Saturday 8 February 2020

Rearming Syria: Russian deliveries of T-62MVs and BRM-1(K)s arrive

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

After the delivery of T-62Ms, BMP-1s, BMP-2s and at least one 2S9 to the Syrian Arab Army since early 2017, new imagery and combat footage coming out of Syria's Idlib Governorate has now revealed that more variants of these types have been sent to the country onboard Russia's 'Syria Express'.

In accordance with Russia's role in the reinstatement of the Syrian Arab Army, it is also Russia that is responsible for training and equipping the new force. Although this led some to believe that Syria would receive additional T-72Bs, T-90s or even BMP-3s, all of which would be more advanced than the current armour composition of the regime forces, the deliveries until thus far have mostly included older weaponry excess to Russian requirements.

Nonetheless, many of these delivered vehicles and weaponry are ideally suited for the Syrian Arab Army for their simplicity and ease of operating. In addition to the delivery of small arms and large numbers of Ural, GAZ, KamAZ and UAZ trucks and jeeps, other deliveries so far have encompassed T-62Ms, BMP-1(P)s and World War II-era 122mm M-1938 (M-30) howitzers in addition to smaller numbers of T-72s, T-90s and BMP-2s delivered in 2015.

Although the newly-delivered T-62s are less advanced than some of the more modern T-72 variants also employed by the Syrian military, the delivery of these AFVs are still a welcome addition to the badly-depleted vehicle park of the Syrian Arab Army. While not equipped with any active protection systems such as the Shtora found on the T-90, the capabilities of the T-62M are a vast improvement over those of the T-55 and earlier T-62 variants. The BRM-1s and BRM-1Ks offer little novel in the area of offensive or defensive capabilities, but could well end up being valuable assets for the reconnaissance capabilities they bring with them.

The T-62M is an upgrade programme aimed at upgrading several variants of the T-62, which by the early 1980s had become severely outmatched by their more modern Western counterparts, to a common standard. The programme aimed to adress the T-62's shortcomings in the field of firepower, protection and mobility, greatly improving the capabilities of the until then underperforming tank.

To utilise the full potential of the powerful 115mm gun the 'Volna' fire control system module with a KTD laser rangefinder (LRF) was installed. The tank also gained the capability to launch the tube-fired 9M117 (9K116-2) Sheksna ATGM, which are unlikely to have been delivered to Syria. For this purpose, both the gunner and commander received new sighting systems, now also allowing for much increased efficacy during night combat. The increased armour protection was achieved by the installment of BDD appliqué armour on the turret front and upper and lower glacis plates, increased armour protection against anti-tank mines, rubber side skirts and anti-radiation lining on parts of the turret. The T-62MV received Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armour (ERA) on the turret, side skirts and glacis plate instead of the BDD appliqué armour installation. The resulting increased weight was compensated by a new 620hp V-55U diesel engine. In addition to all this, the tank was equipped with a new stabiliser, a thermal sleeve for its 115mm gun, a new radio and a block of smoke grenade launchers on the right side of the turret.

While several variants such as the T-62 Obr. 1967 and T-62 Obr. 1972 were upgraded to the common T-62M standard, both are still easily discernible by the lack of the 12.7mm DShK on the T-62 Obr. 1967. Interestingly, Syria received both Obr. 1967s and Obr. 1972s upgraded to T-62M standards but also non-upgraded T-62 Obr. 1972s and now T-62MVs. At least one of the non-upgraded T-62 Obr. 1972s, still complete with the Russian H22-0-0 rail transit marker that was applied in Russia before shipment to Syria, was already captured by rebel forces near Barsah, Idlib Governorate in mid-January this year. Also note the protective cover around the TSh-2B-41 gunner sight, a local modification more often seen fitted to T-72s.

Despite its age, the T-62M(V) has only just been retired from active service by the Russian Army after decades of counter-terrorism operations in the Caucascus. Following their active-duty career,  the remaining tanks joined those already stored in Russia's massive military depots located in the Central and Eastern Military Districts, most notably in the Republic of Buryatia, suggesting most were never to see service again.

Nevertheless, a sizeable number of T-62s are being restored to working conditions to take part in military exercises simulating Russia's capability to reactivate large numbers of tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles in case of an all-out war. With literally thousands of more modern tanks currently in reserve status, there is little reason in returning the tanks to their storage depots. And with an ally that suffers a high attrition rate in combat operations, a match was found.

