Categories
Modern Transnistrian Armor

BTRG-127 “Bumblebee”

Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (2018 At The Latest-Present)
Armored Personnel Carrier – At Least 8 Converted

The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), better known as Transnistria, is a breakaway state located in the internationally-recognized borders of the Republic of Moldova, on the Eastern side of the Dniester River and along the border with Ukraine. It seceded from Moldova during the dissolution of the Soviet Union in large part due to its ethnic makeup including large numbers of Ukrainians and Russians, which did not want to be integrated in a Moldovan state. The unrecognized state’s army has relied on leftover Soviet equipment from the dissolved 14th Guards Army, which was based at Transnistria’s capital, Tiraspol, to equip its formations. Because of this Army’s location near an important river, it had a large quantity of various engineering vehicles, which Transnistria has had to find use for and re-purpose for the defence of its territories. An example is the GMZ-3 minelayer vehicle, which has been converted to serve as an armored personnel carrier designated as the “BTRG-127 ‘Bumblebee’” in the PMR.

The GMZ-3 Minelayer

The GMZ-3 is a fairly large tracked minelaying vehicle based on the chassis of the SU-100P self-propelled gun, which has been used for a large variety of different vehicles since the 1950s. Introduced in 1984, the GMZ-3 is a fairly large vehicle, with a length of 9.3 m, a width of 3.25 m and a height of 2.7 m. The vehicle is entirely protected from small arms fire.

A GMZ-3 minelaying vehicle. Source: topwar.ru

The vehicle weighs 28.5 tonnes and is powered by a B-59U 382 hp V12 liquid-cooled diesel engine located to the front of the vehicle. The GMZ-3 is able to reach a maximum speed of 60 km/h on roads. It uses 7 ‘starfish-style’ road wheels, with a front drive sprocket and a rear idler. The vehicle has a crew of three, with a driver, commander, and engineer/mine specialist.

The vehicle has considerable internal space which allows enough space for the three crew members to operate and to carry 208 anti-tank mines. The vehicle is meant to lay anti-tank minefields in a swift and mechanized fashion.

The GMZ-3 in Transnistria

The GMZ-3 was one of a number of highly specialized vehicles which were operated by the 14th Guards Army in Transnistria at the end of the Soviet era. The breakdown of order with the dissolution of the USSR saw large quantities of 14th Guards Army equipment and even personnel join the armed forces of the breakaway state of Transnistria, located in a part of Moldova which had most of the Republic’s Russian and Ukrainian populations and heavy industry.

A knocked out GMZ-3 used as a makeshift armored personnel carrier during the Transnistrian War. Source: topwar.ru

The GMZ-3 was used as an improvised armored personnel carrier during the 1990-1992 conflict in Transnistria, with at least one vehicle used in this fashion by the Transnistrian armed forces destroyed by Moldovan troops. However, considerable numbers of GMZ-3s remained in Transnistria after the war.

The BTRG-127 Conversion

For some other engineering vehicles, the Transnistrian Army, which had no need for such specialized vehicles, could easily find other uses without deeply transforming the vehicle. The small and multi-purpose GT-MU could lend itself to being a decent prime mover without any modifications, for example.

The same could not be said of the much bigger GMZ-3, which had been designed with the sole task of mine-laying. With at least 8 of these vehicles, but possibly more, in Transnistrian service, finding use for them was a priority for the Transnistrian Ministry of Defence. Considering Transnistria’s unrecognized status, it is unable to import armored vehicles from abroad, and as such, cannot afford to waste any of the vehicles it has. In the case of the GMZ-3, it was found that, due to the large mine compartment, the vehicle could likely be repurposed as a large armored personnel carrier. This could be done by modifying the mine compartment to instead carry infantry, while fitting a larger machine gun instead of the simple 7.62 mm PKT in order to improve defensive capacities.

Eight BTRG-127s during their first showcase in 2015. Source: Oryx Blog

The vehicles being presented on Transnistrian television. Source: You Tube

The vehicles were modified by teams of Transnistria’s Ministry of Defence, and received the designation of BTRG-127 ‘Bumblebee’. They were unveiled in 2015, in presence of Transnistria’s President at the time, Yevgeny Shevchuk, and his Minister of Defence.

