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Monday, October 24, 2016

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Weapons of the War in Afghanistan: Tanks and Armored Fighting & Reconnaissance Vehicles, Part III

Weapons of the War in Afghanistan
 "A rusting Soviet-made BTR-60 armored personnel carrier sits abandoned in the center of a village in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province. Such reminders of Afghanistan's violent past, and present, are commonplace throughout the country. Photo by: Gunnery Sgt. Keith A. Milks"

In the world of war, weapons and technology are ever changing, each war is characterized by the weapons and tactics used to fight it. As new environments and enemies are encountered, the parties to those wars develop new - more effective tactics, technologies, and weapons to counter and defeat their adversaries. The ingenuity seen in war has existed since (and most certainly before) the first wars of recorded history and continue to this very day. 

Keeping with that theory, let’s take a look at the weapons that have characterized the wars and conflicts that the United States has been a party to over the course of it’s history. During the course of this series, I aim to breakdown the weapons used in each conflict by their classification, and to which party they were employed by. Having served in combat operations in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, I would like to start our series with the War in Afghanistan. 

For our thirteenth installment let's take a look at the most common tanks and armored fighting & reconnaissance vehicles of the war in Afghanistan.

Part II: AAF / ACM Fighters

While there isn't much recorded of battles between US Forces and Taliban possessing tanks, the Taliban did have an arsenal of tanks, fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers during their years of control over Afghanistan and during the raging civil war in Afghanistan at the beginning of the US-led invasion. Though the majority, if not all, were out of the hands of the Taliban by the end of 2001.

The BTR-60 is the first vehicle in a series of Soviet eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APCs). It was developed in the late 1950s as a replacement for the BTR-152 and was seen in public for the first time in 1961. BTR stands for Bronetransporter (literally "armoured transporter").

BTR-60 was a revolutionary design for its time. It had a non-standard layout for an APC; the crew compartment was in the front, the troop compartment in the middle and the engine compartment in the rear. This meant that, while the BTR-60 didn't share some of the weaknesses that other APCs had, it had several disadvantages of its own.

The BTR-60P can transport up to 16 fully equipped soldiers. This number reduced to 14 in BTR-60PB. As the BTR-60P didn't have a roof, it was covered with a tarpaulin when traveling in bad weather conditions. It was also covered with bows and canvas. Also, all BTR-60 models had three firing ports on each upper side of the hull through which the infantry being transported could fire at the enemy with their personal weapons. The difference between models was in the position of these three firing ports. The BTR-60P and BTR-60PA had the firing ports positioned in a row between the middle and the front part of the troop compartment. In the BTR-60PB, the firing ports were relocated; one was next to the driver and commander, one next to the gunner and one in the side of the troop compartment.

Because of the engine placement (in the rear of the vehicle), transported infantry must mount and dismount through the sides in the BTR-60P or through the roof hatches in the roofed BTR-60PA, BTR-60PB, and BTR-60PZ variants.

The hull armour is made from welded steel and provides protection against small arms fire and shrapnel. The frontal armour can withstand 7.62 mm bullets from any range. The rest of the armour can withstand 7.62 mm bullets from a range of 100 m.

The BTR-60P did not have a roof over the troop compartment, which made a weakness that could easily be exploited - even the simplest explosives could take out a BTR-60P. The new BTR design with a roof was called the BTR-60PA.

The BTR-60 is fully amphibious, propelled in the water by a jet centrally mounted at the rear of the hull. It was, however, prone to breakdowns. When not in use, it is protected by the sideways opening lids. Before entering the water, the trim vane at the front of the hull should be erected to prevent water from flooding over the bow. While in its traveling position, it serves as additional lower frontal armor.

The BTR-60PB was used in large numbers during the initial part of the Soviet War in Afghanistan. This was because the units that were originally used for this operation weren't the top priority of the Soviet military, which prioritized the units stationed in East Germany. The same design flaws were present during this conflict and the vehicle became even more vulnerable due to the kind of fighting that took place in Afghanistan. The GAZ-40P gasoline engines experienced frequent power losses and overheating due to the tropical highland climate for which they were not well suited. Also, the BTR-60PB's turret could not elevate its armament high enough to fire at the Mujahideen attacking from high ground. Like during the Sino-Soviet border conflict, many BTR-60PBs fell victim to RPGs. Because of those drawbacks, the BTR-60PBs were replaced by BTR-70s as soon as possible to a point were only the BTR-60 command variants were used.

