Russia’s T-14 Armata main battle tank – data, facts, myths


For some, the Russian T-14 Armata main battle tank is groundbreaking, revolutionary and a military technology sensation. For the others, it’s more of a bankruptcy, misfortune and breakdown tank that’s too costly for Russia. While the start of series production and the delivery of larger numbers is still a long time coming, Russia is already looking for buyers abroad. The T-14 is said to have already been tested in Syria, during which it was allegedly also a total loss due to shelling. Is the T-14 just a spectre or a superior opponent for the Leopard 2, M1 Abrams, Challenger 2 & Co.?


The main battle tank has dominated the world’s battlefields for over 100 years. But with the end of the last Gulf War in 2003, its importance seemed to wane. The war on terror, the shift of combat to increasingly urban areas, asymmetric conflicts with their improvised explosive devices and increasingly effective anti-tank weapons in the hands of insurgents increasingly showed tanks their limitations. Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent war in eastern Ukraine, however, conventional conflict in Europe has once again moved into the realm of possibility, and national defense is experiencing a renaissance. In such „conventional“ conflicts between two (almost) equal opponents, it is a military truism that recapturing and holding terrain will continue to be possible mainly through mechanized infantry and battle tanks.

Leopard 2 A5 main battle tank during a training and combat demonstration – Bundeswehr photos/ CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

The German Leopard 2 is one of the most powerful main battle tanks in the world, but it dates back to the 1980s. Despite the many improvements made to its armor, fire control system and firepower itself, it is reaching the limits of its development potential. As one Rheinmetall employee put it, „You can put lipstick on it, but it is and will remain an old lady.“ The Leopard 2’s time is irrevocably coming to an end. Incidentally, the same is true of the U.S.’s M1A2 Abrams or the U.K.’s Challenger 2. The NATO countries are constantly trying to delay the inevitable, i.e. the development of a completely new main battle tank, with ever new increases in combat value. According to current plans, the new European main battle tank, the so-called Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), will not replace the German Leopard 2 until 2035, i.e. in just under 15 years. Anyone familiar with the Bundeswehr’s current timetable for major military equipment will know that it is safe to add a few more years and that the first truly operational production models will probably not be introduced into service until 2040. At that point, the Leopard 2 would be 60 years old in development terms! Against this backdrop, the presentation of the new Russian T-14 main battle tank at the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9, 2015, hit the West like a thunderclap in terms of armaments technology. In the aftermath, a heated argument erupted in the Western trade press about the tank itself, its concept and its actual capabilities. Many of the articles published were either superficially dismissive or extremely critical for obvious political reasons. Every little glitch or flaw, every delay was used to question the concept behind the T-14 altogether. In the Russian press, on the other hand, the T-14 is hailed as vastly superior to all NATO main battle tanks. In fact, however, the development of the Leopard 2 and M1A2 dates back more than 40 years, and only combat upgrades have made them operational at all. Thus, the T-14 actually lacks a true rival as a comparison. This blog post does not want to join the group of Russian claqueurs or harsh Western critics. Rather, it will try to get as close as possible to the facts from a variety of different information in freely available, open sources and through an unbiased analysis. Nevertheless, much about the T-14 is and remains secret.

Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Development

The former Soviet Union and Russia have set important milestones in tank construction since the 1930s. The T-34 is considered by experts to be one of the most successful tank models ever. It was the first mass-produced main battle tank with a diesel engine, whose perfect balance of firepower, protection and mobility put the fear of God into German tanks from 1941/42. The T-55 was the first main battle tank to have rudimentary NBC protection, and the T-62 had a smoothbore gun for firing the appropriate arrow projectiles. The T-64 and subsequent A/B variants were the first to use an automatic loader, a fire suppression system and composite armor. The T-72 is currently the most widely used main battle tank in the world, but its weaker export version was hopelessly outgunned by the M1 Abrams from the USA in the 1990/1991 Gulf War. The „Kontakt-5“ reactive armor used in the T-80U from 1985 was the first to reduce the penetration rate of KE-penetrators of Western main battle tanks by more than 30%. The T-90, a modernized T-72B, is the first tank to have a so-called electro-optical soft-kill active protection system „Shtora-1“ as standard equipment. Russia has 2,750 active and 10,200 mothballed main battle tanks. The former Soviet Union built nearly 100,000 T-54/55 tanks, 20,000 T-72s and 3,200 of the newer T-90, which is still in production. Russia plans to acquire another 900 tanks by 2027, including 500 of the new T-14 and 400 of the latest T-90M. Russia also plans to upgrade its older T-72s to the T-72B3 standard introduced in 2010.
Despite these impressive production figures and technological achievements, Russia suffered painful losses of its main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles during the conflicts in Georgia and Chechnya. This was due to improvised explosive devices and portable anti-tank missiles or grenades, but also to the mechanical unreliability of the Russian tank models used, the lack of more effective reactive armor and more effective fire protection systems. One of the consequences of this was the development of an entirely new family of armored vehicles on the so-called Armata chassis, which took only five years and continues to use some of the concepts and technologies of the abandoned T-95 project. The Armata family so far includes the T-14 main battle tank as the best-known variant, as well as the T-15 heavy infantry fighting vehicle, the T-16 BREM armored recovery vehicle, the Kurganez-25 infantry fighting vehicle and the 2S35 Koalizija-SW self-propelled howitzer. The T-14 represents a departure from the earlier Soviet practice in armored vehicles of developing relatively simple, low-cost, but specialized platforms, all based in design on the experience the Red Army had gained in fighting the Wehrmacht during World War II. Soviet tanks were relatively simple, extremely rugged, and produced in large numbers. Soviet tanks placed less emphasis on being a one-to-one match for Western tanks and more on overwhelming the enemy with their sheer numbers. The survivability of the crew was more of a secondary concern. Every Russian tank, including the T-90, followed this basic design philosophy. Obviously, with the T-14, this traditional way of designing armored vehicles was abandoned. For the first time, the Russian military seems to want to place a high priority on crew survivability. This could also be due to Russia’s drive to professionalize its army and possibly the country’s declining demographics. Instead of a relatively simple design, the T-14 is equipped with a number of very advanced features that have never been implemented in an operational main battle tank anywhere else in the world. Instead of high maneuverability and a low silhouette, it now relies on heavy armor, a high level of crew protection combined with modern technology, and an unmanned turret, as Western models do. According to a British general staff officer, the T-14 is currently said to be the most advanced main battle tank in the world. With an estimated unit price in pre-production between €5-7 million, it is also the most expensive main battle tank Russia has ever built.

Mil.ru, CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Procurement

Originally, the Russian Army planned to procure up to 2,300 T-14s between 2015 and 2020 to gradually replace its aging T-72s, T-80s and T-90s. Due to production and budgetary issues, these plans are now delayed until at least 2025, leading to the postponement of the start of serial production for now. In July 2018, Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Space Industry Yuri Borisov announced that there was currently no need to mass produce the T-14 if its predecessors, namely the latest variants of the T-72, „remain effective against American, German and French counterparts.“ Instead, probably in part for cost reasons, another modernization program was launched for the existing T-72, T-80, and T-90. In 2019, there were reports that there were technical problems with all major components of the T-14, some of which were due to the sanctions imposed on Russia over military actions in Ukraine. In February 2020, it emerged that the requirements for the T-14’s planned engine had not been met by the design bureau, further delaying the tank’s introduction. In August 2020, the Minister of Industry and Trade told journalists that production of 132 Armata platform armored fighting vehicles, including T-14 tanks, had begun after problems with the engines and thermal imaging systems were resolved and would be delivered to the armed forces in 2021. Now, on August 10, 2021, Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Krivoruchko stated that the Russian Armed Forces will first receive another 20 T-14 Armata tanks in the second half of the year. By its own admission, Russia has already deployed the T-14 in Syria for combat testing and plans to sell it to India, Egypt, Belarus and Vietnam, among others.

