This High-Speed Amphibious Armored Vehicle Could Race Russia's Naval Infantry Ashore

Russia's naval infantry units are still stuck riding in Soviet-era armored personnel carriers that are slow and increasingly vulnerable.

UralVagonZavod

Russia’s top tank producer, UralVagonZavod, has developed a concept for a new amphibious tracked armored vehicle, called the BMMP, for the country’s naval infantry units. The modular design would be a marine compliment to other recent Russian armor developments, including the T-14 tank and the Kurganets-25 infantry fighting vehicle, and comes amid Kremlin plans for new amphibious assault ships.

Earlier in May 2018, an undated Russian-language powerpoint presentation appeared online detailing the BMMP concept. OmskTransMash, a subsidiary of UralVagonZavod, is reportedly primarily responsible for the development of the vehicle. The briefing is no longer available from the original source, but Archive.org has mirrored a significant portion of the document.

UralVagonZavod’s brief says Russia needs to replace its “inferior” amphibious vehicles to keep pace with development in other countries, specifically citing the U.S. Marine Corps’ now-canceled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), the Chinese ZBD 2000, and the Italian Arisgator as examples of advanced developments. At present, Russian naval infantry units rely primarily on wheeled BTR-80 and BTR-82AM armored personnel carriers for mobility and fire support. UralVagonZavod noted that these often have trouble in soft sand or snow once they hit land. Russia’s naval infantry also have tanks and tracked self-propelled artillery, but these vehicles require landing ships and craft to bring them directly to the beachhead.

The brief also mentions the tracked BMP-3F infantry fighting vehicles, which has additional modifications to improve its performance in the water specifically for amphibious operations where it has to swim from ships offshore to the beach. Though it remains another potential option and is in service in Indonesia, Russia has not actually bought any of these vehicles. 

UralVagonZavod

A rendering of the BMMP without its tracks.

The new BMMP would use a common tracked chassis that would offer good mobility on land combined with water jets to propel the streamlined vehicle at high speeds in the water. When it enters the water, the crew would extend a retractable bow plane in the front and deploy a blade at the rear to improve handling. It only takes 40 seconds to extend or retract these components, according to a report from Jane’s.

At present, the Chinese ZBD 2000 is the only such vehicle in active service anywhere in the world to use a similar propulsion method paired with a hull design optimized for amphibious operations. After the U.S. Marines scrapped the EFV program in 2011 due to delays and cost overruns, the service changed course and began pursuing a new wheeled amphibious vehicle and upgrades for existing tracked AAV7-series types.

The underlying impetus for vehicles such as the ZBD 2000 and the EFV is the increasing range of shore-based defenses, particularly anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles, along with their associated sensors. In any future amphibious operation, ships will have to deploy forces increasingly further away from the beach in order to better defend themselves and their supporting surface and air elements from those weapons or avoid their reach altogether. At the same time, then, this means that amphibious vehicles and landing craft will have further to travel and slower vehicles would be inherently more vulnerable during that trip, if they can even make it at all.

The video below shows China's ZBD 2000 amphibious vehicle in action.

UralVagonZavod says the BMMP would be able to reach speeds of faster than 45 miles per hour on land and over 20 miles per hour on the water. Once ashore, it will be able to carry 10 troops up to almost 100 miles. The vehicles would be able to operate in almost any weather, including Arctic conditions at temperatures below negative 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Russia design would be slower at sea that the ZBD 2000, but faster ashore. More importantly, it would be nearly four times faster than the BTR-80s and -82s and BMP-3Fs on the water with a comparable top speed after hitting the beach.

However, it’s not clear if this performance is representative of the new Russian design in all of its different potential configurations. The briefing also suggests that UralVagonZavod may be considering multiple different starting places for the underlying vehicle, as well.

UralVagonZavod

A slide showing a number of potential BMMP-based vehicles.

The concept art shows designs with five and six wheels on each side. RussiaDefence.com noted that this could indicate plans to use at least some of the chassis components from the in-production BMP-4M airborne infantry fighting vehicle or the newer Kurganets-25.

This would make good sense since a significant number of common components, including those already available, would help reduce development risk and production costs. It could also simplify some logistics, training, and maintenance requirements, making the system cheaper to sustain overall.

The main infantry fighting vehicle variant of the BMMP, as well as scout and command vehicle versions, would have a three-person crew and use a common unmanned turret, according to UralVagonZavod. Called Kinzhal – not to be confused with Russia’s new air-launched ballistic missile – this weapon system appears similar to the AU-220M Baikal turret and looks to use the same 57mm automatic cannon. It also has a co-axial 7.62mm machine gun and numerous sighting systems, which likely include image magnification and night-vision capabilities to spot and engage targets at extended ranges and at night. UralVagonZavod also says the vehicle as a whole will have digital fire control and other mission systems.