Infantry Compartment

A BTRG-127 advances during exercises. Source: Oryx Blog

In the BTRG-127, the mine-containing bay, comprising much of the rear of the vehicle, was entirely emptied of all mine-laying equipment and cleaned. It then appears to have been widened to an extent. On the GMZ-3, it did not extend to the same width as the tracks, while it does in the BTRG-127. On the sides of this hull, three large firing ports for the weapons of the infantry dismounts were fitted.

The large mine-laying arm at the rear and other mine-laying equipment present on the vehicle were removed. A rear door that opens to the right was installed on the vehicle. Whilst the door appears fairly decently sized for an armored personnel carrier door, it only allows for one soldier to exit at a time, and its opening position, which rests against the rear hull of the vehicle, does not grant any protection to the infantry dismounts when exiting the vehicle.

Transnistrian infantry dismounts exit through a BTRG-127’s rear door. Source: Oryx Blog.

There are no known photographs or videos of the interior of a BTRG-127, but the fairly large size of the vehicle means there likely is some considerable internal space available for benches, stowage, and equipment for an infantry squad. The number of infantry dismounts is likely between 8 and 10.

Weapon Station

There is a weapon station on the roof of the central frontal section of the infantry compartment. It consists of a semi-circular top opening, with a machine gun protected by a gun shield to the front. The weapon station is open-top, but rails, perhaps used for some form of canvas cover, have been seen in some photos.

A view of the weapon station from the rear. A rail ‘cage’ has been added on top of the vehicle, likely to mount camouflage foliage or a canvas cover. The gun shield and opening in front of it can be seen. Source: https://www.armedconflicts.com/
Transnistrian President Yevgeny Shevchuk is shown the weapon station on the BTRG-127. Source Oryx Blog

The armament of this weapon station is an Afanasev A-12.7 12.7 mm aircraft machine gun. It is a single-barrelled heavy machine gun firing the standard Soviet 12.7×108 mm cartridge. Meant for aircraft use, the machine gun was produced between 1953 and 1983, and was used on a variety of Soviet trainer aircraft and helicopters, though it was rarely if ever mounted on frontline combat aircraft. It is fairly light for its caliber, at 25.5 kg, and also has a fairly high cyclic rate of fire of 1,400 rpm (though the practical rate of fire is closer to between 800 and 1,100 rpm) and a muzzle velocity of 818 m/s. The weapon is belt-fed.

The weapon had to be considerably modified in order to be operated in an armored vehicle. The original weapon, meant for aircraft use, did not feature a classic hand-operated trigger, and a mount that featured one had to be created to fit the machine gun in the BTRG-127.

A frontal view of the BTRG-127’s weapon station with significant foliage covering added to provide camouflage. Source: Oryx Blog.

The choice of this machine gun instead of more common Soviet machine guns, such as the 12.7 mm DshK/DshKM or NSVT, or the 14.5 mm KPV, may appear curious. The likely explanation may be the availability of large amounts of these machine guns being stored in a former depot used by the Soviet Air Force in Transnistrian territory, and little use being able to be found for these aircraft machine guns in the past.

The Resulting Vehicle

The resulting BTRG-127 is a fairly large armored personnel carrier, and while it is hard to estimate its weight, considering the GMZ-3 was 28.5 tonnes, it is unlikely the BTRG-127 is any lighter than around 25 tonnes at best. The crew perhaps remained at three, with a driver, a commander and a gunner, though the gunner’s role may be fulfilled by one of the infantry dismounts, of which there are likely 8 to 10. The driver retains the same forward position located below the weapon station on the BTRG-127.

Armor protection is unlikely to protect against anything more powerful than small arms fire, with the vehicle likely being vulnerable to even heavy machine guns, and any weapon with armor-piercing capacities. As such, considering the large size of the vehicle, it would likely be highly vulnerable in any battlefield or conflict. There have been efforts to camouflage the BTRG-127 during some training exercises, including using the rails around the weapon station to mount foliage, but whether such a large vehicle could be camouflaged with any effectiveness in operations is quite uncertain.

