The BMD-1 is a Soviet airborne infantry fighting vehicle, which was introduced in 1969 and first seen by the West in 1970. BMD stands for Boyevaya Mashina Desanta (Боевая Машина Десанта, literally \"Combat Vehicle of the Airborne\") † It can be dropped by parachute and although it resembles the BMP-1 it is in fact much smaller. The BMD-1 was used as an IFV by the Soviet Army's airborne divisions. An improved varriant of BMD-1 was developed, the BMD-2. BMD-1 also provided basis for BTR-D airborne multi-purpose tracked APC.
In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis the army was instructed to consider putting more emphasis on means to project power outside of the normal sphere of Soviet influence. As a result there was a major effort to develop the VDV (Soviet airborne forces) as a rapid deployment force. Soviet studies of airborne operations had shown that lightly armed paratroops were unable to deal with armoured forces. Also in early 1960s a BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle was being developed. Before the BMP-1 entered service in 1966, Soviet Army high command decided to equip the newly created airborne divisions with similar vehicles.
The development of the Il-76 heavy transport aircraft allowed the transport of light armoured vehicles. However the requirement for an airborne drop required a vehicle that weighed less than seven tons. The existing BMP-1 weighed thirteen tonnes, effectively ruling it out. The task of designing the BMD fell to the Volgograd Tractor Plant, which had produced an unsuccessful competitor to the Ob'yekt 764 which eventually became the BMP-1 – the Ob'yekt 914. The BMD design, Ob'yekt 915, was basically a trimmed down version of the Ob'yekt 914 – smaller, lighter and with thinner armour, while retaining the 73 mm 2A28 \"Grom\" low pressure smoothbore short-recoil semi-automatic gun. The compromise made is the extremely cramped crew compartment.
Development started in 1965 and limited production began in 1968 and ended in 1969. After operational trials it was deployed in limited numbers by 1969 and the serial production started in 1970, although the vehicle weight 500 kg more than what the requirements stated (7.5 tonnes and 13.3 tonnes when loaded with equipment).
In late 1970s, the BMD-1 became an obsolete construction with very little chances of winning an engagement with modern NATO IFVs. Because of that in the middle of 1970s a modernization program was initiated. The modernized vehicles received a designation BMD-1P and were armed with 9P135M-1 ATGM launcher instead of 9S428 ATGM launcher. At the same time development on a successor of the BMD-1, the BMD-2, started. A lengthen chassis of BMD-1 served as a basis for the BTR-D airborne multi-purpose tracked APC which itself served as a basis for many specialized airborne vehicles.
The BMD-1 can be thought of as a BMP intended for airborne troops. The vehicle therefore must be lighter and smaller in order to meet airdrop weight requirements (the BMD-1 is secured to a pallet and parachute-dropped from cargo planes).
BMD-1 has an unconventional layout for an IFV. From front to back of the vehicle the compartments are located in a following formation: steering, fighting, troop and engine. This is because the BMD-1 is based on Ob'yekt 914 which in turn is based on PT-76 amphibious light tank (see Prototypes section in the BMP-1 article for details). This meant that transported troops had to mount and dismount the vehicle via the roof hatches which made them an easy target on the battlefield when these actions were performed.
The crew consist of four soldiers: driver, commander, gunner and bow machine gunner. The driver's station is located centrally in the front of the vehicle and has hatch that opens rising it and rotating it to the right. The driver is provided with three periscope vision blocks which allow him to view the outer environment when his hatch is closed. The center one can be replaced with a night vision device for use in night and bad visibility conditions or with an extended periscope for swimming with the trim vane erected. On the left hand side of the driver is the commander's station. It is provided with a hatch, one periscope vision block, an outer environment observation device and R-123 radio set for communication. He also fires the left bow machine gun. The right one is operated by a bow machine gun gunner sits on the right hand side of the driver. The gunner's station is located on the left hand side of the turret like in the BMP-1 and has the same equipment (see Gunner's station section in BMP-1 article for details).
The BMD-1 has the same turret as the BMP-1.
The vehicle is armed with the 73 mm 2A28 \"Grom\" low pressure smoothbore short-recoil semi-automatic gun and 7.62 mm PKT coaxial tank machine gun. Mounted on the movable gun mantlet is the 9S428 ATGM launcher capable of firing 9M14 \"Malyutka\" (NATO: AT-3A Sagger A) and 9M14M \"Malyutka-M\" (NATO: AT-3B Sagger B) ATGMs (for which th vehicle carries 2 ATGMs in the turret). There are also two 7.62 mm PKT tank machine guns mounted in the bow of the hull, one mounted in each of the corners of the bow of the hull. They are mounted in a fixed position and therefore can only be aimed by turning the entire vehicle.
