The biggest challenge to modern-day war planners has always been properly outfitting their airborne-minded soldiers (classically known as "paratroopers") for the task ahead. Since these battlefield elements were principally charged with jumping out of aircraft, they were severely limited in the equipment and weaponry they could carry into the fray - lacking all manner of armored support and artillery save for a few light mortars. It was not until the 1960s that militaries (principally the Soviets and the Americans) began fleshing out the prospect of landing capable "air droppable" tanks to help airborne units manage their footholds before the arrival of the main ground force. For the Americans, this became the M551 Sheridan series while the Soviets unveiled their BMD family (as the BMD-1) with both vehicles going into operational service in 1969.
While the M551 was more of a classic "tank" design, it was specifically fielded as a light reconnaissance assault vehicle, seeing combat service in the Vietnam War, Panama and Operation Desert Storm. The Soviet BMD was more in line with the "infantry fighting vehicle" concept and retained key qualities consistent with Red Army doctrine - strong firepower, good cross country performance and inherent amphibious qualities. The BMD-1 was bettered in the upcoming and refined BMD-2 of 1985 which was further evolved into the improved BMD-3 of 1990. In 2005, the BMD-4 was adopted by the Russian Army to fulfill the same long-running role of the BMDs before it - however much thought was given to advancing the breed for the challenges of the modern battlefield. As such, the BMD-4 features much improved armor protection and firepower over that of the preceding BMD-3 series - the BMD-4 essentially being an amalgam of the BMD-3 itself and the successful BMP-3 Armored Personnel Carrier. While the American M551 has since been removed from service with the US Army, the Russians have continued the tradition of the air-droppable tank in its inventory - meaning that the BMD-4 has no true "equal" on the world stage.
Design of the BMD-4 follows the tried-and-true nature of the BMD series prior and visually resembles all previous marks to an extent. The hull is compact by design, protected by a sloped glacis plate and flat hull roof and is borrowed from the preceding BMD-3 design. The hull sides are straight faced with the turret centrally located along the hull roof while the various armored surfaces of the vehicle serve well to store the various "pioneer" tools required of the crew (shovels and the like). The turret itself sports some basic ballistics protection through angled sides and well defined curves and has a pair of side-by-side hatches for entry/exit. Each side of the vehicle is dominated by the running track linkage system driven by the drive sprocket at the rear and the track idler at the front. There are four small track return rollers under the upper regions of the track while five suspended road wheels provide the needed cross country and road travel support. The vehicle is principally crewed by three personnel made up of the driver, vehicle commander and gunner. Armor protection is rated against small caliber firearms and artillery "spray" (shell splinters). The entire crew cabin is also further protected from NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) threats for the nuclear-minded battlefield. A fire suppression system ensures that direct hits to the hull and turret do not endanger the crew by way of exploding munitions. A passenger area allows for a further five combat-ready troops to be carried in relative comfort and under some protection. The engine - a 2V-60-2 series diesel of 450 horsepower - is set in a compartment at the rear of the hull for maximum protection against damage. Overall range of the BMD-4 is 500 kilometers with a top road speed of 62 miles per hour (100 kmh) while overall weight is 13.6 tons.
The powered turret holds the primary offensive hardware which is the 100mm main gun (ranged out to 7,000 meters). Augmenting this is a 30mm autocannon fitted as a coaxial gun mount giving the BMD-4 a powerful one-two punch against light-to-medium armored vehicles. The weapon combination is the same as featured in the dimensionally larger BMP-3. The fire control system is fully digital which adds automation to the action, requiring the crew simply to identify targets on the battlefield. As with other Soviet/Russian armed armored carriers, the BMD-4's main gun has the capability to fire a laser-guided anti-tank missile, in this case the "Bastion" series, providing the BMD-4 crew with an unparalleled "reach" on the modern battlefield (for a vehicle of this class) and a counter against Main Battle Tanks. The autocannon sports a true autoloading feature which is also designed to load the AT missiles as needed. The autoloader also reduces the expected crew of four to just three personnel as a dedicated loader is not required. In addition to the cannon armament, the BMD-4 is also fielded with a 9M113 Konkurs (AT-5 "Spandrel") anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher which is identified along the hull roof. Beyond this, the BMD-4 crew also has access to a 40mm bow-mounted automatic grenade launcher, a 7.62mm bow-mounted machine gun and a 5.45mm caliber machine gun for anti-infantry defense. Six smoke grenade dischargers are seated in two banks of three along the front turret sides.
The BMD-4 showcases three strong qualities about its design and include the aforementioned impressive armaments package. The other is the capability of being air dropped from low-flying aircraft via parachute and being made ready to fight within minutes of landing with the crew inside. Once landed, just three minutes are required to start the vehicle, manage the positions and arm all weapons. Still another quality is its amphibious capabilities which give the BMD-4 the capability of fording water sources and changing tactical approaches on-the-fly. All told, the BMD-4 fits extremely well in accepted Russian tank doctrine of the day - intended to overwhelm key enemy positions through speed and firepower.
Since its adoption into service, the has been improved in the new "BMD-4M" mark debuted in 2008. The BMD-4M brings about a refined fire control system and a new UTD-29 series diesel engine of 500 horsepower as well as other subtle changes to her internal functionality. Previous BMD-3s are being modernized to the BMD-4 standard as of this writing (2012). To date at least 60 BMD-4s have been delivered for active service with more on order. There are no known foreign operators of the BMD-4 series.
The "BMD" designation stems from the words "Boyevaya Mashina Desanta" to designate it as "Combat Vehicle of the Airborne". Production is handled out of the Volgograd Tractor Plant.
April 2017 - The Russians have debuted the latest, updated version of the BMD-4 in the BMD-4M2 model. Changes include the drivetrain of the BMP-3 IFV (to lower maintenance and repair times/costs) and installation of the "Sinica" series manned turret.