Since the tactic of utilizing airborne troops came to lethal fruition in World War 2, there always lay the challenge of outfitting said forces with capable weaponry. Airborne soldiers generally would have to pack lightly and this limited their tactical effectiveness once the enemy responded to surprise drops. One of the biggest threat to these lightly armed forces was the combat tank - airborne forces lacked much in the way of countering enemy armor. Some initiatives during the war ultimately succeeded but it would take the post-war environment to truly see endeavors fulfilled - the Soviet BMD series being one such implement.
After World War 2, the Soviet Empire was a vast collection of nations and interests spanning the globe. Where security was to be enforced there was a requirement to field a quick-reaction force to any part of the world. One such element of the force ultimately became the Soviet paratrooper and to this end the airborne soldier needed a way of defeating enemy armor at range - firepower beyond that as offered by clumsy portable anti-tank weaponry. It was envisioned that a tracked vehicle, air-droppable by parachute, could be supplied to these fighting men when on the ground.
The Red Army had already committed to the BMP series of amphibious light tanks but, despite their "light" classification, proved too heavy for air dropping from Soviet transports. As such, a new tracked vehicle was designed in the image of the BMP and maintained the firepower and tracked qualities of her predecessor to help fulfill the Soviet Army need. The resulting design was known as the BMD with design work beginning in 1965 and production undertaken in 1968. Full scale production began in 1970. Comparatively the original BMP-1 was already in frontline service since 1966.
Power was supplied by a single 5D-20 liquid-cooled 6-cylinder diesel-fueled engine developing 241 horsepower at 2,600rpm. This fitting allowed for a top road speed of 80 km/h on ideal surfaces (less so off road) and an operational range of 600 kilometers. This allowed the BMD-1 to keep pace with other armor elements as needed or outpace ground troops to secure forward areas. As an amphibious tank, the BMD-1 was given amphibious equipment to wade through water sources. A pair of waterjets fitted at the rear of the hull propelled the vehicle through water. The expected battlegrounds of Western Europe would have played well to the strengths of the BMD-1 should the Cold War ever have gone "hot" outside of East Germany.
Primary armament centered around the 73mm 2A28 series "Grom" main gun fitted to the BMP-1 turret. The weapon was a smoothbore design with a short-recoil and semi-automatic fire mechanism. Additional armament was a launcher intended to fire an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). Up to three ATGM missiles could be carried aboard (depending on the missile model) and supported types included the 9M14M (AT-3 "Sagger"), 9M113 (AT-5 "Spandrel") and 9M111M (AT-4 "Spigot") series missiles. Not only could the BMD-1 engage armored targets with its 73mm main gun, it also packed a serious tank-killing capability with the addition of missile fire at range. 40 rounds of 73mm ammunition were carried aboard and this spanned armor-piercing and high-explosive types to counter armored threats and soft targets respectively. The main gun was augmented by a 7.62mm PKT series machine gun in a coaxial mounting in the turret. A further pair of 7.62mm PKT fixed, forward-firing machine guns were fitted to the bow for additional offense/defense against enemy infantry. Up to 6,000 total rounds of 7.62mm ammunition could be carried.
The air-droppable quality of the BMD-1 certainly made it unique - matched only by the American M551 Sheridan light tank. BMDs were strapped onto pallets prior to loading and the vehicle could then be transported by a handful of cleared Soviet aircraft including several Antonov types as well as Mil helicopters. Parachutes assisted in the rough landings while a special rocket system was later developed to further cushion the drop. Once landed, the vehicle would be freed from its pallet and read for battle by awaiting troopers.
Notable combat actions involving the BMD-1 came quickly with the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan. Airborne elements were quick to realize the value of their light tank systems though its "light" value also proved limiting against guerilla tactics and use of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). Additionally, the magnesium alloy armor construction found on original vehicles was prone to helping fires spread. As such, tankers would meet a fate worse than death after receiving direct hits. Over nine years of fighting and losses began to mount to the point that Soviet troops ultimately left the region for good.
Prior to the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the BMD-1 saw combat service in the Angolan Civil War. Both Iran and Iraq were operators of the type and these saw service in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Surviving Iraqi members were then sent to war once again in Operation Desert Storm with dire results. Likewise, still remaining units were fielded once again in the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. BMDs also served in the Balkans conflict with Russian forces under the NATO peacekeeping banner. Additional actions placed them in harm's way during the 2nd Chechen War as well as the more recent South Ossetia War of 2008.
The BMD was ultimately utilized by the forces of the Soviet Union/Russia as well as Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Iraq, Iran, Moldova, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The largest operator, by far, remained the Soviet/Russian Army.
The BMD-1 was eventually evolved along several lines to produce a variety of derivatives. The initial production models were designated simply as "BMD". These were refined to become the BMD-1 which was branched out to include the BMD-1K command vehicle fitting additional equipment and differentiated by its twin antenna masts. The BMD-1 was eventually modified for missile launching with the BMD-1P. The BMD-1PK became the command vehicle variant of this mark. Smoke grenade launchers and new road wheels greeted the arrival of the BMD-1M mark. Several other offshoots of the BMD-1 installed 30mm cannons in place of the original 73mm mount. Another carried a large field mortar for fire support while still another was modified for use as a battlefield rocket projector vehicle.
The BMD-1 was eventually reworked and heavily modified to become the "BMD-2" detailed elsewhere on this site. The BTR-D was a longer-hull variant of the BMD-1 with increased frontal armor and sans the turret, meant as a light and fast troop carrier with seating for 10 personnel.
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