Russia’s New Tanks Are Pretty ‘Stale’

by Joseph Trevithick, a freelance journalist and researcher. He is also a regular contributing writer at War is Boring and a Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org.

On May 9, Russia debuted a brand new tank and other previously unseen armored vehicles at the annual parade celebrating the country’s victory over Germany during World War II. While the appearance of the T-14 Armata and its companions made the event a particularly rare spectacle, the designs themselves are pretty “stale,” according to one expert.

An Armata T-14 Main Battle Tank at the May 9, 2015 Victory Parade. (Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

An Armata T-14 Main Battle Tank at the May 9, 2015 Victory Parade. (Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

Moscow used the 70th anniversary of the defeat of the Nazi Wehrmacht to show off the first two members of its new Armata family – the T-14 main battle tank and T-15 heavy infantry fight vehicle. Observers also caught a glimpse of the the smaller Kurganets-25 tracked fighting vehicle and Bumerang wheeled personnel carrier for the first time. These new additions represent some of the most dramatic developments in Russian armored vehicle design in decades.

But the Kremlin’s push to modernize its armored units “is an attempt to catch up,” Steven Zaloga, a senior analyst at the Teal Group and expert on armored vehicles, told War Is Boring days after the party in Red Square. “A lot of this stuff is really stale.”

The new armored bests are significant improvements over older, Soviet-era designs. For instance, if adopted, the T-14 – the undisputed star of the show – would be the first truly new Russian tank design in more than four decades. Moscow’s armored divisions are currently full of T-64 and T-72 derivatives.

T-14 Specifications via the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Studies Office (click on the image to enlarge).

T-14 Specifications via the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (click on the image to enlarge).

The Armata main battle tank is heavier, longer and taller than its predecessors. The vehicle sports an advanced active protection devices that blow up incoming projectiles and thick armor. The completely remote controlled turret contains a powerful 125-millimeter gun linked to an autoloader, which can shoot fast-flying armor-piecing darts, high-explosive shells and anti-tank missiles.

On top of that, “this tank has a real potential for modernization, because it’s new and cutting-edge – in our understanding it can be upgraded an infinite number of times”, said Oleg Sienko, the chief of the tank’s manufacturer Uralvagonzavod, according to a report by the RT news network. The T-14’s “brand new 125 mm smoothbore cannon […] is the most powerful gun of its kind to date in terms of muzzle energy,” RT also declared in another piece.

But despite these and other boasts, the Russia’s new fleet is much less impressive when compared to many Western designs, even some that are decades old at this point. The T-14 is lighter and not necessarily any better armed or armored than the American M1A2 Abrams, the British Challenger 2 or the German Leopard 2, according to an infographic originally specifications sheet made up by the Russian TASS news service. The specifications were later translated into English by the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO). Of course, both Moscow and Washington are generally tight-lipped about the exact details.

In terms of armor protection specifically, the T-14 is probably no more impressive than the tanks Washington and Berlin have had in service for two decades now, based on educated estimates. And while Western engineers have generally focused on passive armor, the Pentagon and others continue to experiment with their own active protection systems. The Armata’s Afghanit system is also just the latest development in a series countermeasures the Russian Army has been using since the fighting in Afghanistan – an experience the new device’s moniker clearly references. Soviet commanders – like their counterparts around the world – have found active protection systems and explosive reactive armor can be very dangerous to ground troops near vehicles equipped with these protective measures too.

As for armament, the range estimates for the T-14 seem generous. However, Leopard 2s can already hit targets at similar distances with the help of Israeli LAHAT missiles. Armata crews would probably have to fall back on gun-launched guided weapons when trying knock out enemies beyond some 5,000 to 6,000 meters too. Not that much of this matters, since the Russian sensors can’t necessarily find the mark much farther away. The “target detection range” is only vaguely “greater than 5,000 meters,” the TASS-provided specs said.

