This is a Field Disassembly article, which means that only the defining characteristics of the BMP-1 will be examined. We will not be exploring the armour protection and mobility of this vehicle in detail, as that has already been covered in the BMP-2 article.
The development of the BMP-1 is tightly linked to the development of the T-64. In the mid-50's, requirements for a prospective new medium tank were drawn up, and in doing so, it was realized that existing armoured personnel carriers would be left eating dust during offensive maneuvers if this new machine was realized. As a result, a parallel project took place to introduce a new armoured personnel carrier with not only enhanced mobility, but also enhanced firepower.
The requirements for the Red Army's new armoured personnel carrier were drawn up in the late 50's and a competition was launched. Among the participants were the design bureaus from Chelyabinsk, Kurgan and Volgograd (the Volgograd design bureau would go on to invent the BMD series of paratrooper IFVs). Most of the competing designs were already built in metal and ready to participate by 1961. Most of these prototypical designs incorporated a water jet, and many of them used the ones from the PT-76, including the 8x8 Object 1200 and fully tracked Object 914. The comparative trials (read: competition) took place in Rzhevka and Kubinka (the same Kubinka that now hosts the famous Kubinka Tank Museum). In 1965, Object. 765 won the competition, but when it came time for it to enter the Red Army, its long term viability came into question due to its high cost. It was debated whether or not it offered enough advantages over the much cheaper BTR-60 wheeled armoured transport. A common internet-spread argument is that the BMP was favoured as it was protected from NBC threats while APCs like the BTR-60 were not, but this is not a valid point. A version of the BTR-60 that had NBC protection was already in development at the time. This version would become the BTR-60PB, a mainstay of Soviet motor rifle divisions.
In the end, it was decided that only the units in close proximity to NATO forces in Europe would be equipped with the BMP. Second line and reserve units would have to remain contented with the BTR-60 and the future BTR-60PB. Suffice to say, this situation did not last. In the end, the BMP turned out to be the most mass produced IFV in human history, with about 40,000 samples produced by the time production ended in the USSR in 1983.
At the time of its introduction, the BMP was unusual in the Red Army - not because it was a tracked APC, but because it was tracked but not steered by tillers, as was the case with the MT-LB and the BTR-50. This marked the progressiveness of the BMP in the international arena as well, as APCs like the British FV432, American M113, French AMX-10P and German Spz. 12-3 were all steered with tillers. The BMP, on the other hand, had a T-bar steering system with a very excellent hydraulic power assist. This was just one of several reasons why the BMP was considered revolutionary. Another reason was the tactics developed for the new vehicle. While typical thin-skinned APCs were used in frontline assaults as infantry carriers, their light armament made them unsuitable for fighting alongside (or behind) tanks. This changed with the BMP, which was intended to advance towards enemy lines alongside tanks in newly developed formations.
Many cite the Yom Kippur war as evidence of the inferiority of the BMP-1. The Wikipedia entry on the subject (among other sources) is almost always the source of these accusations, but the evidence given is by no means conclusive. Quite the opposite, in fact. Most of the reference materials on the English Internet that mention the BMP-1 and the Yom Kippur war in the same page or paragraph tend to be interpreted incorrectly. Steven Zaloga's report on the performance of the BMP-1 in the Yom Kippur war in his book "BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicle 1967–94", which you can read here (link), is one of the most often cited, and also the most misread. Among other things, he mentions that it is not fair to criticize the BMP-1 for its performance in that particular conflict, as Egyptian and Syrian crews were very hastily trained and had very little familiarity with their vehicle. He writes that Egypt received its first batch of about 80 BMPs between July and August of 1973, and that they were put into service in September. The second batch of about 150 BMPs came between August and September, and were rushed into service by October. Remember - the Yom Kippur war touched off on the 6th of October. That means that the majority of Egyptian crews barely had a month to train on their new acquisitions, and some units only had a few weeks at most to familiarize themselves with them. It is not difficult to imagine the outcome.
Yom Kippur fiasco aside, the BMP-1 does have legitimate issues, and this was revealed in the highly publicized Russian campaign in Afghanistan. Firstly, the cannon could not elevate high enough to strike at nimble Mujahideen light infantry firing down into mountain passes. Secondly, the hull of the BMP-1 was not sturdy enough to withstand high yield mines; 40% of BMP-1 mine casualties suffered in Afghanistan required major repairs afterwards. A BTR was sometimes preferred over a BMP as the typical extent of mine damage would often be wheels blown off, while a BMP may have its belly cracked open. Even the high performance BMP must sometimes play second fiddle to its technological and doctrinal inferior under some circumstances.
The BMP-1 chassis and hull has been used as a platform for a variety of specialized vehicles, but we will only be examining the five primary variants of the generic BMP-1 IFV. The first iteration of the BMP design is the Object 765 Sp.1 of 1967, also known simply as "BMP", without the "-1". It is characterized by the stubby bow (of the hull). The second variant is the Object 765 Sp.2 of 1969. It is distinguished from the BMP by the more elongated bow. The third variant is the Object 765 Sp.3 of 1973. This was compatible with HE-Frag rounds, but did not have an autoloader. The fourth and final variant is the Object 765 Sp.4 of 1979, better known as the BMP-1P. It is essentially the same as the Object 765 Sp.3 except for the missile system. The BMP-1P has an external "Konkurs" missile launcher, as opposed to the "Malyutka" launcher of all previous BMP-1 models. The BMP-1P replaced the BMP-1 on KMZ production lines beginning in 1979, and in the same year, all BMP-1s coming into depots for capital overhauls were modernized to the BMP-1P standard.
As the BMP-1 only has a one-man turret, the commander had to be seated in the hull, directly behind the driver. There doesn't seem to have been any obvious problems with casemate tank destroyers as far as observation is concerned, and all of the BTR models before and after the introduction of the BMP also had commanders placed in the hull. So why exactly is it not the best idea to have the commander in the hull? Well, the most obvious problem would stem from the low height of the vehicle. Being so low-slung, it is easy to place the BMP in hull defilade behind bushes, tall grass and soil mounds, but this also prevents the commander from seeing anything. A tank commander is usually located in the turret, if there is one, because a turret offers a taller vantage point for a superior range of vision, and the turret tends to be on the center of gravity of the vehicle, thus making hull oscillations less obvious. This helps improve ride quality and ease of observation. This is one among many reasons why the BRM-1K reconnaissance vehicle based on the BMP-1 has the commander in its two-man turret and not in the hull.