The vehicle is powered by 5D-20 6-cylinder 4-stroke V-shaped liquid cooled 15.9 liter diesel engine developing 270 hp (201 kW) at 2,600 revolutions per minute. The engine drives a manual gearbox with five forward gears and one reverse gear.
The BMD-1 has a maximum road speed of 80 kilometers per hour, reducing to around 45 kilometers per hour off-road and 10 kilometers per hour while swimming.
The BMD-1 can climb 0.8 meter high vertical obstacles, cross 1.6 meter wide trenches and 30% side slopes. It can climb 60% gradients. The BMD-1 has a ground pressure of 0.57 kg/cm².
The 230 mm wide track is driven at the rear and passes over five small evenly spaced road wheels suspended on independent torsion bars. On each side there is an idler wheel at the front, a rear drive sprocket and four track-return rollers. The independent suspension combines a hydraulic system for altering the ground clearance and maintaining the track tension with pneumatic springs, which enables the ground clearance to be altered from 100 mm to 450 mm. Alterable ground clearance allows easier transportation in an airplane.
The BMD-1 is fully amphibious, it can swim after switching on the two electric bilge pumps, erecting the two piece trim vane which improves vehicle's stability and displacement in water and prevents the water from flooding the bow of the tank and switching the driver's periscope for a swimming periscope that enables the driver to see over the trim vane. When not in use the trim vane is placed in its laying position in the front of the bow under the barrel of the main gun and serves as additional armour. There is also a manual bilge pump for emergency use. The bilge pumps keep the vehicle afloat even if it is hit, damaged or leaks. In water it is propelled by two hydrojets, one in each side of the hull, with the entrance under the hull and exits at the rear of the hull. The rear exits have lids that can be fully or partially closed, redirecting the water stream to the forward-directed exits at the sides of the hull, thus enabling the vehicle to turn or float reverse, for example, to go left, the left water-jet is covered, to go the right, the right water-jet is covered and to make a 180° turn the left water-jet sucks in water and the right water-jet pushes it out.
The BMD-1's armour is made of cast magnesium alloy, in order to save weight. Combat experience in Afghanistan demonstrated that the armour itself would catch fire and burn fiercely, often killing the crew, when hit with a weapon such as an RPG. Later variants of the BMD had aluminium armour instead.
Armour thickness is 23 mm at 42° on the front of the turret, 19 mm at 36° on the sides of the turret, 13 mm at 30° on the rear of the turret, 6 mm on the rear of the turret, 15 mm on the front of the hull and 10 mm on the rest of the hull. Hull's front armour has two sections: upper and lower. The upper section is angled at 78° while the lower one is angled at 50°. It's resistant to small arms fire and shrapnel.
Many compromises had to be made to the design in order to save the necessary weight, not least to crew comfort. The BMD-1 has extremely cramped interior space, which is reportedly even smaller than that found in the BMP-1 and BMP-2 IFVs.(Perrett 1987:80-81) Even though on paper it can carry four infantrymen, typically this number is reduced in practice to three. It should be noted that even the BMP's are considered uncomfortably small by Western standards.
Nevertheless its equipped with periscope vision blocks on the sides and rear of the vehicle. Also there are only three firing ports, two on each side of the hull and one in the rear. The vehicle also carries three weapons inside the troop compartment: the RPG-7 shoulder-launched anti-tank rocket propelled grenade weapon which is to be operated by two soldiers, RPG-16 airborne shoulder-launched anti-tank rocket propelled grenade weapon and the AKM assault rifle.
The vehicle has electric and manual bilge pumps, Gpk-S9 gyro-compass, engine pre-heater, TDA smoke-generating equipment, FTP-100M NBC system, R-123 transceiver, R-124 intercom and a centralized ethylene-bromide fire-extinguishing system, the same as the one fitted to other former Soviet armoured vehicles.
The BMD was originally dropped under the MKS-350-9 multi-canopy parachute with a descending speed between 15 m/s and 20 m/s. The intention was to drop the vehicle without the crew. This has proved to be very problematic, since the crew frequently landed in a considerable distance from the vehicle and often had trouble finding it. Also the vehicle itself could easily land in a location from which it couldn't be extracted (either because of a lack of suitable equipment or because the location being virtually unaccessible). Several experiments were done in the 1970s in order to find a way to circle around these limitations, these included dropping the BMD with the two key crew members, the driver and gunner, seated inside the vehicle during the descent. The first such test took place in January 1973, and the concept was proved to be valid in a subsequent series of tests.