Mil.ru, CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Propulsion, chassis and power

Originally, the T-14 was to be powered by an A-82-2 turbodiesel engine with an output of 1,200 hp. This was a new-generation engine that was much more compact than previous Russian models. However, in 2019, it was announced that the tank would now be equipped with a more powerful A-85-3 engine, which had a power output of 1,500 hp. Interestingly, this figure probably refers to a peak power output that can only be used in wartime and at the expense of an extremely short service life of just 2,000 operating hours. In normal operation, the A-85-3 reaches 1,350 hp. The X-shaped 12-cylinder four-stroke diesel engine with two exhaust turbochargers and intercooling is located in the rear. It is complemented in a block with an automatic transmission. However, reports surfaced in 2020 that the T-14 could have a manual transmission. The entire unit was designed to be removed and replaced within an hour in the field. Western tanks have had this feature since the Cold War era. The T-14 is the first Russian tank to have the engine and transmission integrated into one module. There is also an auxiliary engine that provides power to all systems when the engine is shut down. It also ensures that the engine starts smoothly at low temperatures. The T-14 thus has the same propulsion power as the Leopard 2A7, but is over 30% lighter with a combat weight of 55t (according to earlier sources: 50t), resulting in a specific power of 27.3 hp/t. Compared to the 20.8 hp/t of the Leopard 2A7, the T-14 is thus significantly more agile and, depending on the type of terrain, can reach a speed of about 80 km/h with an estimated maximum range of about 500 km.
In contrast to earlier Russian and Soviet tank types, the T-14 has seven pairs of 700mm track rollers, of which the two foremost and the rearmost suspension can be actively controlled hydraulically. This allows manual or automatic adjustment of the undercarriage to the terrain, enabling significantly higher speeds in medium-heavy terrain compared to conventional torsion bar undercarriages. The tracks of the T-14 are narrower compared to their Western counterparts due to the lower combat weight, but the specific ground pressure will still be in about the same range. A snorkel is carried at the rear of the turret, which can be used to make the T-14 capable of deep wading.
Much emphasis has been placed on the strategic mobility of the T-14. Thanks to its weight of 55t, it can be easily transported by rail or on a trailer, which preserves the life of the engine and transmission, and it will also be able to cross most bridges in the western part of Russia and Eastern Europe without any problems, unlike the Leopard 2A7 or M1A2 SEP V3. Two T-14s with their crews and all equipment can be airlifted by the An-124 heavy transport aircraft. However, the most widely used Russian transport aircraft, the Il-76, can carry only one T-14 and its equipment in its latest variant.

Dkzeo, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Armor and protection systems

Compared to the T-90SM at 48t, the T-14 is considerably larger but only just under 15% heavier at an additional weight of 7t. It is almost as big as the German Leopard 2A7. And this is where the criticism of some western experts or analysts comes in. At 55t, the T-14 Armata is significantly lighter than the Leopard 2A7 or the M1A2 SEPV3 with their 72t and 73t weights respectively. Doubts have been expressed as to whether the level of protection claimed by the Russian side could be achieved at all with shaped charge projectiles of 1,100 to 1,300mm and with arrow projectiles of 1,000mm armor steel equivalent („RHA“: Rolled Homogeneous Armour) (in comparison: M1A2 SEP 1,050mm RHA at the hull front for arrow projectiles), because with the weight difference mentioned the protection must inevitably be lower. The T-14 is supposed to have a composite armor made of ceramics and a new steel alloy „44S-SV-SH“, which does not lose its properties even at arctic temperatures. It will be manufactured using a special electroslag fusion process, which Russian designers claim will allow this armor to achieve 15% higher RHA performance for the same weight and provide protection at a level similar to STANAG 4569 Level 5. This high level of protection of 44S-SV-Sh is reportedly achieved by the fine-grained material structure, optimized alloying process and special heat treatment. Thus, taking into account that with 15% higher RHA performance the T-14 should actually weigh 63t and the unmanned, unequally weaker armored turret saves another approx. 10t of additional weight, one would arrive at a total weight for a comparable main battle tank with a manned as well as more heavily protected turret of about 73t, which corresponds to the weight of the M1A2 SEP V3 Abrams.

And it is precisely this unmanned turret that makes the T-14 so unique and offers two major advantages over a manned one:
1. the crew compartment volume, which requires particularly heavy protection, is reduced by about 60%, which in turn leads to the considerable weight savings mentioned above while maintaining the same level of protection for the three-man crew. This crew sits side by side in a separate armored capsule in the front hull of the tank and should be able to survive even in the event of a direct hit in the turret, especially since there are further protections for the crew by two additional armored partitions to the ammunition carousel under the turret and to the rear engine compartment with its fuel and lubricants.
2. the turret volume is also reduced: the turret surface area is about 35%, the frontal area about 15% smaller than on the Leopard 2A6 or M1A2 Abrams. The probability of a hit on the first shot (without misdirection) with the Leopard 2A6 and the most modern available arrow projectile DM63 on the turret of a T-14 in partially covered position at a distance of 3km is said to be only about 25%! Statistically, therefore, four shots would be necessary to land a hit at all.
In addition, the T-14 – unlike its western counterparts – has explosive reactive armor („ERA“) of the „Malachit“ type firmly integrated into the armor and protection concept from the outset, as well as an additional distance-active protection system („APS“) of the „Afganit“ type with soft- and hard-kill components.

Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Explosive reactive armor „Malachit“ is layers of explosives between two thin plates of metal or composite material attached to the armor shell in portable, easy-to-fit tiles. In the T-14, the skirted sides, the front hull bow and the turret roof area above the gun are protected by corresponding Malachit tiles and -with the exception of the side skirts- are integrated into the outer shell of the tank. If a projectile hits this reactive armor, the explosive layer explodes and hurls the metal plate towards the projectile. The effect of the shell is thereby (at least partially) compensated, the residual effect must be absorbed by the passive armor of the T-14. Until the corresponding tiles are replaced, the affected area is protected only by the passive armor. Malachit uses the T-14’s AESA radar system to detect incoming projectiles and detonate the reactive armor before impact. Conventional ERA is effective against rockets, guided missiles, and HEAT grenades, which hurl a jet of molten metal at the target on impact. However, ERA is largely ineffective against KE-projectiles. The new armor, however, is said to provide 1,000-1,100 mm of protection against APFSDS and 1,200-1,400 mm RHA against HEAT. Russia further claims that Malachit can deflect or destroy not only tandem warhead shaped charges specifically designed against older ERA technologies, but also KE-projectiles. Western experts, however, doubt the latter. In future missions of the T-14 in built-up areas, light anti-tank shells fired at short range at the sides of the tank would be a serious problem. By adding or installing the ERA elements described above, the power of shaped-charge projectiles can be reduced by more than 80%. Malachit used in the T-14 represents a consistent further development of the predecessor systems Kontakt-5 and Relikt and should be correspondingly powerful. As with Kontakt-5, Malachit will at least be able to reduce the penetration of KE-projectiles, although the greatest threat to the T-14 will continue to be large-caliber long dart projectiles from other main battle tanks and modern anti-tank guided missiles. These Western KE-projectiles, such as the DM63 with tungsten carbide penetrator, have a maximum penetration of 750mm RHA, and for guided weapons the maximum penetration is as high as between 1,200mm (FGM-148 Javelin) and 1,400mm (AGM-114 Hellfire). Even high-quality passive armor combined with sophisticated reactive protection technology can do little to counter this.
To defend against modern anti-tank weapons, the T-14 therefore uses the „Afganit“ active protection system, which, in conjunction with Malachit, is intended to provide extended protection against projectiles with long-dart penetrators, powerful rockets and guided missiles. It consists of four radar panels on the left and right of the upper front and rear sides of the turret and two laser warning modules on both sides of the turret front, each of which is coupled with special hard-kill and soft-kill components on the turret.

Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Threat detection for the hard-kill component is performed by an AESA radar with electronic beam sweep, which can track up to 40 ground and 25 air targets simultaneously and is to be based on the radar technology of the Russian Su-57 stealth fighter. Five launchers, arranged at the bottom of the right- and lefthand sides of the turret and directed forward at an angle of 60°, are used to destroy incoming grenades, missiles and guided weapons. Like their predecessors „Drozd“ and „Arena“, they fire explosive and/or fragmentation grenades. These grenades are designed to damage or even destroy enemy explosive and shaped charge projectiles, rockets and guided missiles before they hit the T-14’s passive/reactive armor.
It is hotly disputed among experts whether „Afganit“ can actually damage or destroy a long-dart penetrator made of tungsten carbide or depleted uranium. In this respect, Russia has more than twenty years of experience with APS, including the APS „Arena“, which was successfully demonstrated to German and French experts in the 1990s. Then, under the name AWiSS („AbstandsWirksames SchutzSystem“ – Distance Effective Protection System), the German company Diehl Defence started working on active, vehicle-based protection systems against anti-tank weapons, successfully conducted „live-fire“ test runs with them in 2006 and, following this test campaign, continued to develop AWiSS into the AVePS (Active Vehicle Protection System). In two test campaigns in 2011, AVePS successfully demonstrated its functionality and performance against various types of armor-piercing weapons, including KE-projectiles at a sufficient distance from the vehicle! In 2011, Diehl applied for a patent under No. DE102011010902A1 for a distance-effective active vehicle protection system. The description of the patent application literally states: „The system is installed on board the potentially threatened vehicle and designed to autonomously detect the current threat by means of a sensor-controlled computer for processing target data and to destroy it at an uncritical residual distance by means of a directed defensive grenade equipped with a radial fragmentation or, in particular, a blast warhead, which is detonated in a controlled manner when the threat is sufficiently approached. For the special case of a design for defense against very fast threats such as by KE-penetrators, the grenade is additionally equipped with a proximity sensor system for ignition triggering.“ After the West had already succeeded 10 years ago in successfully defending itself against KE-projectiles by means of an APS, and taking into account Russia’s undisputedly far-reaching expertise in this field, one may and must assume that „Afganit“ will also be able to do so. One conceivable solution could be to detonate the „Afganit“ defense grenade at the level of the tail of the long-dart penetrator approaching at Mach 5, which would lead to a commuting and considerable power reduction (30-50%). The time-accurate firing required for this presupposes a data link between the APS fire control computer and the defense grenade itself, which is presumably already implemented in Israeli APSs.