The commander is given a rotating cupola, in which his surveillance equipment is installed. His hatch is of a semicircular shape, and is rather small, making ingressing and egressing a more challenging task than it should be. The hatch features a safety mechanism to prevent the turret from turning once opened. There is a simple solenoid button right next to the locking latch. The button is disengaged when the latch is turned to the locked position, so the turret can turn normally when the hatch is closed. Once the latch is turned to open the hatch, the button is depressed, and this sends an electric signal to the turret traverse system to suspend the traversal of the turret.
Besides the hatch, the cupola is fitted with a small array of observation devices. The commander does not have much in the way of surveillance equipment. He is provided with a TKN-3 pseudo-binocular periscope and two TNPO-180 general purpose periscopes. This is not many, but this is compensated by the fact that the cupola can be rotated a full 360 degrees. The very light weight of the cupola makes it very easy to spin.
An unintended side effect of the commander's location is that the commander can use his OU-3GA spotlight to light the way for the driver at night, the better for the driver to see.
The ergonomic qualities of the commander's station are best described as spartan. Being located in the front of the hull next to the engine compartment, the station is longer than it is wide. The width of the "corridor" where the driver and commander is seated is only 60cm, which is quite narrow, but enough for the commander to operate the TKN-3 and swing it around (with elbows tucked in).
The gunner's resides in the one-man turret. He is responsible for maintaining the machine gun, cannon, sighting complexes, and autoloader. It is rather cramped in the turret, but this is balanced out a bit by the lack of a turret basket. This means that the gunner can stretch his legs whenever the turret is not moving. There is a dome light located just behind his left shoulder, which is rather odd, since the ammunition is all placed to the right side of the turret. The gunner has access to a master power relay to control the activation of various electrical systems in the vehicle.
With the introduction of the 902V "Tucha" smoke grenade launcher system on the BMP-1P, new control boxes had to be installed. The gunner now has a revised master power relay to turn on the "Tucha" electrical system, and a "Tucha" launch control box to select individual grenades to launch.
The 1ETs10M electromechanical gun laying system facilitates powered turret traverse and gun elevation at a decent speed and with satisfactory accuracy, especially at the short effective range of the Grom cannon. The PU-6 control hand grips are used are used with this system.
The BMP-1 cannot fire on the move with any guarantee of accuracy, unless the vehicle is travelling over a well paved road at low speed. Nevertheless, BMP gunners are trained to fire on the move. To maximize training time without needing to cover the costs of maintenance and fuel, the training was often done on simulators. These simulators were platforms built into the ground which the BMP would park on. To simulate the experience of driving over uneven terrain, the platform oscillates at various intensities while the gunner uses the co-axial PKT machine gun to engage pop up targets representing infantry.
Video footage of a firing exercise taking place can be found on YouTube on yolkhere's channel, here (link).
The short video and the limited amount of information I have gathered doesn't say if gunners were trained to fire the 73mm cannon from the platform, but as far as I know, it was not part of the curriculum. Live fire training at the firing range was more extensive as it involved both tank and infantry-type targets and tested the coordination of the entire crew, not just the skills of the gunner. This made time on the range irreplaceable, not that further evidence was needed.
One of the design requirements stipulated during the competition for the BMP was that it had to have a sighting system equal in capabilities to the tanks it was to complement. This included some night fighting capability. As a result, the 1PN22M combined day/night sight was developed.
1PN22M is a relatively advanced unstabilized sight, functionally similar to the TPN-1-22-11 auxiliary sight used in the T-54B. As the "N" in its name suggests, it features night vision capabilities along with regular daytime functionality. By rolling two features into one sighting system, the designers were able to save space inside the small turret and simplify the sighting system without compromising overall effectiveness.
The sight has fixed magnification of 6x, and a field of view of 6° in that magnification. This is more than adequate, given that the cannon was not intended to be used on targets past 800 meters' distance. The magnification power of the 1PN22M is directly comparable to that of tanks with large, high power cannons like the M48, which used the M20 sight with 6x maximum magnification. The 1PN22M is also clearly superior to the PGO-9 periscopic sight used on the SPG-9, which had only 4x magnification. This means that a BMP-1 will tend to be more accurate than an SPG-9 under any given circumstance. On a clear day, the gunner should have about as much trouble seeing and identifying a hastily camouflaged tank or APC as any other regular tank gunner.
The viewfinder of the sight is abundantly marked for ballistic drop, windage and lead. The small crosshair at the top is zeroed for 50 meters, so it won't really be used in combat. The sight is complete with a stadiametric rangefinder. The rangefinder scale is intended for a target 2.7 m in height. This is representative of the height of the average Western tank, including the Chieftain, M48, M60A1, Leopard 1, and even some non-tank vehicless like the Marder 1, although the Marder did not exist prior to the BMP-1. As you might have noticed in the diagram above, the stadiametric rangefinder is capped at 1300 meters. This is the source of the "1300 meter maximum range" attributed to 73mm HEAT rockets fired from the Grom. In reality, PG-15V rockets can travel further than that, up to 4400 meters. The only issue is actually hitting anything.
The night vision channel has a separate viewfinder design from the daytime channel. It lacks windage andlead indicators, and a stadia rangefinder. The reticle is illuminated by a green bulb to facilitate aiming at night.
As the markings show, the BMP-1 is theoretically capable of engaging targets up to a distance of 800 meters at night, but the optimum range is only 400 meters, as that is the distance where the target can be more easily identified before it is engaged.
1PN22M2 was introduced in 1973 on the Object 765 sp.3, better known as the BMP-1 obr. 1973. From a technical viewpoint, it is identical to the 1PN22M in almost every way. The only difference is the addition of a scale for HE-Frag rounds, which extends far below the original scale for HEAT rounds due to the low velocity of OG-15V HE-Frag rounds. Around the same time, the PGOK-9 sight with compatibility with HE-Frag rounds for the SPG-9 was introduced.
As you can see in the diagram above, the sight is marked for a maximum firing distance of only 1800 meters for HE-Frag. This is the hard limit of the direct fire capabilities of the BMP-1 using OG-15V HE-Frag rounds, and also the maximum range of the rounds.
