In the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the army was instructed to consider putting more emphasis on means to project power outside of the normal sphere of Soviet influence. As a result, there was a major effort to develop the VDV (Soviet airborne forces) as a rapid deployment force. Soviet studies of airborne operations had shown that lightly armed paratroops were unable to deal with armoured forces. Also, in the early 1960s, the BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicle was being developed. Before the BMP-1 entered service in 1966, the Soviet Army high command decided to equip the newly created airborne divisions with similar vehicles.
The use of Antonov An-12 aircraft at the time of the BMD development allowed the transport of only light armoured vehicles for an airborne drop that weighed less than seven tons. Because the existing BMP-1 weighed 13 tonnes, it was effectively ruled out of being considered for the VDV service.
The task of designing the BMD fell to the Volgograd Tractor Factory, which had produced an unsuccessful competitor to the Ob'yekt 764 that eventually became the BMP-1 – the Ob'yekt 914. The BMD design, Ob'yekt 915, was basically a trimmed down version of the Ob'yekt 914 – smaller, lighter aluminium armour, while retaining the 73 mm 2A28 "Grom" low pressure smoothbore short-recoil semi-automatic gun. The compromise made is the extremely cramped crew compartment.
Development started in 1965 and trials began in 1967. A limited production began in 1968. After operational trials, it was commissioned on 14 April 1969 and serial production started in 1970, although the vehicle weighed 500 kg more than what the requirements stated (7.5 tonnes and 13.3 tonnes when loaded with equipment).
Starting from 1977 a new modernized vehicle received a designation BMD-1P following adoption of the new 9P135M-1 ATGM launcher instead of 9S428 ATGM launcher, firing the 9M113 Konkurs (AT-5 Spandrel) and 9M111M Fagot or 9M111-2 (standard load: two 9M113 and one 9M111M missiles). Most of older BMD-1s were subsequently modernized this way.
In 1983, based on the combat experience in Afghanistan, a decision was made to produce a new variant of the BMD with a weapon capable of engaging targets such as those faced by the airborne troops in that conflict. This resulted in "Ob'yekt 916", which later became the BMD-2.
A lengthened BMD-1 chassis served as the basis for the BTR-D airborne multi-purpose tracked APC, which itself served as a basis for many specialized airborne vehicles.
The BMD-1 can be thought of as a BMP intended for airborne troops. The vehicle therefore must be lighter and smaller in order to meet airdrop weight requirements (the BMD-1 is secured to a pallet and parachute-dropped from cargo planes).
The BMD-1 has an unconventional layout for an IFV. From the front to the back of the vehicle, the compartments are located in the following formation: steering, fighting, troop and engine. This is because the BMD-1 is based on Ob'yekt 914, which in turn is based on the PT-76 amphibious light tank (refer Prototypes section in the BMP-1 article for details). This meant that transported troops had to mount and dismount the vehicle via the roof hatches, which made them an easy target on the battlefield when these actions were performed.
The crew consist of four soldiers: driver, commander, gunner and bow machine gunner, two of which (commander and machine gunner) are included in the number of soldiers carried. The driver's station is located centrally in the front of the vehicle and has a hatch that is opened by raising it and rotating it to the right. The driver is provided with three periscope vision blocks, which allow him to view the outer environment when his hatch is closed. The center one can be replaced with a night vision device for use in night and bad visibility conditions or with an extended periscope for swimming with the trim vane erected. The commander's station is on the driver's left. It is provided with a hatch, one periscope vision block, an outer environment observation device and an R-123 radio set for communications. He also fires the left bow machine gun. The right one is operated by a bow machine gun gunner, who sits to the right of the driver. The gunner's station is located on the left side of the turret, like in the BMP-1, and has the same equipment (see Gunner's station section in BMP-1 article for details).
The BMD-1 has the same turret as the BMP-1.
The vehicle is armed with a 73 mm 2A28 Grom gun and a 7.62 mm PKT coaxial tank machine gun. Mounted on the mantlet is the 9S428 ATGM launcher capable of firing 9M14 Malyutka (NATO: AT-3A Sagger A) and 9M14M Malyutka-M (NATO: AT-3B Sagger B) ATGMs (for which the vehicle carries two ATGMs in the turret). There are also two 7.62 mm PKT machine guns in fixed mounts, one in each corner of the bow.
The vehicle is powered by a 5D-20 6-cylinder 4-stroke V-shaped liquid cooled 15.9 liter diesel engine, which develops 270 hp (201 kW) at 2,600 revolutions per minute. The engine drives a manual gearbox with five forward and one reverse gear.
The BMD-1 has a maximum road speed of 80 kilometers per hour, reducing to around 45 kilometers per hour off-road and 10 kilometers per hour while swimming.
The BMD-1 can climb 0.8 meter high vertical obstacles, cross 1.6 meter wide trenches and 30% side slopes. It can climb 60% gradients. The BMD-1 has a ground pressure of 0.57 kg/cm².
