May 29, 2023
When the Russian army first began running low on modern tanks, just a few months into its wider war on Ukraine, it pulled out of storage hundreds of 1960s-vintage T-62s—and deployed them with reserve battalions fighting in southern Ukraine.
Deployed piecemeal by panicky crews, these aging, four-person tanks with their 115-millimeter main guns and crude optics did next to nothing to slow the Ukrainians when they counterattacked in the south late last summer.
But the 41-ton tanks did prove useful … to the Ukrainians. They’ve popped the turrets off some of the 50 or so intact T-62s they’ve captured—and used the hulls for at least two new vehicle types.
First, a new kind of armored recovery vehicle. And now, a new support vehicle. A photo that circulated online earlier this month depicts one of these so-called “BMPT-62s” under construction.
The BMPT-62 combines a T-62’s 33-ton hull—with its 580-horsepower diesel engine and 100 millimeters of armor—with the turret and 30-millimeter autocannon of a BMP-2 fighting vehicle. The Algerian army operates a similar T-62-based BMPT.
The BMPT-62 isn’t just an expedient—a way for Ukrainian forces to make good use of captured T-62s and excess BMP-2 turrets. It actually fits a special niche.
A BMP-2 is an infantry fighting vehicle. At 16 tons, it’s fairly light and thinly-protected. But what it lacks in protection, it makes up for in volume. A BMP-2 has a crew of three and space for a squad-minus of seven infantry. The idea is for the IFV crew to haul its infantry into battle, drop them off then support them with cannon fire.
A BMPT-62 by contrast restores the protection but trades away the space. It can lend its firepower to the infantry, but can’t lend them a ride. It’s not for no reason that the Russian army, the main user of BMPTs, tends to deploy the vehicles for close urban fighting, where protection trumps mobility.
There are other vehicles in this class, including the T-72-based BMPT-72—a.k.a., the BMPT Terminator. The Russian army sent all nine or 10 of its Terminators to Ukraine and lost at least one of them. Whether the Ukrainians’ BMPT-62s fare better could come down to how they use them.
A BMPT like any armored vehicle works best in a combined-arms team mixing tanks, fighting vehicles and infantry. The fighting vehicles protect the infantry, who protect the tanks, which in turn support the infantry and fighting vehicles. A BMPT adds another link in this chain of mutual support. Alone, however, it’s vulnerable to attacks by enemy tanks and enemy infantry.
The Russians’ consistent failure to practice combined arms is a main reason their old T-62s never stood a chance against more disciplined Ukrainian troops. With the right support, the BMPTs the Ukrainians made out of those ill-fated T-62s might actually make a difference on the battlefield.