By: Warren Gray
Copyright © 2020
“We’re going to push through our front lines…(with) speed, surprise, and overwhelming firepower.”
— Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, The Great Raid film, 2005.
The First Chechen War of December 1994 to August 1996 revealed a major weakness in tank warfare, especially in urban or mountainous environments. Chechnya (officially the Chechen Republic) is a federal subject region within the overall Russian Federation, located just north of the nation of Georgia, near the Caspian Sea. It boldly declared its independence from Russia in November 1991, just before the end of the lengthy, Cold War, and then Russian forces intervened in late 1994 to keep the renegade, breakaway republic permanently within Russian control.
During the savage Battle of Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, in 1994 and 1995, the Russian Army lost 62 of its 212 deployed, T-72 and T-80 tanks (29 percent) within the first three months alone, primarily to four-man, hunter-killer teams of Chechen insurgents, armed with rifles, machine guns, and RPG-7B or RPG-18 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, cleverly attacking Russian tanks from behind the rubble of the city by firing at the thinner armor on their upper panels, rear sections, and lower sides.
This resulted in the staggering loss of an entire, mechanized brigade (the ill-fated, 131st Maikop Brigade) in just two and a half days, beginning on New Year’s Eve, 1994, as the concealed, Chechen defenders brazenly radioed in Russian, “Dobro pozhalovat’ v ad!” (“Welcome to hell!”) The brigade very rapidly lost 77 percent of its tanks, 85 percent of its armored personnel carriers (APCs), and nearly 800 men.
The T-72BM “Ural” main battle tank (MBT) was well-armored, but its powerful, 2A46M smoothbore, 125mm cannon had a barrel nearly 20 feet long, in order to propel its armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, discarding-sabot (APFSDS) rounds at a sizzling speed of 5,940 feet per second (Mach 5.25.) In the tight confines of urban warfare, with tall buildings on either side, it’s not always possible to swing that long, mighty cannon around to fire at Chechen rebels armed with rocket launchers, or to raise or lower the gun to fire at insurgents in basements or high-rise apartments, so the Chechens actively exploited that major weakness to their great advantage.
Ilyas Akhmadov, future foreign minister of the short-lived Chechen Republic, bluntly stated that, “Russian tanks and APCs were not even advancing in battle order…with only a distance of five to six meters between each APC. They were unable to maneuver or turn around when necessary…(and) infantry was also advancing in complete disorder among the APCs. Our tactics were simple but effective: We let the Russian columns enter the city, driving along streets where the APCs and tanks could not maneuver. When a column was engaged in a narrow avenue, we simply shot the leading APC, and the last one of the column. The Russians were sitting ducks.”
BMP-1 and BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles also proved too lightly-armored and vulnerable to attack to be useful in defending their tanks at close range. As an interim, defensive measure, the Russians brought in some ZSU-23-4M “Shilka” mobile, antiaircraft systems with quad, 23mm cannon, and 2S6M (or 2K22) “Tunguska” antiaircraft gun-and-missile systems with shorter-barreled (eight feet), 2A38 twin-barrel, rapid-fire, 30x165mm cannon, to help protect their tanks, but the Shilkas and Tunguskas were also too lightly-armored to be truly effective in this role.
So, the vital concept of a Boyevaya Mashina Podderzhki Tankov (BMPT, or “Tank-Support Fighting Vehicle”) was forged in fire on the bloody streets of Grozny a quarter of a century ago, creating a demand for a new machine with overwhelming firepower, a high angle of gunfire to hit enemy targets high up in apartment buildings, and armor protection equivalent to an MBT. The UralVagonZavod company created their BMPT attack vehicle in 2002, unofficially nicknamed the “Terminator,” built upon the chassis of a T-72 tank for maximum-possible armor protection.
The BMPT Terminator is equipped with a devastating array of firepower. First, there are twin, side-by-side, Shipunov 2A42 autocannon in 30x165mm, a light, anti-tank weapon, with 425 rounds per gun, and each cannon firing at 300 rounds per minute, or five rounds per second, from an eight-foot-long barrel. This allows for up to 85 seconds of firing time for each barrel, which is substantial in the heat of battle. As the turret rotates in close-range action, these guns protrude no more than two to three feet from the sides of the vehicle, so they’re ideal for providing maximum firepower in confined spaces, such as within cities, or in very tight, mountain passes.