The BMP mounts the 73mm 2A28 Grom low-pressure smoothbore cannnon. Even back in 1966, it was an unusual decision. In a typical low intensity skirmish where tanks are not involved, the BMP-1 will only have APCs, machine gun nests and recoilless rifle emplacements and ATGMs to contend with, against which a rapid fire autocannon would be more suited for. If the BMP-1 is participating in a large scale breakthrough attempt involving an entire battalion, it would be far more productive to leave the armoured targets for the tanks and to occupy the niche of eliminating enemy infantry instead.
"Grom" has a barrel length of 2180mm, which is significantly longer than the barrel of the SPG-9. "Grom" is incredibly lightweight for a cannon of its caliber, weighing in at only 115 kg. Of course, its weight is not so impressive when compared to the SPG-9, which weighs 62 kg with the standard tripod included.
If the BMP is being used to supplement a breakthrough attempt, it will not be the centerpiece of the attack. When tanks are available to support the advance, one tank can be attached to each mechanized platoon. The three BMPs follow the tank at a distance of 100 to 200 meters, with either dismounted or mounted infantry. The tank will take care of the toughest targets with its cannon, and the BMPs will knock out anti-tank weapons and lightly armoured vehicles in support of the tank. When a motorized infantry platoon with BMPs is operating without tank support, the modest capabilities of "Grom" would be the most potent anti-armour weapon available to the platoon besides the integrated "Malyutka" missile, so avoiding contact with enemy tanks is a priority. If enemy tanks are not encountered, the 73mm cannon will prove most useful against hardened field fortifications, buildings, and fixed heavy weapons like machine guns, grenade launchers, anti-tank cannons, and so on. The penetrating power and blast of its HEAT grenades is particularly useful on fortifications that are completely immune to machine gun fire, like a triple layer of sandbags (common during the Vietnam war) or a double layer of sandbags reinforced with timber.
Indeed, there are are a multitude of valid reasons why a weapon like "Grom" was chosen for the BMP over a heavy machine gun or a rapid fire autocannon. The decision to mount the 20mm Rh202 on the Marder was motivated by the need for sufficient firepower to deal with dismounted infantry and lightly armoured vehicles like the BTR-60 since the usual .50 caliber M2HB was insufficient for frontal shots. With the BMP-1, the priority was different, since NATO doctrine was primarily defensive. Anything less could be handled by the dismounts and whatever they had on hand.
A hydraulic recoil spring is wrapped around the base of the barrel. The cannon's chamber is inside the cast steel mantlet, and only the breech can be seen from inside the turret. The recoil buffer sleeve also has built-in provisions for mounting the Malyutka launching rail. The barrel life of "Grom" is 1250 shots.
The cannon can elevate between -4 degrees to +30 degress. 4 degrees of depression isn't good, of course, but 30 degrees of elevation sounds nice! The BMP-1 can hit all sorts of uphill targets, then! Well, unfortunately, the cannon can only elevate to 30 degrees for one reason and one reason only, and that is to reload the Malyutka ATGM launch rail on top of the barrel. The maximum elevation where the cannon can conduct aimed fire is +15 degrees only. This is just enough to clear the top of the OU-3G spotlight on the commander's cupola.
Under the most optimal meteorological conditions, "Grom" is advertised to be deadly within 800 meters, but in reality the accuracy rapidly drops past 500 m, so the effective range is generally considered to be 500 m. That is the range at which two shots from the cannon has an 80% chance of destroying an armoured personnel carrier. Its accuracy is at least equal to that of the SPG-9, which can reliably hit tank-sized targets at the same sort of distances. Indeed, despite being a low-pressure cannon, the PG-15V rocket fired from the 2A28 has a muzzle velocity of 400 m/s - already supersonic - and rapidly accelerates to 665 m/s using its rocket motor after travelling around 20 m from the muzzle. This gives the rocket grenade a very flat trajectory up to a distance of 800 m, maybe even as flat as, say, a 76mm BR-354B APHE shell fired from the D-56T of a PT-76 light tank.
In this video (link), you can see the SPG-9 being used on a stationary BMP. Both shots connected, and struck the hull at approximately the same area. Judging by the time taken between the shot and the impact, the distance was around 400 meters.
As the firing characteristics of the Grom cannon are essentially identical to the SPG-9, the plethora of SPG-9 videos on YouTube and Yandex Videos can be taken as surrogates for the Grom. This video (link) of American soldiers demonstrating the SPG-9 on static targets at distances of 500 m, 400 m, 300 m and 200 m is a good display of the accuracy of PG-9 type rockets at such ranges.
Zaloga claims that the Grom can achieve a 70% hit rate on a stationary tank-type target at 500m in still air, degrading to 50% at 800m. Not very good, but still quite respectable, as this is already close to the performance level of the T-62 firing 3UBK-3 115mm HEAT shells, as you can see in the TRADOC bulletin diagram below. An M60A1 could achieve an 80% hit rate with its own 105mm HEAT shells at the same range.
Without knowing what sort of target the used to determine the Probability of Hit data supplied by Zaloga, we cannot make any firm conclusions. Nevertheless, the ineffectiveness of the "Grom" cannon at long range is hardly a secret. During one of its trials, a BMP was made to open fire against a stationary T-55 tank at 800 meters. Out of 50 shots, only 17 hit the tank - others were carried off their trajectory by the wind. This is a 34% hit rate.
However, the key word is "T-55". Against NATO tanks, the Grom may prove slightly more dangerous. It is common knowledge that the front profile of NATO tanks are generally much bigger than T-55 tanks (and all Soviet tanks in general), and that is without mentioning the size of the side profile. The British Chieftain tank, for example, is 2.9 m tall and 3.66 m wide. The American M60A1 is similar at 2.9 m tall (not counting the very large commander's cupola) and 3.63 m wide. The German Leopard 1 was 2.6 m tall and 3.25 m wide while the French AMX-30 was by far the smallest at 2.52 m in height and only 3.1 m in width. The T-54 is only 2.4 m tall and 3.37 m wide. Therefore, it can be inferred that the Grom has a (slightly) more than 50% chance of hitting a stationary M60 or Chieftain at a distance of 800m under favourable weather conditions. Anything further than that, and the gunner will have to rely exclusively on the ATGM (but that wasn't very easy to use if there was a strong wind either, as we will see later). However, that does not necessarily mean that the BMP is a failure. We must consider the envisioned tactical application of the vehicle.
