One of the strangest Russian tanks to show up in Ukraine was the amphibious 18-ton 2S25M tank destroyer. Designed for the airborne forces, development began in the 1980s but production did not start until 2001. By 2009 only 24 were in service. After the Ukraine invasion began, orders for more of these tank destroyers were placed. Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the reduction of military personnel by 80 percent, the 45,000 paratroopers became the most frequently used infantry force. The paratroopers were elite and eager for any challenge. Then came the 2022 war in Ukraine, where the airborne forces were the most reliable and effective infantry Russia had available. The Ukrainians were the most formidable opposition the airborne troops had ever faced and they suffered nearly 5,000 casualties (dead, wounded, missing) during the first year of the war.
In addition, the airborne force lost most of the special armored vehicles they were issued. Most of these were the BMD airborne armored vehicles. Most of these were IFV (Infantry fighting vehicles) that were amphibious and easy to move around using military cargo aircraft, and could be delivered by parachute.
There are several variants of the basic BMD design and one of them was the 2S25M, which was a modified tracked vehicle with a turret added to a BMD that now carried a crew of three. Instead of six infantry passengers and a small turret with an autocannon, the tank destroyer carried 40 rounds of 125mm ammunition for use by the same 125mm gun found on most Russian tanks. The 2S25M used an autoloader which had 22 shells or missiles ready for use. The missile was an ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) launched from the smoothbore 125mm gun and could hit targets 4,000 meters distant. This is twice the range that anti-tank or high-explosive shells could reach with accuracy. What the 2S25M doesn’t have is any protection against anti-tank weapons, including RPGs. The 2S25M armor will protect the crew from machine-gun fire and shell fragments but not any anti-tank rockets or shells.
Tank destroyers were developed during World War II and while some turretless models had armor equal to what tanks used, most did not. Russia still uses the turretless and heavily armored tank destroyers. The only exception is the 2S25M, where light weight and amphibious capability was more important. The 2S25M is fast for a tank-like vehicle, able to move at 70 kilometers an hour on roads, 45 kilometers off-road and 10 kilometers in the water. Road range on internal fuel is 500 kilometers.
In Ukraine the airborne troops tried to be stealthy with their tank destroyers but the Ukrainians used lots of scouts and UAVs to find Russian armored vehicles and usually quickly destroyed them using a large variety of weapons. That pattern led to loss of most of the Russian tanks and other armored vehicles during the first months of fighting. Now all the Russians have available are older tanks like the T-55 and T-62 as well as specialized ones like the 2S25M. Because of the Ukraine experience the airborne forces are getting more tank destroyers but not for use in Ukraine. Instead the additional tank destroyers will be for supporting airborne troops in less hostile (to armored vehicles) combat zones. Even with the new production, Russia does not plan to build more than a hundred tank destroyers, including those delivered before the Ukraine War.