of steel with rubber pads. The suspension is torsion bar based with rotary dampers and no return rollers. The vehicle’s range was 600 kilometers on a full tank. It could cross slopes with a 60% gradient and has a fording of 1.5 m. All of these characteristics have been designed due to the obstacles of the Scandinavian peninsula, where a vehicle might have to go from snowy mountains to muddy wet forests, as the northern terrain varies a lot and the infrastructure there is generally underdeveloped in large regions.


The prototype also worked as a testbed for several different systems for passive protection, including a water-vapor dispensing system to clear out any thermal signature externally on the vehicle. By 2001, the vehicle had completed its initial development cycle and left the prototype phase.


CV90120-T with thermal mesh
CV90120-T with Saab Barracuda Thermal Mesh and SLSS Commander’s Optics. Sweden (Source: Swedish Armor Historical Association.)

With BAE Systems purchasing up Alvis Ltd. in 2004, the development of the vehicle became even more ambitious than before, revealing the vastly modernized CV90120-T in 2007 to the international military market.

The CV90120-T was another developmental cycle for the CV90120 that focused more on the internals and alternative protection systems that replaced the necessity to put on external armor to counter threats. This was defined by a heavy emphasis on electronics and definable ‘soft-kill’ defense systems.

Internal Changes

The vehicle featured vastly more advanced electronics systems. These systems might be referred to as ‘soft-kill’, as they impact a crew’s capability of preventing the loss of the vehicle by warning the crew before a shot has even been fired. Among these qualities of life improvements, a large sensory system covering the vehicle’s turret stands for most of its electronic early warning system.

These sensors can detect lasers from hostile laser rangefinders and detect missiles heading to the vehicle’s position. The vehicle also features a top-attack radar, warning of high angle munitions that might be a danger for the vehicle. The vehicle also features an advanced Battle Management System for modern battlefield situations.

The vehicle also improved internally with the latest modularity and customization present for potential customers. The CV90120-T could use different types of CV90 chassis from 1998 to today. This means that, while initially, the weight of the prototype was 20 tonnes, the development of the chassis and its internals improved by each generation developed by Hägglunds. Today, the vehicle can reach weights of 40 tonnes without any repercussions on mobility.

CV90120-T firing
CV90120-T firing its L/50 Smoothbore (Source: Peter Lindström)

External changes

Externally, not much changed. The CV90120-T received a new type of bore evacuator for its 120 mm CTG L/50 and the prototype had externally mounted smoke launchers. These were removed when the smoke launchers were incorporated into the sides of the turret bustle, allowing less external clutter while improving external and internal space utilization efficiency. These smoke launchers featured Multi Spectral Aerosol grenades.

The Commander’s Optics were changed as well. It was an entirely new development from Saab, the Panoramic Low Signature Sight (PLSS) that had the unique feature of not changing its silhouette while being operated due to its spherical profile. The PLSS offered complex optics and extended the capabilities of the vehicle commander by giving him a hunter-killer option, effectively allowing him to slave the gun to his optics. The CV90120-T could also use later variations of the Lemur Remote Weapon Station instead of the PLSS, provided by Saab.

Later variants of the CV90120-T also received the newest BAE Rubber tracks to lower the overall weight of the vehicle.

Active Protection System

A new active protection system was also unveiled for implementation to the CV90120-T, the “AAC” Active Armor Concept. Developed by Åkers Styckebruk, it functions by firing a sensor-activated and directed high explosive charge towards projectiles to disrupt large-caliber ammunition impacts on the vehicle, acting as a last resort defense if all preceding systems have failed to protect the vehicle.

The CV90120-T has yet to be procured by any nation in the world, but it did face testing and trials in Poland in 2007, as the Polish Army was seeking to expand its military combat capacity. This led to the reveal of the PL-01 concept vehicle in 2013, based upon what they learned when trialing the CV90120-T.

