A single BMPT-2 “Terminator”, which represents an entirely new class of armored vehicles, and is not yet in service with the Russian military, has been transferred to an elite Syrian army unit.
In just about every war since WWII soldiers have found fast-firing anti-aircraft guns to be extremely effective against…infantry.
In WWII the Americans nicknamed their M45 Quadmount — four 12,7mm machine guns designed for air defense — “meat chopper” and “Krautmower” for its utility in fighting enemy foot soldiers.
In Afghanistan and Chechnya one of the most beloved weapons of the Soviets/Russians was the Shilka. Not bad for an anti-aircraft weapon in a war where the opposing side didn’t have an air force.
Designed as an air defense weapon (it even came with its own radar dish) the Shilka was very lightly armored for Afghanistan, but its four 23mm autocannons offered more useful firepower than either the potent, but slow, tank guns, or the single autocannon of the BMP-2 infantry carrier. Also it was the only Soviet weapon whose guns had sufficient elevation to easily fire on targets in the hills from valley floors.
As it was an anti-air weapon the gunner was actually completely unprotected, but seeing it out-ranged all but the heaviest direct-fire weapons that wasn’t much of an issue. It could stop enemy attacks just by mowing down trees the enemy was moving through, arranging for a hellish rain of falling trunks and branches and exploding bullets.
Despite proving their worth in an anti-infantry role over and over again however, for some reason no military of any nation ever asked for a dedicated anti-infantry weapon system based on multiple autocannons be developed. The anti-aircraft systems had the requisite firepower but they were too lightly armored. Ideally an anti-infantry vehicle carrying such weapons would be much heavier and better protected.
Enter the BMPT. In the late 1990s Russia’s Uralvagonzavod (the most famous Russian tank-maker) acting on its own did what should have probably been done decades ago. It mounted a turret sporting twin 30mm autocannons on the chassis of a T-72 tank.
The cannons are capable of high elevation, the turret is unmanned for extra crew survivability, the vehicle comes with four guided anti-tank missiles giving it decent tank-hunting capabilities, and its modern explosive reactive armor makes it one of the best protected vehicles in the world.
Surely then what happened next was an order for a long production run? Not exactly. With the low budgets of the early 2000s the Russian military was in no position to be buying new gear. And the higher budgets of the 2010s came with a new caveat—the Russian military would buy no more weapons based on Soviet-era chassis.
This applied even to the BMPT, even though it was not actually a further development of a Soviet-era weapon, but actually an entirely new class of weapon systems. Bizarrely, a never-before-seen weapon type was frozen out by a rule meant to force the defense industry to stop resting on their Soviet laurels and come up with new designs.
As a consequence only half a dozen BMPT and BMPT-2s have been built to date. The Russian army does not operate it and the vehicle remains in experimental stage.
Since less than a week ago, however, the Syrian army has begun operating a solitary BMPT-2. First seen during Assad’s visit to Russia’s Latakia air base last week, the Russian BMPT-2 has now been handed over to the Syrians.
Reportedly it will fight with the renowned Liwa al-Quds unit which is headed for a new offensive against ISIS in eastern Hama. Liwa al-Quds (“Jerusalem Brigade”) is a unit manned by Palestinian refugees which distinguished itself in the difficult battle for Aleppo city. Uralvagonzavod gets to test its vehicle in battle hoping this will lead to production orders, and the Syrians (Palestinians) get to use a potent Russian experimental weapon.