When facing serious resistance, the infantry will dismount at a few hundred meters from the enemy defensive line and fight on foot. If the enemy is unprepared, the high speed of the BMP will be exploited to smash through the enemy unit at a lightning pace. The passengers do not dismount. Instead, they fight by shooting at nearby infantry from their firing ports, defending the BMP from anti-tank weapons as it careens into the thick of battle. Whichever situation it finds itself in, the BMP would only begin fighting at relatively close range, thus negating the short effective range of the "Grom".
The cannon is fed with 40 rounds of ammunition, stored in a crescent-shaped conveyor. As far as conveyors go, the BMP's conveyor is as simple as they get. It's basically a bicycle chain with a rocket grenade clipped between two of each extended link. Grenades are attached to this chain with a very simple spring-loaded tab, which is nudged by the autoloader arm to release the grenade.
So how exactly does the autoloader work?
The autoloader arm hinges upwards, and the grenade is pitched forward over the gunner's right shoulder and into the breech. To load, the cannon must be elevated by +3 degrees.
The average speed of a loading cycle is 6 seconds, plus one second for the gun to elevate or depress to the proper angle before and after loading. This means that the BMP can achieve a theoretical rate of fire of 8 rounds per minute, but "theoretical" is highly emphasized. In reality, the gunner should spare a second or two to observe the point of impact of his shot, in order to make corrections for his second. The aimed rate of fire, therefore, should be no greater than 6 rounds per minute.
The manual states that the gunner should not hold his arm close to or in front of the autoloader. The manual states that this could cause the autoloader to malfunction, presumably due to his jacket getting pinched by the swinging arm, but it is unlikely for the gunner's arm to be "eaten" for the simple fact that the autoloader arm just isn't powerful enough to tear an arm off. However, if there is any truth to the oft-repeated "fact" that Soviet tank autoloaders created an entire generation of armless tank gunners, it should have spawned from the BMP-1. For some reason, the BMP-1 is never associated with gunners missing arms, even though it is the only Soviet armoured vehicle with an autoloader where this could technically be possible. The explanation is simple: No Soviet tank or IFV gunner ever lost any arms.
Like the autoloader, the ammunition storage scheme in the BMP-1 is far less dangerous than the layman is led to believe. The idea that simply hitting a piece of ammunition with shrapnel will excite a detonation is simply untrue. According to a BMP-1 gunner who served in the Chechen campaign, whose account has been reproduced here (link), his BMP-1 once experienced a direct hit from some sort of explosive shell. But why describe a narrative when you can read it for yourself?
"Finally, on coms we got info that an RPG had taken up position on the 7th (or 5th) floor of the 12 story building - so then I tried to, like in training, fill the whole floor, one HE round into each window. Now, for at least a few minutes, all of us gunners had a job to do: Someone called in a target, and we laid down fire in that direction. Everything was ok, but suddenly, shaking the armor and blowing open my hatch, "lightning" hit. The compression blast compressed my rib cage for an instant, and my heart dropped into my heels, I just barely had time to cover my face with my gloves. When everything calmed down, I looked around - "What WAS that? An RPG hit? But then the vehicle would be a 'rose'[blown open], or everything inside would be on fire, and I wouldn't be here thinking about it!". I see Yurik is also completely fine, he rolled up his coat collar. Checked the optics, turned the turret left, right - don't see any fighters, but just in case I loaded a round into the breech and started firing the cannon and the machine gun at previous targets. Not five minutes passed, and the "lighting and thunder" hit again. Again, covered my face and braced. Yurik was swearing on internal coms. When the ringing stopped, I looked around - on the right side, level with the track there was a big hole. The thought "I could get my hand through there!" flitted through my mind. It's like the thick armor had been opened up with a giant scalpel. "The grenade must have exploded next to the vehicle!" - I figured - "Well of course! Otherwise the ammo would have already popped! The ammo..." I checked the ammo conveyor and spotted one with a hole in the warhead, and then another. Whether or not they were dangerous or not, I had no idea. I radioed the company commander and asked him. His answer was a simple and effective "Toss 'em", and I did just that. Figuring that our vehicle had been shot at from the right, I opened fire on the construction site."
From the Journal "Tea with a Hint of Diesel", by S. Bochkarev.
Ironically, the ammunition saved the gunner by absorbing shrapnel that would have otherwise been embedded in his flesh.
The ammunition stowage is definitely not safe, but it is safe enough against low level threats. Any IFV, modern or otherwise, would burn up if it is struck by an RPG. Take the AMX-10P as an example: it carries 325 rounds of 20mm ammo in the turret, plus another 475 rounds in the hull. Another 10 MILAN missiles may be carried. The Marder 1 carries all of its 1250 rounds of 20mm ammunition in the turret and hull as well, along with its stock of MILAN missiles. It is no different with the Bradley, as it carries hundreds of 25mm rounds in the turret, and a few TOW missiles and a Dragon missile in the passenger compartment. If any of these vehicles were to be hit anywhere across the side of the hull with an RPG grenade, the missiles or ammunition will be hit, and will probably light up. The ammunition can only be detonated via a powerful shaped charge jet striking it, or by being consumed in an internal fire. In this context, the BMP-1 is not much different from any other design of its time.
The autoloader was omitted from the Object 765 sp.3 of 1973. The reason for is was because of the introduction of OG-15V high explosive fragmentation rocket grenades. OG-15V rocket grenades were too short to be picked up by the autoloader arm, and the autoloader system lacks the ability to identify and differentiate between ammunition types, as there is no memory unit and no ammunition type selector. When the gunner presses the "load" button, the carousel will cycle one step, and the autoloader will pick up whatever is next in line and load it. Since OG-15V is too short for the autoloader, it will fail to load, and the gunner will have to wait until the cycle stops and load the round manually, and then repeat. This would mean that if he wanted to use high explosive ammunition, he would have to continually load and unload the cannon until he reaches it, and then, load them by hand. Plus, it turned out that the gunner could manually load the grenades quicker than the autoloader anyway. Although the autoloader issues could have been solved with an upgrade, one can still understand why they made the decision they did.