Russian press reports also continue to tease the possibility of the T-14 getting a larger caliber main gun sometime in the future. “Now the Russians plan on replacing the world’s largest bore main tank gun with a larger one,” Dr. Lester Grau, an analyst at FMSO, wrote in the latest edition of OE Watch. “The 125-millimeter main tank gun will be replaced by a 152-millimeter gun,” Grau added, citing articles from Moscow MK and Rossiyskaya Gazeta. But in spite of similar statements and predictions over the past 30 years, Russian tanks have continued to use the same size cannons. With improvements in ammunition, Moscow’s weaponeers appear to have decided – again, like western engineers – that a larger bore weapon would offer few practical advantages.

The T-14 also has thermal and infrared optics and computerized fire control systems – which have been standard features on Western tanks for some time. Second only to the unmanned main turret, a full, 360-degree camera setup is probably the Armata tank’s most unique feature. The video feeds are there to make up for the fact that the 3-man crew has extremely limited visibility otherwise. Clustered together in one portion of the hull, the personnel would lose a lot of situational awareness if the system failed.

An Armata T-15 Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle at a rehearsal before the 2015 Victory Parade. (Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin).

An Armata T-15 Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle at a rehearsal before the 2015 Victory Parade. (Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin).

The T-15 – the only other Armata family member at the parade – is also similar to a number of existing vehicles. For two decades or more, Israel has recycled a number of old tanks into heavy infantry fighting vehicles. Tel Aviv’s engineers based the most recent type, called Namer or Leopard in Hebrew, on the indigenous Merkava tank.

While the T-15 has more weaponry than Namer, both designs rely on remote turrets and carry a full squad of troops under heavy armor. And like the Israeli vehicle, the Armata-based design would be ideally suited to urban combat. With nearly endless places for infantry to hide with deadly anti-tank weapons, the close-quarters nature of cities and towns is particularly dangerous for most armored vehicles.

The Russian Army had previously considered a large support vehicle, bristling with cannon and missiles for these situations, called the BMPT. However, the Kremlin appears to have lost interest in that concept. The T-15 could easily take its place. “[The T-15] pretty much satisfies the requirement that BMPT does”, Zaloga explained.

A Kurganets-25 Infantry Fighting Vehicle at a rehearsal prior to the 2015 Victory Parade in Moscow. (Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin).

A Kurganets-25 Infantry Fighting Vehicle at a rehearsal prior to the 2015 Victory Parade in Moscow. (Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin).

Lastly, the Kurganets-25 and Bumerang are also larger and more capable than the BMP and BTR families Moscow expects them to replace. But neither represent a new class of vehicle. Kurganets is in the same weight class as the American Bradley, the British Warrior, and the Swedish CV90, among others. More than two decades old, the CV90 is the youngest of these three designs. Now responsible for all three types, defense contractor BAE continues to develop improvements for these vehicles.

8×8 wheeled personnel carriers are even more common, Zaloga noted. The list of these types of vehicles currently on the market has grown significantly since the fall of the Soviet Union and is becoming nearly endless. There are countless examples from the French VBCI to the German Boxer to the Finnish Patria AMV. As many Western nations cut their defense budgets after the Cold War, lightweight wheeled armored vehicles seemed a reasonable – and cheaper – substitute for heavier tracked vehicles. With a large main gun or anti-tank missiles, the nimble vehicles even replaced tanks in some cases.

Perhaps most notably, Swiss defense contractor MOWAG has successfully licensed its Piranha family around the world to many major militaries. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps currently both have large fleets of 2nd and 3rd generation Piranha vehicles. As with the American Piranha III-based Stryker family, Russia expects to buy Bumerang variants for command and control, to schlep mortars are the battlefield, to carry casualties and more.

The new Bumerang Armored Personnel Carrier. (Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin).

The new Bumerang Armored Personnel Carrier. (Photo: Vitaly V. Kuzmin).

In the end, “the Russians are not leaping ahead”, Zaloga said. “This is an attempt to catch up.” With sanctions over its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for separatists fighting Kiev, coupled with the fluctuating price of oil, Moscow might not even be able to buy as many of these new vehicles as they would like. In the past, the Kremlin’s budget woes killed tank developments like the T-95 and the Black Eagle. On top of that, the Armata family remains a work in progress. A self-propelled howitzer, a mobile rocket launchers and other variants that appear to have been either delayed or scrapped entirely. The prototypes Russian authorities deemed to put on display during the victory parade might not be final designs.

