The 1960s-vintage BTR-60 wheeled armored personnel carrier is an armored personnel carrier mostly in name only. Yes, it’s wheeled. Yes, it carries personnel. No, it’s not armored to any meaningful degree.
Which is why Bulgaria’s big new donation to Ukraine of a hundred locally-upgraded BTR-60s isn’t the exciting news it might seem to be on its face. A BTR-60 is better than the alternative if the alternative is a pickup truck. But it’s not better than a modern mine-resistant truck or a tracked infantry fighting vehicle.
That Ukraine would even bother inducting a hundred old BTRs speaks to the Ukrainian armed forces’ bottomless appetite for combat vehicles as Russia’s wider war on Ukraine grinds into its 19th month.
Bulgarian defense minister Todor Tagarev announced the BTR transfer on Monday. But he was quick to explain the BTRs wouldn’t arrive fast, as the donation requires parliamentary approval. “As soon as the parliament returns to its sessions in September, I believe that this will be one of the priority tasks, and by the end of September or early October, we will have the ratification of this agreement. I think that then, the transfer can begin.”
The BTRs are likely to be 11-ton BTR-60PB-MD1s that have the same eight-wheel, 17-person chassis and turret-mounted 14.5-millimeter machine gun as other BTR-60s, but also boast uniquely Bulgarian modifications including a better night-vision and a new 250-horsepower Cummins diesel engine.
But the early-2000s enhancements did nothing to improve the BTR-60’s greatest weakness: its nine-millimeter steel armor. Protection so flimsy that a determined machine-gunner easily could knock out a BTR.
The Bulgarian army acquired around 150 BTR-60PB-MD1s. Today they’re in storage. Transferring a hundred of the wheeled APCs wouldn’t impact Bulgaria’s own defense capabilities, the government concluded.
That old BTR models are vulnerable is obvious in the statistics. Ukraine went to war in February 2022 with just a handful of BTR-60s, reactivated scores of old stored BTRs mostly to add mobility to reserve and national guard formations and already has written off 20 of them. The Russian army mostly deploys newer BTR-70s and -80s but has written off hundreds of them.
A BTR shouldn’t venture anywhere near the front line, and the Ukrainian defense ministry knows it. When Ukrainian firm Practika proposed to modify old Soviet-vintage BTR-60s with a new turret and thicker armor and redesignate them as BTR-60Ms, the plan was for the upgraded vehicles to escort road convoys—a role that shouldn’t require heavy armor protection.
The Russian invasion in February 2022 disrupted plans for serial production of the BTR-60M, but a solitary upgraded BTR-60 did make a brief appearance back in February.
The ex-Bulgarian BTR-60PB-MD1 isn’t as heavily armored as the BTR-60M is, but it should be perfectly capable of shepherding trucks along roads behind the front. Just don’t expect it to last very long at the front.