The median rate of loading by hand is 4 to 5 seconds. It's an improvement, but this comes at the cost of increasing the gunner's workload. As the commander of the BMP-1 may sometimes dismount along with the passengers, the gunner may find himself heaped with the responsibilities of three crewmen - commander, gunner and loader, all in one. This is very bad.
Here's a GIF of the BMP-1 firing rapidly. Three rounds were fired in nine seconds. Presumably the gunner prepared a few rounds on his lap instead of drawing one from the autoloader carousel for each shot.
Replenishing the carousel is done by hand. It takes only a few minutes to stock up a full load of 40 rounds.
The usual load out (post 1974) is 16 HE-Frag and 24 HEAT. Between 1966 to 1974, all 40 slots in the autoloader conveyor were taken up by HEAT rockets. As you would expect, the load out can change depending on the tactical situation.
The only real difference between the ammunition for the "Grom" and the "Kopye" is the means of propulsion - whereas PG-9V rockets were to be fired from an open-ended tube that is the SPG-9 recoilless gun, the PG-15V is fired from a closed-breech. Without needing to vent out most of the expanding hot gasses of the expulsion charge out the back of the gun tube like in the SPG-9, it became possible to reduce the propellant charge without facing a reduction in muzzle velocity. The mass of the propellant charge is only 0.16 kg. The small size of the PG-15P is a crucial benefit in the small one man turret, helping to reduce the total length of the rocket to acceptable limits.
The PG-15V cartridge combines the PG-9V rocket grenade assembly used by the SPG-9 with the proprietary PG-15P propellant charge. The PG-9V is a dual-purpose rocket grenade originally intended for the anti-armour role, but was initially used for anti-personnel purposes as well because of a lack of other options. With its shaped charge warhead, PG-15V is most efficient against armoured vehicles, but its 0.322 kg phlegmatized RDX explosive charge makes it a viable tool - though limited - to defeat infantry. 0.322 kg of RDX doesn't sound like much, but it is equivalent to a 0.515 kg TNT charge, which is quite good for the caliber, but this is all that the grenade is good for. The casing of the warhead is made from aluminium, and weighs only 0.9 kg (without explosive filling or fuze). Aluminium does a rather poor job at creating fragmentation compared to steel, and is used in offensive hand grenades like the RGN for this reason. We can therefore surmise that PG-15V is most useful against troops in partially enclosed spaces, such as a trench, for example. The lackluster quantity and energy of its fragmentation makes the grenade unsuitable against troops in the open, and especially against troops equipped with flak vests. Under such circumstances, the BMP-1 will have to rely on its PKT coax.
Since the introduction of the OG-15V, PG-15V was retired from anti-personnel duties.
Maximum Chamber Pressure: 73 MPa
Total Round Mass (incl. propellant charge): 3.49kg
Warhead Mass: 2.6 kg
Explosive charge: Phlegmatized RDX
Explosive charge mass: 0.322kg
Muzzle velocity: 400m/s
Maximum velocity: 665m/s
Penetration: 300mm RHA
In-flight performance of the PG-15V is good. Because of the very high velocity of the rocket grenade, it generally takes less around 2 seconds or less to land a shot on targets at combat ranges of up to 1000 m, depending on the strength of the tailwind or headwind. Over a distance of 800 meters, the ballistic trajectory is flat enough that rangefinding may not be needed under 500 meters.
Here is a firing table for PG-15V, taken from a BMP-1 manual:
The first column is distance in meters (in meters), the second column is angle of gun elevation (in degrees), the second is the height of drop (in meters), the third is the total flight time (in seconds), and the fifth column is the speed of the rocket grenade (in meters/second). As you can see from the table, the grenade remains supersonic up to 900 meters and slightly further, and the ballistic drop is less than a meter at a distance of 500 meters, and it takes less than a second for the grenade to reach its mark at 500 meters.
The PG-15V was fully capable of defeating any NATO tank of the era, that is, any tank made between 1950 and 1979, including examples such as the M60A1, A2 and A3, AMX-30, Leopard 1 and Chieftain from the front. Up until the mid-80's when NATO obtained a numerically relevant quantity of new-generation tanks like the Leopard 2 and Abrams, the BMP-1 was a credible threat to any and all land crawlers.
Soviet-era stocks of PG-15V rockets have long since expired, and production for domestic use in Russia has shifted towards the improved PG-15VN for equipping the extremely meager collection of various leftover BMP-1s still in service in rear echelon forces. Since 1999, the Planta chemical plant in Russia has been proceeding with its munitions recycling program designed to reintroduce expired Soviet-era HEAT grenades back into the Russian Armed Forces. Up to 75% of all non-perishable components (including the casing, booster assembly, shaped charge liner, fuze, etc.) could be kept and reused with new rocket propellant and a new explosive charge. It is quite likely that recycled PG-15Vs have been modified with a more powerful OKFOL filling to have PG-15N warheads.
Features improved warhead with more powerful OKFOL explosive charge instead of RDX. All other parts are identical and all characteristics except for armour penetration performance are identical to that of the PG-15V.
Total mass (incl. propellant charge): ~3.49 kg
Explosive charge: OKFOL (95% HMX + 5% Wax)
Explosive charge mass: 0.322 kg
Muzzle velocity: 400m/s
Maximum velocity: 665m/s
Penetration: 400mm RHA
It is interesting to observe that the Malyutka missile (which we will examine later) from 1963, with its 125mm warhead, can be matched in penetration performance by a 73mm one in the space of just 10 years. The Malyutka itself evolved, too, of course, so the status quo is still maintained, but nevertheless, it is interesting and highly illustrative of the progress of technology. All BMP-1s still in use today are armed with PG-15VN rockets, though it doesn't really mean much, as most modern armoured fighting vehicles are more or less immune to them.
Ballistically, the OG-15V is a mortar shell since it lacks a rocket motor. Compared to the PG-15V, it is also quite a bit heavier. Because of this, it is subsonic, with a muzzle velocity of just 290m/s. Unlike the four long flip-out stabilizing fins of the PG-15V rocket grenade, the eight stabilizing fins on the OG-15V have a much smaller wingspan and gives the grenade the ballistics of a mortar bomb. The OG-15V warhead uses the GO-2 superquick fuze. As OG-15V is significantly shorter than PG-15V, it is easier to load by hand.