At Moscow’s next annual celebration, western analysts, tank spotters and armored vehicle geeks might get to see a refined set of designs – or none of the newer vehicles at all.

This entry was posted in Armed Forces, English, Intelligence, International, Joseph Trevithick, Russia, Technology.

4 Responses to Russia’s New Tanks Are Pretty ‘Stale’

  1. Two rude comments were deleted. While we are interested in comments which do not reflect our opinion, we don’t accept verbal abuses. Learn to express yourself in an appropriate way first. For more information on how to write a comment, read “How to write a comment” ;-). Further violations will be deleted without notice.

  2. Anthony Ronin says:

    Wikipedia T14 Armata bought me here.
    Reference [31] to be exact, “Russia’s new T A N K S are pretty ‘stale’, the title contains a rehashed phrase and further descriptions such as ‘an attempt to catch up’ or ‘a lot of this stuff is really stale’ are used to diminish the overall debut of vehicles seen for the first time publicly during the May Day Parade 2015. Then as we read on we are told how the new T A N K S are ‘much less impressive when compared to many Western designs, even some that are decades old at this point’ or ‘(T15) similar to a number of existing vehicles. For two decades or more, Israel has recycled a number of old tanks into heavy infantry fighting vehicles’. Quite ironic don’t you think. Let’s draw an analogy of these views. In 1961 the Soviet made T62 was the first mass produced MBT in service to feature a smoothbore gun capable of firing APFSDS ammunition, however over in the West 105mm rifled guns continued on as primary main armament until 1979. Enter the famous and lethal Rheinmetall L44 making its debut on-board the Leopard 2 and then later, the Abrams M1A1. Was the L44 stale? Should one justify the T62 against the Leopard 2 and say мы должны были сначала, I think not.
    My interest and time for this blog is the T14 and key points that received very little or no mention. Just as the author is referencing the new T14 against current Western MBTs I shall do the same with some historical points in order to build a baseline of existing standards. Many of the known T14 features listed online also apply to the T15 and most are of ‘classified status’ while there are degrees of varied information that too can be applied to existing MBTs of any nation. So, we can only write what we have at our disposal, I can provide links upon request via referred #.
    Although one expert + one writer have an opinion about catching up or stale designs its clearly not reflected in the responses of several Western countries who are now either speeding up or planning newer MBTs/Armaments than currently in service. In a recent article via a leaked report the British army “warns that the UK and its NATO allies are scrambling to catch up with Russia, which enjoys significant advantages in pretty much every key aspect of warfare” (refer #1). This also includes their aging Challenger 2 MBT in need of urgent update (refer#2) The Germans are also on the move with updates for Leopard 2A7 (refer#2a) How many experts are in the British & Germany Armies? Defining an MBT should be separated in to 3 key categories, Firepower, Protection, Mobility and any published review that creates a conclusional evaluation should cover these areas with the attention it deserves. If they fail to do this then we should assume their assessment is either not balanced or intentionally deceptive.
    FIREPOWER: I’ll start with “The T14 lighter and not necessarily any better armed” than western analogues.
    If this is true why would a next gen MBT possess a “new” 2A82M-1 main gun either less capable or equal to the previous generation, that being (2005) 2A46M-4 or 2A46M-5 125mm fitted to T80 & T90A. Confirmed by the Germans in 2011 both 2A46M-4/5 have been extensively revised to bring their accuracy and ballistic performance up to the German Leopard 2 (refer #3). It is also widely publicized that despite being 600mm shorter the muzzle velocity for the T14’s 2A82M-1 is 1.17 times greater than the best weapon of NATO-120mm leopard 2 (refer #4). New sabot rounds have been developed for the gun with open claims of 850-1000mm penetration RHA @ 2000mtrs. There are online variations between 