Ghosts of the East: Soviet AFVs that never existed

During the Cold War, both sides did what they could to hide the capabilities of their military equipment. As Sun Tzu advised, “A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective“. Naturally, both sides also tried to discern what the other side was hiding, with variable results. This article discusses some Soviet AFVs that were reported in the Western media, but which did not actually exist, or were not as reported. The reader should bear in mind, however, that even now it can be difficult to obtain reliable information regarding Soviet weapons of the Cold War era. That holds doubly true when it comes to non-existent vehicles.

Artist's impression of the NST (Next Soviet Tank)
Artist’s impression of the NST (Next Soviet Tank)

NST (T-80B)

In the early 1980s, the US Department of Defense published an artist’s impression of the NST (Next Soviet Tank). This depicted a vehicle similar in design to western tanks of the time such as the US M1 Abrams. It would have marked a radical new direction in Soviet tank design, and was said to be armed with a 135mm main gun.

When the new Soviet design, the T-80B, was spotted, it was found to bear little resemblance to the artists’ impression. It was in many ways an evolutionary design, building on earlier designs, although the gas turbine engine was a radical departure. The main armament was not a 135mm gun, but a 125mm gun like the T-64 and T-72, with a similar turret shape. It is left to the reader to decide how much the artist’s impression was influenced by a desire for increased funding, rather than intelligence on future Soviet tank design.

IT-122 and IT-130

The existence of these two vehicles was “revealed” to the West by a defector, the former GRU agent known as Viktor Suvorov (real name Vladimir Rezun). The IT-130 was claimed to mount a 130mm gun in an armoured superstructure on a T-62 chassis. It was eventually discovered to be completely fictitious, although Suvorov’s motive is unknown. He may have been trying to spread disinformation, or simply trying to please his investigators.

Confusing matters further, there was a self-propelled 130mm gun design, the ISU-130. Mounting an adapted 130mm naval gun, development started towards the end of the Second World War, and completed after the war ended. There were several problems with the design. The gun’s performance was found to be no better than the standard 122mm, especially with newly improved ammunition. The ISU-130 did not go into production, and the only prototype is now on display at Kubinka tank museum.

Another design named by Suvorov was the IT-122, mounting a 122mm gun in a similar arrangement to the IT-130. This is now generally believed to be false too. Photographs said to be of the IT-122 actually show the SU-122-54.

M1977 ARV

Contemporary books listed the M1977 armoured recovery vehicle as in service with the Soviet army. This was said to be based on an IT-122 or IT-130 with the gun removed. As late as 1988, the Jane’s entry for the M1977 stated that it was basically a de-gunned IT-130 tank destroyer. As already stated, the IT-130 did not exist, so these accounts must have been mistaken. Close examination of photographs show that the chassis was not that of a T-62, which the IT-130 was said to be based on. It appears to have been a de-gunned SU-122-54. Since the SU-122-54 was sometimes wrongly identified as the IT-122, this may explain why the M1977 was thought to be based on an IT-122 or IT-130.

BREM

Some sources state that the Soviet Union developed an armoured recovery vehicle (ARV) based on the wheeled BTR-70 armoured personnel carrier (APC). This vehicle is listed with the designation BREM. The Soviet, and later Russian armies produced a range of BREM (Bronirovannaya Remontno-Evakuatsionannaya Mashina — armoured repair and recovery vehicle) series vehicles (e.g. the BREM-1 based on the T-72). This one is notable as never being listed with a suffix. Nor have I ever seen a photograph or even drawing purporting to be of the vehicle.

In an article published in the February 1993 issue of Red Star (the official Russian Ministry of Defence newspaper), Major Aleksandr Yegorov heralded the arrival of the new BREM-K. This was an ARV based on the BTR-80 wheeled APC. In the article, he mentioned that this was the first ARV in Soviet or Russian service to be based on a wheeled BTR series APC. Previously, wheeled APCs would be towed by other vehicles such as BMPs or tanks. Yegorov stated that “Urgent repair under field conditions was a problem in general, the solution of which, as a rule, depended on a soldier’s native intelligence and his muscles.

Despite the obvious usefulness of an ARV based on a BTR-60 or BTR-70 chassis, such a vehicle was never built by the Soviet army during the Cold War.