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Arms-maker Uralvagonzavod manufactured only 10 or so high-tech BMP-T Terminator fighting vehicles for the Russian army.
This spring most, or all, of the heavily-armed, tracked BMP-Ts rolled into eastern Ukraine and joined the Russian army’s 90th Tank Division fighting in Luhansk Oblast.
They’ve been in the thick of the fighting along what is one of the most dangerous fronts of Russia’s 10-month-old wider war on Ukraine. “In the spring and early summer, these machines managed to prove themselves well,” wrote Starshe Eddy, a top Telegram channel for Russian army experts.
The Terminators have come under fire at least once, and spent some time in a repair depot. But it seems all the advanced vehicles have survived. This week, pro-Kremlin media firm ANNA News visited the Terminator company on the front line near Svatove.
That the Ukrainians haven’t yet managed to knock out a single BMP-T that outside analysts can confirm speaks to the type’s thick armor and heavy armament. But it’s also possible Russian commanders are especially careful with the ultra-rare vehicles.
They’re media darlings, after all. ANNA isn’t the only media operation to feature the BMP-Ts. Russia Today also has tagged along with the Terminator company.
After losing more than 8,000 modern vehicles in Ukraine, the Russian army has resorted to pulling 50-year-old T-62 tanks out of long-term storage.
In an army that’s looking more and more like the Soviet army of the middle Cold War, the BMP-Ts are outliers. High-tech and seemingly highly survivable where other Russian vehicles are low-tech and vulnerable.
Writing off any of its BMP-Ts would be pretty embarrassing to the Russians. Which is a good reason for the Ukrainians to try even harder to target the vehicles.
The five-person BMP-T is a unique kind of vehicle. It’s not a tank with a large-caliber main gun. It’s not an infantry fighting vehicle with a compartment for a squad of soldiers. No, the BMP-T is something in-between. A tank-support vehicle.
The 48-ton BMP-T boasts a turret with twin 30-millimeter cannons and a quad launcher for anti-tank missiles. Its armor protection—a mix of steel, composite and reactive armor—is equivalent to that of a tank.
In Russian doctrine, the Terminator escorts tanks in order to protect them from infantry. The need is obvious. Ukrainian infantry packing portable anti-tank missiles have destroyed thousands of Russian vehicles.
Of course, it shouldn’t take a multi-million-dollar BMP-T to protect your tanks. Most armies surround their tanks with dismounted infantry to fight the enemy infantry who threaten the tanks. But the Russian army didn’t have enough trained infantry before losing tens of thousands of its best troops in Ukraine. Now the infantry shortage is even worse.
A handful of BMP-Ts in a single company can’t protect the entire Russian tank corps. The BMP-T company can’t even protect the entire 90th Tank Division. “With a maximum of 10 Terminators deployed, they are unlikely to have a significant impact on the campaign,” the U.K. defense ministry predicted back in May.
The BMP-T company is good for two things at the opposite extremes of the spectrum of military operations. Ten or so BMP-Ts can help a tank battalion win a small tactical fight. And they also can help the Russian army project, in the information space, an image of technological sophistication.
For the BMP-T to matter in the meaty middle of the spectrum—operations—the Russian army would need to acquire and deploy many hundreds of the vehicles.
“It is possible and necessary to make them in the right number,” Starshe Eddy wrote in reference to the BMP-T. It’s true that a bigger BMP-T acquisition is necessary. It’s not true that it’s possible.
The Russian army can’t afford the BMP-T. Not when the Russian economy is shrinking and the Kremlin is struggling to make good an entire army’s worth of vehicle losses.
So the BMP-T almost certainly will remain a rarity with a far greater impact in the media than on the battlefield.