Like the PG-15V, the OG-15V grenade uses the same PG-15P expulsion charge. The grenade operates on the basis of a high-low pressure venting system in order to minimize chamber pressure and thus, reduce recoil. When the PG-15P charge is detonated, the vented body of the grenade fills with expanding gasses. The gasses then escape at a much lower rate from the vents and thus the chamber pressure is significantly reduced. This is necessary mainly since the operating pressure would otherwise be higher than when firing the PG-15V because the OG-15V is heavier. A drawback to the reduction in pressure is the reduced muzzle velocity of the shell, only 290 m/s. Coupled with the low ballistic coefficient of the grenade, this gives the OG-15V a very pronounced arcing ballistic trajectory, very much like a mortar shell.
The original video is available here (link).
Muzzle velocity: 290m/s
Total Round Mass (incl. propellant): 4.59 kg
Warhead Total Mass: 3.7 kg
Explosive charge: TNT
Explosive charge mass: 0.73 kg
The OG-15V warhead is more or less equal in power to an 81mm mortar shell. Take the 81mm M821 mortar shell as an example. The M821 had an explosive filling of 0.725 kg of Composition B, a mixture of RDX and TNT, making it 33% more powerful than OG-15V, but the amount of steel fragmentation that the OG-15V produces should be greater, as it weighs more than M821 (4.59 kg vs 4.14 kg). The OG-15V was launched at around the same velocity, save that the elongated shape of the OG-15V is much better suited for a flat trajectory than a mortar shell, and the relatively poor gun elevation of the 2A28 cannon prevents it from being used as a true mortar, so it is not really possible to perform long range indirect fire with the BMP-1.
The body of the steel warhead is 2.83 kilograms in weight, and the walls are quite thick all around (see the photo below). It doesn't take much imagination to see that the OG-15V should produce an excellent spray of splinters and fragmentation.
|Photo Credit goes to Raiderbox. Photo from here (link)|
The OG-15VM grenade became available later on. It was an improved version using a more powerful A-IX-2 explosive charge
While the co-axial machine gun in most IFVs are usually sidelined in favour of their more powerful autocannons when engaging infantry, the BMP is sometimes forced to depend heavily on its PKT co-ax when dealing with infantry in the open due to the weak fragmentation effects of the 73mm HEAT grenades.
The PKT is mounted to the right of the 73mm cannon, as it feeds from the right and ejects to the left. Spent shell casings and link segments fall through a chute and into a metal bin to be collected. This bin is the same one that collects spent casings ejected from the main cannon, but in a different container.
Unlike the co-axial machine guns featured in Soviet tanks and armoured personnel carriers of the time, the co-axial machine gun in the BMP is fed from an unusually large 2000 round box, as you can see in the diagram above. As the BMP must make use of its co-ax regularly, the large capacity box is very convenient. If we gaze abroad, however, we learn that this is not very unusual at all. The Marder 1 and the AMX-10 both have co-axial machine guns fed with 2000-round boxes, and both have a 20mm autocannon as their main armament, so the BMP can only be considered on par with its contemporaries in this regard. The BMP carries additional boxes of machine gun ammunition, but those boxes are meant for hand-held PK and PKM machine guns and cannot be readily used by the co-ax, as there is no mounting point for 250-round boxes, although it is still possible to load a full belt and leave it hanging - the PKT has an exceptionally strong feeding mechanism.
Ball ammunition and tracer ammunition is usually loaded in a 4:1 ratio. The PKT machine gun has a cyclic rate of fire of around 800 rounds per minute, and it has a thicker barrel than the infantry-based PKM to allow for longer periods of sustained fire. There are two ways to fire the PKT: The left thumbswitch on the "Cheburashka", or by depressing the manual trigger lever on the back of the machine gun, just behind the disassembly button.
In 1969, the PKT was replaced by the PKTM. The differences between the two are entirely trivial as far as we are concerned.
At the time of the BMP-1's introduction, the "Malyutka" ATGM system was already quite widespread and posed a a very serious threat to NATO armour. It was analogous to earlier Western ATGMs, and was appreciated in a similar way as a man-portable missile and on dedicated anti-tank platforms by the Red Army, but the most significant point to mention about the "Malyutka" on the BMP-1, was that it was the first ATGM to be comprehensively incorporated as part of the primary armament of this class of combat vehicle. The BMP-1 was initially issued with the original 9M14 (Malyutka) missiles. All Malyutka-type missiles are compatible with the BMP-1's launcher system.
The missile comes pre-installed on a lightweight I-beam rail, which is installed on top of the 2A28 "Grom" on an launch platform. To load it, the gunner must elevate the cannon to its maximum of 30 degrees, open a small hatch in the turret roof directly above the cannon breech, and mount the missile onto the rail from there. However, the missile has its fins folded for stowage and to fit through the hatch, so the gunner needs to unfold them after loading it. The fins impart a slow spin of 8.5 RPM to the missile to help it fly straight. This rate of spin is far too low to have any affect on the performance of the HEAT warhead,.
After a missile is launched, the I-beam rail remains on the launch platform, and must be manually removed by the gunner before the next missile is loaded. The BMP-1 manual does not say what the rate of fire is, but based on the time of flight of 25 seconds to reach the maximum engagement distance of 3 km, the rate of fire should be around 1 RPM, without a pre-installed missile. With a pre-installed missile, two missiles can be fired in the first minute at the maximum range. At shorter distances, a slightly higher rate of fire can be expected.
The "Malyutka" had the perfect balance of weight and destructive power for a man-portable missile. It did not have the most powerful warhead among its Soviet cousins, it was not the fastest flyer, and it wasn't the cheapest to make either. It could, however, still penetrate any NATO tank from the front, but was relatively light at 10.9 kg, and it was still faster than any NATO contemporary. Its light weight and small dimensions lent itself quite well to relatively quick and easy loading from within the confines of the turret. Arguably easier even in comparion to later IFV designs like the Bradley, which forced a passenger to load TOW missiles weighing in excess of 21 kg from the passenger compartment through a large roof hatch. The Bradley could not reload its missiles at all either if no passengers were around to help. For what it's worth, that is a praiseworthy feature of the BMP-1.
