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The BRDM-2 primarily served as an armored scout car with the Soviet Army during the height of the Cold War. She was a direct replacement to the limited BRDM-1 scout car series and, like many of the Soviet Cold War offerings, the newer BRDM-2 proved a cheap yet still capable system, making it a popular export product the world over. Thousands of examples were ultimately produced and the type was fielded in anger throughout several of the key global conflicts between the years 1960 and 2000. While she still serves with many nations across the globe (mostly Soviet-allied customers), the BRDM-2 now remains a limited product all her own when set on the modern battlefield. Regardless, she has proven herself a combat-capable system and has enjoyed the successes of her rather simplistic yet utterly reliable design.
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 publicly 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.
The BRDM-2 Crew
Crew accommodations include four personnel made up of the driver, commander, assistant driver and gunner. The driver and commander are seated at the front in a side-by-side fashion with access to a pair of roof-mounted entry/exit hatches. Interestingly, this is the only means of entry/exit for the personnel within the vehicle for the turret holds no hatches of its own, nor do the hull sides. The gunner sits within the powered turret during action but takes a place within the hull during standard travel. The crew has access to a land navigation system and a decontamination kit (the latter to combat the effects of a nuclear battlefield).
Base armament for the BRDM-2 scout car is a 14.5mm KPVT heavy machine gun tied to a co-axial 7.62mm PKT general purpose machine gun. These are both fitted to the enclosed power turret and operate along the same firing arcs with elevation limited to -5 to +30 degrees. In fact, the BRDM-2 makes use of the same turret system as used on the BTR-60PB, BTR-70 and OT-64 Model 2A armored personnel carriers. 500 rounds of ammunition are afforded to the 14.5mm system while 2,000 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition are carried. Other variations of the BRDM-2 carry anti-tank or anti-aircraft missile system launchers in place of the machine gun armament.
Powerplant and Performance Marks
Power is supplied from a rear-mounted GAZ-41 series V-8 water-cooled gasoline engine delivering 140 horsepower at 3,400rpm (a bigger, more powerful engine over that in the BRDM-1). The placement of the engine in the rear makes it less susceptible to incoming enemy fire. Additionally, armor separates the engine compartment from the crew for added survivability. Maximum road speed is listed at 62 miles per hour while operational range is listed at about 466 miles. When fording water, the BRDM-2 can sustain a top speed of approximately 6.2 miles per hour. The vehicle measures in at 5.75m in length with a width equal to 2.75m while carrying a 2.31m height. The BRDM-2 grosses a 7,000kg operating weight and features a 430mm ground clearance. She has full 4x4 wheeled support. Upgraded BRDM-2s have featured improved engines.
As an amphibious-minded design, the BRDM-2 makes use of a single four-bladed water jet for propulsion in water. The jet is protected by an armor covering when the vehicle traverses land but must be removed before entering a body of water. Though the speed of the BRDM-2 in water is not excellent, it is serviceable and allows for an overall dynamically-minded platform.
While the BRDM-2 extends well beyond its basic scout roles and appears in a myriad of battlefield forms, a few notable variants deserve mention. The BRDM-2-RKhb is a radiological-chemical reconnaissance variant and identified by her carrying of twin rectangular-shaped racks along her superstructure. The BRDM-2U is a command vehicle with specialized communications equipment. Anti-tank forms include the BRDM-2 chassis mounted with launchers for "Sagger", "Spandrel" and "Swatter" anti-tank missile systems. The BRDM-2 has also been converted to fire the SA-9 "Gaskin" anti-aircraft missile system.
As with many of the Cold War implements fielded by the Soviet Union, systems such as the BRDM-2 lack much in the way of "refinements" common to her Western counterparts. Little is given to general crew comfort and the GAZ engine is noted as being a thirsty beast, limiting her useful range. The crew is nary protected from many of the modern battlefield weapons that would be used against her armor, though this helps to keep her somewhat light and mobile. Of particular note is the use of the twin access hatches. These are fitted to the front of the vehicle, forcing a crew to abandon their mount, most likely in the line of enemy fire. Most modern systems feature some sort f emergency exit and this usually fitted to the rear hull.
The BRDM-2 has since become a combat-tested system, and this occurring in a variety of climates and environments and under the direction of a multitude of users. The system was fielded by the Soviet Army in their War in Afghanistan to which some systems inevitably became part of the Afghan National Army, in turn, as captured spoils. The BRDM-2 was also fielded by Arab operators in the Six Day War of 1967, the War of Attrition (1968-1970) and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 against Israel. Israel captured some of these vehicles only to fit the TOW anti-tank missile launcher on the hull superstructures and use them against their former owners. A few retained models were made into museum "victory" pieces. American forces tangled with, and captured, several BRDM-2s during the 1983 invasion of Grenada through "Operation Urgent Fury". The Iraqi Army made use of the scout car in the Persian Gulf War of 1991 with limited success and, later, in the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 with even lesser success. The type also served in the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995) and the Kosovo War (1998-1999), proving her a viable player in the European environment.
The BRDM-2 has since (at least in theory) been replaced by the BRDM-3 series 8x8 wheeled reconnaissance vehicle. The BRDM-3 is based on the BTR-80 8x8 wheeled armored personnel carrier. The BTR-80 has itself replaced the BTR-60 and BTR-70 wheeled vehicles since its inception.
The United States evaluated captured BRDM-2s following the 1991 Persian Gulf War. One such example resides on display at the US National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia. During the Cold War years, HMMWVs (Humvees) were externally modified to resemble BRDM-2s during identification training / war game exercises. East German BRDM-2s became part of the unified German Army following the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Many nations have already passed their BRDM-2s to other buyers or scrapped their existing fleets entirely.