Last week was almost Russian Tank Week on BattleSwarm, but a plethora of news intervened (like Vladimir Putin intervening in the affairs of neighboring states).
But one interesting tidbit I didn’t get to was the fact that Russia has introduced a new generation of tanks (and mechanized fighting vehicles more generally, all based off the same base platform).
So is the new Russian T-14 Armata main battle tank something to worry about, or does the M1A2 Abrams retain clear technological superiority?
To my very, very outsider eyes, the answer is somewhere in-between.
First the description from Jane’s:
The T-14 is Russia’s first truly new tank design since the T-72, designed in the early 1970s. Based on the Armata Universal Tracked Platform, the T-14’s most attention-grabbing feature is its unmanned turret, with all of the MBT’s three crew (commander, driver, gunner) seated in a well-protected crew compartment at the front of the hull.
Notably, the unveiled turret dispels suggestions the MBT would be armed with a coaxial 30 mm cannon, in addition to its 2A82A 125 mm main gun. Indeed the pre-production vehicles paraded by Russia feature neither a 30 mm cannon nor a coaxial machine gun (MG) armament as expected, although the production vehicles might eventually feature the dual 30 mm cannon/7.62 mm MG.
Although the T-14’s turret features a large bustle, it remains unclear whether this features the autoloader/weapon-handling system for the MBT’s main gun or serves another purpose (meaning the T-14 would retain the vulnerable hull-mounted carousel system present in previous Russian MBTs). Some reports also indicate Russia has not entirely abandoned its ambitions to arm Armata with a 152 mm main gun. If this is the case, it could explain why the T-14’s unmanned turret has an unusually high profile relative to the position of the 125 mm main gun, with the turret possibly designed to incorporate growth potential up to the 152 mm calibre.
T-14 is armed with a remote-controlled turret (RCT) armed with a 7.62 mm PKTM MG, with the unit also functioning as the commander’s independent sight. The gunner’s sight is mounted to the left side of the main gun and shielded by a two-piece armoured door to protect it from small arms fire. A barrel reference unit is mounted above the base of the 2A82A main gun, which notably lacks a fume bore extractor (which would be superfluous given the turret is unmanned). Metrological, satellite communications, GLONASS, datalink, and radio communications antennae are fitted on the roof of the turret.
The MBT’s turret is literally covered in a variety of launcher and sensor systems understood to be linked to a new APS system, which some reports call ‘Afghanit’. At the base of each side of the turret are five large and fixed horizontally arrayed launch tubes covering the 120° frontal arc of the turret. These bear a strong resemblance to the launchers for the earlier Drozd and Drozd-2 APS, which fired a hard-kill 107 mm unguided projectile armed with a high-explosive-(HE) fragment warhead to defeat incoming anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs).
The T-14 is also fitted with four sets of smaller-calibre launchers, with each unit armed with 12 launch tubes. Two horizontally trainable launcher units are fitted on either side of the top of the turret, while two apparently fixed and vertically facing launcher units are recessed into the top of the tank’s turret.
It is unclear whether this second system fires hard-kill (ie warheads) or soft-kill (ie anti-infrared/laser-obscuring smoke) munitions, or a combination of the two. It is also unclear if the vertically mounted units are fireable, or simply storage for reload units for the two trainable launchers. One limitation of the Drozd systems were that they provided no protection against threats emanating from above the tank, so mounting the fixed launchers vertically could be one way to provide protection against top-attack threats.
Providing warning and guidance for the APS system are two types of sensors mounted around the T-14’s turret. Two large sensors, believed to be electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR)-based laser warning receivers, are angularly mounted on the front of the turret providing 180° coverage, while four smaller sensors (covered but believed to be radars) are mounted around the turret providing 360° coverage.
Armata features a notably different hull design to the T-72/90. One striking difference is the road wheels, which are of a different design to the T-72/90’s, while the Armata features seven road wheels, to the six of the previous MBT designs, with the drive wheel at the rear. This is similar to the T-80 MBT family, which also has chassis with seven smaller road wheels.
It is not known whether Armata is equipped with a gas-turbine or a diesel engine [given how the Russian chain of command swore off gas-turbine engines after the T-80’s performance in the first Chechen war, probably diesel. -LP] , but the T-14’s powerpack is mounted at the rear of the MBT, with two internal fuel tanks mounted on either side, and exhausts also mounted on either side. Day/night cameras are mounted around the T-14’s turret to provide situational awareness, while a forward-looking EO/IR (FLIR) system is mounted on the front of the hull for the driver. The driver’s hatch has no periscopes. When driving buttoned-down, the driver may be in a reclined position, using a set of periscopes mounted on a second hatch directly behind him.
NII Stali is understood to have designed a new form of steel armour for the Armata family. Speaking to TASS, a NII Stali representative said the “steel armour alloy, named 44S-sv-Sh [44S–], is approved by the Armata’s developer. The alloy’s operational testing has been started and it can be used in prospective vehicles’ parts”. The use of the 44S-sv-Sh steel in Armata is intended to provide protection at a similar level to STANAG 4569 (first edition) Level 5. The high level of 44S-sv-Sh’s protection is ensured by the short-grained material structure, the optimised legation process and the special heat processing. The steel has also been designed to maintain its characteristics in very cold conditions.
