Russia Keeps Handing Over Its Upgunned BMP-1AMs To Ukraine


A half-hearted counterattack by the Russian army’s 37th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, targeting Ukrainian positions east of Urozhaine in southern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, ended in a Russian defeat on Thursday after the 37th Brigade ran into the Ukrainian 3rd and 58th Brigades.

The brief fight was unremarkable at a time when an entire Russian field army with several brigades and regiments has been hurling thousands of vehicles at the Ukrainian garrison in Avdiivka, just outside Donetsk in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. Russian losses in the Avdiivka operation total hundreds of tanks and fighting vehicles and potentially thousands of troops.

But the Russians retreating from that battlefield outside Urozhaine apparently did leave behind at least one interesting prize: an intact BMP-1AM infantry fighting vehicle. The Ukrainian 58th Brigade showed off the 15-ton, 11-person IFV on social media.

To be clear, it’s not totally clear the 37th Brigade abandoned the BMP-1AM on Thursday. If not, it was just before then. The same vehicle, or one just like it in the same unit, appeared in photos of the 37th Brigade that circulated online in early October.

The BMP-1AM is one of the rarer variants of the ubiquitous, 1960s-vintage BMP-1 IFV, which despite its age still is one of the most common fighting vehicles on both sides of Russia’s 22-month wider war on Ukraine. Soviet industry produced tens of thousands of the thinly-armored vehicles.

The biggest problem with the basic BMP-1, besides the type’s inadequate protection, always has been its low-pressure 73-millimeter gun. The gun has the benefit of producing minimal recoil, but it also loses accuracy past a few hundred yards. It’s not for no reason that most major BMP-1 upgrades swap out the 73-millimeter gun for a more energetic autocannon—or add an autocannon on top off, or behind, the low-pressure gun.

A 30-millimeter autocannon, borrowed from the BTR-82A wheeled IFV, is the main feature of the BMP-1AM, which appeared in public for the first time in 2018. Russian industry expected the BMP-1AM strictly would be an export commodity, but in 2019 the Kremlin placed its own order for the type.

By 2020 the Russian army had just 37 of the upgunned BMP-1s. It’s unclear how many more the Russians built before widening their war on Ukraine in February 2022. Dozens? Scores? In any event, after two years of hard fighting, the Russian forces have lost at least 32 of them, eight of which Ukrainian troops have captured more or less intact.

At this rate, it’s possible Ukraine soon will have as many working BMP-1AMs as Russia does. And don’t doubt the Ukrainians’ ability to operate the BMPs. There’s no component of the upgunned IFV that isn’t already in widespread use across the Ukrainian armed forces.

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