The BRDM-2 is an amphibious armored patrol car used by Russia and the former Soviet Union. It was also known under the designations BTR-40PB, BTR-40P-2 and GAZ 41-08. This vehicle, like many other Soviet designs, has been exported extensively and is in use in at least 38 countries. It was intended to replace the earlier BRDM-1, compared to which it had improved amphibious capabilities and better armament.

The armament is the same as the BTR-60PB armoured personnel carrier; a 14.5 mm KPVT heavy machine gun with a coaxial 7.62 mm PKT general-purpose machine gun as a secondary weapon, both in a small conical BPU-1 turret mounted on the hull in a central position above the belly wheels.

The 14.5 mm KPVT heavy machine gun has a practical rate of fire of 150 rounds per minute and a cyclic rate of fire of 600 rounds per minute. It has an effective range during daylight operations of 2,000 m. It can penetrate 20 mm of armour at a range of 1,000 m and 30 mm of armour at a range of 500 m. It can also fire at air targets, in which case the tactical range is 1,400 m. It uses the 14.5 mm API-T, 14.5 mm I-T, 14.5 mm HE-T, 14.5 mm and MDZ type ammunition.

The 7.62 mm PKT coaxial general-purpose machine gun has an effective range during day time operations of 1,000 m while the vehicle is stationary and from 400 m to 500 m while the vehicle is on the move. It is fired in 2 to 10 round bursts and has a practical rate of fire of 250 rounds per minute and a cyclic rate of fire of 650 rounds per minute. During daylight operations, the gunner uses the PP-61AM sight, which has a field of view of 23 degrees and x2.6 magnification.

The BPU-1 turret is unusual because it has no top hatch opening. Contrary to the popular belief, the BPU-1 turret was originally designed for the BRDM-2. The turret was later used in the Soviet BTR-60PB, the Polish SKOT-2A and the Czechoslovak OT-64A. The turret allows the armament to be elevated between −5 and +30 degrees. On the left side of the turret, there is an air inlet on the hull top. There are also two air-inlet louvers in the forward part of the engine compartment's roof and four smaller air-inlet louvers to the rear. Both sides have centrally placed vision blocks.

The vehicle armor, which is composed of welded steel, protects it fully against small arms fire and small shell fragments; but doesn't protect it against big artillery fragments or .50 caliber machine gun fire, which can penetrate the BRDM-2's maximum armor of 14 mm. The BRDM-2-series tires are not protected by armor and are particularly vulnerable to puncture from fire of all kinds.

There are three different production lots, which have different cooling vents on the engine deck. The late production version has mushroom-type vents. It also has slightly modified turret and can elevate its armament to +60 degrees. Final production BRDM-2s have additional turret periscopes and a TNA-2 navigation apparatus.

When the soviet forces left Afghanistan, they abandoned many BRDM-2s. These vehicles, together with some derelict ones restored back to working state, are now used by the Afghan National Army.

The BTR-70 is an eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier originally developed during the late 1960s under the industrial designator GAZ-4905. On August 21, 1972, it was accepted into service and would later be exported to the Warsaw Pact and other allies. Introduced as a successor to the earlier BTR-60, it most closely resembles a BTR-60PB. Improvements include heavier armor plating and tires less prone to puncture. In other respects, the vehicle is very similar to the BTR-60PB, both vehicles having a roof-mounted turret equipped with a heavy machine gun and a secondary co-axial PKT machine gun, but with a more powerful petrol engine configuration.

Another difference was in the location of the side doors, which on the vehicle's predecessor were located above the beltline between the second and third pairs of wheels on both sides of the vehicle. However, the designers of the BTR-70, moved the doors below the beltline. As Soviet tactics calls for unloading troops from the vehicle while it is in motion, this change increased the risk of a soldier being pulled under a wheel and injured or killed, although it also meant that the troops could get out quicker and expose themselves less to the enemy.

Like the vehicle's predecessor, it is fully amphibious with minimal preparation. A licensed Romanian copy was designated the TAB-77 and had various improvements and changes to make local production easier, including a better turret and different engines.

