BMP-1 (Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty) Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) / Light Tank
The Soviet-era BMP-1 Infantry Fighting Vehicle was quite a departure from previous infantry carrier designs, incorporating performance, protection and firepower in one complete package.
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The Soviet military was first major military power to widely adopt the concept of an "armored fighting infantry carrier" through their revolutionary BMP-1 series of 1967. The type incorporated a conventional track-and-wheel design with low-profile hull and turret fitting substantial armament designed to transport combat-ready infantry in relative (armored) safety while being able to bring its own anti-infantry/tank-killing firepower to bear. The vehicle was fast enough to compete with the main mechanized force as it advanced deeper into enemy-held territory and its amphibious capabilities allowed it to traverse off-road, poorly defended areas with due diligence, thusly overwhelming even a prepared enemy such as those expected to be encountered during the Cold War across the European battlescape.
The BMP-1 was primarily developed to replace the limited BTR-50
series vehicles (in particular the BTR-50P model) to which the much improved 8x8 wheeled BTR-60
Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) was also developed in conjunction and produced on an equally large scale alongside the more technologically-laden BMP-1 family. Both vehicles went on to see considerable usage overseas and across countless conflicts dotting the Cold War decades. Despite having entered Soviet Army service in 1966, the BMP-1 was first identified by the West in November of 1967 and is now generally recognized as the first "true" Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), classified as such due to its ability to transport troops, disembarking them and then being able to operate as a stand-alone armored fighting vehicle (AFV). Thusly the BMP-1 was something of a revolutionary hybrid design incorporating the best assets of a light-class tank with the benefits of an armored personnel carrier - essentially creating a new sub-class of armored vehicle. Contemporary Western counterparts have since gone on to include the American Bradley
, British Warrior and German Marder.
The BMP-1 designation is born of the words "Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty 1" which translates to "Infantry Fighting Vehicle 1". Due to the limited nature of intelligence fielded by the West during the Cold War, the BMP-1 was initially recognized as the "M1967"before evolving into the "BMP-1" designation.
Design work on the BMP-1 series began in 1959-1960 through competition involving various concerns. The resulting winner became the "Obyekt 764" prototype which seemingly incorporated all of the design features sought by the Soviet Army (firepower, performance and protection). The first pilot vehicle was completed in 1964 and testing of more evolved models occurred into 1965 before the type was adopted in 1966 after having passed the requisite state trials.
The BMP-1 proved a departure from previous armored infantry carriers in that most early versions of such vehicle featured an open-air passenger cabin which exposed its infantry to all manner of battlefield dangers and environmental effects and hazards (namely the threat of nuclear war realistically persistent throughout the 1950s). The Soviet design incorporated a low-profile hull with extremely sloped glacis plate and basic operating crew of three (driver, gunner and commander). The engine was fitted to a front-right compartment to open the rear of the design for the passenger compartment and entry/exit through the unobstructed rear. The turret was set at center with unfettered views around the hull. The rear of the hull serviced eight infantry seated across two benches (four infantry per bench) facing outwards (fuel was stored between the two seat rows). The hull sides were given protected firing ports (four to a side) which allowed passengers the ability to help defend the vehicle through small arms fire from their own personal weapons (periscopes allowed for direct aiming though the ports themselves were not stabilized). Entry/access for the troops was through a pair of outward-opening hinged doors found at the rear face of the hull, each also sporting their own firing ports and aiming periscopes. The driver sat at the front-left in the hull with a personal hatch over his position and vision blocks for when the vehicle was "buttoned down". The turret maintained a hatch for the gunner while the commander resided in a special position just aft of the driver in the hull. As designed, and in keeping with common Soviet armored doctrine of the time, the BMP-1 was fully-amphibious and able to traverse open bodies of water with relative ease while being propelled about by the motion of its own tracks. Preparation consisted of raising a front-mounted trim vane and bilge pumps were turned on prior to any deep water entry. Water speeds totaled just 4.3 mph.
