Staff Writer (Updated: 2/23/2015):
Developed in the 1970s, the BM-27 was formally inducted into Red Army service in the latter portion of the decade. The large 8x8 wheeled vehicle mounted no fewer than 16 x 220mm rockets which it could launch at targets some 22 miles away. The chassis was nothing more than a modified development of the ZiL-135 series 8x8 wheeled truck and completed with an armored cab for the crew. The massive vehicle was powered by a pair of gasoline-fueled engines installed in a side-by-side arrangement. Each wheel, therefore, drove the wheels along its respective side of the chassis allowing for full 8x8 support. The wheels were arranged in a rather unique way with the front and rear axles set well apart from the inner second and third axles. Consequently, only the front and rear axles became steerable in the design. The BM-27 system maintained an operation road range of up to 311 miles, less so when traversing over uneven terrain over long distances. Despite its Cold War origins, the BM-27 is still in use today.
The BM-27 is typically crewed by six personnel including the vehicle commander and dedicated driver. The crew cab is fully enclosed and provides standard Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) protection for its occupants. This allows the crew to be relatively protected from its own rockets during launch and affords protection from enemy fire or applicable incoming NBC threats. While the vehicle is large and weighs in excess of 44,000 lb, it is designed for quick set-up-and-take-down when it comes to firing. Recoil struts are lowered in preparation of firing and help to absorb the violent blowback inherent in the large rockets exiting their launch tubes at speed. A 16-shot payload can be emptied from the launch tubes within 20 seconds after launch while a specialized version of the ZiL-135 8-wheeled vehicle designated as the 9T452 - appearing very similar to the BM-27 without its rocket launching mount - is then used to reload fresh rockets into the reusable launch tubes. Targeting is accomplished through a basic sighting device that allows only for indirect fire. BM-27s are typically painted over in the standard Soviet/Russian Army dark green scheme while those on parade may be seen with more added detail.
The BM-27's payload of 16 x 220mm rockets allow for various warheads to be utilized to suit mission needs. This includes the High-Explosive-Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) tipped version which is the standard rocket available. A chemical weapons version has also been developed to deliver lethal doses consistent with NBC payloads. One of the more unique forms of 220mm rocket is the mine-scattering submunition version which sprays a target area with electrically-timed detonating mines for truly disastrous results. Each of the massive 220mm rockets measure in at 15.8 feet in length and weigh nearly 800lbs.
BM-27s have seen combat actions since their inception, beginning with the bloody Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. Perhaps as many as eighteen BM-27s were captured and eventually reused by Afghan forces though their current state is thought to be mostly of disrepair. This was then followed by engagements during the 1st and 2nd Chechen Wars of 1994-1996 and 1999-2000 respectively. Most recently, the BM-27 was seen in action against Georgian forces in the 2008 South Ossetia War where her long-range prowess was put to good use.
The Soviet Union / Russia has been, by far, the largest operator of the BM-27 series, fielding as many as 800 at peak usage. Kazakhstan holds approximately 180 in inventory while Ukraine has managed no fewer than 140. Belarus operates up to 84 examples. Other operators have included (or may continue to include) Guinea, Iran, Moldova, Myanmar, North Korea, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Yemen. The Iranian and North Korean totals are unknown.