Before their appearance in Syria, some of the T-62Ms were already spotted throughout Russia while underway to a harbour for transport to Syria. These vehicles were then shipped onboard the 'Syria Express' towards Tartus. [1] [2]

While images coming out of Russia suggest that the first shipment of T-62MVs was already prepared for transport to Syria in May 2018 [3], it wouldn't be until August 2019 when the first evidence of the T-62MV's presence in Syria surfaced, when a single T-62MV was damaged and then captured by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). [4] The eventual fate of this vehicle remains unknown, and it's entirely possible that the (also Russian-delivered) MRO-A RPG fired at it damaged it beyond repair.

The image below, dating from October 2019, shows desert-camouflaged T-62M(V)s in Syria that likely belonged to a batch of some 40 tanks seen in Tartus harbour in September 2019. [5] Contrary to these tanks, most of the unpainted tanks operating in Syria can still be seen with the H22-0-0 rail transit markers that were applied in Russia before shipment to Syria.

In addition to the T-62M(V)s, a limited number of BRM-1K reconnaissance variants were received from Russia in early 2017 to take part in operations near Tadmur, which was successfully recaptured from Islamic State in early March 2017.

The delivery of BRM-1s and BRM-1Ks is notable as this vehicle type was previously not in service with the Syrian Arab Army. The BRM-1(K) is armed with the same 73mm 2A28 cannon of the BMP-1, but has a wider turret moved further to the rear, not unreminiscent of the one seen on the BMP-2. In accordance with its new role, the BMP-1's autoloader and ATGM launcher were foregone and the ammunition loadout for its 73mm cannon was reduced from 40 to 20 rounds. In their place, a laser rangefinder, a range of navigation and detection devices, a mine detector, and additional radios and day/night observation devices are fitted. In case of detection by the enemy, six 81 mm 902V "Tucha" smoke grenade launchers can temporarily mask the BRM-1Ks location, potentially allowing it to escape.

The BRM-1K also comes with a PSNR-5K "Tall Mike" ground surveillance radar that can detect armoured fighting vehicles from roughly 7 kilometres away and movement of personnel from 2 kilometres. The addition of the new equipment necessitated an increase to 6 crewmembers, as a result of which its infantry capabilities are greatly diminished to just two soldiers (which would take the place of the observators). How much of the original equipment is still fitted to the vehicles shipped to Syria, or if the vehicle is actually used in its intended role rather than as a light tank is unknown, but the latter scenario appears likeliest.

While the number of BRM-1s and BRM-1Ks delivered to Syria is unknown, three have already been captured by opposing forces in Idlib, two of which in the raid on Barsah that also rewarded its capturers with the Russian-delivered T-62 Obr. 1972 described earlier in this article. One of the BRM-1Ks and the single BRM-1 captured were then put to use by HTS on the 6th of February this year, ironically in role of IFV/APC with no less than four people cramped into the rear compartment. [6]

In an effort to provide some additional protection to the BRM-1(K)'s weak side armour, slat armour was installed by HTS prior to its use on the battlefield. Note that the driver of the vehicle already wrecked the right door within minutes after heading out to the battlefield. While keeping the doors (which also function as the vehicle's fuel tanks) open is common practice on BMP-1s in Syria, the lack of space in the BRM-1(K) makes it a definite requirement in order to hold four or possibly even six men.

The third example, likely the desert-camouflaged BRM-1K captured in late August 2019, was first seen in action on the 11th of February 2020 during a rebel counteroffensive on the town of al-Nayrab, for which it received a well-matching paintjob. Upgraded along the lines of the vehicle seen above, it also received slat armour fittings on the sides of the vehicle. More intesteringly, this BRM-1K has also been modified with two unknown devices installed on the turret front, one of which closely resembles an ATGM launch rail. Ironically, the vehicle is still called 'BMB' (the 'P' sound and letter doesn't exist in Arabic) by the fighters operating it. Also note the Turkish-delivered M113 in the image at the bottom, which carries a similar paintjob.

For Syria, the delivery of additional T-62M(V)s and BRM-1(K)s is possibly much less significant than the trend it represents. With an ally that is capable of indefinitely replenishing the Syrian Arab Army's stocks and bring about its return as a coherent fighting force, eventual victory for government forces in Idlib seems certain, barring any unexpected twists and turns in the future course of the war.

Special thanks to Dan, Morant Mathieu and Calibre Obscura from

[1] #PutinAtWar: Soviet Tanks Reactivated in Russia’s East
[2] Russia has dug out another trainload of T-62M and T-62MV tanks from their depots. This time near Ulan-Ude
[4] and


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