Transnistrian infantry advance along with a BTRG-127 armored personnel carrier during exercises. The soldier’s AK rifles do not have a magazine-fed in. Source: Oryx Blog
A Transnistrian BTG-127 in front of a T-64BV during firing exercises. Source: Oryx Blog

Nonetheless, the conversion likely still makes sense for the needs of the Transnistrian armed forces. Transnistria is only able to field a fairly small military force, and as such, the need for the highly specialized vehicles which served in the Soviet Army is lost on Transnistria. Even with their faults, the BTRG-127 grants the Transnistrian Army more tracked vehicles with limited amounts of firepower to carry infantry with, complementing the fleet of BMP and BTRs also in service of the Republic, whereas little to no use would likely have been found for GMZ-3s otherwise.

Conclusion – One of Transnistria’s Most Extreme Transformations

The BTRG-127, while it may seem – and likely is – a vehicle with limited capacities and many weaknesses, remains an interesting piece of hardware. Out of all the various modifications and upgrades which have been carried out in Transnistria, it is likely one of the most extreme, including much more complex and extensive modifications on the base vehicle than what have been observed on the Pribor-2 MLRS or GT-MU fire support vehicle, for example.

The vehicles are likely to continue existing as long as Transnistria does. The small unrecognized state has long called for annexation by Russia, and has known to have a severe economic and demographic decline, which raises the question of its viability as an independent entity in the future. But, as long as Transnistria remains independent and needs an armed force to defend itself, it is unlikely to phase out any of the relatively few armored vehicles it has been able to get its hands on.

The BTRG-127 APC. Illustration by Godzilla.

BTRG-127 Specifications

Length 9.3 m
Width 3.25 m
Height Likely around ~ 2.7 m
Engine B-59U 382hp V12 liquid-cooled diesel engine
Weight Likely in the 25-30 tonnes range
Crew Likely 3 (Commander, gunner, driver)
Dismounts Likely 8 to 10
Armament Afanasev A-12.7 12.7 mm machine gun
Dismounts armament fired from firing ports
Armor Bulletproof
Numbers converted At least 8

Sources

http://www.army-guide.com/eng/product3755.html

Oryx Blog:

The Victory Day Parade That Everyone Forgot

A Forgotten Army: Transnistria’s BTRG-127 ’Bumblebee’ APCs

https://weaponsystems.net/system/746-Afanasev%20A-12.7

Categories
Modern Transnistrian Armor

GT-MU Fire Support Vehicle

Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (2018 At The Latest-Present)
Fire Support Vehicle – At Least 3 Converted

The Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, better known as Transnistria, is a breakaway state located in the internationally-recognized territories of the Republic of Moldova, on the Eastern side of the Dniester River, along the border with Ukraine. It seceded from Moldova during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, due to its ethnic makeup including a large number of Ukrainians and Russians who did not want to be part of the Moldovan state. The unrecognized state’s army has relied on leftover Soviet equipment from the former 14th Guards Army, which was based at Transnistria’s capital of Tiraspol, to equip its formations. This army’s location near an important river led to it having a large quantity of various engineering vehicles, which Transnistria has had to find use for and re-purpose for the defence of its territories. An example of these is the GT-MU, of which some examples have been converted to serve as fire-support vehicles.

The GT-MU Multi-Purpose Vehicle

The GT-MU (GT-MU being the Soviet Army designation; it is referred to as GAZ-73 by the manufacturer, Gorky Automobile Plant) is a small tracked vehicle which entered production in the Soviet Union in 1971. The vehicle is based on the previous GT-SM or GAZ-71, a fully tracked but unarmored tractor/prime mover with six road wheels. The GT-SM itself was based on the previous GT-S or GAZ-47, a vehicle of similar purpose from the mid-1950s.

A GT-MU, in the forefront, and a GT-SM to its rear, negotiate a muddy path in the USSR. Source: drive2.ru

In comparison to the GT-SM, the GT-MU was shortened to have six road wheels, but adopted a fully armored body with an all-round thickness of 6 mm. The vehicle is best described as a small and light multi-purpose ‘mule’, with a loaded weight of 5.8 tonnes on average, a length of 5.15 m, a width of 2.47 m and a height of 1.70 m. The movement of its tracks provides amphibious capabilities, and is powered by a V8 115 hp liquid-cooled engine, giving it a fairly high power-to-weight ratio of 26.24 hp/ton. The vehicle uses a torsion bar suspension with a front sprocket. There is no rear idler wheel, with the road wheel furthest to the back playing the role of keeping the track tensioned. The vehicle is able to reach about 55 km/h on roads and 5.5 km/h in the water.