The Malyutka gained fame for its smashing performance in the early stages of the Yom Kippur war, and for its surprise appearance near the end of Vietnam, where it was most useful as a high mobility, manpacked "long arm" for dislodging recoilless rifle emplacements and reinforced bunkers, but what made the Malyutka both feared and respected was how it could easily punch through tanks like no other weapon in the North Vietnamese arsenal. On the 23rd of April in 1972, several kilometers west of Dong Ha, the 2nd Squadron of the 20th Tank Regiment came face to face with this weapon and lost one M48A3 tank and one M113 APC, with another M113 damaged. Four days later on the 27th of April, three more M48A3 tanks were lost to Malyutka missiles in the midst of a renewed North Vietnamese attack along the Mieu Giang Cua Viet River defense line. Another noteworthy use of the Malyutka in Vietnam at the same period was the PAVN assault on the Tan Canh base camp on the 23rd of April, 1972. In Tan Canh, the first ARVN casualty was an M41 tank belonging to the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry returning to the camp through the main gate. It was hit by a Malyutka missile, which completely obliterated it. The reinforced bunker was hit next, killing or wounding several staff members and officers within. The remaining M41 tanks in the compound were then wiped out one by one with Malyutkas. More information on these engagements can be found on the Wikipedia pages for the aforementioned base camps, and on here (link).
Egyptian Malyutkas made their mark during the Yom Kippur war. The publication "The Egyptian Strategy for the Yom Kippur War: An Analysis by Dani Asher" mentions that the quantity of Malyutkas supplied to the Egyptians by the USSR was simply staggering. Each division was provided with sometimes as many as 1250 missiles in the first three days of fighting, and up to 460 missiles on the first day alone. These missiles were primarily used on two platforms; manpack teams and 9P133 BRDM-2 tank killers. The 230 BMP-1s in Egyptian hands were also stocked with Malyutkas. Dani Asher states that Israeli intelligence was aware of the threat posed by these missiles and knew that the Egyptians were receiving them, and that for some reason, this information did not seem to have filtered down to the units.
The Syrian experience with the Malyutkas as an integrated component of the BMP-1 was mostly negative, owing to "the difficulty in guiding the missile from within the confines of the turret". However, seeing as the Syrians only received their shipment of BMPs in late 1973, this can be firmly chalked up to operator incompetence. Zaloga's "BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicle 1967–94" even mentions that the Israelis destroyed or captured about 50 to 60 Syrian BMP-1s, and that about half of them were abandoned due to mechanical failure. Since the Syrians only committed 100 out of a total of about 150 of their BMPs to combat, Zaloga presumably means that the captured BMPs were only captured because they were abandoned, or at least that most of them were. We know from Soviet field exercises and recent experiences with the BMP-1 (particularly from Syrian crews participating in the civil war today) that it is extremely reliable, so the only possible conclusion is that the Syrian BMP crews of the Yom Kippur war were simply undertrained just like their Egyptian counterparts. It follows that the gunners were also under-trained in the operation of the Malyutka. As the Malyutka requires quite a lot of practice to use effectively (and even then, "effective" is a relative term), the lack of sufficient training was a huge detriment.
Control of the Malyutka missile is MCLOS only, and that means that the gunner must steer the missile manually as it flies through the air. This is done via the 9V332 missile systems control box, which has a joystick to steer, and a button to launch the missile.
The 9V332 missile systems control box was originally designed for the BRDM-1 tank destroyer. The black dial you see in the photo above was meant to allow the gunner to select the desired missile out of the six on the overhead launch rails. As the BMP-1 can only mount one missile at a time, the dial is permanently set at the number one position. The milky white button is the launch button. The purple bulb in the center of the box is the missile status indicator. If the bulb does not light up, it means that the missile is either not mounted, not mounted properly, or malfunctioning. The control box is installed on a hinged pedestal. When not in use, the box is stowed away by swinging the pedestal underneath the gunner's seat.
The Malyutka was as easy (read: hard) to control as any other MCLOS missile, but there is a ring of truth to the claim that the Malyutka is inherently more difficult to use in the BMP. The 1PN22M1 and 1PN22M2 sights have a rather limited magnification and field of view. 6.7x is more than enough for using the Grom, which is effective out to 500 meters, but the Malyutka's 3000-meter maximum range cannot be fully exploited. In this aspect, the manpack version of the missile (pictured below) with its 9Sh16 periscopic sight with its 8x magnification is objectively superior, and the 22.5 degrees of vision it offers is much better than the 6 degrees from the 1PN22M/M1/M2 sights. However, even if the BMP-1's sights are at a disadvantage here, it still isn't enough to neuter the Malyutka, and even if the missile cannot be easily used at very long distances, it is still as deadly as it would be in the manpack version within 2000 m.
Technically, the Malyutka cannot be used at night at all, as the nightvision module of the 1PN22M/M1/M2 sight is only useful up to 400 meters, but a clever operator would know to turn on the active infrared imaging mode but keep the IR spotlight deactivated, so that he can spot the infrared light emitted by the spotlights or driving lights of enemy tanks and guide the missile towards that using the flare of the rocket engine.
The Hungarian Army estimated that the probability of achieving a hit with an MCLOS Malyutka missile (the Hungarians only acquired the original 9M14 in 1975, 12 years after it was first introduced) was only 20% to 25%. Apparently, a Malyutka operator needed to have fired about 2,300 simulated missile shots before he could be considered proficient. The gunner would also apparently need to practice at the simulator 50 to 60 times a week to maintain that proficiency standard.*
Simulated firings were preferred over live fire training sessions for obvious reasons. Each Malyutka missile contains expensive components, with the internal gyroscope being the most expensive and valuable of all. Still, the rate of production of Malyutkas was extraordinarily high, so that they were never in short supply throughout the Warpac nations. In the Red Army, though, most of them were kept in reserve storage "for a rainy day". It is said that NATO placed heavy emphasis on their ATGMs as a way of countering the Soviet armoured threat, but honestly speaking, the scale of NATO's implementation and stockpiling of ATGMs are peanuts compared to the Red Army. But I digress.
*This information comes from an article penned by Steven Zaloga on Jane's Intelligence Review, published on the 6th of February, 1994. A messy, but intact copy-paste of the article is available here (link).
