Tuesday 1 November 2022

Beastly Belarusian: The Volat V2 IFV

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
The Belarusian Army has for the most part experienced a drought in new acquisitions since its founding in 1992. Much of the scarcely available funding for new acquisitions has been used for the purchase of combat aircraft and air defence systems, most often acquired at friendly prices from Russia. The Ground Forces have been the recipient of 25 T-72B3 Obr. 2016 MBTs and some 65 BTR-82A(M) IFVs from Russia, while China has donated 22 EQ2058s and an unknown number of CS/VN3 infantry mobility vehicles (IMVs) since 2012. China is also the source of the technology behind the Belarusian Polonez guided MRL/SRBM system, which entered service with the Belarusian Army in 2015.

Products of the country's well-established defence industry have also found their way to the inventory of the Ground Forces in limited numbers. The Caiman reconnaissance vehicle (a modern derivate of the BRDM-2) and the Volat-1 IMV have both been accepted into service while the Russian Tigr-M IMV entered production in Belarus as the Lis-PM, with small numbers of them entering service with the Belarusian Army. A number of BTR-70 APCs have also been upgraded to BTR-70MB1 standard, which saw the fitting of a new engine and BTR-80-style collapsable side doors.

These acquisitions however do little to address the overall obsolescence of Belarus' AFV inventory. The Ground Forces' primary MBT and IFV are still the T-72B and BMP-2 that never have been upgraded. Considering Poland's recent purchase of 1000 K2PLs and 366 M1A2 MBTs, Belarus will soon be in a qualitative as well as a significant quantitative disadvantage. Belarusian defence enterprises have come up with several modernisation programmes to address the widespread obsolescence of the Belarusian Army's equipment inventory. Of these, the T-72BM2 MBT, Uragan-M MRL and 9A33-2B Osa SAM system are the most likely upgrade programmes to be accepted into service.
Another design that could one day contribute to the modernisation of the Belarusian Army is the MZKT-690003 Volat V2 wheeled IFV. Designed by the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT) and first showcased during the MILEX exhibition of arms and equipment in 2021, the Volat V2 positions itself to supplement or replace Belarus' BTR-70/80s or even its BMP-2s. Though the Volat V2 will have to compete with the BTR-82, of which 65 examples were already acquired in 2021, the fact that Russia's AFV industry is currently kept busy serving the needs of the Russian Army – which already lost more than 300 BTR-82As in Ukraine – could significantly increase the Volat V2's chances of success. [1]

A Volat V2 fitted with a modernised BMP-2 IFV turret.

The most notable improvement of the Volat V2 over the BTR-70 and BTR-80 is in its firepower. The Volat V2 can be equipped with a number of different turret designs, all boasting a 30mm 2A42 cannon as opposed to the 14.5mm KPV HMG on the BTRs. The Volat V2 prototype was first showcased with a modernised BMP-2 turret integrating a new advanced gunner's sight and laser rangefinder along with a new panoramic sight. The turret has retained the capability to launch 9M113 Konkurs anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) with the option to upgrade to the Belarusian Shershen-Q system to launch RK-2S (Tandem-HEAT) and RK-2OS (HE-FRAG) ATGMs. The Volat V2 can also use the Belarusian Adunok BM-30 unmanned turret which features the same rapid-firing 30mm 2A42 cannon, 7.62mm PKT LMG and panoramic sight as seen on the modernised BMP-2 turret, but lacks an ATGM launcher. Though the omission of an ATGM capability is a serious drawback compared to the version equipped with a BMP-2 turret and Lithuania's and Poland's Spike ATGM-toting Boxer and Kosomak wheeled IFVs, it still represents a massive upgrade over the BTR-70/80s.

BTR-82As of the Belarusian Army (top) and the Volat V2 equipped with the BM-30 unmanned turret (below), clearly showcasing the advancements made in wheeled IFV designs over the past decades.

The 22-ton heavy Volat V2 is capable of carrying up to eight soldiers in addition to its two or three-man crew  (depending on the choice of turret). The passengers enter the IFV through a rear door (which is equipped with a firing port), a big improvement over the small side doors of the BTR-70 and BTR-80. A Chinese-designed 550hp Weichai WP13.550 diesel engine assembled by the MAZ-Weichai factory in Belarus provides the Volat V2 with a top speed of 110 km/h on paved roads while two water-jet propellers allow the vehicle to overcome water obstacles with a speed of 10km/h. The Volat V2's armour provides all-round protection against 7.62mm AP rounds and shell fragments, while the front arc protects against 12.7 mm rounds. Though rather underwhelming by modern standards, especially compared to the all-round 14.5mm AP protection of Lithuania's Boxer IFVs, the armour protection can be further augmented through the fitting of slat armour, which has already been installed on some of Belarus' BTR-70MB1s.

The Volat V2 can carry a total of eight passengers. Swapping the BMP-2 turret for the roof-mounted BM-30 unmanned turret could free up additional internal space.

The plan to develop an indigenous Belarusian wheeled IFV is anything but novel however. In 2008, the Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant launched a project for a wheeled IFV designated the MZKT-590100 Umka. As no Belarusian defence enterprise was producing turrets at that time (and with the BMP-2's turret being unsuitable to the design), MZKT focused on designing just the base vehicle, with a turret to be purchased abroad. In contrast to Ukraine, where hundreds of BTR-3 and BTR-4 wheeled IFV designs were produced for domestic and international clients as a result of sufficient investments, MZKT was unable to secure any funding from the Ministry of Defence or the State Military Industrial Committee for the Umka, and the project was quietly abandoned in the early 2010s even before a prototype could be constructed. [2] The Belarusian Army eventually acquired some 65 BTR-82As from Russia in 2021. [3]

The ill-fated MZKT-590100 Umka.

The Volat V2 joins a growing number of wheeled IFV designs as the concept becomes increasingly popular with militaries around the world, either as a replacement for tracked IFVs or to operate alongside them. For neighbouring Ukraine, their design and production has not only resulted in valuable assets that have been used with great effect during the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, but also in significant export success. Whether Belarus is able to replicate these successes remains to be seen, although an acquisition of the type by Belarus would greatly increase its subsequent chances on the export market. The fitting of ATGMs to the BM-30 turret could further contribute to making the Volat V2 an attractive option for the Belarusian Army, and allow it to massively increase the firepower of units previously operating BTR-70/80s at a time when neighbouring countries are rapidly expanding their capabilities.

Header image and last image by Lex Kitaev

[1] Attack On Europe: Documenting Ukrainian Equipment Losses During The 2022 Russian Invasion Of Ukraine https://www.oryxspioenkop.com/2022/02/attack-on-europe-documenting-ukrainian.html
[2] The development of Umka MZKT-590100 armored personnel carrier will be launched in Belarus https://en.topwar.ru/38059-v-belorussii-vvedetsya-razrabotka-bronetransportera-umka-mzkt-590100.html
[3] Belarusian military received a batch of Russian armored personnel carriers BTR-82A https://en.topwar.ru/187656-belorusskie-voennye-poluchili-partiju-rossijskih-bronetransporterov-btr-82a.html