The 230 mm wide track is driven at the rear and passes over five small evenly spaced road wheels suspended on independent torsion bars. On each side there is an idler wheel at the front, a rear drive sprocket and four track-return rollers. The independent suspension combines a hydraulic system for altering the ground clearance and maintaining the track tension with pneumatic springs, which enables the ground clearance to be altered from 100 mm to 450 mm. Alterable ground clearance allows easier transportation in an airplane.
The BMD-1 is fully amphibious, it can swim after switching on the two electric bilge pumps, erecting the two piece trim vane which improves vehicle's stability and displacement in water and prevents the water from flooding the bow of the tank and switching the driver's periscope for a swimming periscope that enables the driver to see over the trim vane. When not in use the trim vane is placed in its laying position in the front of the bow under the barrel of the main gun and serves as additional armour. There is also a manual bilge pump for emergency use. The bilge pumps keep the vehicle afloat even if it is hit, damaged or leaks. In water it is propelled by two hydrojets, one in each side of the hull, with the entrance under the hull and exits at the rear of the hull. The rear exits have lids that can be fully or partially closed, redirecting the water stream to the forward-directed exits at the sides of the hull, thus enabling the vehicle to turn or float reverse, for example, to go left, the left water-jet is covered, to go right, the right water-jet is covered and to make a 180° turn the left water-jet sucks in water and the right water-jet pushes it out.
The vehicle can be transported by An-12, An-22, Il-76, An-124 airplanes and Mi-6 and Mi-26 helicopters.
The BMD was originally dropped under the MKS-350-9 multi-canopy parachute with a descending speed between 15 m/s and 20 m/s. The intention was to drop the vehicle without the crew. This proved to be very problematic, since the crew frequently landed at a considerable distance from the vehicle and often had trouble finding it. Also, the vehicle itself could easily land in a location from which it couldn't be extracted (either because of a lack of suitable equipment or because of the location being virtually inaccessible). Several experiments were done in the 1970s in order to find a way to circumvent these limitations, including dropping the BMD with the two key crew members, the driver and gunner, seated inside the vehicle during the descent. The first such test took place in January 1973, and the concept was proved to be valid in a subsequent series of tests.
A rocket parachute, the PRSM-915, was developed to ensure the vehicle's safe landing. To use the parachute, the BMD is first packed onto a special pallet before takeoff. To drop the BMD, a drogue chute is released that initially drags the BMD out of the Il-76 transport plane. Once clear of the plane a single large main chute opens. The deployment of the main chute triggers the deployment of four long rods which hang beneath the pallet. As soon as the rods touch the ground a retrorocket fires, slowing the BMD to a descending speed between 6 m/s and 7 m/s and giving it a relatively soft landing. This system entered service in 1975 and allows a BMD to be relatively safely parachuted with both the driver and the gunner.
An alternative radio location system also exists. Each crew member is given a radio receiver locked onto a transponder in its particular BMD, allowing each BMD crewman to quickly locate his respective vehicle after the airdrop.
The BMD-1's armour is made of cast magnesium alloy, in order to save weight. Combat experience in Afghanistan demonstrated that the armour itself would catch fire and burn fiercely, often killing the crew, when hit with a weapon such as an RPG. Later variants of the BMD had aluminium armour instead.
Armour thickness is 23 mm at 42° on the front of the turret, 19 mm at 36° on the sides of the turret, 13 mm at 30° on the rear of the turret, 6 mm on the top of the turret, 15 mm on the front of the hull and 10 mm on the rest of the hull. The hull's front armour has two sections: upper and lower. The upper section is angled at 78° while the lower one is angled at 50°. It is resistant to small arms fire and shrapnel.
Many compromises had to be made to the design in order to save the necessary weight, not least to crew comfort. The BMD-1 has an extremely cramped interior space, which is much smaller than that found in the BMP-1 and BMP-2 IFVs. It can carry five infantrymen, comprising vehicle's commander, bow machine gunner and three soldiers seated behind a turret.
Nevertheless it is equipped with periscope vision blocks on the sides and rear of the vehicle. There are only three firing ports, one on each side of the hull and one in the rear. As standard, the vehicle carries the following weapons inside the troop compartment: an RPG-7 or RPG-16 shoulder-launched anti-tank rocket propelled grenade launcher, which is to be operated by two soldiers, RPKS light machine gun and five AKMS assault rifles. It also carries portable launchers for 9M14M Malyutka missiles (9M111/9M113 missiles in BMD-1P).
The vehicle has electric and manual bilge pumps, Gpk-S9 gyro-compass, engine pre-heater, TDA smoke-generating equipment, FTP-100M NBC system, R-123 transceiver, R-124 intercom and a centralized ethylene-bromide fire-extinguishing system, the same as the one fitted to other former Soviet armoured vehicles.