The Armata design is also understood to utilise explosive reactive armour (ERA) within its base design (rather than the appliqué ERA tiles seen on previous Russian MBTs), with views from above the MBT showing a distinctive tiled pattern indicative of ERA on the top of the vehicle’s chassis and turret. Although what appear to be ERA tiles are present on the turret roof, much of the sides of the turret appears to be just a thin cladding covering the various APS and sighting systems rather than armour. Appliqué armour (unclear if passive or ERA, or both) is fitted to the forward two thirds of the T-14’s sides, while the rear third is protected by bar armour to provide clearance for the T-14’s exhausts.
Here’s a picture of the front by way of NPR:
I’m not going to get into the electronics/sensor/packages, since it’s all devil-in-the-details stuff impossible to evaluate at this point. (The active protection system could be very interesting, but there’s no way of knowing how it stacks up to Israel’s Trophy or the still-under-development U.S. Quick Kill.)
The big reasons I think the M1A2 retains overall superiority:
“NII Stali is understood to have designed a new form of steel armour for the Armata family.” Unless this new steel armor has radically improved properties, it seems unlikely to be even as effective against HEAT and/or kinetic penetrating rounds as the Chobham ceramic composite armor used by the M1 and British Challenger tanks, now into (at least) its third generation.
I do not like the shape of that turret. At all. Way too high profile, though up-gunning to a 152mm cannon (which I’m skeptical they can do effectively, even with this huge turret) might make it a more acceptable trade-off. (Early T-14 mocks showed a radically low profile turret that evidently turned out to be a pipe dream.) The degree to which the turret bulges out over the side and rear seems like shot traps. That flat section to the right is evidently a gunner sight, which looks like it’s just asking to be targeted. (Then again, the T-72 used this weird stacked bulging steel plate system to provide “non-ractive reactive armor”, which might alleviate the problem some.)
Not seeing any detailed information on the Russian fire control system for the main gun. If there were radically improvements you would expect more crowing and demonstrations to the press for the export market, which I haven’t seen. Since the M1A1 was achieving kills against Soviet armor at the extreme range of its fire control system back during Desert Storm, I’d need a lot of evidence to be convinced the Russians have caught up, and so far I don’t see any.
That said, there are a number of interesting features on the T-14:
The fully automated turret. It’s no surprise that the Russians went in this direct, since the T-72 already used an autoloader. (There were persistent rumors that the T-72’s autoloader had a nasty tendency to rip off crewmen’s arms, but the consensus out on the web seems to be that this is probably untrue.) With the constant march of progress there’s no reason you couldn’t have a reliable auto-loader, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see future American tanks take this direction.
The 125mm smoothbore cannon, which should theoretically outgun the 120mm on the M1A2. (Cue Nigel Tufnel: “Well, it’s 5 bigger, innit?”)
The top speed is reportedly higher than the Abrams, somewhere in the 50 MPH range, which seems quite likely, given that the Abrams is the heaviest modern MBT in current service. However, the T-14 engine may have some reliability concerns:
Integrated reactive armor: Probably a net plus. Like the TUSK package for the Abrams, I suspected this was developed in response to specific experience with asymmetrical urban warfare (in Russia’s case in Grozny, where the T-80 performed very poorly). While I have my doubts that the T-14 can defeat modern two-phase top attack anti-tank missiles like Javelin, it’s probably more than adequate for defeating the average Joey Jihad RPG. The concern is that while reactive armor certainly increase vehicle survivability, it’s very hard not to let it increase fratricidal lethality to nearby friendly infantry. Then again, Russian military doctrine has always had a callous attitude toward infantry casualties…
Maybe the integrated roof launcher array can defeat top attack anti-tank missiles like Javelin and RPGs. Hard to gauge effectiveness without seeing how it performs in actual combat.
I like the wide access door at rear, which reminds me of the rear doors Israel designed to the Merkava after the experience of running out of ammo during the Yom Kippur War war. (I’m less wild about the high, relatively exposed positions for the gas tanks at the rear of the vehicle, something the bar armor only partially alleviates. But it might be an acceptable tradeoff.)
All this assumes that significant numbers of the T-14 actually get built, given that Russia has cancelled at least two separate tank programs (Black Eagle and the T-95) to follow on to the T-72/T-80, and that their economy is really biting the yak in the wake of the oil price collapse and Ukraine sanctions. But the shared Armata platform probably helped reduce development and production costs, and I suspect it will get put into production, as a big new main battle tank seems like exactly the sort of thing Vladimir Putin likes seeing built.
This is just a quick overview based on limited information. Those with more information and/or deeper subject knowledge are welcome to sound off in the comments.
The base armour on the new tank consists of metal-ceramic plates. Novosibirsk-based company NEVZ-Ceramics has already launched serial production of this product, according to Andrey Nikitin, the head of the company’s armoured ceramics bureau. “We finished the trials this year and the elements revealed their declared capability,” he said.
Nikitin said the new metal/ceramic armour provides one-and-a-half times more resistance than fully metal systems.