One cannon is loaded with armor-piercing, discarding-sabot rounds, while the second is loaded with high-explosive/fragmentation, anti-personnel ammunition, with an effective range out as far as 4,400 yards, and a muzzle velocity of 3,170 fps. These guns are fully stabilized in the vertical and horizontal planes for firing on the move, and the barrels can elevate as high as 45 degrees, for urban or mountain warfare. There is also a coaxial, Kalashnikov 7.62x54Rmm PKTM medium machine gun with 2,000 rounds loaded, firing at 800 rpm, out to an effective range of about one mile.
Mounted on the sides of the turret are four tube-launched, supersonic (Mach 1.2 to 1.6), 9M120 Ataka-T (“Attack,” and the “T” stands for “Tank,” with the NATO designation of AT-9 Spiral-2) 130mm anti-tank missiles, with laser-beam-riding, semiautomatic command to line-of-sight (SACLOS) guidance out to a maximum range of 3.75 miles, and there are no spare missiles inside the vehicle.
Normally, the Terminator carries two upgraded, 9M120M Atakas with 16-pound, tandem warheads to defeat armored vehicles equipped with composite armor or explosive-reactive armor (ERA), and two 9M120F variants with 21-pound, thermobaric (fuel-air explosive) warheads for anti-personnel use, as well as for engaging buildings and bunkers. There is also a 9M220O (the letter “O”, not zero) variant with an expanding-rod warhead and proximity fuze, for use against helicopters. When enemy attack helicopters are anticipated, at least one or two of the standard missiles will be replaced with the antiaircraft version.
In addition, the BMPT is armed with two AGS-17D Plamya (“Flame”) 30x29mm automatic grenade launchers, fired from two separate, 300-round, linked belts at a rate of 400 rpm. VOG-17M and VOG-30D ammunition is employed, with both types being high-explosive, blast-fragmentation designs, specifically to counter Chinese-style, “human-wave” assaults. These two side-mounted weapons, however, necessitate the addition of two extra crew members, one to fire each grenade launcher, thereby increasing the vehicle crew size from three (commander, driver, and gunner) two five, adding two grenade gunners. The grenade launchers have an effective range of just over one mile, and each grenade has a kill radius of 25 feet.
Within the tight confines of the Terminator hull, the crew wears camouflaged, 6B15 “Cowboy” uniforms (normally the standard, Tetris, or “Digital Flora” pattern), Ratnik (“Warrior”) 6B47 ballistic helmets, and is usually armed with folding-stock, assault rifles for their own survival, particularly the combat-proven, Kalashnikov AK-74M or the preferred, ultra-compact, AKS-74U.
The basic, BMPT vehicle hull itself is a 47-ton, T-72BM3 tank chassis, with a combination of composite armor, reactive armor, and ordinary, steel plates, powered by a new, 12-cylinder, multi-fuel, V-92S2 turbo-diesel engine with 1,000 horsepower, and a seven-speed, manual transmission, capable of speeds up to 37 mph, with an operational range of 340 miles.
The Terminator’s fire-control system consists of the commander’s stabilized, B07-K1 panoramic sight atop the vehicle, with a 360-degree field of view, equipped with electro-optical, low-light TV, and laser-range-finding channels. The B07-K2 gunner’s sight has optical, infrared/thermal, missile-guidance, and laser capabilities, connected to a computerized, ballistic, fire-control system for engaging targets in the daytime or at night, and shooting on the move. The gunner may also use the commander’s sight if his own unit is disabled or destroyed, and the commander may likewise be able to override the gunner and take control of the cannon and missiles if necessary, if the gunner is killed or injured.
By constantly scanning for targets for the gunner, the commander provides a hunter-killer capability, even against aerial targets, with target-detection capability out as far as 4.4 miles, even in poor weather conditions. There is also a GPS/GLONASS precision-navigation system, and a total of six automatic, smoke-grenade launchers on both sides of the vehicle for protection against infrared weapons, and for providing a smoke-screen camouflage in battle. An automatic, fire-fighting system also protects the crew from any internal fires.
The BMPT Terminator’s doctrine of operations is essentially to protect main battle tanks in difficult (urban or mountainous) terrain. In cities, each tank has two BMPT bodyguards, and elsewhere, the ratio is reversed, with one BMPT protecting each pair of tanks. The fearsome Terminator is fully capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously, at different height levels, with powerful, overwhelming firepower. This increases the combat effectiveness of tank units by allowing the tanks to concentrate on their primary targets while the BMPTs handle all anti-tank threats.
