The BTR-50P Was The Soviet Army’s Main Fighting Vehicle … In 1954. Now It’s Back, Replacing Russian Losses In Ukraine.

Mar 3, 2023


It seems the Russian army is reactivating old tracked fighting vehicles. As in, really old.

In late February, photos circulated on social media depicting BTR-50Ps on heavy military flatbed trucks after technicians recovered the vehicles from long-term storage somewhere in Russia.

It’s not hard to surmise what’s happening. After suffering deep losses in Ukraine, the Russian army is getting desperate for replacement vehicles. New production alone is inadequate to make good write-offs.

The BTR-50P is a 15-ton, diesel-fueled armored tractor with two crew and space for up to 20 passengers. It usually packs a heavy machine gun.

The Soviet Union developed the BTR-50P in the early 1950s. It entered service in 1954 and, for the next 12 years, was the Soviet army’s main fighting vehicle. BTR-50 crews would haul infantry into battle, protect the soldiers as they dismounted then support them with its machine gun.

The BTR-50P is lightly-armed and thinly-armored, however. When the heavier, and more heavily-armed, BMP-1 debuted in 1966, thousands of BTR-50Ps cascaded to second-line units.

The BTRs hauled artillery, engineers and anti-aircraft guns until MT-LB tractors began displacing the older vehicles from those roles, too.

As of last year, the Russian army operated just a handful of geriatric BTR-50Ps. Each around as old as Russian president Vladimir Putin, who is 70.

That the Russians held onto a few BTR-50Ps should come as no surprise. “Russia sees no need to completely change out its inventory of older vehicles, and instead has adopted a hybrid approach towards modernization,” Lester Grau and Charles Bartles explained in their definitive The Russian Way of War.

But these operational BTR-50Ps performed secondary support roles far from any front line. Meanwhile, a couple thousand of the old armored tractors rusted away in storage.

Just a few months ago, it would have been inconceivable for a BTR-5oP to roll into Ukraine. But that was before the Russians and their mercenary allies lost more than 3,000 fighting vehicles: BMP-1s, BMP-2s, BMP-3s, wheeled BTRs and MT-LBs.

The Russians have written off so many newer fighting vehicles that they’ve had no choice but to reactive older ones to replace them. So few BMP-3s and BMP-2s are left that the Kremlin is pulling out of storage hundreds of 1966-vintage BMP-1s.

The BTR-50P is what you’d expect the Russians to turn to as stocks of BMP-1s also run low. Which is not to say the Russian army will deploy BTR-50Ps close to the front, where they’d be easy targets for any Ukrainian soldiers with heavy machine guns.

Rather, BTR-50Ps should free up newer—but not new—MT-LBs in support units, allowing them to roll forward and take the place of some of those thousands of BMPs the Ukrainians have destroyed.

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David Axe


  1. “It seems the Russian army is reactivating old tracked fighting vehicles. As in, really old.”

    I have a passionate love affair for old cars and motorcycles, and I know what to expect when you work on a decades-old vehicle, trying to get it rolling again. The job is sometimes very daunting. The problem is multiplied manyfold when the junker has been sitting outside. All sorts of things can happen to it over the years. Humans vandalize it, or steal parts from it. Animals are also a big problem, especially rats and mice. They enjoy chewing on hoses and cables. They build nests in places you’d NEVER guess. Corrosion is also a very big enemy to anything sitting exposed to rain and snow. Never mind the lack of spare parts!
    I can imagine what a strain it is to get these old clunkers to work again. All those reason above will come into play, and add the corruption to it, which assures that many parts being removed over the many years by dubious depot guards and administrators, who doubted that these museum pieces would ever be needed again. Certainly, even if they are fixed, their serviceability is very limited, as they will easily break down and/or require a high-level of maintenance. Their only advantage is their simplicity. But, even that is a moot point if the spare parts are out of production for years.
    And then, enter the well-trained Ukrainian soldiers! Their life expectancy of these clunkers will be seriously low!

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