Fishbreath wrote an excellent bit defending the BMP-3, the traditional, rather lightly-armored IFV. You should go read it here. In it, he’s replying to my discussions in favor of heavy APCs like Namer, and my own design sketch for a heavy IFV. But I can hardly leave it there. I should reply to him, because argument is interesting and fun. Plus, recent developments bear some pondering.
As you are no doubt aware, the BMP-3 is Russian. Duh. It’s from a similar school of thought as the previous BMPs, heavily armed, cramped, lightly armored. It’ll float. It’s easy to move. Splendid.
Or is it?
I’ve mentioned before the Russian experience in Grozny, but it bears repeating. It was a bloodbath. BMPs were deathtraps. Poorly trained conscripts sent in died in droves because Chechen fighters had thought carefully about urban warfare tactics. Fuel is stored in the egress doors on the BMP-1 and BMP-2. This fuel is supposed to be the first used, but that didn’t always happen. So if the rear was hit, fuel would get sprayed all over the dismounts. And it was likely on fire. Not fun. Plus, given that there’s so much ammo in the BMP, basically any penetration of the turret armor or the forward section meant that the ammo gets hit by the shaped charge jet and blows up too. So, soldiers took to riding on the outside.1
This defeats the purpose of an enclosed vehicle. If they’re just going to ride on top, why not have something like the Sd.Kfz. 251, which had no roof. Of course, that leaves infantry vulnerable to machine gun fire and artillery fragments. Plus, that cold. I hear Russia has a miserable winter. They could suck it up and enjoy their superior deployability. A BMP-3 can float, you know.
This brings us to the T-15. It’s built on that same Armata combat platform as the T-14, except the engine is at the front now, where it belongs for vehicles that carry troops. Two things are of note. First, it’s got an unmanned turret, second, it weighs about as much as the T-14. That’s tank-level protection right there. The Russians have agreed with the Israelis–if you have a vehicle that’s going to get shot at like a tank, it should take hits like a tank. Even outside of urban areas–the Donbass is hardly suburbia. Like most modern armies, the Russians have become much more casualty sensitive2, and shooting an ATGM–even an old one–at a BMP is a great way to inflict casualties.
Armor on the T-15 is typical Russian–a reasonably thick steel and composite structure under a lot of ERA. The reactive armor is a new type, of course, but it’s not clear how good it actually is, because no one has had a chance to shoot it yet. Still, it should be good, since they have lots of experience, and overall protection should be on the order of the protection level of the T-14 given the weight, layout, and the remote turret which I’ll discuss in a moment. Further protection is provided by a hard-kill active protection system, the Afghanit. This system is also in use on the T-14, though again it hasn’t been tested. Not being a fluent reader of Russian, and with the Russians generally keeping things quiet, I don’t know how it compares to other Western competitive systems. I’d guess it’d be similar in performance to Trophy as far as reaction times go, but that’s speculation. They do have a reasonable number of tubes per side, unlike so many western designers who think two per side is enough (it isn’t).
On to the turret. The T-15 has an unmanned turret, just like the T-14. It’s all contained above the turret ring, because a traditional turret basket removes space for dismounts, and carrying dismounts is the T-15’s primary mission. The T-15’s turret is well thought out, and I’m a big fan. It’s got a 30mm cannon with 500 rounds split between a 160 round box and a 340 round box to accommodate the double ammunition feeds. The autocannon is capable of high angle fire, perfect for hitting top-floor rocket teams. The coax gun is in the usual 7.62x54R caliber, and there are 2,000 rounds available. Four tubes for Kornet-EM ATGMs are provided, two on either side of the turret. Kornet-EM has a tandem-HEAT warhead with further improvements, plus automatic command line of sight (ACLOS) guidance, which is an improvement over the usual SACLOS. The gunner has thermal and day sights, plus a laser rangefinder. The commander has his own independent sight which appears to be a duplicate of the gunner’s.
The turret does not appear to be well armored. Since support fires appear to be a secondary tasking, the lack of protection and ease of knocking out the turret is probably not a major issue. I’m fine with this overall, for weight and cost reasons. The IFV’s weapons are much less critical than those of the MBT. For similar reasons, I’m more willing to accept an unmanned turret on an IFV, since any loss of effectiveness is to a secondary mission. Plus, it allows for more hull protection and a full load of dismounts.
The 100mm gun is gone from the T-15. It’s not really needed, as the T-15 has proper, modern ATGMs, and the extravagance is just going to take up turret room which is better spent on more 30mm.
The T-15 carries nine dismounts, plus a crew of three. I do not know enough about Russian tables of organization to know if this is a full squad, but it’s reasonable. It would hold about any current western squad I can think of. This is very good, and is a lot easier than trying to split squads across vehicles.
So what do we think of the T-15? I love it! No, really. Here’s a vehicle that’s on my side in an argument with Fishbreath, and it’s even Russian! They’re replacing their BMP-3s with something much more to my liking. Further, its capabilities aren’t really available anywhere else. We might be able to get close with some modifications to the Namer, but that’s a project for another time. Out of the factory, this is the only HIFV game in town. And I’m a huge fan of the concept, even if I might prefer some minor tweaks. I would prefer missiles with a top-attack profile, and possibly some alternative sensors depending on the particulars. But those are relatively minor points.
1.) Russian and Ukranian troops are doing this in the Donbas now too. BMPs are still deathtraps. They were deathtraps in Afghanistan, deathtraps in Grozny, and they’re deathtraps in the Donbass.
2.) Though the Russian Army is still a conscript one.