The Soviet Union introduced the concept of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) with the adoption of its BMP-1 in 1966. The type immediately proved revolutionary and was exported to over 40 Soviet-allied nations and states while, with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, absorbed by various emerging home nations where collections resided. The type's reach proved so popular that thousands were produced with many still in active circulation today (2013). However, the design showcased several key tactical limitations, particularly during the Arab-Israeli wars and the Soviet-Afghanistan War that an improved type was ordered. This eventually became the "BMP-2" family of tracked armored vehicles.
The "BMP" name is derived from the Russian "Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty" which, when translated, becomes "Infantry Combat Vehicle".
The IFV concept emerged with the Soviet plan to introduce a vehicle that offered performance suitable for fast-moving mechanized forces, protection and troop-carrying capabilities of an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) with the firepower of a light tank. This endeavor inevitably produced the BMP-1.
While successful at its core, the BMP-1 offered some notable inherent limitations on the ever-evolving battlefield. It was, for all intents and purposes, designed for fighting across the European battlescape. First combat actions were in Arab hands against Israeli forces during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and results were not promising when many fell to large-caliber machine gun fire and small caliber artillery systems. When pressed into service across the dry, hot and rugged terrain of Afghanistan against non-conventional forces wielding RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades), the design proved vulnerable in several key areas.
The base armament of 73mm cannon with onboard support for a 1st Generation anti-tank missile was surpassed by counters emerging in the West. The 73mm cannon itself proved particularly inaccurate at the required engagement ranges. The AT-3 "Sagger", designed as a wire-guided anti-tank missile, required the operator to be exposed out of the turret roof when guiding the missile to its target. Other limitations including the internal arrangement which sat the commander directly behind the driver in the hull. Not only did this limit his tactical vantage point of the situation ahead, a single direct hit from an enemy projectile could kill both crew - rendering the vehicle a complete loss. The internal passenger seating arrangement was also of note as the twin back-to-back benches were set about the fuel stores fitted in-between, this proving an obvious hazard to passengers and crew alike. Similarly, the ammunition stowed about the hull was exposed and could explode if taken a direct hit.
While a modernization program produced the improved BMP-1P, the endeavor was an interim design pending the arrival of a new type. This begat work on such a product in 1972, a direct successor as the aptly-designated "BMP-2".
The new BMP-2 held a form and function that remained largely faithful to the original save for a few key qualities which instantly set it apart for the better. The hull was shortened and widened for a new internal arrangement and minimized side profile along the horizon. The driver remained at the front-left of the hull with the powerpack to his immediate right. The commander, however, was moved from his hull placement to the new two-man turret, joining the gunner. This arrangement now provided a better communications arrangement between gunner and commander. The passenger cabin was reworked and reduced to include space for only six infantry (down from the original's eight seating) while the twin doors (opening outward) at the rear hull face allowed for infantry entry/exit as normal. An additional infantryman was stationed behind the driver in the commander's old position. Passengers, once again, sat across two benches fitted back to back with access to firing ports that contained periscopes for aiming. Four firing ports were allotted to the left hull side with three along the right which allowed passengers to defend the vehicle with personal weapons as necessary. Night vision equipment remained standard for all three crew positions and NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) protection was required on the nuclear-driven Cold War battlefield. The BMP-2 retained the former's all-amphibious approach though improved such qualities through a sharper prow at front and lengthened deflector at rear with propulsion based on the motion of the moving tracks so no dedicated waterjet was required. However, prior to water entry, the vehicle required the crew to erect a trim vane and turn on bilge pumps as in the BMP-1. Unlike early production BMP-1 vehicles, which relied on an internal exhaust-based smoke generation system, the BMP-2 was fielded complete with 6 x electrically-operated smoke grenade dischargers (three per turret front side) while retaining the engine-based system as well. Armor protection was 33mm at the thickest, mostly along the critical frontal facings though the armor protection scheme as a whole was reportedly improved based on actions in the Middle East and Afghanistan.