750-800mm for leopard’s D53/63M ammunition, this would give the new 2A82M-1 gun 15%-25% advantage retrospectively using lowest to highest claims. I myself would consider 10% increase significant (refer #5) please note the 2A82M-1 is a gun already installed on the Armata, not the 2A83. The new 3UBK21 Sprinter ATGM is superior over the previous model with a range of 8000mtrs, 33% more than the 6000mtr range ATGM when fired from Leopard 2, how is this a similar distance? (refer#6). The ability to fire ATGM from a Soviet/Russian MBT dates back long before it was a feature on some Western tanks which excludes to my knowledge Challenger 2, Abrams, Leclerc and Type 10.
    A 360° panoramic sight mounted at the front of the remote weapon station of the turret allows commanders and gunner to have all-round surveillance on the battlefield without being disturbed by turret motion. For close view the T-14 is equipped with wide angle cameras mounted around a vehicle giving full 360° all-round vision on displays and situational awareness beyond traditional layouts. The detection distance of tank-sized objects for both sights is ‘7,500m’ in daylight, through the TV/periscopic channel, and ≈3,500 m at night through the thermal channel. There is also a backup night vision capable with 2,000/1,000 m respective detection distances. In ‘addition to traditional vision periscopes’ the driver has a forward looking infrared camera (refer#7) situational awareness is covered under all circumstances.
    The main gun will feature a FCS no less equal to Kalina installed on previous generation T90MS (export version of T90AM) which is an automated single control system, an automatic targets tracking system, and satellite navigation via GLONASS/GPS. To improve the tank’s offensive capabilities, the Kalina fire control system which incorporates gunner’s multichannel sight, commander’s panoramic sight, digital ballistic computer, with a set of weather and fire condition sensors and parallel sight. According to some Russian sources the Kalina is equal to the best foreign systems of this type and is also used on the French made Lelerc MBT. The Kalina fire control system can be implemented automatically track the target at any time in the stationary and moving long distances against the effective strength of the threat from tanks and anti-tank missile fleets. The gunner’s station is equipped with latest generation of sight with video-viewing device with automatic fire control system and loader. The commander’s station is equipped with video-viewing device with electronic GPS combat map (refer#8)
    2A83 152mm gun: ‘Moscow’s weaponeers appear to have decided – again, like western engineers – that a larger bore weapon would offer few practical advantages’. To put this into context it is no secret that both sides have worked on larger calibre guns but there are two good reasons why neither had installed them previously. The key word is context, something lacking from your phrase.
    1) From the Russian prospective: prototype object 292 in 1990 was a 152.4mm equipped T80 Chassis tank that demonstrated its ability to punch through the “advertised” equivalent protective armor vs kinetic munition of the most advanced foreign tanks by a huge margin (refer#9). Many might say mission accomplished. Wrong, first of all the T80 chassis and driveline were insufficient for anticipated additional stress in weight, enter T95 Black Eagle, a truly formidable machine with high potential, except for lack of funding. So, what to do until development funds come along now that you have the awesome 2A83. Develop your existing 125mm gun by acquiring gun tooling machinery from Germany, enter 2A46M-4/5 and then later 2A82M-1 which under claimed projections has sufficient power to defeat the armor of its ‘current’ adversaries, for the time being. Mid to Late 2000’s, with funding approval for development why use the existing limited platform of T72/80/90 when you can purpose build a new platform with almost infinite modernization potential, enter Armata with the chassis of increase proportions/driveline + new lighter armor to accommodate 2A83 IF needed. So is the 2A83 required right now, I’d say no. Only IF future 125mm munitions development lag behind increased protective abilities, enter Leopard 3 in 2030