Alexey Vasilenko, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

In addition to the two laser warning modules already mentioned above, the softkill component uses two rotating/swiveling launcher units of 12 launcher cups each on the left and right in the front area of the roof and two fixed upward-pointing launcher units of 12 launcher cups each recessed in the rear area of the T-14’s turret roof, which are used for self-misting with a multispectral fog. This can also be used to counter modern third- or fourth-generation anti-tank guided weapons with top-attack capability (including FGM-148 Javelin) and artillery sensor munitions (SMArt 155, BLU-108). Taking into account the sharp increase in Russian electronic warfare capabilities over the past decade, it must be further assumed that Afganit is significantly more capable of electro-optical or magnetic jamming and defeating guided weapons with laser and infrared-based missile control -e.g. by „outshining“ them by means of infrared searchlights or by an electromagnetic pulse- than Shtora-1, which was already developed in the 1980s.
Finally, the T-14 has so-called cage armor on the two rear hull sides at the level of the engine compartment and the fuel tanks, which is intended to detonate the electric firing circuit of shaped-charge projectiles, e.g. those of the RPG-7, which is very widespread worldwide, before they hit the actual armor, so that the warhead can no longer develop its full penetrating power. The advantage of this concept lies in the weight savings and the continued mobility of the vehicle compared with other additional armor. The disadvantage lies in the comparatively low protection spectrum: the cage armor is only effective against shaped-charge projectiles, while other types of ammunition are not affected. It remains to be seen whether the cage armor will be dispensed with in the later production version of the T-14 or whether it will only be used adaptively in certain countries of operation.
All in all, it can be assumed that the T-14 offers the three-man crew a higher level of protection than its western competitors, despite its significantly lower combat weight.

Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Armament and ammunition

The T-14 is equipped with a newly developed 125mm smoothbore gun type 2A82-1M, whose technical data are subject to secrecy. The autoloader in the turret’s lower mount can hold 32 tank shells (separated ammunition), and the T-14 can carry 45 in all. The penetration rate with older ammunition should be about 800mm RHA at a range of 3km. With hollow charge rounds, penetration increases in proportion to caliber, which is why the values here should be only about 5% higher at about 1,200mm RHA compared to those from 120mm caliber. The maximum engagement distance for the KE- and shaped charge projectiles used by the T-14 will be about 5-7.5km, the effective one about 3-4km. The gun can fire the Russian Army’s large stockpile of older 125mm ammunition and guided weapons with engagement distances of more than 5km, as well as, with its special loader, a newly developed APFSDS ammunition with enlarged auxiliary propellant charge and a penetrator length of up to one meter.
There is only scanty information on the performance-enhanced new APFSDS projectiles type BPS-1 „Vacuum“. Maximum initial velocity is reported to be 1,950-2,050m/s, and penetration is reported to be about 950mm RHA. The long-dart penetrator is said to be made of either tungsten alloy or depleted uranium and is estimated to be 930-960mm in length, according to CAD drawings and photos of a segment of the guidance device found at a Russian firing range. In addition, a new HE-FRAG ammunition called „Telnik“ is being developed for the T-14, which, in addition to the classic filling of HEXOGEN explosive, also contains an element of prefabricated fragments in the tip of the projectile. When detonated, these fragments are brought to the target in a forward-facing bundle in a particularly effective manner.
The maximum permissible internal barrel pressure rises to about 7,700 bar, and the barrel length is said to be just under 7 m, thus reaching a critical range with regard to the maneuverability of the T-14. The barrel itself has been specially hardened by autofrettage to withstand the highest pressures and is also partially chrome-plated. Due to the high muzzle energy of 15 megajoul, the service life of the barrel is probably limited to 200-280 rounds with long-rod penetrators. The secondary armament consists of a 12.7mm machine gun, which can also be used for air defense, and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun.
Considerations of equipping the T-14 with a 152mm Type 2A83 gun are unlikely to be realized for the time being for two very crucial reasons: Firing tests with the 152mm version of the performance-enhanced new APFSDS rounds from the 2A83 gun versus the 125mm version for the 2A82 did not yield a significant increase in penetration. It is believed that the significant increase in guide size for the same caliber bullet resulted in an increase in weight and resistance in the barrel, eroding the performance advantage from a larger propellant charge and larger barrel caliber. In addition, a 152mm projectile has an approximately 50% larger footprint compared to a 125mm projectile, which would reduce ammunition capacity from the current 45 rounds (125mm) to approximately 30 rounds (152mm), which in turn would negatively impact the operational life of the T-14. However, the 152mm gun would offer advantages for shaped charge ammunition and anti-tank guided weapons, as the size of the shaped charge could grow or a second charge could be added (so-called tandem charge).

Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Command and system control

The three-man crew of the T-14 is positioned side by side in an armored hull bow, with the driver on the left, the gunner in the center and the commander on the far right. An armored bulkhead separates the crew from the weapons and ammunition compartment in the center of the hull, and another bulkhead separates it from the engine compartment. Direct access to the weapon system in the unmanned turret is thus impossible for the crew; the weapon system and engine are operated exclusively electronically. In principle, malfunctions in the turret cannot be remedied by the crew itself. To operate the weapons and fire control systems, the commander and gunner each have two touch-sensitive LCD monitors that serve as an interface to the T-14’s main computer. The driver also controls the tank electronically and receives information and access to vehicle management only via LCD monitors. The driver and commander also each have three angle mirrors, while the gunner has only one. The fire control system, linked to the main computer, consists of, among other things, an electro-optical telescopic sight with infrared camera and laser range finder at the front of the turret, an electro-optical commander’s periscope with infrared camera and laser range finder on top of the turret roof, a remote-controlled weapon station with 12, 7mm MG on the turret roof with infrared camera and laser range finder, an analog TV telescopic sight for emergency firing, six TV cameras for all-round surveillance and two AESA radars for the APS Afganit and ERA Malachit protection systems and for target reconnaissance. The range of both radar systems depends on the terrain. The digital map generated by these systems provides information on the location of the company’s own units but not on those of the enemy. Only enemy vehicles that have already been reconnoitered or entered into the system are displayed.

Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

Appraisal and conclusion

There is heated debate among experts as to whether the commander sitting in the hull bow below the turret lacks the necessary overview and situational awareness in combat, or whether cameras and electro-optical targeting devices can actually provide him with the same information as the optical targeting devices and observation systems of today’s main battle tanks in a manned turret. If the T-14 has technology similar to that of the Israeli „Iron Vision“ in this respect, the commander could even see significantly more than in a manned turret. However, this assumes that Russia has the appropriate technical expertise and financial resources.
Since the focus of armor protection on the T-14 is concentrated on the crew in the hull bow, with a weight of „only“ 50t-55t for the turret with weapon system and other important areas, the armor must necessarily be lower. Active armor protection systems such as Afganit can compensate for this to a certain extent. However, if the weaker armored turret is actually hit in combat, it may even fail completely along with the gun, or in the worst case even the entire tank, because most of the highly flammable ammunition is concentrated inside the vehicle, virtually in the middle of the tank between the engine compartment and the hull bow crew-capsule. It is not yet clear whether there is an effective concept for depressurizing the turret in the event of a „deflagration“ of the propellant charges. The extent to which this is really a weak point and whether the ammunition stored in the autoloader will then actually explode can probably only be determined with absolute certainty in the event of hits in combat.
Important components of the APS Afganit (radar, launchers, etc.) are located outside the turret armor and can hardly be protected effectively against fragments or even small-caliber projectiles, making failure under combat conditions more than likely. But then the T-14 is deprived of one of its most important protection systems and is protected only by its passive armor as well as, to a limited extent, by its reactive armor. On the other hand, the video cameras and electro-optical scopes are neither more nor less vulnerable to shelling or fragmentation compared to older optical systems. The optics remain the Achilles heel of all main battle tanks, including the T-14.
The T-14’s length of about 11 meters makes it clear that it is probably designed more for open field battle than for operations in urban areas, which are likely to become more important as theaters of war in the 21st century. The same caveat must then apply to the Leopard 2, which is 80cm shorter and 30cm smaller, but 25cm wider.
In terms of complexity, reliability and availability, the T-14 is likely to be a challenge for the Russian armed forces when it is introduced in larger numbers. In the future, the Russian Army’s maintenance units will need many more mechatronics and software specialists to maintain, repair, and update the system’s hardware and software. However, these are all problems that all modern armed forces now face when deploying technically complex weapon systems.

Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons, no changes

It is exceedingly risky for the West and NATO to dismiss the T-14 as an underperforming weapon system by simply pointing out that the initial high cost of production will prevent its use in large numbers. Experience shows that for large-scale military equipment, economies of scale with ongoing serial production reduce costs disproportionately over time. In addition, Russia plans to sell the T-14 to India, among others, where it is looking for a partial replacement for its 2,200 T-72s. Even if unit numbers remain low, the T-14 could be viewed as an evolved technology demonstrator that offers several new interlocking innovations that can be integrated into existing platforms such as the T-72 or T-90 in the future, in addition to the T-14. However, this also means that teething problems must first be identified and addressed to achieve an acceptable level of overall reliability. The T-14 „broke down“ during its unveiling at the 2015 Victory Day Parade in Moscow. After the breakdown, questions were raised about whether it was mechanically reliable. However, this is not a problem unique to the T-14. The Bundeswehr (German Army) has experienced similar things with the „Puma“ infantry fighting vehicle over the years. It would therefore be premature to judge it solely on the basis of mechanical defects in the pre-production model. Above all, the T-14 demonstrates that Russian tank development, which had stagnated since the economic downturn following the end of the Cold War, is reviving, despite massive Western economic sanctions since 2014.
That notwithstanding, the T-14 is not groundbreaking. Russian experts rightly point out that the concept of the T-14 with a three-man crew in the hull bow and an unmanned turret was discussed in the West as early as the 1970s and -80s but then not implemented. With its APS Trophy, Israel has long since developed a technically mature active armor protection system for its Merkava tanks, among others. Turkey already modernized its M60s between 2006 and 2009 with, among other things, explosive reactive armor from Israel. However, the T-14 represents a technical advance in armored warfare precisely because of its balanced overall concept of mobility, protection and firepower (the so-called „iron triangle“). NATO is currently lagging behind Russia in this respect with its main battle tanks, and it is not foreseeable when and how this backlog will be made up. Further increases in the combat capabilities of obsolete Western tank types, resulting in ever-increasing weight and decreasing mobility, will not be sufficient to achieve this. If Germany were so sure that the Leopard 2 in its current configuration and with its 120mm gun is a full match for the T-14 and its armor protection concept outlined here, then the question arises as to why Rheinmetall wants to retrofit the Leopard 2 with a newly developed 130mm smoothbore L/51 gun -precisely with reference to the T-14? Just as an aside, it should be noted that 17 Leopard 2A7s are currently being retrofitted with the Israeli APS Trophy for the VJTF in the Baltic States, and the recently unveiled Leopard 2A7V has, among other things, side skirts with explosive reactive armor that look very similar to those of the T-14.
The T-14 should therefore be seen as a wake-up call to the West but especially to Germany and France to press ahead with the development of the Main Ground Combat System with all their might without further delays, political bickering or endless discussions about export restrictions and intellectual property. There is otherwise a real danger that without the acquisition of modern, future-proof platforms to combat comparable armored forces, NATO is likely to fall short in a possible future armed conflict with Russia.

This is a translation of the original article in German.


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