The Russian Army began their evaluation of the BMPT in small numbers in 2005, purchasing only 10 vehicles initially, and there were indications at the time that several Terminators were combat-tested three years later in South Ossetia and Georgia, probably with the 693rd Motorized Rifle Regiment of the 58th Army. The street fighting in the Battle of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia, in August 2008, was particularly fierce, and the likely use of Terminators there was vividly described in my 2010 book, Caravan Hunter, a highly-detailed, military-action novel of the Georgia-Russia War of 2008.
In any event, the use of tank-protection vehicles was still a radical, new concept, difficult for conventional, armor officers to absorb, and the BMPT project was abruptly cancelled in 2010. The Russians reportedly wanted a more-modern, military force, not relying on old, Soviet-era equipment such as the outdated, T-72 chassis. One Russian magazine editor stated that, “This is part of the military’s trend toward buying Western models of equipment and technologies,” not meaning Western equipment specifically, but Western-style, advanced technologies, so the original, BMPT Terminator (or “Terminator-1”) program, the new, BTR-90 APC, and the T-90S tank (export version) were all cancelled as a result.
The armed forces of the Republic of Kazakhstan, however, ordered 10 Terminators in 2010, and 30 more in 2012, all of which were subsequently delivered. Azerbaijan expressed some interest in 2014, but made no orders.
Then, in April 2016, the Algerian Army concluded an order agreement for 300 Terminators, all of which were received by the end of 2019, and Algeria remains the single greatest user of the BMPT attack vehicle worldwide. The Russian Ground Forces finally placed an official order in August 2017, but only for 10 Terminators, which have already entered service in the Central Military District. This is the largest, military district in the Russian Federation, just north of Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
In September 2013, the new, BMPT-72 “Terminator-2” was introduced, also built upon a T-72 tank hull, but it’s a retrofit package only, designed for the export market, with no new vehicles being constructed. Basically, a new, Terminator turret can be mounted on almost any existing, T-72 MBT chassis at a minimal cost, to upgrade a nation’s armor capabilities.
Once installed, the overall package is four tons lighter, being slightly shorter and thinner than an original BMPT, and the grenade launchers are removed, allowing the crew to revert to just three men again. The Atakamissiles are now protected with armor shielding to defend against shrapnel and small-arms fire, and there is extra, slat armor to safeguard the rear and sides of the vehicles against rocket-propelled grenades. The Terminator-2 also has an improved, fire-control system, an R-168-25UE-2 radio, and a laser detection system to counter enemy laser rangefinders and target designators.
There are media photographs showing that at least one BMPT-72 in desert-tan paint and camouflage netting was demonstrated and combat-tested in Syria in mid-2017, and possibly later in Iraq.
An advanced, Boyevaya Mashina Ognevoy Podderzhki (BMOP, or “Combat Fire-Support Vehicle”) “Terminator-3” attack vehicle is also projected, initially incorporating the chassis of a T-90A Vladimir tank, but with future upgrades to utilize the all-new, Russian T-14 Armata (meaning “Chariot” in ancient Greek, or “Tank” in modern Greek) MBT, with T-14 tank deliveries to the Russian Army finally expected this year.
Sergei Abramov, director of the Rostec armament firm, stated that, “The new (BMOP) vehicle will be able to operate against all types of targets: air, ground, enemy troops, and matériel targets…(using) ground-to-air projectiles with an adjustable trajectory, which will allow the Terminator-3 to bring down unmanned, aerial vehicles (drones), as well as burst projectiles, and larger-caliber, main guns.”
Captain Charles K. Bartles and Doctor Lester W. Grau noted in a recent, U.S. Army publication that, “The BMPT has not been free of controversy within Russian military circles. Pundits have been quick to point out that such a vehicle is inadequately armed to survive in high-intensity, combat situations. Although the improvements made to the Terminator-2 may alleviate some concerns, there is still some speculation about the value of the BMPT in general.”
Regardless of any controversy, however, the heavily-armed, BMPT Terminator series is bold, aggressive, intimidating, and absolutely ferocious in battle, with no direct counterparts among Western armies. With the advanced, T-14 Armata tank just now entering Russian military service, it seems quite likely that BMOP Terminator-3 production may ramp up in the near future.
Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, and four college degrees, including a Master of Aeronautical Science degree, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian. You may visit his web site at: warrengray54.vistaprintdigital.com.