Export of Infantry Combat Vehicles from Russia

By Andrey Frolov 

Export of armoured vehicles from Russia is one of the main ones with regard to supply of equipment for ground troops. Supplies of armoured fighting vehicles T-90 of various modifications are the most known in media, while supply of APCs and ICVs remains in some shade. Although, by scopes of supplies in post-Soviet period, supplies of ICV of new production and from inventory are comparable with shipping of the armoured fighting vehicles.


The main and single manufacturer of ICVs in Russia is “Kurgan machine building plant” (KMZ) JSC, which produces BMP-3 and vehicles on their base both for the Ministry of Defence of Russia and for export. Besides, the enterprise offers its own variants of modernization for BMP-2 and BMP-3 supplied for export previously. On the other hand, as to BMP-2 modernization, the “Instrument Design Bureau” JSC was also present in the export market with its own armament module Berezhok, which too was successful in export.

Since 1983, BMP-2 became a basis of production program of the KMZ and has been produced in high volumes up to 1992, though some small batches of vehicles were produced up to 2005-2006. Licensed production of BMP-2 was organized in Czechoslovakia (Slovakia), in ZTS plant (344 vehicles have been built from 1988 till 1996) and in India, in the plant in Medak, where more than 1.5 thousand units have been made from 1987 up to nowadays. By the way, the Indian party developed a number of special purpose vehicles on the basis of BMP-2. It is interesting, that, in spite of the evidently obsolete design, there still is demand for these vehicles in the world market, so that puts a question of renewal of their production in Russia, in case a large export order appears.

BMP-2 was replaced with a new generation vehicle BMP-3, accepted by the army in May, 1987. Since the end of 1987, the KMZ started serial production of BMP-3 in parallel with BMP-2, although, due to prolonged finalization of the vehicle, it went slowly. Taking into account the fact, that the Ministry of Defence of the USSR and Russia purchased small batches of BMP-3 in 1980–1990s, the largest share of production was accounted for by the export deliveries, moreover, this “disbalance” continues to be, in practice, up to the present moment, even in spite of existing grow of volume of BMP-3 purchases within the frame of the state defence order.

In a sense, it was the supplies of BMP-3s for export that has helped the KMZ in the conditions of financial-and-economic crisis in the country. The UAE have become the first customer, which still remains the largest operator of BMP-3 up to now. Negotiations on supply of BMP-3 to UAE were started in the Soviet Union just after completion of the war of 1991 in Persian Gulf, and successful tests of four vehicles were conducted in Abu Dhabi in August, 1991. In 1992 and 1997, the contracts for delivery of 815 BMP-3s in total were signed.

After appearing of the first customer, the new contracts have followed. So, in 1994, the contracts for supply of 122 BMP-3s to Kuwait and 45 BMP-3s to Cyprus were signed, and in 1996, supply of 33 BMP-3s to South Korea began on account of repayment of debts of the former USSR.

Besides, in 1992–2000, the KMZ fulfilled the contract concluded in November, 1991, for organization of licensed production of BMP-2 in Iran, by delivering 82 finished BMP-2s to this country, as well as 331 vehicle sets for assembling BMP-2s in the specially constructed plant in Teheran. The agreement implementation was interrupted due to signing by Russian party and the USA the known protocol “Gor-Chernomyrdin” on cutting-back the military-technical co-operation with Iran.

Thus, over a period through 1990s, the KMZ has had a relatively stable workload in comparison with other defence plants, though not at such a high level as it used to have in Soviet time (for example, in peak 1995, the KMZ produced about 250 BMP-3s and vehicles on their basis for delivery to foreign countries).

However, after the above orders had been fulfilled, the situation deteriorated significantly, as new contracts were not signed, and in 2001–2004, Russia, as to ICVs, exported only supply of spare parts for them with the cost of several million dollars per year.

In 2005, the KMZ also fulfilled the only export contract signed after 2001 for delivery of the second batch (37 units) of modified BMP-3 to South Korea (on account of repayment of Russia’s state debt), as well as supplied spare parts for BMP-3 to the amount of 15 million dollars.

Implementation of the contract, in 2004–2005, for supply of 188 BMP-2s to Yemen from inventory of the Ministry of Defence of Russia should be mentioned separately; this contract appeared to be quite significant in its amount. The KMZ, as an associated contractor, repaired these vehicles and modernized them to BMP-D2 version with increased protection. However, in spite of the large order volume, its cost is only about 40 million dollars.

The situation started to change in the second half of 2000s, when a number of contracts for BMP-3 started to increase along with general growth of Russian arms export. Withdrawal from the “Middle-East ghetto” in ICV supply became an important factor, as the CIS and Asia countries appeared among the customers (see Table 1). Thanks to this, export component in ICV production became determinative in the beginning of 2010s, as about 90% of BMP-3 production volume fell within export in the first half of 2010s.

In the mid-2010s, after implementation of macro-contracts for BMP-3 supply to Venezuela and Azerbaijan, the pendulum of sales swung towards Middle East again, after Iraq, in 2014, within the frame of great package of contracts, had made contract for about 500 BMP-3Ms. Due to various reasons, this project could not come into force for a long time, and so Iraq received the first batch of ordered BMP-3Ms only in summer of 2018.


