For some of the folks who have been stopping by to see the news on the war in Georgia, I thought I might give a little background on the main weapons being used there.
Tanks: Both sides are using various versions of the T-72 series tanks. The T-72 is a 30 year old design that still has some life left in it. You will notice that it is much smaller than a US M-1 tank. The design philosophy behind this tank stressed small size to make hitting it less likely. It also has a three man crew, with a driver, gunner and a tank commander. US tanks have a fourth crewmember, a loader. In the T-72, there is a mechanical autoloader instead. I’ve been inside a T-72 and it is SMALL. I’m not that big a guy, but I couldn’t even get the hatch closed over my head. Once inside, most of the controls are actaully pretty similar to what American tankers are used to. I’m not a tanker and I could figure most of them out pretty quickly.
The T-72 has an impressive 125mm main gun that fires both HEAT and kinetic energy rounds. For more information on HEAT and KE rounds, go here.
The boxes you see mounted on the outside of these tanks are Explosive Reactive Armor or ERA. These boxes contain explosives that detonate outwards when the tank is struck by a HEAT round. The explosion deform the jet of hot gasses that the HEAT round forms and prevent it from penetrating the tanks main armor. We don’t use it much because the M-1 doesn’t need it. Bradley’s can be equipped with it. Strykers use “slat” armor instead. There’s a picture of a Stryker with slat armor at the link above.
In addition to the main gun, the T-72 has a coaxially mounted 7.62mm machine gun and is usually seen with a 12.7mm machine gun at the commanders position.
BMPs: Both sides are using the BMP-2. The original BMP debuted in 1967. After the US fielded the Bradley Fighting Vehicle in response, the Soviets updated the BMP with a 30mm autocannon designed to destroy Bradleys and provide suppressive fires against antitank missile teams and helicopters. It also carries a 7.62mm coaxially mounted machine gun and carries an AT-4 Spigot antitank missile on the roof.
As you can see in the youtube below, this is a fairly sprightly vehicle. Again, it is much more cramped than its US counterpart.
You’ll notice four heads sticking up from the vehicle. That’s the driver, gunner, BMP commander and the guy right behind the driver is the squad leader for the dismount soldiers in back. The second half of the video shows a proposed improvement to the BMP-2 that neither side appears to be using in this conflict.
BTRs: Under the Soviet organizational model, only about a third of infantry units are equipped with BMPs. The other 2/3 are equipped with BTRs, the most common being the BTR-80.
The BTR-80 is roughly analogous to the US M113 armored personnel carrier. It is simply a way of transporting a rifle squad to the battle with some armor protection. The small turret on the roof carries a 14.5mm machine gun that can be used to suppress infantry, antitank missile teams or provide limited antiaircraft fire. Again, they are incredibly cramped compared to US vehicles.
Most of these vehicles are simple and rugged. They do their job quite well and can be operated with minimal training. In the hands of a well trained force, they can be formidable opponents. Just because the US has made short work of enemies equipped with Soviet made equipment, don’t scoff at the quality of their work. Remeber, these are the same folks who brought us the most popular rifle of all time: the AK-47.