Few post-war armoured vehicles can rival the fame of the BMP-1/2 family. While the tanks of the Soviet armoured groups changed rather dramatically during the cold war, the classic lines of the BMP was a mainstay of the operational manoeuvre groups poised to fight their way through the Fulda Gap from their introduction in the mid-sixties up until the fall of the Soviet Union, and onwards to this very day.
It isn’t hard to realise how this came to be. The vehicle was the first true modern infantry fighting vehicle, being able not only to transport the infantry to the battlefield, but to stay in the fight and provide supporting fire to the infantry squads once they had dismounted. As was typical for Soviet armoured vehicles, it featured a very low profile and proved to be both rugged and reliable. It was also one of the first combat vehicles to offer full NBC-protection, meaning that it could (in theory at least) fight its way through chemical weapons and radioactive fallout likely to be encountered on the battlefield of WWIII. The introduction of the modernised BMP-2 solved one of the main issues with the BMP-1, namely its outdated 2A28 73 mm low-pressure gun. This weapon sported comparable performance to the SPG-9 recoilless-rifle (video from Ukraine showing its use), but the continued increase in protection of NATO AFV’s and longer range of their weapon systems meant that it became increasingly doubtful if the BMP-1 would 1) be able to close within firing range and 2) whether the HEAT-round would cause any significant damage.
The solution was to fit a larger turret with a more modern weapons suite, the main weapon now being the 30 mm 2A42 autocannon, with heavy anti-tank firepower being provided by the 9M111 Fagot (PstOhj 82) and 9M113 Konkurs (PstOhj 82M) SACLOS-guided anti-tank missiles. The missile system could also be dismounted for use by the infantry squad carried. A number of other changes, most relatively minor, were also made, and so the ultimate Soviet IFV was born.
Finland bought both BMP-1 and BMP-2 in significant numbers, these being the most advanced and modern vehicles available to transport and support our panssarijääkärit in battle. The original TOE had the infantry units riding in the BMP-1, which due to its smaller tower fit a full squad of eight in the rear compartment, while the recon infantry and anti-tank units rode in the BMP-2, which only allowed for six passengers. But even the most successful of designs will not last forever. By now, the BMP-1 (with exception of specialised vehicles based on it) has been retired, and the BMP-2 has seen some modest modifications. These include the removal of the anti-tank missile system (due to the shelf-life of the missiles expiring), and the fitting of lighter side skirts made of sheet metal instead of the original flotation devices. The BMP has also been complemented by the significantly more modern Swedish CV9030 in service, and more than one observer probably expected the BMP-2 to slowly follow its bigger brother the T-72 into the melting pot, with more CV9030’s to replace it. This, however, was not to be.
Back in 2013, the Finnish authorities ordered technology demonstrators from two Finnish companies. The goal of this project was to see if the BMP-2 could be modified to meet the demands of the modern battlefield. Two key areas were the ability to operate at night without the use of the active infra-red searchlight, and reducing the heat signature of the vehicle. The original layout of the BMP means that the hot exhaust gases are blown straight upwards, a solution not uncommon in the days before thermal sights became commonplace. This, however, leads to a very high heat signature.
After comparative trials, the configuration suggested by Conlog Oy was chosen as the basis for the new BMP-2M/MD. A brief note on the designations: the current project feature two different communication suites, with the resulting vehicle being designated either -2M or -2MD depending on which of these are fitted. As this difference is purely internal, all updated IFV’s are usually referred to as simply BMP-2M, a designation also used for a number of other BMP-2 modernisation packages around the world. The modernised vehicle was first displayed to a wider audience at a special demonstration showing off a number of the Army’s newest fighting vehicles in August 2015, at the same time that the first Finnish Leopard 2A6 was unveiled. Externally the main difference is the Berberys-R multi-spectral camouflage from the Polish company Miranda. In layman’s terms, this is a highly advanced camo net, reducing not only the visual footprint, but the heat, IR, and radar signature as well. The net comes in pre-cut pieces, and allows for full movement of the turret and all other movable parts.
The BMP-2M feature a number of other changes as well. To further reduce the heat signature, the exhausts have been routed through a side-mounted exhaust port, and angled downwards for better shielding. Crucially, the night-vision suite is completely revamped, and both the gunner and driver have access to new displays which allow the vehicle to safely drive and fight during the dark hours. Other new equipment include a new anti-air sight, which allows for a higher efficiency when engaging helicopters and other low- and slow-flying targets. A number of external storage boxes have also been mounted on both the turret and on the rear part of the hull. The later cover the firing ports for the infantry squad carried in the passenger compartment. The value of IFV’s having firing ports for the rifles have however always been questioned, as the added firepower is marginal and the firing ports becomes potential weakspots in the armour. A single port remains, which is to be used by the squad’s light machine gun. The value of the added storage space for the soldiers can hardly be overestimated. The low profile of the BMP-2 means that it has always been a cramped vehicle, and the amount of personal equipment carried by the infantry soldiers has risen steadily during the last decades. Now part of this, including e.g. the bulky anti-tank mines, can be carried in the external baskets.
Amongst the other changes the cushioning of the seats have been improved, new command and communications systems have been fitted (an important update which the defence force naturally doesn’t give out much details about), a new wire cutter is installed, and there is now heating in the passenger compartment.
Added together, do these modifications bring the trusty old ‘Bemari‘ up to the same standard as the CV9030? Certainly not! But the real selling point, as usual, is cost. For somewhat over 35 million euros, the army will get about one hundred modified BMP-2’s. The same sum would barely give ten brand new CV9030’s. The BMP-2M won’t be the best IFV around, but it will be adequate, and is now going to serve into the 2030’s, over fifty years after the original BMP-2 rolled off the production line. Not bad for a family of vehicles first envisioned in the late 1950’s!
Sources for this post: MoD, Conlog, Reserviläinen, Iltalehti, PSPR