Russia Sends Its “Terminator” Advanced Urban Fighting Vehicles Towards Ukraine

Only nine of the BMPT-72s are thought to be in frontline Russian use, and they have all been seen heading towards Ukraine.

byThomas Newdick|
Russia photo


The Russian Army’s rare BMPT-72 Terminator armored fighting vehicle, only introduced to frontline service last December, appears to be headed to the Ukrainian border area, where Russian forces, including between 150,000 and 200,000 troops, now appear poised for a possible widespread invasion of Ukraine. The BMPT-72, which is a heavily armed tracked fighting vehicle without a direct equivalent in the West, could be well suited to a potential campaign in Ukraine, perhaps suggesting that Moscow expects to be engaged in high-intensity combat operations in an urban environment. Although, with less than a dozen completed, the type's overall impact on such a campaign will be limited.

A video that appeared on social media yesterday shows a train outside of Yelets, Russia, heading west, in the direction of the Ukrainian border. At least two different open-source-intelligence-focused accounts on Twitter have geolocated the precise location, a rail crossing on the western outskirts of Yelets in Lipetsk Oblast. That would put the train around 180 miles from the Ukrainian border.

The rail crossing outside Yelets where the BMPT-72s appeared., GOOGLE EARTH

Some of the BMPT-72s seen on the train have received an extemporized winter camouflage, with white panels apparently having been applied to break up the vehicle’s visual signature when operating in snowy environments.

A Russian Army BMPT-72 at Yelets in standard camouflage…, VIA TWITTER
…and another, apparently wearing a hastily applied winter camouflage pattern., VIA TWITTER

The BMPT-72 is, so far, a very scarce vehicle in Russian Army service, with just one frontline unit so far having been equipped with them. Reports suggest that a motorized rifle battalion within the 90th Tank Division, part of the Central Military District, has only nine vehicles so far, which would imply the entire unit is being moved west, based on the video.

The BMPT-72 was developed to meet a very particular Russian Army requirement for a heavy infantry fighting vehicle that is optimized for urban counterinsurgency warfare of the kind that Moscow’s military experienced in the two Chechen campaigns in the mid-1990s and early 2000s. Both of these saw traditional armored vehicles sustain heavy losses in urban environments. The vehicle is also tailored to provide complementary fire support to existing main battle tanks.

A Chechen fighter runs past a burnt-out Russian BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle during the battle for Grozny in 1994-95., Mikhail Evstafiev/Wikimedia Commons

The vehicle is based on the chassis, drivetrain, and running gear of the T-72 main battle tank. Overall, the design of the BMPT-72 emphasizes armor protection and the ability to negotiate the kinds of obstacles found more typically in urban environments.

The weapons of the BMPT-72 have also been selected to suit urban warfare scenarios, with a particular focus on short-range, suppressive firepower against targets that could be hard to reach, including being fitted with guns that can be elevated to high angles to hit, for example, targets high up in buildings.

When the vehicle was first developed, as the BMPT, it featured a turret armed with a single 2A42 30mm autocannon and a four-round box-type launcher for 9M133 Kornet (AT-14 Spriggan) anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs).

After the original BMPT design failed to win orders, the design was revised with new, heavier armament in the shape of twin 2A42 30mm autocannons, a coaxial 7.62 PKT machine gun, and four 9M120 Ataka (AT-9 Spiral-2) ATGMs in individual tubes. Finally, the BMPT is fitted with a pair of 30mm AGS-17D automatic grenade launchers in the front of the hull. 

The interim BMPT configuration, with twin autocannons but with the Ataka missiles in individual tubes., Vitaly V. Kuzmin/Wikimedia Commons

The BMPT-72, or Terminator 2, was unveiled with further changes to the turret, fire-control system, and communications equipment and with the Ataka missiles now carried in a pair of box-like containers. The crew complement was reduced from five to three: commander, driver, and gunner. Additional protection was provided, too, with improved explosive reactive armor (ERA).

A Russian Army BMPT-72 during a parade rehearsal in 2018., Dmitriy Fomin/Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps most importantly for the Russian Ministry of Defense, struggling to fund a whole range of advanced military programs, the BMPT-72 was intended to be produced through conversion of existing T-72s, rather than as a new-build. With no shortage of T-72s in service and in storage depots across the country, this was an attractive option, with the Terminator turret essentially being grafted onto an existing tank hull. Aside from Russia, the Terminator has also been bought by Algeria and Kazakhstan.

Russia sent at least one BMPT-72 to Syria for combat trials, beginning in 2017. The Syrian trials vehicle was also fitted with additional bag-type armor along the hull sides, of a type seen widely on other vehicles in the Syrian campaign.

The Terminator sent to Syria for trials in 2017., SYRIAN PRESIDENT'S FACEBOOK PAGE
A rear view of the Syrian-standard Terminator., SYRIAN PRESIDENT'S FACEBOOK PAGE

Since then, a new version of the vehicle has been offered, as the Terminator 3, which can be based on the chassis of the advanced T-14 Armata tank. This does not seem to have progressed far, however, while the T-14 program itself has been beset by delays and other problems.

All in all, the BMPT-72 that now serves with the 90th Tank Division is a fairly unique and very Russian solution to the demands of modern urban warfare. With the exception of Israel, perhaps, which developed the Nammer for similar types of combat, this is a class of vehicle that’s almost essentially absent from Western militaries.

The apparent arrival of the BMPT-72 among the forces that continue to gather around the borders with Ukraine appears to indicate that the Kremlin is expecting that it will have to conduct assault operations in urban areas if it goes ahead with the expected wider campaign in that country.

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While many analysts have looked at the options for a hard-hitting and rapid Russian operation that seeks to knock out key Ukrainian targets in the first hours, if not days, there has been less speculation about the prospects of a long-running counterinsurgency campaign that is more likely to expand into urban areas.

But that is a distinct possibility, especially if Russia attempts to take a larger portion of Ukrainian territory. It is in this kind of scenario that the U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles and M141 Bunker Defeat Munitions, British-supplied Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapons (NLAWs), and even shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania would be expected to play a major role. Indeed, the supply of weapons like these is, at least in part, intended to give the Kremlin pause for thought about launching such an invasion.

Ukrainian troops train with Javelin anti-tank missiles:

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Increasingly, it seems that Western powers are nevertheless getting ready for a potentially long war of attrition, as part of a counterinsurgency scenario, should the Ukrainian government in Kyiv be ousted. It’s been reported, for example, that the United States and the United Kingdom are planning to arm resistance fighters in Ukraine if an invasion leads to a more protracted conflict on the ground.

“A lightning war would be followed by a long and hideous period of reprisals and revenge and insurgency, and Russian parents would mourn the loss of young Russian soldiers, who in their way are every bit as innocent as the Ukrainians now bracing themselves for attack,” said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a speech at the recent security conference in Munich.

With only nine vehicles currently available, the BMPT-72 won’t be able to change the course of any ground campaign in Ukraine, but its deployment suggests that Russia is keen to expose it to combat, should the situation arise. At the same time, as was the case in Syria, it is also likely that Russia hopes to leverage a possible wider conflict to showcase its military hardware and hopefully secure more sales for the Terminator based on its wartime performance.

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