A rocket parachute, the PRSM-915, was developed to ensure the vehicle's safe landing. To use the parachute, the BMD is first packed onto a special pallet before takeoff. To drop the BMD, a drogue chute is released that initially drags the BMD out of the Il-76 transport plane. Once clear of the plane a single large main chute opens. The deployment of the main chute triggers the deployment of four long rods which hang beneath the pallet. As soon as the rods touch the ground a retrorocket fires, slowing the BMD to a descending speed between 6 m/s and 7 m/s and giving it a relatively soft landing. This system entered service in 1975 and allows a BMD to be relatively safely parachuted with both the driver and the gunner.
An alternative radio location system also exists. Each crew member is given a radio receiver locked onto a transponder in its particular BMD, allowing each BMD crewman to quickly locate his respective vehicle after the airdrop.
BMD-1 entered serial production in 1970. It was produced by Volgograd Tractor Plant. Two airborne regiments of each airborne division were equipped with BMD-1 IFVs. Overall each division operated 220 BMD-1 IFVs. It was observed by the West for the first time during Dvina exercise in the USSR in 1970. The West seen it for the second time during Moscow Red Square parade in November 1973. The West originally thought that the BMD-1 was a light tank before its true nature was known. Because of its small crew, the introduction of the BMD led to a reduction in the number of soldiers in an airborne battalion, from 610 to 316 men. The firepower of the BMD also meant that some of the battalion's integral fire support could be done away with. In 1973 the BMD-1 completely replaced the ASU-57 airborne assault guns in the Soviet airborne forces, increasing the firepower and maneuverability of the airborne division. Since 1977 a number of Soviet BMD-1 IFVs underwent a modernization to BMD-1P standard. Because of a downfall of Soviet economy in 1980s the BMD-1 wasn't yet withdrawn from service and is still being exploited alongside BMD-2 and BMD-3.
It was widely used by airborne units during Soviet War in Afghanistan. BMD-1 IFVs weren't suited for fighting in mountain regions of hot Afghanistan as they were originally developed to provide airborne units with a IFV to give it a chance in engagements with enemy armour and allow it to operate in NBC conditions. In Afghanistan the main enemies were not AFVs but land mines and ambushes prepared by skillful Afghan Mujahideen armed with light anti-tank weapons which meant that BMD-1's anti-tank firepower was useless. Many BMD-1 IFVs fell victim to Mujahideen attacks and, especially, antitank landmines like quite many Soviet light AFVs sent there. The Soviet Army lost 1317 APCs and IFVs of all types during 9 years of war in Afghanistan.
BMD-1 and BMD-1PK IFVs are used by Russian airborne units of KFOR. BMD-1 IFVs were used by Russian airborne units of SFOR.
As of now BMD-1 and vehicles based on it are used by the following units of Russian Army or are stationed in following bases (this list does not include BTR-D APCs and BTR-D variants):
76th airborne (CDO) division from Pskov which is part of Leningrad Military District (210 BMD vehicles as of 2000), the subunits of this division include 104nd airborne regiment from Pskov (51 BMD-1) and 234th airborne regiment from Pskov (98 BMD-1).
98th airborne division from Ivanovo (220 BMD vehicles as of 2000), the subunits of this division include 217th airborne regiment from Ivanovo (109 BMD-1) and 331nd airborne regiment from Kostroma (102 BMD-1).
106th airborne division from Tula which is a part of the Moscow Military District (306 BMD as of 2000), the subunits of this division include 51stairborne regiment from Tula (93 BMD-1) and 137th airborne regiment from Ryazan (10 BMD-1).
7th CDO mountain division from Novorossyysk (190 BMD and BMP vehicles as of 2000), the subunits of this division include 108th airborne regiment from Novorossyysk (70 BMD-1) and 743rd commandos battalion from Novorossyysk (6 BMD-1).
31st independent airborne brigade from Ul'yanovsk which is a part of the Volga-Ural Military District (26 BMD-1 as of 2000).
Ryazan airborne troops institute (51 BMD-1).
The Russian military was considering replacing the BMD series altogether with the GAZ-3937. This very lightweight wheeled armoured personnel carrier incorporates plastic and carbon fibre in its construction, as well as aluminum. The GAZ-3937 can be air-dropped like the BMD, but is considerably lighter and less expensive to manufacture. Since the GAZ-3937 lacks the armor protection, cross-country mobility, and heavy armament of the BMD series, and is armed only with a 7.62 mm PKM machine gun in front of the commander's hatch, the BMD-4 (an upgraded BMD-3) has been selected for the future use of the Russian airborne and naval infantry. The BMD-4 uses the same 100 mm main gun with 30 mm autocannon and 7.62 mm medium machine gun turret on an improved, larger hull raising overall weight to the 15-ton class. The waterjet swim propulsion systems of the BMD-3/4 are strong enough to enable ship-to-shore transport resulting in Russian naval infantry use.