Guest Blog: Patria AMV in Homeland Defence

Herr Flax is a Swedish officer and helicopter pilot flying the Hkp 16 (UH-60M Black Hawk) in the Swedish Air Force. He started his military career by receiving basic training at P 4 Skaraborg Regiment on the Strv 122/Leopard 2A5, before transitioning to the Air Force. This is my translation of a recent blog post he published on his blog in Swedish, dealing with the merits of the Swedish Army’s Patgb 360 (XA-360 AMV) compared to the Strf 9040 (CV 9040) and Strv 122 (Leopard 2A5). As the same vehicles are a core part of the Finnish Army as well, I felt that the discussion would be of interest to Finnish readers. I have used the international designations for the vehicles in place of the Swedish ones as these are more familiar to the general reader. Any possible faults of the English translation are mine. In addition to his blog, Herr Flax is also found on Twitter (@HerrFlax).

A short reminder on Swedish geography: if Sweden was to be attacked from the east there are two possibilities, either through the heavily forested northern parts of the country (through Finnish territory) or over the Baltic Sea in the south and central parts of the country. The terrain here is more open and holds all major cities in the country. This creates a somewhat different threat scenario compared to Finland, and e.g. hostile airborne/airmobile units traditionally occupy a more central role in Swedish threat perception than in Finnish. Like Finland, the defence of the northern parts of the country is mainly handled by light jaeger style units, which are outside the scope of this discussion.

Some time ago I joined a map exercise as an invited guest participant. The exercise was part of the HSU (the Swedish Higher Staff Officer Course) organised by the Swedish Defence University FHS. The famous pendulum had started to swing back, and we had again started to focus on the question of defending Sweden, on Swedish territory, against a numerically superior attacker employing modern equipment. This was also the core focus of the exercise.

The exercise lasted for a week, and both myself and the other participants rated it highly. The majority of the participants came from Army units and staffs, with myself being one of the few exceptions. On one of the days as part of the exercise we were to evaluate our own army units against a potential future attacker.

The discussion quickly centered on the Leopard 2A5 and the CV 9040, and how these will perform on the future battlefield. This was only natural, as these two vehicles make up the core of the Army’s combat units. After a while, I put forward a vehicle which then was being introduced in the Army, the AMV, and the motorised infantry battalions these would be assigned to.

In Swedish service the AMV’s main weapon is a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun in the Kongsberg Protector RWS. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Jorchr

In my opinion, their role in national defence should not be dismissed, despite the fact that they originally had been acquired with an eye to international missions. The vehicles might lack the firepower of the Leopard 2 and CV 90, but they provided tactical and operational mobility on a scale not found in the Leopard 2/CV 90 units. This could be a factor making them an interesting and valuable card in the homeland defence role, especially considering the small size of the Swedish Defence Forces. The Army needs to be able to shift from one operational area to another. I argued that the AMV provided this capability.

My train of thoughts was interrupted by a another guest participant, an experienced and high-ranking officer with a background including time in the armoured units. He noted that AMV lacks the armament to meet the armoured spearhead of the enemy, and as such it is of little value in combat. My impression was that he felt that the question was settled with this short and snappy interruption.

I didn’t agree, and argued that firepower alone can’t be the sole measure when judging the fighting value on a unit level. Building the argument around fire-mobility-protection felt like a too simplistic approach, and I clarified that I obviously did not wish to replace our mechanised units with motorised infantry. After this, I repeated that we still should see the value of this kind of units. The AMV units can on their own wheels regroup between e.g. Revingehed [home garrison of the P 7 Southern Scania regiment] to Gothenburg/Stockholm while still maintaining most of its combat value. This is significantly harder for the tracked Leopard 2/CV 90 battalions. In addition I argued that a dismounted infantry battalion given a few hours of preparation could throw up a defence that certainly would give a mechanised attacker a significant headache.

CV 9040 is the main infantry fighting vehicle for the Swedish armoured units. Source: Mats Carlsson/Försvarsmakten

The discussion ended when the other officer rhetorically asked ‘Sure they might arrive first, but what can they really do after they have arrived?’ I decided not to pursue the discussion further. Partly because I felt uncomfortable with an experienced colleague categorically rejecting my opinion, and partly because no-one else in the group joined in the discussion. None of the students in the course or the other participants seemed to have an opinion in the question.

My opinion is that the AMV as a vehicle has a poor combat value against enemy tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. This can be determined even by a simple visual inspection. If one uses AMV in combat in the same way as a CV 9040 one will come in second if the enemy wields anything heavier than a BMD.

But the fact that a unit type poorly used makes you lose a battle can hardly be said to make the unit type useless for homeland defence? The main weapon of the AMV battalions is not their vehicles, but the weapon systems carried inside them. Soldiers, machine guns, anti-tank weapons, mines, and systems for indirect fire. These, together with the mobility offered by the AMV, can create excellent units for those that can use them in the correct way. The whole issue should boil down to the simple question of using tactics suitable for the unit type, as well as training and exercises for the members of the unit in question.

There are obviously several possible enhancements in the AMV units before we can get the most out of their combat value! But to dismiss them because they lack vehicle mounted gun barrels or tracks  is to look at an infantry unit from an armoured perspective! It might be an unavoidable consequence of the infantry having been disbanded for all practical purposes for 15 years, but it is rather unflattering for the one doing so.

AMV gives us motorised infantry units with a high level of protection and very good mobility over large areas. It does not provide us with armoured units with high firepower and good off-road mobility. But I will argue that a diversified vehicle park gives the Army more tools in the toolbox, thereby creating more freedom of action.

By combining the mobility and the ability to take key terrain early of the AMV battalions with the Leopard 2/CV 90 battalions’ superior off-road mobility and firepower we can create an asymmetric threat which will be very tough to face for the attacker.

Soldiers from 712. company training in an urban environment with their AMVs. Source: Kalle Bendroth/Försvarsmakten

BMP-2M going for fifty

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.

US educational poster from the Cold War showing the Soviet ‘Big 7’. Note the BMP-1 being described as providing “Mobility, firepower and troop protection excellent by U.S. standards”. Source: DoD via Wikimedia Commons

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.

An infantry tank near ruins of Donetsk International Airport. Ea
The original BMP-1 still soldier on in many parts of the world. Here a vehicle takes part in the fighting over Donetsk International Airport in Ukraine two years ago. Source: Mstyslav Chernov/Wikimedia Commons

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 modernised BMP-2M showing of its Berberys camouflage system, new sights atop the 30 mm gun, raised wire-cutter, and the storage boxes mounted externally on the rear part of the hull. Source: Maavoimat

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.

A Polish BMP-1 (local designation BWP-1) demonstrates the cramped nature of the low BMP-1/2 hull. To add to crew comfort, there are fuel tanks inside the rear door. Source: Polish DoD

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