Staff Writer (Updated: 6/15/2015):
The PT-76 Light Tank
In 1949, designs were on the boards for a new amphibious light tank to be used in the reconnaissance role for the Soviet Army. This design evolved into the PT-76 which entered service in August of 1952. The PT-76 lent itself well to the blossoming mobile army doctrine of the Soviets and allowed for unprecedented access to both land and water at speed. What the new system would need now is a comparable reconnaissance vehicle that could keep up with the inherent mobility of the new light tank - something which the current Soviet inventory found elusive in the available offerings. As such, the BRDM-1 scout car was born.
The BRDM-1 (originally as the "BRDM" before there was a "BRDM-2") was an initial scout car design that first appeared in the Soviet Army inventory in 1957 (design beginning in 1954). Of note was her 4x4 off-road capability and her amphibious quality, the former aided by a pair of powered belly wheels and the latter coming in the form of a rear-mounted water jet for propulsion. The engine was mounted in the front hull with the crew compartment set to the middle-rear. The BRDM-1 led a healthy existence, seeing over 10,000 examples produced and delivered to a large portion of Soviet allied nations in varied battlefield forms - she was adapted to carry a range of anti-tank missiles as well, improving her tactical usefulness to an extent. However, the BRDM-1 design was inherently limited at its core. She maintained no trainable turreted armament system (the gunner need expose himself to enemy fire to operate the external machine gun) nor was her crew protected from the effects of a nuclear war - prevalent in the Cold War years. Additionally, she was not given night vision equipment, making her a liability in such an environment. To add insult to injury, the BRDM-1 also lacked any sort of specialized reconnaissance-minded vision equipment - considering her role as a reconnaissance scout car, this was a wholly major drawback.
As such, it wasn't long before the BRDM-2 series of scout cars was born to "right the wrongs" of the previous design. The BRDM-2 first appeared in 1962 (a design credited to V.K. Rubtsov) and came online as a direct replacement for the BRDM-1. The BRDM-2 brought along with it several key improvements that made for a better system - including revisions and improvements to the amphibious capabilities, on-road/off-road performance and armament. Additionally, the BRDM-2 was fitted with NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) protection as well as night vision equipment. The engine was moved to the rear of the hull with the crew compartment positioned to the middle-front. A powered turret was added to hold the armament and the powered belly wheels were retained. Production was handled by the Molotov GAZ Plant in Gorkiy, Russia. In all, some 7,200 examples went on to see production (from 1962 to 1989) and, at her usage height, some 40 nations fielded the BRDM-2. She proved a regular at Soviet pride parades during the Cold War and was publically seen for the first time to Western observers in 1966.
It is easy to dismiss the BRDM-2 based on looks alone for she maintains a rather utilitarian appearance with little to recommend herself. However, she is a capable wheeled system that has seen use the world over. The design is characterized by her four large road wheels offering full 4x4 support, these set on leaf springs with hydraulic shock absorbers. The wheels are spaced well apart, particularly when viewed in the side profile. Wheel wells are high-arcing and promote flexibility in steering while collecting and deflecting the mud and dust of the terrain. The lower hull is slab-sided along the sides and rear panels but sloped upwards along the front. The lower front hull angles up to the nearly-flat glacis plate. The glacis plate contours into the hull superstructure and allows a forward panel for vision ports afforded to the front-seated personnel. The sides of the superstructure are angled inwards towards the top. The design is capped by a rounded, low-profile, flat-topped, fully-enclosed turret structure that itself maintains relatively unfettered 360-degree rotation (these is only a communications antenna to the forward right-hand side of the design, near the commander's hatch). Headlamps are held at the forward extreme corners of the upper hull glacis plate and partially protected by armored rails. The driver makes use of external mirrors to view his immediate and distant surroundings. The forward armor vision panels can be raised and lowered at operator discretion. When raised, the glass-covered vision port (bulletproof) allows for improved forward visibility. Vision blocks for the crew are set at the upper access hatches as well as the sides of the hull superstructure while the commander and driver also have use of periscopes when the vehicle is fully "buttoned down". The engine is fitted to the rear of the hull unlike the BRDM-1. There is an integrated winch system built into the front hull of the BRDM-2 design as well as a central tire pressure system. The tire pressure system allows the driver to adapt one or all of his road wheels "on-the-fly" to the terrain ahead.
The More Wheels the Better
Unique to the BRDM-2's design is the use of a smaller pair of road wheels located along the middle of the hull sides. There systems can be raised or lowered "on-the-fly" by the driver and aid in cross-country performance by applying more surface to the terrain. Upgraded BRDM-2s have removed these belly wheels to make additional internal space for the crew.
Armor protection for the BRDM-2 runs from 14mm to 3mm. 10mm thickness is afforded to the front face of the turret. All other turret sides are 7mm thick. The hull is supplied with thicker armor at the front top and lesser armor along the floor and rear. The hull nose plate alone carries 14mm armor thickness. The rear measures in at 7mm. Armor is of welded steel construction.