by KYLE MIZOKAMI
Two videos uploaded to the Internet purportedly reveal Russia’s first truly new infantry fighting vehicles in decades and a new self-propelled howitzer.
One of the videos even shows intriguing closeups of what’s probably Russia’s new Armata tank. If the videos are authentic, it’s a sign that the Kremlin’s long-delayed rearmament plans are making progress.
Unknown videographers captured the footage at the Alabino training grounds, a base about 29 miles southwest of Moscow where Russian forces rehearse for the annual May 9 Victory Day parade in Red Square.
The parade celebrates the Soviet Union victory over Nazi Germany during World War II — and it’s when Russia likes to show off its best military hardware.
Unidentified individuals uploaded the footage to several streaming video sites, the first on March 27, then a second video on April 10 filmed from a different angle. Although the camera operator is unknown and the video has no narration, the content appears genuine.
New fighting vehicles
The appearance of Kurganets-25 infantry fighting vehicles is the most striking feature of the videos — and for good reason. The Kurganets is Russia’s replacement for the venerable BMP fighting vehicle used extensively around the world from the Cold War to today.
In the late 1960s, the Soviet Union invented the infantry fighting vehicle or IFV, a tracked and heavily armed taxi capable of carrying a squad of riflemen into combat — and then supporting the troops after they dismount.
Designers equipped the BMP-1 with a 73-millimeter low-pressure gun, AT-3 Sagger anti-tank guided missile launcher and firing ports to allow soldiers to fire their AKM assault rifles from inside of the vehicle. Low-slung and heavily armed, the BMP was a major step forward in armored warfare.
The collapse of the Soviet Union stopped Russian armored vehicle development dead in its tracks. For the most part, Russia relied on existing stocks of BMP-2 and BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles from the late 1980s.
The Kurganets is a radical departure from the BMP series. Instead of being low and sleek like the BMP, Kurganets is boxy and tall, much like the American M-2 Bradley.
The Kurganets has a common hull for an entire family of armored vehicles including an infantry fighting vehicle, command and control vehicle, mortar carrier and ambulance. Various reports credit it with the ability to carry six-to-eight soldiers in the vehicle’s passenger compartment.
Water crossings won’t slow it down, either. The Kurganets is amphibious, equipped with water jets to propel it across rivers and small bodies of water. A trim vane to achieve buoyancy is clearly visible on the front of each vehicle.
Two versions of the Kurganets appear in the videos, both with canvas-covered turrets to mask their shape. The first appears to be the infantry fighting vehicle, featuring a tiny, unmanned turret possibly armed with a 30-millimeter 2A42 automatic cannon and four Kornet-EM anti-tank missiles.
Kornet-EM is an improved version of the missiles Iraqi forces used to disable several American armored vehicles — including the M-1 Abrams — during the 2003 invasion. Hezbollah used Kornets to destroy several Merkava tanks during the 2006 war in Lebanon.
The second vehicle looks like the first of Kurganets’ many variants, sporting a larger turret with a short, fat gun barrel.
The gun is possibly an upgrade of the 82-millimeter Vasilek automatic mortar. The Vasilek is a unique mortar capable of engaging targets with both direct and indirect fire. Equipped with high explosive anti-tank shells, Vasilek can even engage tanks.
That’s not all. Russia also showed off a new and gigantic 152-millimeter self-propelled howitzer. In the videos, the heavy, ungainly howitzers lumbered down the parade route two by two, their large caliber guns peeking out from under canvas shrouds.
The howitzer appears similar to Russia’s current self-propelled Msta howitzer. Allegedly, the new mystery howitzer is the Koalitsiya, a new design reportedly in trials just last year, according to IHS Jane’s 360.
Originally, the Russian army wanted the Koalitsiya to have not one — but two — howitzers, with one barrel mounted on top of the other. For reasons only Moscow knows, manufacturers removed this over-the-top development from the production model.
Msta and Koalitsiya share many of the same features, including a cannon and armored chassis. But there are differences — and hints of differences.
Msta’s muzzle brake has three baffles, while Koalitsiya has five. Even stranger, a canvas covered Koalitsiya’s turret in the videos.
Self-propelled howitzers — at least on the outside — rarely have features that require a great deal of secrecy. The turret appears larger and differently shaped than Msta, but that’s hardly a reason to hide the turret.
Russia’s latest tank, the Armata, was notably absent from the parade practice — at least from what we can see.
Akin to the Kurganets, the Armata is supposed to be a totally new design to replace aging stalwarts, namely the T-72, T-80 and T-90 series of main battle tanks. Russian military officials said a year ago that they would display the Armata during the 2015 Victory Day parade.
But the tanks we see at the rehearsal are merely T-90U tanks. What happened? Perhaps the Armata simply isn’t ready, or maybe the Russians are keeping the new tank out of the public eye for as long as possible.
Curiously, another video of the parade includes previously unseen images of what could be the Armata. In the video, it outwardly looks like the same tank caught on a Russian dashcam video earlier this year. There’s no way to confirm the authenticity of the video … but if they’re hoaxes, they’re good ones.
If it is an Armata, the tank appears heavier and longer than the T-90, with seven road wheels instead of six.
The chassis appears to sit higher than the T-90. Modern tanks only have one hatch on the front of the hull — for the driver — but the Armata apparently has two hatches.
Armor on the front of the hull and sides appears modular, making it easier to replace. Slat armor, which prevents shaped-charge warheads from detonating directly on the tank, protects the engine compartment.
The Armata’s turret and main gun are also covered in a canvas tarp. But the turret is small and could be unmanned, with the main gun serviced by an autoloader. This reduces the overall profile of the tank, making it more difficult to hit.
The main turret appears to have an even smaller secondary turret, likely with a remote-controlled machine gun or grenade launcher.
The Armata is not the super-tank enthusiasts hoped for — a futuristic design sporting a 125-millimeter main gun, 30-millimeter autocannon and two machine guns. Like the Koalitsiya, the Armata could have been a more ambitious design that the Kremlin scaled back to more realistic levels.
Russia’s new armored vehicle designs are a major investment in military and economic security. Russia expects to spend $9.2 billion on 2,300 new Armata tanks alone. Rebuilding the rest of Russia’s armored vehicle arsenal might easily double that number.
Falling oil prices caused the Russian economy to falter, and arms exports are another major source of hard currency. However, Russian munitions have consistently been on the losing end of numerous wars, earning the weapons a stigma that has cut into arms sales.
A new line of armored vehicles could reinvigorate the Russian brand.
Whatever the future holds for these new armored vehicles, count on seeing them in the news for the next 40 years. If nothing else, perhaps you will see the vehicles — minus their canvas shrouds — during the Victory Day celebration in Red Square.