    2) From the Western prospective: During the mid-90’s Leopard and Abrams were fitted with 140mm guns. These experiments indicate that the retrofitting of 140mm guns in the existing tanks is possible. But it presents a number of major problems. In particular, 140mm rounds are large and heavy which makes them difficult, if not impossible, to manhandle. As a result they require automatic loading systems, and this implies major changes to tank turrets and a reduction in the size of tank crews from four to three men (refer#10) in addition the current vehicle mass for either is around 65tons. The challenge is most Western tanks would need a complete redesign and it’s no secret lighter platforms are desired, leading to a possible conversion of a lower tonnage yet maintaining or exceeding current protective capability. Leopard 3 is due 2030, M1A3 is maybe due 2020 (?) and Challenger 2 update has ‘assessment trials’ expected to take until 2019. This is where some Western platforms are further behind than others, when put into context the Armata is virtually at the stage of boots on ground with 2A83 back up. Advantage, yes.

    PROTECTION: and it’s a big one, “The T14 lighter and not necessarily any better armored” than western analogues.
    Can we ask the question do any of the current series Western MBTs feature a new steel armor that is (15%) lighter, stronger and climatically more durable than previously used, meaning the 44S-SV-SH steel armour will not lose its qualities and can be operated at Arctic temperatures. (refer #11) While I appreciate classified information the Russian’s seem confident enough to make the announcement. To draw comparison of Russian capability let us go back to the collapse of the USSR when NATO took possession of former East GermanT72A1’s + T72B1’s and used numerous ordnance against them during ballistic tests. The famous “silver bullet” M829A1 that devastated “Iraqi T72M’s” was unable to defeat the armor of this homeland version leading the U.S Military to conclude, (partial quote) – “The combined protection of the standard armor and the ERA gives the tanks a level of protection equal to our own. The myth of Soviet inferiority in this sector of arms production that has been perpetuated by the failure of downgraded T-72 export tanks in the Gulf Wars has, finally, been laid to rest. The results of these tests show that if a NATO/Warsaw Pact confrontation had erupted in Europe, the Soviets would have had parity (or perhaps even superiority) in armor” – U.S. Army Spokesperson. (refer# Jane’s International Defence Review 7/2007,pg.15: “IMPENETRABLE RUSSIAN TANK ARMOUR STANDS UP TO EXAMINATION” By Richard M. Ogorkiewicz) The tests were conducted towards the end of the Cold War period, meaning at the time T72A1’s +T72B1’s had protective parity with 3rd generation models including Leopard 2A4 + Abrams M1A1HA . The discovery lead to the rapid development of M829A2 for the M1, this by itself confirming the level of protection from 2nd generation homeland Soviet MBTs. Now we fast forward to 2011 and the exhibition of military weapons IDEF-2011, held in Istanbul. During a ballistics test the armor of a T-90A was fired at from NATO 120-millimeter-and anti-tank guns. The distance was set at 200 meters, 6 shells were fired and then under its own power the T90A arrived back at the observation deck. Then without repairs to the T-90A a grenade rocket launcher is fired — armor is unbroken. There is no mention of the also present Leopard 2A4 undergoing the same test (refer#12). Again in 2015, this time the Germans confirm they don’t have the firepower/ammo in service to defeat the technologically sophisticated armor of the latest Russian T90A/AM and modernized T80s (refer #13). To me it doesn’t sound like previous model Russian tanks are behind or trying to catch up in armored parity so why would the T14 not be even better protected considering it features next gen armor (15% stronger) + Malachit reactive armor that specifications exceed those Kontact-5 and Relikt armour. Out of interest Relikt ERA reduces penetration of kinetic rounds by over 50%. According to Armata engineers, the new Malachit armor’s resistance to kinetic was significantly increased in comparison with the older ERA, meaning an overall improvement for the Armata with base armor 15% + significantly over 50% ERA armor, you can do the maths (refer#14) .This point is also further reinforced that both Germany & France have recently announced join development of a new main armament/ammunition/platform, being 130mm calibre ( refer #15) considering the T90A has been around for over 10 years and already has protective parity with current Western MBTs why suddenly announce the urgency of a new gun. Could it be because the T14 sufficiently exceeds current levels of protection that they need to develop a new gun which they will likely have to spend 8-10 years finalizing the development of both the gun and ammunition (refer #16). Now, how about the crew capsule that has been overlooked as if we need not mention it. The three-man crew consisting of driver mechanic, gunner and commander are seated in a special armoured capsule, separated by an armoured bulkhead from the automatic loader and turret with externally mounted main armament. The crew compartment will be also isolated from the motor compartment to increase survivability on the battlefield. This design feature makes it possible not only to reduce the silhouette of the MBT and therefore make it less observable on the battlefield, but also considerably enhance crew safety and survivability ( same as refer #17) how is this not a better form of key design or protection in the T14, yet you show no worthy reference of this feature. To draw comparison let’s turn back time and not mention in detail separated ammo storage during debut of the Abrams, unthinkable isn’t it. The Afghanit APS system could take up an entire chapter so I will summarize with words from others in saying its designed to protect the vehicle from 3rd and 4th generation missiles such as direct attack Hellfire, TOW and BILL, or Brimstone, JAGM, Javelin or Spike missiles, approaching at high trajectory, as well as from nearly vertical top-attack by sensor-fused weapons (SFW). Several sources indicated the Armata (T14 and T15) have the capability to detect and simultaneously track and locate 40 land targets and 25 air targets, features such as millimeter-wavelength radar detect, track, and intercept incoming munitions, both APFSDS penetrators and tandem charges. Currently, the maximum speed of the interceptable target is 1,700 m/s, with projected future increases of up to 3,000 m/s (refer#18) did I say depleted uranium kinetic penetrators (refer#18a) all this while some continue to experiment.