In the Soviet Army, the GT-MU could be used as an armored personnel carrier. In addition to a crew of two, a driver and a commander, it could carry eight infantry dismounts in a rear compartment. However, with no armament to speak of (firing ports were present in the infantry dismount compartment though) and little armor protection, the vehicle was far less optimal than the various BTRs for this role, and this was not its main intended usage. The GT-MU was to serve as a prime mover which could, for example, tow 85 mm D-44 or 100 mm MT-12 anti-tank guns, or mortars. The vehicle could also be employed for a large variety of specialist uses, including by border guard units, and as an electronic warfare vehicle with radar jamming devices or a surveying vehicle, with the large rear compartment being used to house specialist equipment. Overall, the vehicle served as a formidable multi-purpose ‘mule’, not too different from the pre-war T-20 Komsolets or the post-war AT-P in a general role, though adapted for a much more technological and communications-based conflict.

The GT-MU in the Transnistrian Army

The GT-MU was in service in considerable numbers with the 14th Guards Army, with its headquarters in Tiraspol, Transnistria. Considering its location around the Dniester, the use of various engineering and multi-purpose vehicles was not lost on this particular Army.

During the breakdown of the Soviet Union, Transnistria affirmed its independence from Moldova due to conflicts over the prevalence of the Moldovan language and ethnicity. Though officially not involved, the 14th Guards Army often opened its warehouses to Transnistrian forces, gifted them equipment, or trained them. From this source, Transnistria is thought to have obtained a fleet of one or two dozen GT-MUs, though exact numbers are unknown. The vehicles are not known to have been used during the 1990-1992 war with Moldova.

A Transnistrian GT-MU leads a column of Pribor-1 Multiple Rocket Launcher Systems based on ZiL-131 trucks. Source: Oryx blog on twitter

The GT-MU was pressed into service with the Transnistrian Army to fulfil many tasks which were fairly similar to what was expected of them in the Soviet Army. The vehicle has still been regularly used as a prime mover for artillery pieces and mortars. However, the use of advanced jamming or surveying vehicles is rather lost on a Transnistrian military which struggles to obtain enough basic combat vehicles to outfit its formations. For these reasons, GT-MUs were quickly repurposed for other roles for which their small size, decent internal space, and good mobility could prove favorable. The vehicles have, for example, been used as artillery observation vehicles to guide the fire of Transnistrian multiple rocket launchers, or as command vehicles.

The Fire-Support GT-MU

The most recently known Transnistrian GT-MU conversion takes a much more direct approach to using the GT-MU in an active fighting role. In November 2018, three GT-MUs converted to operate as fire-support vehicles appeared during firing exercises, alongside T-64BVs and artillery pieces of the PMR.

The three observed GT-MU fire support vehicles of the Transnistrian military in November 2018. Source: Oryx Blog

Footage of Transnistrian firing exercises in November 2018. The GT-MUs can be observed around 1:34. Source: youtube

The vehicles received a 73 mm SPG-9 to the center-right of the vehicle. This is a recoilless rifle that has been in service of the Soviet Army from the early 1960s and uses the same 73 mm projectiles as the ‘Grom’ main armament on the BMP-1 and BMD-1. The gun mounted on the GT-MU has seemingly kept the tripod used in field configurations. It is used alongside a PGQ-9 optical sight with 4x magnification, and can be used with a PGN-9 passive night sight.