UralVagonZavod claims the weapon system can fire a variety of point- and proximity-detonating rounds that can engage vehicles and troops on the ground, unmanned vehicles and low-flying helicopters in the air, and even small watercraft near the shore. It is also able to shoot a gun-fired guided anti-tank missile, reportedly able to strike targets more than nine miles away.

UralVagonZavod

A slide showing the various targets the BMMP would reportedly be able to engage with the Kinzhal turret and at what ranges.

The briefing suggests that various other manned and unmanned turrets would work on the BMMP, as well. These could include the weapon system found on the BMP-3, which has a 100mm gun and a 30mm automatic cannon, and a design from the Impulse-2 Scientific and Technical Center armed with a 30mm cannon and six anti-tank guided missiles.

Turretless BMMPs could perform more specialized tasks, such as electronic warfare or carrying mortars and other heavy weapon teams. UralVagonZavod says the platform might even be able to carry a larger turret with a 125mm gun or a more purpose-built air defense system.

UralVagonZavod

Various different potential turret options from the BMMP. The weapon system from the BMP-3 is at the upper left corner and the Impulse-2 turret is at the upper right. The Kinzhal is in between.

The briefing says that OmskTransMash could finish the initial development of the vehicle by the end of 2019 and have prototypes ready to go between 2020 and 2022. Serial production of the final vehicle would then begin in 2023.

This schedule would be in line with Russia’s goal of having new Lavina-class amphibious assault ships before 2025. The Krylov State Research Center in St. Petersburg says these vessels will displace approximately 24,000 tons and be able to carry up to 50 main battle tanks and other armored vehicles and 500 naval infantrymen.

At present, Project 11770 or Project 02510 landing craft would have to ferry those vehicles ashore. Adding the BMMPs to the force could allow the ships to more rapidly deploy forces and do so from a safer distance offshore.

The Lavina project is a replacement for Russian plans to purchase French Mistral-class ships. That deal collapsed after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014.

Artem Tkachenko via Wikimedia

A model of the future Lavina-class amphibious assault ship.

The BMMPs could also help expand the capabilities of Russia's smaller landing ships. Combined with those ships, their speed might improve the Russian military's ability to conduct shorter-range amphibious missions in constrained waterways, such as the Baltic Sea or the Black Sea, as well as for more limited operations in remote regions, such as the Arctic.

But, as is the case with many of Russia's military development and procurement plans, it’s unclear whether the country will be able to afford either the Lavinas or a substantial number of BMMPs in the near future. As a result of international sanctions due to the Kremlin’s intervention in Ukraine and its support for Syrian dictator Bashar Al Assad, among other international disputes, the country’s economy has contracted and so has its defense budget.

Just when it comes to armored vehicle development, the BMMPs would be competing for limited resources against a host of other new developments, including the T-14 tank, the T-15 heavy infantry fighting vehicle, the BMPT Terminator fire support vehicle, and the Kurganets-25 infantry fighting vehicle, among others. Russia’s 2015 State Armaments Program originally outlined plans to have some 2,300 T-14s would be in service by 2020. At present, true mass production of those vehicles isn’t supposed to even begin until 2020.

Vitaly Kuzmin

A BMPT armored fire support vehicle.

That’s not even taking into account a flurry of other expensive, high-priority projects, including the Su-57 fifth-generation fighter jet, Tu-160M2 bomber, A-100 airborne early warning aircraft, and any of a number of advanced strategic weapons. Russia has already canceled one new ballistic missile project to focus those resources on nuclear-armed hypersonic boost-glide vehicles. Russia's naval infantry have already historically been low on the list when it comes to recieving new equipment.

It’s possible that the Kremlin might be able to further reduce the BMMPs cost by offering them to foreign buyers. It's unclear how many other countries have a need for such an advanced amphibious vehicle and would be interested in a Russian-designed system.

One obvious potential customer would be Egypt. Not only has it formed growing ties with Russia in recent years, it swooped in to buy the Mistral-class ships after France canceled the Kremlin’s order. Other countries are also expanding their amphibious fleets and associated capabilities, but they might be more likely to turn to American or European sources for armored vehicles to go along with them.

All told, it seems likely that OmskTransMash will proceed with the basic development of the BMMP, but how many actual vehicles it builds and in how many variants remains to be seen.

Correction: While UralVagonZavod briefing mentions the BMP-3F among the vehicles presently available to Russia's naval infantry units, the Kremlin has not actually procured any of these for its own forces.

Contact the author: jtrevithickpr@gmail.com