The MT-LB lightweight multipurpose armored prime mover is one of the most successful and commonly used armoured vehicles of the 20th century.
The MT-LB was designed by the Tractor Works of Kharkiv (KhTZ) in the 1950s as multipurpose prime mover for newly-designed artillery systems. The Soviet Army required low-silhouette armoured prime mover with high mobility performance capabilities, which would be able not only to tow artillery mounts but also to provide safe transportation behind its armor protection for artillery crews and ammunition loads. This design by the KhTZ proved to be so successful that it gave birth to an entire family of spinoff designs. The vehicle had eventually evolved into a versatile platform on which basis a comprehensive range of fighting and auxiliary armored vehicles was developed, including command and control variants for different armed services, self-propelled artillery mounts, self-propelled anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile launchers and even air-transportable soil digging machines. But potentialities of any design, even so successful, have their limits.
The design bureau at the KhTZ has developed an upgrade package for the MT-LB, which places a premium on improving the vehicle’s mobility performance, hitting power and the level of protection. As far as tactical mobility is concerned, the vehicle’s designers have managed to increase its unsurfaced road cruising range to 800 kilometers and enhance its speed performance to 70 kmph for highway and 7 kmph for water. This was made possible by means of installing more powerful 310 hp engine YaM3-238B, along with improved hydrostatic transmission. Furthermore, the suspension’s energy/output ratio was increased, and road clearance was enlarged to 500 mm. Other enhancements included an additional carrier roller and disc-type brake. No less importantly, operational comfort for the driver was improved significantly by expanding his working area, replacing steering control levers with joystick type controls, reducing control force level, replacing the seat with a more ergonomic variant, and enhancing the efficiency of the heating system.
The upgraded MT-LB has had its hitting power increased substantially as compared to the baseline model’s by means of substituting the 7.62-mm PKT machine gun for a multipurpose stabilized weapons station designed specifically for this applications by the Morozov Machine Design Bureau of Kharkiv. The weapons station includes a 30-mm automatic gun, coaxial 7.62-mm machine gun, anti-tank guided missile launching system and automatic grenade launcher, and it can be elevated from -10° to +60° and traversed through 360°. Reasonably enough, all of the weapons have state-of-the-art fire controls, thereby converting the vehicle into a powerful fighting machine.
Higher protection level is accomplished by enhancing anti-mine survivability and improving ballistic protection of the crew compartment, including, among other things, double-bottom floor of the driver’s station and shaped-charge round proof side screens, which all provide much better security for the crew and passengers. Additional protection is provided by low-combust fuel tanks mounted externally on the hull. The interior is additionally protected with a Kevlar-type cover for enhanced security of the crew and personnel. Reduced observability in the optical, infrared and radar spectrums is provided using specialist paints.
The upgraded MT-LB (sometimes also designated as MT-LBR6) is designed for use by expeditionary land forces involved in peace support missions or anti-terror operations, as well as for supporting military convoys and so forth, particularly in difficult off -the-road, mountainous, swamp or desert terrains, under various climatic conditions and at free-air temperatures ranging from minus 45 to plus 50 degrees Centigrade. The 13.2-t vehicle is air-transportable and fully amphibious, which makes it indispensable in peacekeeping operations. It can carry seven personnel besides its three-man crew (commander, driver and gunner).
The Ukrainian Army requirement for upgraded MT-LBs (it operates a fleet of several thousand such vehicles) is already great and rising further. To date, close to 50,000 MT-LB prime movers remain in service with 42 armed forces throughout the world, which all need to be upgraded and rebuilt, and Ukraine has every opportunity to become the general contractor in the effort to upgrade the outdated but still militarily useful fleet to the modern-date standards. A batch of rebuilt and upgraded MT-LB vehicles outfitted with state-of-the-art Ukrainian-designed weapons stations SHKVAL have already been supplied by the KhTZ to a launch foreign customer. The Morozov Machine Design Bureau of Kharkiv, for its part, offers potential customers its own upgrade package for the MT-LB armored prime mover. This includes the installation of an advanced weapons station (comprising a 30-mm gun, 7.62-mm machine gun and two sights) and smoke/aerosol screen laying system, among other things.