Table 1. Export supply of infantry combat vehicles BMP-2 and BMP-3 and combat vehicles on their base in 1992–2018


* The supply was performed through the intermediary of State Company “Rosvooruzhenie” in Slovakia.   
** The contract started to be fulfilled in 2018.

Source: Prepared by the author


BMP-2. In 2005–2006, the last batch (approx. 40 units) of these vehicles was produced for the Russian army. The last delivery of new BMP-2s for export was performed in 1998 to Iran, after that, sets for assembling of these vehicles have been supplied to Iran up to 2002. Besides, all these years, the KMZ continued to supply separate component parts for BMP-2 produced by license in India.

At the same time, BMP-2s from inventory of the armed forces continue to remain a very popular offer for the Third World countries, although serious competition on the part of former Soviet republics takes place. Russia supplied second-hand BMP-2s to Angola in 1998 (65 vehicles), to Sri Lanka in 2001 (36), and 188 units of BMP-2Ds repaired and modified at the KMZ and supplied to Yemen in 2004–2005 become the largest batch. Among known supplies of BMP-2 from availability, handing over of several dozens of BMP-2 to Armenia in 2012 can be noted.


In promotion of BMP-2 modernization programs abroad, one competitive Instrument Design Bureau (IDB) from Tula was noted, which offers a modernization variant under BMP-2M index, equipping the vehicle by day-and-night weapon system Berezhok (including antitank missile system Kornet-E). BMP-1 can be also upgraded with this combat compartment by means of modernization of the chassis roof for installation of BMP-2 turret. In particular, in 2005, the IDB signed the contract with Algeria for modernization of more than 300 BMP-1s according to this variant for four years. In 2014, Algeria signed the contract for modernization of 360 BMP-1s additionally by equipping them with combat module Berezhok, which has been manufactured in 2015–2017.

In regard to ICVs from availability, it should be noted that sufficient number of BMP-1 was delivered from Russia to Syria after beginning of Russian intervention into this conflict in September, 2015. BMP-1s of new supply from Russia were noticed in Syria in 2017, the number of them being, probably, several dozens. As far as one can judge, BMP-2s were not supplied to Syria (and BMP-3s too), evidently, as demand for them in the Russian army is great.

BMP-3 become a natural export venue of Russian Defence Industry, as it has been supplied for export in the amount of about 1,700 units since 1992 till 2018 (see Table 1). Along with supplies of the new production vehicles, the contract for modernization of 135 BMP-3s into BMP-3M version with the UAE implemented in 2014–2017 become a macro-contract. Prolongation of these contracts with modernization of all the fleet of BMP-3s of the Emirates is expected. Earlier, in 2005, the contract with this country for BMP-3 overhaul with handing over of documentation to the UAE, along with construction of repair facilities and handing over spare parts was implemented. Worth to mention, supplies of spare parts continue to this day, with the cost of about 10–15 million dollars annually.

Among the macro-contracts, which were not implemented, the Greek one can be mentioned. In 2008, Greece made a decision on purchasing of 419 BMP-3Ms and 35 BMP-3Fs to the amount of Euro 1.2 billion. It was assumed, that the bigger part of ordered vehicles would be assembled at a Greek enterprise “Hellenic Vehicle Industry” (ELVO), and only the first vehicles BMP-3 had to be supplied finished by the KMZ. But, because of a wide variety of causes, this contract was not signed. Quaddafian Libya could be a big enough customer of BMP-3, but, because of the known events, only self-powered antitank missile system Khrizantema-S on the basis of BMP-3 was supplied successfully thereto. And the circumstance, that the first three vehicles had been shipped there during Quaddafi regime in 2009 and even took part in combat operation, become specific in supplies to Libya. Remaining seven vehicles were supplied to the transition government of Libya in 2014.

The vehicles of BMP-3F modification for naval infantry, currently were purchased by Indonesia only, which, however, considers a possibility of further buying them to replace the fleet of obsolescent amphibian tanks PT-76 of Soviet production.





Vehicles on the basis of BMP-3. Since 1990s, the KMZ, by small batches, produces light armour-plated maintenance-recovery vehicle BREM-L developed on BMP-3 chassis. BREM-Ls have been supplied to the UAE, Cyprus, Kuwait, Venezuela, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan, and supplies to Iraq are planned nowadays. Besides, 18 units of 120-mm self-powered artillery-mortar systems 2S31 Vena and equal amount of Khrizantema-S systems were delivered to Azerbaijan.

In 2015, development prototype of ICV Dragun with front location of engine transmission compartment was designed; landing is performed via rear ramp. It is supposed, that this vehicle has been developed for export purposes, but information on the contracts concluded for this vehicle is not available.

On the basis BMP-3, in 2016, in the interests of Indonesia, amphibious armoured personnel carrier BT-3F was developed. At present, it passes tests. Probably, its tests will be completed successfully, and Indonesia, as usual, will purchase minimum several dozens of the vehicles in the first batch, with perspective of further increase of the order, as this country needs to change its obsolete amphibious armoured personnel carriers BTR-50PK of Soviet production.


©New defence order. Strategy | 01 | 2019  



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