Russia’s Fearsome Terminator Tank Was a No-Show at the Victory Day Parade
The Kremlin falls out of love with its killer BMPT
On May 9, Russia paraded its brand-new Armata armored vehicles through Red Square during the annual celebration of the country’s victory over Germany during World War II.
The parade is an annual event, but the new family of vehicles — and their radical designs — made it a once-in-every-few-decades moment for Russia military geeks.
The Kremlin rolled out a fleet of new armored beasts including the T-14 tank, T-15 infantry fighting vehicle, Kurganets-25 armored personnel carrier and Bumerang wheeled vehicle.
But on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi surrender, one heavily-armed Russian vehicle was noticeably absent from the procession — the BMPT Terminator.
While Russian defense companies are still toying with this so-called “tank combat support vehicle,” the Kremlin could have decided to ditch the vehicle in favor of the T-15.
“Russia’s recent announcement that the Armata heavy track chassis would be entering field trials … has fueled some speculation,” Charles Bartles, an analyst at the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office, wrote in the May edition of OE Watch. “One idea is that the BMPT Terminator could be reborn.”
But the Russians are “probably looking at … a much more versatile solution,” Steven Zaloga, a senior analyst at the Teal Group and expert on armored vehicles, told War Is Boring. “[The T-15] pretty much satisfies the requirement that BMPT does.”
In development since 2009, Russian tank maker Uralvagonzavod expected the Armata family to include a tank, personnel carrier, self-propelled howitzer, rocket launcher and other variants … all with a common chassis.
So far, only the T-14 tank and T-15 fighting vehicle prototypes appear to have made it into limited production.
The storied design bureau — which traces its history to the creation of the Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 in the city of Nizhny Tagil in 1941 — also cooked up the BMPT in the past decade.
Appropriately nicknamed “the Terminator,” these fearsome vehicles sport a turret with two 30-millimeter cannons and four Ataka missile launchers. Further, the BMPT has a 7.62-millimeter machine gun next to the main guns and two AG-17D automatic grenade launchers in the hull.
The Terminator absolutely bristles with weapons. Because why not?
Russia had good reasons for all this Terminator firepower. During the wars in Afghanistan and Chechnya, the Russian military realized its earlier-model BMP fighting vehicles suffered from thin armor and too few weapons.
During those wars, Russia’s foes hid in mountains or in the upper floors of buildings. As the armored vehicles passed, rebels would shoot down and blow them up — and the vehicles couldn’t aim high enough to shoot back.
“Tanks don’t have much success dealing with targets at high elevation,” Zaloga explained.
In 2005, the Russian military began testing out a small number of Terminators. They could shoot at high angles. Plus, the vehicles had heavier armored derived from the T-72 tank. The Kremlin was impressed with the concept, but had concerns about Uralvagonzavod’s particular design.
“Initial statements about abandoning the BMPT mentioned the problems with building a new weapon system upon the venerable, but reliable, T-72 chassis,” Bartles explained.
Instead, Moscow wanted the Armata to completely replace vehicles derived from this Soviet-era design — and which comprise the basis for Russia’s present-day tank fleet. Ultimately, the Kremlin decided not to buy any Terminators.
Currently, Kazakhstan is the only country where the vehicles are on active duty. After buying 10 Terminators in 2010, Kazakhstan now reportedly plans to build additional vehicles in the country as part of a deal with Uralvagonzavod.
“Future versions of the BMPT would most likely be based on the platform of Russia’s highly anticipated new main battle tank — the Armata,” a report from state-owned RIA Novosti?—?renamed Sputnik in 2014 — stated three years later, citing Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin.
Potentially losing a lucrative contract, the team at Nizhny Tagil unveiled an improved BMPT-72 “Terminator 2” with new sensors and optics and extra armor two years ago. Moscow remained disinterested.
Now it appears that the T-15 might steal the show. Unlike the Terminator, this Armata-based vehicle has only a single 30-millimeter main gun, a secondary 7.62-millimeter machine gun and four Kornet missile tubes.
On top of that, the heavy track can shield itself from enemy forces with a battery of smoke grenades. The crew will be able to try and knock out incoming projectiles with a new active protection system, too.
More importantly, the engineers at Nizhny Tagil have made sure the new design can carry infantry under the heavy armor. The Terminators can’t carry soldiers — aside from the crew — unless they ride on top.
So despite having fewer weapons, the T-15 is decidedly more versatile than the older BMPT. Choosing this route over a new Terminator would explain why Russia is working on both the T-15 and the Kurganets-25, Zaloga added.
Otherwise, it’d be hard to understand why the Kremlin would be spend money on two extremely similar vehicles. Regardless, “the Russians are not leaping ahead” with their new armored fleet either, Zaloga noted.
“This is an attempt to catch up.” Zaloga said bluntly. “A lot of this stuff is really stale.”
But since the whole plan is still very much a work in progress, other companies might end up trying to sell Moscow on another BMPT-type vehicle. Omsktransmash—another major Russian tank manufacturer—has already displayed a model of what appeared to be a large assault gun at one trade show, according to Zaloga.
A vehicle like this—hearkening back to vehicles the Soviets developed in World War II to blast through Nazi fortifications—would be well suited for street fighting or getting at enemy troops dug in behind cover.
“In those scenarios an 152-millimeter howitzer does a wonderful job,” Zaloga said.
Russia’s tumbling economy means the Kremlin has to be picky about what it buys. After Moscow’s brief war with Georgia in 2008, the Russian military decided to focus on fixing dated communications networks and obsolete sensors instead of splurging on new armored vehicles.
When the Kremlin got back around to the Terminators, “they didn’t have any money,” Zaloga noted.
Now, the United States and the European Union have hit Russia with sanctions after Moscow’s invasion of Crimea in February 2014. Since then, Washington and her allies have also decried the Kremlin’s support for separatists fighting in Ukraine.
Making matters worse, Moscow’s coffers have fallen after a significant drop in oil and natural gas prices. Still, the Kremlin reportedly expects to purchase 2,000 to 2,300 Armata armored vehicles in the next few years.
“I think a lot of people have serious doubts about that,” Zaloga said. “The real question is whether they’re going to buy it.”
In the end, analysts might just have to wait until the next victory parade to see if there’s a new Armata-based BMPT in the works—or any vehicles from the family left at all.