    MOBILITY: did you even mention?
    It’s a well-known fact that most Russian tanks are typically around 50tons or less. With the combination of newer light weight armor and composite materials the T14 is able to gain dimensional size over previous models without the sacrifice of protection which brings us back to having an armored vehicle at a lower weight that gives better ability to traverse infrastructure such as bridges or be transported via rail/road/air, especially European. Even in Australia with its vast rail network there have been recorded difficulties of transporting the Abrams due to its immense mass and this is also reflected in the desire for the M1A3 to be a lighter MBT (refer#19). Based on previous mobility exercises undertaken by the T90 in Malaysian, India, Saudi Arab, and Peru there would be no reason to doubt the T14’s rough terrain capabilities with help from its new suspension design. Currently the T14 weighs in about 48tons give or take, however it has received a boost in power over the T90 by nearly 35%, and at 1500hp this converts to horsepower-per-ton rating of 31-1 in comparison to both Leopard 2A7+ M1A2SEP of 23-1 giving the T14 a 35% advantage. Estimated speeds if you believe them are impressive at around 80kph+ on road however it’s the ability to accelerate that’s of more importance. In regards to outright speed this appears to be an open claim of consistent capability without destroying the driveline/track system, unlike some MBTs. The new X-design engine also has a claimed feature that allows it to be governed down to 1200hp (25-1) enabling it to significantly extend its service life. Probably the most important feature of the Armata concerning mobility is its one or two steps closer to mobility without a crew. Worth mentioning, absolutely.
    Your article may have had more relevance 10 to 15 years ago and I can’t help but think there were too many key features either left out or quickly brushed over to give readers the impression there’s nothing new. While i’m just an interested reader adding information history has taught most of us to never underestimate the Russians, if so, it’s at your peril.

  3. Arnd von Rüden says:

    I found this article while looking for current information on the T14 and “family”. I am a big fan of offiziere.ch and follow you on Twitter, but this article is not really good at all but rather a collection of Western prejudice and looks more like a marketing piece of Western arms manufacturers. While I would like to refer regarding the level of innovation and actual abilities of the T14 mainly to the excellent reply from yesterday (!) above, I want to add that already the latest upgraded version of the T90 shocked both the Ukrainians and Americans in the Ukrainian “civil” war, it’s active protection system made it imun against the latest version of the US TOW missile supplied to Ukraine in small numbers (source personal relationship to European staff officer based on his briefing re. new abilities of Russian armed forces by US army). My main point of criticism of the above article is that it misses the main point, Russian is catching up on FOUR classes of amroured vehicles at one time and gets into an unique position as (at least to my knowledge) except Russia in the future no one else will have a super heavy IFV (T15 or the various Israeli conversions) AND a normal standard IFV (Kurganets 25 or Bradley et al). Two additional remarks: The 152 mm smoothbore armed version of the T14 may will look more than an “artillery tank” or maybe even assault gun (“SU 152 2019” maybe?) and will not become the standard tank version of the T14 according two Russian sources. Lastly, in regards to Russia’s ability to finance the planned modernisation in the 2011-2020 plan period I would like to refer you to this very good analysis http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2016/Also-in-2016/Does-Russia-have-the-financial-means-for-its-military-ambitions/EN/index.htm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.