A number of different armor-piercing projectiles exist for the gun, all HEAT-FS and 920 mm long. The earliest, the PG-9 or PG-9V, is fired at 435 m/s and contains 322 grams of hexogen, ensuring an armor penetration of 300 mm at all ranges. A further development, the PG-9N, traded the hexogen for 340 g of the OKFOL-3.5 explosive mixture, achieving an armor-piercing performance of around 400 mm. The most effective shell, the PG-9VNT, has a tandem warhead and is thought to be able to penetrate up to 550 mm or to retain armor-penetrating capabilities of 400 mm after going through Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) plating which would have stopped older projectiles, though it is slower, at just 400 m/s. It is unknown whether Transnistrian forces have any of these more advanced shells in stock though. The crucial issue of all these armor-piercing projectiles is their low velocity and effective range, connecting hits becoming particularly difficult after about 700-800 m and mostly based on luck over a kilometer – ranges at which vehicles armed with higher velocity guns, including autocannons, can be expected to be using them if the terrain allows to. The rate of fire is also fairly limited, at 5 to 6 rounds per minute with a well-trained loader. The armor-piercing capacities of 73 mm projectiles can be lacking against modern main battle tanks, but the Moldovan Army, Transnistria’s most likely opponent, does not field anything with stronger armor than a BMP-2, which would be easily penetrated by any armor-piercing SPG-9 projectile.

Two of the GT-MUs during the firing exercises, the one to the right having just fired its gun. Source: youtube

Explosive shells also exist, with the standard OG-9V containing 735 g of TNT fired at 316 m/s.

On the Transnistrian vehicles, from what has been observed, because of the location of the gun, two crew members have to operate it in quite a precarious position. The loader operates behind the rifle, in an uncomfortable position, with a foot on a metallic bar located behind the rear of the vehicle’s hull, which presumably can only be used when the vehicle is stationary. The gunner reaches from a hatch on the left side of the vehicle to fire the weapon.

A side view of one of the vehicles, showing the very precarious positions for the crew operating the gun. Source: Oryx Blog
The gunner reaches out of his hatch, a second before firing. Source: youtube

The vehicle likely comprises a crew of either three or four: driver, loader, and gunner, with the presence of a commander up to debate. The infantry compartment at the rear of the vehicle has likely been recycled to hold a potentially considerable quantity of 73 mm projectiles, which would allow for the vehicle to continue fighting for extended periods of time, though the precarious crew positions and very low survivability due to the mere 6 mm of armor protection of the vehicle would be the biggest obstacle to overcome in this regard. The vehicle shown during the November 2018 exercises did feature some camouflage nets, which do suggest awareness of the weakness of the vehicle’s armor protection, and intended use of the vehicle in ambush or defensive positions. On the positive side of things, the amphibious capacities of the vehicles are likely to be appreciated by the Transnistrian Army, seeing as the border with Moldova is mostly placed on the Dniester, which the GT-MU-based vehicle could cross without having to depend on bridges.

One of the three vehicles observed in 2018, with ample camo netting hiding much of the silhouette of the GT-MU, including the gun. Source: Oryx Blog

Conclusion – A Weapon of Circumstance

The GT-MU fire support vehicle is one of several Transnistrian conversions and creations which have popped up in the 2010s, testimonies of the struggle of the unrecognized state to modernize its armored forces. Imports of foreign armored vehicles are almost impossible for Transnistria, which is not formally recognized by any state, despite deep ties to Russia, and the breakaway state largely has to make do with what it has modified from captured 14th Guards Army stocks.

In this regard, the creation of the GT-MU fire-support vehicle makes a lot of sense. When observing the vehicle, one may at first view see it as a horrible conversion, with poor operating positions, and which aims to bring into combat a vehicle of which the armor protection does not exceed 6 mm, making it extremely vulnerable against any weapon with some anti-armor capacities. However, these conversions essentially allow the Transnistrian Army to extend the size of its mobile firepower, which otherwise is limited to the number of more classic vehicles it inherited and is able to maintain. It speaks of Transnistria’s ingenuity, but also desperation.

Transnistrian GT-MU with a camouflage net
Transnistrian GT-MU. Both illustrations were created by Godzilla.

GT-MU Fire Support Vehicle Specifications

Length 5.15 m
Width 2.47 m
Engine GAZ-73 V8 115hp liquid-cooled engine
Suspension Torsion bars
Crew Likely 3 to 4 (driver, gunner, loader, perhaps a commander)
Armament 73 mm SPG-9 recoilless rifle
Armor 6 mm all around
Numbers converted 3

Sources

http://army.lv/ru/gt-mu-1d/742/70

https://weaponsystems.net/system/646-73mm+SPG-9

Oryx Blog:

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The Victory Day Parade That Everyone Forgot

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