Power for the vehicle was served through a single 6-cylinder, water-cooled, diesel-fueled engine developing 300 horsepower at 2,000rpm. This allowed the vehicle a maximum road speed of 50 miles per hour with an operational road range of 310 miles, specifications allowing it to keep pace with the rest of the armored spearhead led by Main Battle Tanks. The vehicle was also fully-suspended and its track-and-wheel arrangement involved six double-tired, rubber-surrounded road wheels to a hull side with the drive sprocket at the front of the hull and the track idler at the rear. Three track return rollers were partially shrouded by a thin layer of armor skirt along each hull side.
The BMP-1 was equipped with a smoothbore 73mm 2A28 Grom main gun as primary armament firing a proven High-Explosive, Anti-Tank (HEAT) projectile or High-Explosive, Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) round. The main gun was fitted to a low-profile, conically-shaped turret set at the middle of the hull roof. The turret could manage a full 360-degree firing arc about the vehicle with +33 and -4 elevation reach. This was coupled to an AT-3 "Sagger-A" 9M14 Malyutka anti-tank, wire-guided missile launcher fitted over the main gun barrel which gave it line-of-sight armor-defeating capabilities at range. While the 73mm armament could contend with infantry, structures and lightly-armored vehicles, the AT missile could be reserved for countering the threat of Western-originated combat tanks. Secondary armament included a 7.62mm coaxial-mounted machine gun in the turret.
The hull of the BMP-1 was designed to withstand the effects of a 12.7mm heavy caliber machine gun (up 23mm cannon fire across the front facings) and artillery spray that would otherwise maim or kill occupants within the hull of the vehicle. Armor thickness measured 33mm at the critical facings. Complete crew features included an integrated NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) system, night vision equipment for all three crew and a smoke generating system that utilized fuel vapor injection directly into the exhaust port.
The BMP-1 received its baptism of fire with Syrian and Egyptian forces during the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Israel. The type was also extensively used by Soviet forces in the Afghanistan War from 1979 into 1989. Libyan Army forces fielded the type against Chad. As a mechanized platform, the BMP-1 certainly proved valuable to the operating scope of its users (including the Soviet Army). The BMD-1 of 1970 was a direct offshoot of the BMP-1, intended as a dimensionally smaller and lighter airborne derivative of the original and issue to Soviet paratrooper elements as a formidable "air-droppable" light tank.
The BMP-1 was, itself, eventually superseded by the improved BMP-2 series of armored vehicles debuting in 1980, a storied design which also went on to see considerable sale and use worldwide. The BMP-2 improved by way of a shorter, lower hull, improved visibility for the commander through a revised internal layout, room for seven infantrymen and a more accurate - though smaller caliber - 30mm main gun - changes brought about by the limitations of the original BMP-1 design showcased in both the Yom Kippur War and Soviet-Afghan War - particularly in the tandem seating of driver and commander which limited views for the latter and expose both crew to a single mine or RPG blast. The cabin stowage of ammunition for the main gun also exposed the crew to ammunition explosion from a direct hit and the cabin-fitted fuel stores posed its own obvious danger to passengers. Support for the 2nd Generation AT-4 and AT-5 anti-tank missiles was also brought about as were improved amphibious capabilities. The BMP-3 of 1987 was, and continues to be, the ultimately evolution of the BMP fighting line, having superseded the BMP-2 in limited numbers.
Many BMP-1s saw extensive modernization programs undertaken in the mid-1970s. This initiative begat the definitive BMP-1P which brought about support for the 9M113 and 9M113M AT missiles of increased range and penetration values. 6 x smoke grenade launchers were added for point defense in screening the vehicle from tracking eyes. These versions came online in 1979, resulting in a new BMP-1 operational standard utilized throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Production of BMP-1 units have totaled 26,000 examples from Soviet factories, Chinese state arsenals, Czech factories and local-license production in India. Many BMP-1 users consist of Soviet-allied states and nations. Many such examples were grandfathered in to local inventories after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.