CV90120 Ghost

CV90120 Ghost
CV90120 Ghost in Sweden (Source:

The CV90120 is still being developed to this day. In 2011, BAE Systems appeared at the Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) exposition with the newly built CV90120 Ghost. This vehicle had a revolutionary new thermal cloak system called ‘ADAPTIVE’, an active thermal camouflage. It features a hexagonal system mounted to the sides of the chassis, that can modulate and control its own temperature via electronic programming to mask the chassis entirely, or to make different distinct shapes like cars or other environmental factors that would not be considered an enemy.

The vehicle also features some other new stealth-based changes based on protecting the vehicle against radar-detection as well, focusing harder on remaining undetected.

CV90120 thermal camouflage
Showing the capabilities of the ADAPTIVE thermal camouflage system. On the left, the system is turned off and the regular CV90 hull is well visible. On the right, with the system turned on, the heat signature mimics that of a civilian car. Source:


Due to RUAG ceasing all marketing and production of the previous CTG L/50 120 mm gun, a new gun was necessary. The choice came to an entirely new gun developed by the German company Rheinmetall. This was the Rh 120 LLR/47 (LLR – Light, Low Recoil) smoothbore cannon. This gun can be traced back to 2003 as a private development venture from Rheinmetall Weapons and Munitions, desiring a gun that could provide equivalent firepower to the current M1A2 and Leopard 2 tanks but with a lower weight. Its design can be considered a successful venture by performance, giving up to 44% less recoil as it fires.

The gun’s fume extractor and thermal shield have also had their shape modified to decrease the vehicle’s signature, allowing improved stealth.

The success of this lightweight 120 mm gun with equivalent performance to normal MBT guns is also attributed to the steel type used, which was developed to be used with the older Future Tank Main Armament (FTMA) program that aimed to design a 140 mm smoothbore gun for military usage.

As of the writing of this article, in June 2020, no countries are looking into trialing or buying the CV90120.

Summary and the future

Light tanks have always been a debatable topic, as most nations now deem them unnecessary. Hägglunds has attempted to prove that the concept is still viable, and it is possible to hit enemies with speed, firepower and elude retaliation with the appropriate ‘soft’ protection levels, but light physical armor. Adding more armor does not necessarily guarantee safety to a vehicle, whereas not being seen in the beginning might arguably be the ideal choice in a large number of battlefield situations.

The huge investments into the entire CV90120 line of development seems cemented into BAE Hägglunds dedication to making one of the most advanced light tanks of all-time, whereas other nations either struggle to make one, simply do not see the point in one, or can not find a balance when developing one.

Nevertheless, the CV90120 is still without any customers and is still being developed. With military doctrine and battlefield tactics evolving every year that passes, there might be a place for the future developments of the CV90120 on the battlefields of the future. BAE Systems will likely be ready for the day that happens.

The CV90120 prototype in a typical Swedish camouflage scheme. The 120 mm Compact Tank Gun can be seen to be quite large for the vehicle.
CV90120-T in a winter camouflage scheme. The new bore evacuator, the rear smoke grenade launchers, and optional side armor and side skirts are distinguishing features.
The latest CV90120 Ghost. The hexagons on the side are part of the ‘ADAPTIVE’ thermal camouflage system. The vehicle hull has a different shape in order to have a lower radar signature. The gun is now the new Rh 120 LLR/47.

CV90120 Specifications

Size Length: 8.3m (incl. gun) 6.6m (hull)
Width: 3.3m
Height: 2.8m (panoramic sight) 2.4 (turret roof)
Crew 4
Combat Weight Prototype – 21 Tons
Current Model – 35-40 Tons
Engine Scania DS 14 or 16 550-1200 hp V8 Diesel
Max Speed 70 km/h forward, 40 km/h reverse
Transmission Allison X-300-5 Automatic Gearbox
Armament RUAG CTG 120 L/50 or Rheinmetall LLR L/47
Ammunition Modern NATO compatible, 120mm

RUAG Aerospace Defence Technology
Rheinmetall Defense
Swedish Armour Historical Society CV90 Photo Guide 2010
Tankograd CV90 International 8003 2010
IHS Jane’s Land Warfare Platforms: System Upgrades 2014-2015