Once missile guidance evolved to the SACLOS type, the lethality of ATGMs went up drastically. The Hungarian army estimated that a SACLOS Malyutka missile had an 80% to 90% probability of scoring a hit. This SACLOS version, designated the 9M14P (or Malyutka-P), was developed and fielded in 1969 - just 6 years after the release of the original model in 1963, but the Hungarian army only received it in 1978. Unfortunately, the BMP-1 never received a fire control system capable of conducting SACLOS guidance, so even if the 9M14P is fired from the BMP-1, the missile can only be guided in its MCLOS mode, which is otherwise reserved for situations where the SACLOS guidance system is either malfunctioning or experiencing interference. In this case, the only benefit is the improved flight characteristics and better armour penetration of the new missile. The only SACLOS missiles that the BMP-1 is capable of fully exploiting are the Fagot or Konkurs.
The minimum range of accurate fire for all Malyutka-type missiles is 500m, and the maximum is 2500 m to 3000 m. Below 500m, the missile does not fly on a level trajectory as the gyrostabilizer has not spun up to its operating rate of spin yet. The gyrostabilizer keeps the missile on a relatively straight path so that it can be steered effectively. For most intents and purposes, a 500m-radius around the launcher can be considered a "dead zone" where the missile is basically unguided and uncontrollable. This is a fact detailed in the manual, which was the source of the diagram below.
Two ready-to-use Malyutka missiles can be stowed on the turret floor, as you can see in the photo below (note the gunner's seat at the very bottom of the photo). This makes it convenient for the gunner. Another two missiles are stowed in the hull on racks mounted to the wall adjacent to the turret.
410mm RHA @ 0 degrees
200mm RHA @ 60 degrees
The Malyutka could easily penetrate the thickest armour on any NATO tank preceding the Leopard 2 and the Abrams.
The Malyutka-M features an improved rocket engine for improved flight speed.
410mm RHA @ 0 degrees
200mm RHA @ 60 degrees
SACLOS version of the Malyutka. Can only be used in MCLOS mode.
Total Length: 865mm
460mm RHA @ 0 degrees
220mm RHA @ 60 degrees
Further improved SACLOS version of the Malyutka with a more powerful warhead. As before, it can only be operated in the MCLOs mode.
520mm RHA @ 0 degrees
260mm RHA @ 60 degrees
|Photo credit to this site|
The Object 765 sp.4, better known as the BMP-1P, had its Malyutka missile system replaced with an externally mounted 9M135M launcher post. The joystick control box and the missile launch rail for the Malyutka system were removed in this modification. I will not write much about it here, as a highly detailed breakdown has already been published in the BMP-2 article. However, there are some unique points about the BMP-1P's missile configuration that ought to be understood. The only advantage to this configuration is that the missile launcher is placed on the turret roof, so it would be possible to assume a turret-down position when using the ATGM.
On the downside, the fact that the gunner is now stripped of the ability to fire missiles under armour is a serious drawback, and it is especially atrocious considering that the BMP-1 needs to be capable of operating in an NBC-contaminated environment around the clock. With nothing but a 6mm-thick hatch in front of him, it is less than safe to pop out to use the ATGM. There are certain advantages, certainly. For example, the gunner's view is obviously much improved outside the turret, so it is easier to find targets by eye. The placement of the launcher above the turret roof also presents certain advantages. The vehicle can be parked behind a pile of rubble, a hill, a mound, a wall, or even just a particularly large bush, and it will be possible to hide the entire silhouette and still use the vehicle's missile launcher. Still, these advantages are purely circumstantial. It would still be much better to have an under-armour missile launching capability, and preferably the ability to reload under armour too.
Why did they do it this way? Why not mount several Fagot or Konkurs missile tubes externally on either side of the turret and just have the 9P135M periscope stick out the roof? We know for sure that it is not difficult to link multiple missile tubes or launchers to a single master control unit. That was what the 9V332 control box was for, after all. The missile operator in a BRDM-1 Malyutka tank destroyer could select and fire six Malyutka ATGMs remotely using a single control box. Why was such a system not implemented in the BMP-1P?
Well, the most likely answer is that it's just much simpler and cheaper to slap an off-the-shelf item onto the turret roof without needing to make a visit to the factory. It's just a shame that this was only done in 1979, when the BRDM-2-based 9P148 Konkurs missile tank destroyer with five ready-to-fire missiles was in service by 1977.
However, if one wants to criticize the BMP-1P for such faults, it would only be fair to criticize the Marder 1 as well. The Marder 1 did not even have an ATGM launching capability until the Marder 1A3 modernization in 1977, and upgrade only involved installing a simple launcher post beside the commander's hatch, identical in form and function to the one on the BMP-1P. And while we're at it, it should also be pointed out that only one Marder in a platoon of three was given an ATGM launching capability. This was purely for doctrinal reasons. To be fair, the Marder's turret has a two-man crew, and it is the commander who operates the ATGM, but this does not mean that the gunner is free to do anything else. He has no observation equipment save for his gunsight, and he cannot fire at anything, because the turret cannot be traversed, as that would interrupt the commander. The AMX-10P faces a similar conundrum. We could say that at that point, the BMP-1P had it as good - or as bad - as any other IFV of the time, discounting the Bradley with its excellent double TOW launcher setup.
The exact number of BMP-1 and BMP-1Ps that received "Tucha" is unknown. Examples that received the upgrade were not specially designated as far as I know, except perhaps for the factory code. The addition of the "Tucha" system actually involves more work than the installation of the external missile launcher on the BMP-1P. as "Tucha" connects to the vehicle's electrical system and has its own control box. This means that the old master control panel used to power up anciliary systems had to be replaced with an updated one.
A bank of six 81mm smoke grenade launchers are arranged around the rear of the turret, aimed in a forward arc.
One modernization path for the BMP-1 is the BMP-1-30. The possibility of modernizing BMP-1s to this new standard was obviously explored, but it appears that it was never adopted.
Needless to say, this modification is an extremely sensible one. With so many outdated BMP-1s stuck in storage, such an upgrade might make them viable for serious frontline service.
Bush War: The Road to Cuito Cuanavale : Soviet Soldiers' Accounts of the Angolan War
BMP Infantry Fighting Vehicle 1967–94 By Steven J. Zaloga
The Egyptian Strategy for the Yom Kippur War: An Analysis By Dani Asher