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Armored Cars: Kamaz BPM-97

September 13, 2015
Russian BPM-97 4x4 05

A current variant of the BPM-97 with a 14.5mm turret.

The Russian BPM-97 is an exotic armored car with impressive features. Since its development predates the current fetish for mine-resistant trucks, its appearance doesn’t sit well with MRAPs even if it functions as one. But what truly sets the BPM-97 apart are its armament options. Capable of supporting different turrets, from a 30mm cannon to a tandem auto-grenade launcher and machine gun, the BPM-97 qualifies as today’s deadliest armored car.

As its name indicates, the BPM’s origins dates to the late 1990s. According to open sources, the requirement for a tactical armored truck for the Russian Federation’s border guards didn’t come into fruition until a decade after it was introduced. With consistent increases to the defense budget throughout the 2000’s, the BPM-97’s prospects improved. Being spacious, suited for extreme temperatures, and capable of fording shallow waters, the BPM-97 had export potential. Its rare forays abroad featured appearances in Middle Eastern arms shows. But the Russian military turned out to be its staunchest customer and the battle-ready BPM-97 Vystrel entered service by 2008.

The BPM-97’s appearance recalls another fabled armored car used by the Soviet Red Army and its allies in the Eastern Bloc. The BTR-40 was the earliest of the storied BTR APCs, a lineage synonymous with the Red Army’s motorized units. The BTR-152, a 6×6 armored truck, is another ancestor of the BPM-97.

Russian BPM-97 4x4 04

A BPM-97 armed with a 30mm cannon and a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun. This remote control turret is the same as the one used on the BTR-80A and BTR-82. Since it uses the chassis of a truck, the BPM-97 seats 10 people…like a BTR. There is speculation the BPM-97 might even replace the BTR’s used by the Russian Army.

The BPM-97, however, is tougher than its predecessors. It runs on a 240 horsepower engine and manages a top speed of 90 kilometers per hour. Compared to Soviet-era APCs, its visibility and protection are more robust, having multiple windows and a V-hull for deflecting mine blasts. Although there are claims it can withstand 12.7mm rounds, which qualifies as STANAG IV protection, this is only provided by the BPM-97’s frontal armor. The rest of it is resistant to 7.62mm rounds–a vast improvement by Russian standards.

The BPM-97’s layout is conventional. A spacious passenger compartment can seat eight infantrymen who enter by two rear swing doors. Depending on the arrangement of the seats, up to a dozen people can ride inside a BPM. Roof hatches are available for the driver and co-driver, who enter via two small side hatches on the hull. Four additional roof hatches are available above the passengers’ seats.

Russian BPM-97 4x4 destroyed

The wreckage of a BPM-97 found in Ukraine.

Specific variants of the BPM-97 have a large circular hatch on the roof, along with two remaining hatches for the passengers. This circular hatch fits a remote control turret similar to the one used by the BTR-80A. Other heavy weapons are viable as well, giving the BPM-97 an edge over its peers.

Unlike a lot of armored cars today, the BPM-97 is combat tested. In 2015 footage and images from Eastern Ukraine revealed its deployment among Russian-backed separatists. More importantly, there is proof the BPM-97 has been destroyed in combat. This means it shares the inherent weakness of wheeled armored vehicles everywhere: it’s vulnerable to rockets and large caliber rounds. The exact numbers of BPM-97’s deployed by the Russian military today is unknown. Its export potential has yet to be fulfilled. International clients are so far limited to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

SOviet BTR-40 4x4 APC 02

The BTR-40 in its heyday.