As Russia and Ukraine approach the 22-month mark of conflict, both nations have undeniably witnessed the loss of a staggering number of infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs).
Among the attempts to replenish these losses, a notable trend has emerged—a surge in the upgradation of BMP-1s, a familiar yet historically significant IFV in the global military landscape.
The Ubiquitous BMP-1: Past and Present
The BMP-1 (stands for Boyevaya Mashina Pyekhoty 1), a 15-ton, 11-person vehicle, has long been a staple in numerous armed forces worldwide.
Originating from Soviet industry in the mid-1960s, tens of thousands were produced, and today, thousands remain in storage across Russia and Ukraine.
It was initially renowned for its blend of mobility, protection, and firepower, capable of catering to infantry support—operated by a crew of three (commander, gunner, and driver)—while carrying an eight-person squad.
However, despite its prevalence, the BMP-1 has grappled with persistent issues, primarily its vulnerability due to inadequate protection and its low-pressure 73-millimeter gun, which loses accuracy beyond a few hundred yards.
This IFV boasted welded steel armor, protecting against 12.7mm rounds and artillery shell fragments, with the front arc offering partial safeguarding against 20mm rounds.
But, with times changing and as military technology advances, this protection is no longer enough and calls for an immediate upgrade if it is to thrive on the battlefield.
Upgrading BMP-1s: Addressing Weaknesses
To address these drawbacks, both Russian and Ukrainian forces have adopted a pragmatic approach—retrofitting old BMP-1 hulls by replacing their turrets and guns with modern combat modules.
These revamped versions boast updated optics and more powerful 23mm or 30mm autocannons, enabling engagement of targets up to a thousand yards away.
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) November 27, 2023
BMP-1’s previous armament also included a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and, in some versions, a 9M14 Malyutka anti-tank missile, later replaced by the more advanced Fagot or Konkurs anti-tank guided missile launchers.
Latest Ukrainian BMP-1 Upgrade
Notably, the latest upgrade unveiled by Ukraine features a locally-produced combat module equipped with a KBA-2 30-millimeter autocannon.
Distinct from the earlier BMP-1TS, this variant promises easier maintenance and heightened accuracy, enhancing its combat effectiveness.
Despite these advancements, the fundamental flaw of the BMP-1 persists—the vehicle’s thin armor remains susceptible to damage from weaponry more potent than a machine gun.
Presumably destroyed BMP-1 Ukrainian Armed Forces near the village. Kleshcheevka, Donetsk region. Could be undocumented @Rebel44CZ .
Geo: 48°32'33.4"N 37°55'46.9"E
— Esmat (@esmat_159) November 27, 2023
Limitations and Ongoing Challenges
Despite the innovative upgrades, the BMP-1 continues to pale in comparison to American-made M2 Bradley IFVs, which offer significantly superior protection.
Briefly about the Bradley: The M2 Bradley, an iconic American IFV, originated in the 1970s as a response to the need for an advanced armored vehicle to support ground troops. It was named after General Omar Bradley and was designed to transport infantry while providing direct fire support.
A Ukrainian M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle fires away at Russian troops near Avdiivka.
The Bradleys have been donated by the U.S.
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) November 24, 2023
Overcoming challenges in design and controversy, it entered service in the early 1980s armed with a 25mm chain gun and TOW missile launcher. The Bradley underwent upgrades to adapt to changing threats, showcasing the US military’s commitment to innovation in warfare.
Ukrainian crews have openly expressed their preference for the M-2 due to its capability to withstand hits while safeguarding its occupants.
In contrast, a single strike on a BMP-1 can result in catastrophic consequences, as noted by one Ukrainian soldier: “When a BMP takes a hit, the entire crew dies,” quoted by Forbes.
Implications and Future Prospects
While the improved weaponry on the BMP-1 upgrades is undoubtedly a boon for Ukrainian brigades facing a scarcity of IFVs, the glaring vulnerability of the vehicle’s armor remains a significant concern.
The juxtaposition between enhanced firepower and enduring susceptibility raises critical questions about the vehicle’s practical efficacy in combat scenarios, especially against adversaries wielding more powerful armaments.
⚡️Destruction of a 🇷🇺Russian BMP-1 near the village. Vodyanoye, Donetsk region. pic.twitter.com/UvZliCrf19
— 🇺🇦Ukrainian Front (@front_ukrainian) November 28, 2023
The rapid evolution of BMP-1s in response to combat exigencies mirrors the dynamic nature of modern warfare, where adaptations and enhancements are crucial for survival on the battlefield.
The accelerated modifications not only demonstrate the resourcefulness of both Russian and Ukrainian industries but also underscore the ever-evolving nature of military strategies in conflict zones.
However, as these upgrades advance, so does the complexity of the conflict.
The strategic implications of relying on improved BMP-1s amidst the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine are nuanced.
While these modifications offer incremental improvements in offensive capabilities, they remain tethered to the inherent vulnerability of the BMP-1’s armor.
Out From the Historical Museums and Into the Frontlines
In conclusion, the ongoing evolution of BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles within the Russia-Ukraine conflict represents a testament to the adaptability and innovation of military engineering.
Yet, this advancement is juxtaposed with the enduring vulnerability of the BMP-1’s thin armor, posing an ongoing challenge to its operational viability.
The balance between enhanced weaponry and persisting weaknesses stands as a testament to the intricate nature of modern warfare and its complexities within this protracted conflict.