The BTR-70 is powered by two gasoline engines. Early production vehicles used 115 hp GAZ-69B 6-cylinder engines, but most vehicles have the more powerful ZMZ-49-05 V-8 engines. The vehicle is fully amphibious, propelled when afloat by a single water jet mounted at the rear of the hull. To prepare the vehicle for water, the driver erects a trim vane and switches on the bilge pumps from within the vehicle.

The standard equipment includes a central tire-pressure regulation system that allows the driver to adjust the tire-pressure to suit the terrain being crossed. Also fitted is an R-123M radio set and an R-124 intercom. The driver's optical equipment consists of three TNPO-115 vision blocks and a TNP-B day vision device, which can be replaced by a TVNO-2B night vision device. The commander also has three TNPO-115s and either a TPKU-2B day sight or a TKN-1S night sight accompanied by an OU-3GA-2 infra-red search light. The turret is fitted with a PP-61AM (or 1PZ-2) periscopic sight for the gunner and the infantry group in the troop compartment is provided with TNP-B devices. The BTR-70 also has an FVU NBC filter system and a DK-3B detection device.

The armaments consist of a KPVT heavy machine gun with 500 rounds and a coaxial 7.62 mm PKT machine gun with 2,000 rounds. Also on board are two "Igla" or "Strela-3" MANPADS, and optionally two AGS-17 grenade launchers at the expense of two infantry men.

The BTR-70 was widely used during the Soviet war in Afghanistan and many smaller conflicts in Eastern Europe.


The BTR-80 is an 8x8 wheeled amphibious armored personnel carrier (APC) designed in the USSR. It was adopted in 1986 and replaced the previous vehicles, the BTR-60 and BTR-70, in the Soviet Army. It was first deployed during the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

The Soviets based the BTR-80 on the BTR-70 APC. It has a single 260-hp, V-8 turbocharged, water-cooled, diesel engine, an improvement over the twin gasoline engines installed in the BTR-60 and BTR-70 vehicles. The reconfigured rear portion of the hull accommodates the new, single engine. The Soviets removed the roof chamfers of the modified BTR-70, raised the rear, and squared off the rearward-sloping engine compartment. Standard equipment includes TNPO vision blocks, TNP-B and TKN-3 optical devices for the driver and commander, an OU-3GA2M infra-red search light, six 81 mm smoke grenade launchers 902V "Tucha", a radioset (R-173 or R-163-50U), an intercom, and hydrojets for amphibious propulsion.

The Soviets modified the truncated cone turret used on the BTR-70 for the BTR-80 by redesigning the mantlet. This allows the 14.5 mm KPVT and coaxial 7.62 mm PKT machine guns to be elevated to a maximum of 60 degrees. This high angle of fire is useful in engaging targets on steep slopes, in urban fighting, and for engaging low slow flying air targets. The Soviets have also modified the design and positioning of the firing ports; the ports are now round, rather than tear-shaped, and have ball mounts similar to those used on the BMP-1. The forward firing ports now sit in angled recesses, which allows infantry to fire from the front of the vehicle.

The redesigned side doors are split horizontally. The upper portion opens forward; this gives dismounting troops some protection against small arms fire from the front of the vehicle. The lower portion opens down, forming a step. Six smoke grenade projectors are mounted on the rear of the turret.

The BTR-80 can climb a slope with up to 60% gradient and climb a vertical step of 0.5 m.

The Soviets have retrofitted some BTR-70s with several of the improvements incorporated into the BTR-80, including the high-angle-of-fire turret. The twin doors are designed to allow the infantry to disembark while the vehicle is in motion, and allow the infantry inside to exit from one side if the other is receiving fire. The 30mm Cannon variants are effective against most targets apart from main battle tanks, against which they can still cause significant damage to optics, weapons, and important systems. The main gun is not stabilized, so accurate fire on the move is limited to low speeds, and the turret's rotation mechanism is manually operated. The gunner sits in a roof-mounted chair located above the flat floor behind the driver/commander and two passengers, and before the passenger bench. The gunner's station is basic, but uncharacteristically spacious for a Soviet armored vehicle. The gunner is equipped with both a day time optical sight and an infrared night sight.

Shawn G in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

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Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."


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