By Thomas Dolzall, Military Vehicles, Forecast International.
Although the Russian government has placed a renewed emphasis in recent years on the expansion of military spending and the implementation of force modernization programs across the entirety of the Russian armed services, the scale of armored vehicle procurement remains limited by both practical and economic considerations. Therefore, the Russian military-industrial base has simply not been able to support procurement of the BMP-3 on a scale comparable to that of its stalwart predecessor, the BMP-2.
These challenges to Russian military modernization have been exacerbated by the new strains placed upon the Russian economy due to the low price of oil and natural gas, and to Western economic sanctions resulting from Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and ongoing military intervention in Eastern Ukraine.
Despite these economic hardships, significant changes are afoot in the world of Russian armored vehicle design and procurement, changes that will see the face of the country’s mechanized force structure altered considerably within the coming decade.
Russia is preparing to initiate serial production of its newest IFV design, the modular and thoroughly modern Kurganets-25 platform, within the next five years. Procurement of the Kurganets-25 forms merely one component of a much larger transformational plan for Russia’s mechanized and armored forces, one that also includes the acquisition of the new T-14 Armata main battle tank and Bumerang wheeled armored personnel carrier, among other state-of-the art vehicles.
With the introduction of these contemporary new platforms, the Russian military and defense contractors alike hope to at last divorce themselves from the constraints of traditional, Soviet-legacy design concepts and usher in a new era of indigenous armored vehicle design.
However, while the Kurganets unquestionably represents the future of Russian IFV design, the BMP-3 series will continue to play an important transitional role within the country’s mechanized force structure through the next 10 years and beyond.
The Russian Army has long desired to replace much of its aging BMP-1 and BMP-2 stocks with more modern alternatives, and has set out to accomplish this goal within the decade under its ongoing modernization initiative.
However, the high unit cost of the Kurganets-25 could prove prohibitive given Russia’s trying economic circumstances, and, in any case, the new platform will not reach peak production levels for some years to come.
In 2014, the Russian military acquired a relatively limited quantity of BMP-3 series vehicles. However, the pressing requirement of the Army and Naval Infantry for an affordable BMP-1 and BMP-2 replacement vehicle essentially necessitates that the MoD pursue a temporary reinvigoration of domestic BMP-3 series procurement, and officials from both the Army and MoD alike have confirmed this intent through public statements. Subsequently, Russian defense officials announced a firm new order for 300 additional BMP-3 vehicles in May 2015.
The Russian Army will also continue its acquisition of an array of specialized BMP-3 series variants, such as the Khrizantema-S anti-tank model, through 2024. Production of the BMP-3K Rhys variant appeared dormant at time of writing. Nevertheless, the BMP-3’s overall rate of production will decline somewhat rapidly over the course of the next 10 years as Kurganmashzavod reorients its industrial capacity toward the manufacture of the Kurganets-25.
As the successor to Kurganmashzavod’s venerable and ubiquitous BMP-2 vehicle design, the BMP-3 initially benefitted from a certain level of innate demand on the international export market owing to strong brand and name recognition. Over time, however, market interest in the BMP-3 dampened due to complaints from both international customers and the Russian Army alike that the vehicle design was plagued by a wide range of technical and performance deficiencies and that its high unit price compared to the BMP-2’s was unjustified.
The subsequent development of enhanced new variants and upgrade packages has alleviated some of these concerns and helped to partially rehabilitate the design’s tarnished image. Still, significant market skepticism remains due to the program’s lingering reputation for unsound design principles, subpar workmanship, and below-average survivability.
Although the upgraded BMP-3’s relatively low unit price makes it a potentially attractive option for customers seeking to overhaul or enhance their mechanized capabilities at an affordable cost, modernized BMP-2 series vehicles can often fulfill this very same requirement at an even lower price.
Nevertheless, Rosoboronexport’s active marketing campaign for the vehicle, in combination with its high degree of brand recognition and integration of modern ordnance and fire-control systems, is likely to ensure a modest quantity of export sales for the design from 2015-2024, primarily from the traditional customer base for Russian defense products.