After passing state trials in 1959, the vehicle was formally adopted for service by the Red Army based on the Ob'yekt 1015B prototype which became the initial BTR-60P mark in service. These vehicles showcased seating for 16 personnel and fielded a primary armament of 1 x 7.62mm PKT, SGMB or PKB machine gun with optional 2 x 7.62mm machine gun positions along the sides of the hull. As designed, the P-model featured an open-air hull which gave no protection to the crew and this quickly forced a modified, fully-enclosed form to appear in 1963 as the slightly heavier BTR-60PA. All other qualities remained similar however. Later model BTR-60PA vehicles added provision for the 12.7mm DShK 1938/46 heavy machine gun with 500 rounds of ammunition. This then led to the more refined BTR-60PA-1 production model of slightly increased weight. These were then all followed by the improved BTR-60PAI which incorporated a machine gun-armed turret mounting the 14.5 KPVT heavy machine gun in 1965 (500 rounds of ammunition) while backed by 1 x 7.62mm PKT machine gun in a coaxial mounting. The PAI model reduced the internal seating configuration to 14 passengers (from 16). The final BTR-60 form proved to be the BTR-60PB which was another slightly improved version given refined gunnery sights (with seating for 14).
The BTR-60 was first used in anger by Soviet Army forces in the 1968 Czechoslovakian invasion which formally brought about a permanent Soviet military presence in the country until the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in 1991. The vehicle was used as an armed armored personnel carrier, Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) and scout vehicle for a bulk of its service life before being replaced by the BTR-70 arriving in 1972. These were further bolstered by the arrival of the similar BTR-80 series of 1986 though thousands of BTR-60 series vehicles remained in circulation well into the 1990s. Wide-scale production of the type ensured its operational use in the Soviet-Afghan War spanning 1979 into 1989 though its service there (in a dry, hot and mountainous region) proved mixed for a vehicle designed with the European battlefield in mind. Rocket-Propelled Grenades (RPG) proved one of the biggest threats to BTR-60 vehicles in the conflict particularly where light armor was all that protected occupants. Insurgents grew evermore skillful and patient in ambushes that would ultimately send the Soviet Army away in an unbelievable defeat.
Operational use spanned beyond Soviet service as the BTR-60 was delivered to dozens upon dozens of Soviet-allied states and nations. This included powers across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Southeast Asia, North America (Mexico) and South America. Many vehicles were grandfathered into former Soviet holdings as proven through Belarus, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and the Ukraine.
Soviet factories unleashed a plethora of production models during the vehicle's service life including many subvariants to append major variant marks. Modernization also occurred through the newly-established Russian Federation after the 1991 Soviet collapse. Localized Bulgarian variants included the BTR-60PAU, PB and PB-MD marks (the latter a modernized form). Cuba registered four of its own marks each differing in available armaments. Finland, influenced by the Soviet Union following World War 2, managed four major marks including modernized forms. The East German Army operated various versions of its own and designated local marks under the collective "Schutenpanzerwagen" heading. The Mexican Marines operated a turretless variant under the "APC-70" designation. Romania operated the BTR-60 under the "TAB-71" designation with subvariants to boot. Polish variants were based on the BTR-60PB. The BTR-60PB was also (illegally) produced in China thanks to a reverse-engineering endeavor. Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) captured a slew of BTR-60 armored vehicles in their campaigns against neighboring Egypt and Syria, many converted to suit other battlefield roles in turn.
Former operators of the BTR-60 included Czechoslovakia, Germany (grandfathered versions phased out after reunification), Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Yugoslavia and Zaire (the latter now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The reach of the BTR-60 series ensured its use in a wide range of conflicts beginning with the 1967 Six Day War, the 1971 Indo-Pak War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1980s Iran-Iraq War, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the 1st and 2nd Chechen War(s) and more modern conflicts such as the American-led invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq. American forces found familiarity with the vehicle decades earlier during the 1983 US Invasion of Grenada. The BTR-60 has also seen use in the recent Libyan Civil War and the (still ongoing, 2013) Syrian Civil War of 2011.
Over 40 countries use, or have used, the BTR-60 series at one time or another making the design a true Cold War success story.