The BPsVI Is Keeping This Cold War Troop Taxi Relevant
Slovakia's upgraded BMP-1 is designed for scouting
The disproportionate destruction that even a low-yield nuclear detonation could inflict on advancing armies made it suicidal for the Soviets to mass ground forces in huge numbers.
Instead, the Soviets would have to disperse their armies, but such a tactic would dilute the firepower they could bring to bear. The BMP was a compromise. It was fast, and could dish out firepower at the same time.
The Soviets developed the BMP-1 back in the 1960s to fulfill one primary purpose — transport infantry and fight alongside them in a fast-moving battlefield likely to witness the widespread use of nuclear weapons. Mobility was key at the expense of armor, as the need was to disperse vehicles and to stay on the move, keeping up with the tanks and with the troops inside protected from radiation — while also packing a 73-millimeter cannon to dish out firepower.
Armies today have somewhat different requirements. Instead of cheap, mass-produced vehicles designed for World War III, armies prize more armor — given the proliferation of anti-tank missiles and mines — and information systems, advanced optics and other technologies to help crew members observe the battlefield around them. For the countries which still have BMP-1s, it’s also cheaper to upgrade these machines to wring more service life out of them.
Case in point is the BPsVI, a modification for the Slovak army. In June 2018, the army handed over 21 BPsVIs to the Slovak ISTAR Battalion, which focuses on reconnaissance and surveillance and is based in eastern Slovakia. The goal is to modify 35 total BMP-1s into the BPsVI variant, boosting their service life by 20 years. The Slovak army had 148 BMP-1s in service as of 2016, and a further 91 BMP-2s as of 2016, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies.
Essentially, the BPsVI are scout vehicles. They’re far too under-armored to serve in a front-line role, but their upgrades are interesting. The completely new turret is remote-controlled from within the hull and feature a 30-millimeter 2A42 autocannon. Additional armaments include a 7.62-millimeter PKT machine gun and two AT-5 anti-tank guided missile launchers.
The most important hardware is everything else. New communications gear, a warning system to detect lasers — from laser-guided weapons — and thermal cameras are some of the new additions, as well as smoke grenades and an internal fire-suppression system. Unlike the BMP-1, there is now air conditioning and heating systems, which adds to creature comforts along with new seats. While the BPsVI is vulnerable to mines, the crew has a portable, foldable mine detector stored inside.
Like the BMP-1, the BPsVI is designed to swim across rivers, but the added weight from all these upgrades — roughly two additional tons for a total weight of 15 tons — required the Slovak designers to add floats stretching down the sides of the vehicle. It works. Each vehicle even has an Israeli Micro Falcon drone inside. The laser-warning system is of partial Israeli origin.
The BPsVI is among several unique armored vehicles coming out of Slovakia’s defense industry — which is notable for its artillery that is among the most advanced in the world.