Development of the BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle commenced in the late 1970s. It was originally designed as a replacement for a PT-76 amphibious light tank, but during development was repurposed as infantry fighting vehicle. It was adopted to service with the Soviet Army in 1987. A pre-production batch of 12 vehicles was delivered the same year. It was obvious, that design of this IFV had little in common with previous BMP-1 and BMP-2.
A number of drawbacks related to previous IFVs were fixed. Due to funding problems Russia obtained only a relatively small number of these armored vehicles. By 2017 a total of 720 were in service with the Russian military, plus another 200 were on order. Some sources report that deliveries of these 200 units were completed in 2022.
After collapse of the Soviet Union a small number of BMP-3 IFVs (4-6 units) ended up in Ukraine. Some of these armored vehicles have been transferred to USA for examination. The BMP-3 has been exported to Azerbaijan (100), Cyprus (43), Indonesia (54), Kuwait (around 200), South Korea (70), United Arab Emirates (around 650) and Venezuela (130). Morocco ordered 60 of these combat vehicles. The BMP-3 is still being produced.
Appearance of the BMP-3 resembles a light tank. As mentioned before, it actually started life as a light tank and is significantly better protected than the previous BMP-1 and BMP-2. Also it has a rear-mounted engine for a better weight distribution and improved amphibious capabilities.
The BMP-3 is armed with a 100 mm gun, capable of firing 9M117 Bastion laser-guided anti-armor missiles, as well as ordinary HE-FRAG projectiles. The 9M117 missile has a maximum range of 4 km. It penetrates 650-750 mm behind ERA, providing this IFV a considerable anti-armor capability. HE-FRAG rounds have a maximum range of up to 7 km. Vehicle is completed with an semi-automatic loader and has a maximum rate of 10 rounds per minute. A total of 40 rounds are carried.
The BMP-3 is also armed with coaxial 30 mm cannon and 7.62 mm machine gun. The 30 mm cannon fires at a rate of 330 rpm and has a maximum range of 2 km against ground targets and 4 km against low-flying helicopters. Vehicle is also fitted with two more bow-mounted, forward firing 7.62 mm machine guns, operated by the dismounts.
The BMP-3 is fitted with computerized fire control system with ballistic computer.
The BMP-3 is significantly better protected than the previous BMP-1 and BMP-2. Hull and turret of this infantry fighting vehicle are welded of aluminum alloy armor. The front arc is made of composite armor and provides protection against 30 mm armor-piercing rounds. All-round protection is against 14.5 mm armor-piercing rounds. Protection can be enhanced with add-on explosive reactive armor kit. This infantry fighting vehicle is also fitted with NBC protection and automatic fire suppression systems.
Interestingly Arena active protection and Shtora countermeasures systems were proposed for the BMP-3 in order to increase its survivability against anti-tank rockets and missiles. Such systems are usually associated with main battle tanks.
The BMP-3 is fitted with smoke grenade dischargers. It can also generate smoke screens by injecting fuel into exhaust.
This infantry fighting vehicle has a crew of three and can carry 7 troops. Two infantrymen are located on each side of the driver and operate bow-mounted machine guns. Rest of the troops are seated to the rear on two inward-facing bench seats, over the engine pack. The troop compartment is cramped due to the rear-mounted engine. Infantrymen enter and leave the vehicle via rear doors and roof hatches.
The BMP-3 is powered by an UTD-29 V-10 diesel engine, developing 500 hp. The engine is mated to a manual transmission with 4 forward and 2 reverse gears. This IFV has a hydropneumatic suspension, which can be adjusted to suit the type of ground being crossed.
Vehicle is fully amphibious. Propulsion on water is provided by two waterjets.
The BMP-3 is fitted with a self-entrenching blade and can prepare itself a defensive position.
Despite its formidable capabilities the BMP-3 becomes out-dated. A new-generation Kurganets-25 IFV was developed for the Russian Army. It was publicly revealed in 2015. However due to funding problems it is unlikely that Kurganets-25 will be fielded in large numbers.