Russia’s New T-14 Armata

If there’s one thing that’s been made abundantly clear in recent years, it’s that the military of the Russian Federation is looking to modernize in order to compete with the United States and NATO. This can be seen in the development of the AK-12 assault rifle to the PAK FA stealth fighter, and now the Russian Ground Forces are getting a new tank. The tank, which had been speculated on for years but officially unveiled in 2015 is the T-14 Armata.

The T-14 Armata main battle tank
The T-14 Armata main battle tank

Similar to how the AK-12 was originally believed to be called the AK-200, the T-14 (designated Object 148) was long believed to be called the T-99. However, when the first photos of the tank appeared online on March 24th, 2015 it became known that the tank was called the T-14. However, the name “Armata” does not merely refer to the tank itself, but refers to an entire family of vehicles intended to be developed from a similar platform referred to as the Armata Universal Combat Platform. Certain aspects of the T-14 are supposedly carried over from the T-95 (Object 195) and Black Eagle (Object 640) projects, of which the T-95 was cancelled in 2010 and the Black Eagle was cancelled in 2001.

The cancelled T-95 tank
The cancelled T-95 tank

Intending to replace the T-90 which was introduced in 1991 as Russia’s main battle tank, the T-14 is the first Russian tank to be developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and represents a totally new age of armored vehicles. Also unlike other similar programs, the T-14 was developed within the span of only six years. Appearance-wise, Soviet tanks from the T-72 to the T-80 to the T-90 all shared a similar design with six wheels and a bulbous-shaped turret. The Armata design instead has seven wheels and a more boxy shape, with a box-shaped turret more similar to the American M1 Abrams, German Leopard 2, and Chinese Type-99.

T-14's during the Victory Day Parade
T-14’s during the Victory Day Parade

Development of the T-14 was driven by the “six zones principle,” a theory to which modern tanks must adhere. The first zone is “avoid a collision,” that the tank must avoid a more powerful enemy and focus on destroying weaker enemies. The T-14 possesses a radar which can detect any kind of incoming ammo for up to 100km, and automatically destroy them. The second zone is “avoid detection,” that a tank must be difficult to detect. According to the Russians, the T-14 is capable of avoiding both radar and infra-red. The third zone is “avoid target acquisition,” the fourth zone is “avoid hit,” the fifth zone is “avoid penetration,” and the sixth zone is “avoid destruction.”

In terms of armament, the T-14 is equipped with a 125mm smoothbore cannon (the same cannon on the T-90), although it is planned for the T-14 to later be equipped with a 152mm cannon which Russia’s top defense procurement official stated is able to “burn through a meter of steel.” The cannon will also come equipped with an autoloader which carries 32 of the T-14’s 45 shells. Then there is a 12.7mm Kord heavy machine gun and a 7.62mm PKMT machine gun for dealing with infantry and less-armored targets. One interesting feature of the T-14 is that the turret is supposed to be totally unmanned, allowing the crew to aim and fire the cannon by remote from within an especially armored capsule located in the hull which contains the crew and reflects a new focus by the Russian military to protect its professional soldiers. Other figures in the Russian military state that the unmanned turret is just the first step, and that with certain modifications the T-14 is fully capable of becoming a totally unmanned drone.

Diagram showing the circular arrangement of ammo underneath the turret
Diagram showing the circular arrangement of ammo underneath the turret

In many previous Soviet tank designs, such as the T-72 and T-80, two of the most widely used tanks in the world, the ammunition is contained in a circle around the turret. This means that if the tank is hit from any angle which manages to hit the ammunition, regardless of where the impact is the ammunition will detonate with such force that the turret can actually be launched from the rest of the tank. This is extremely hazardous to the crew and is a feature that is routinely exploited by forces which encounter the T-72 or T-80 in combat, which is why the T-14 has the crew’s armored capsule (which itself contains multiple layers of armor) totally separate from the ammo container.

The T-14 is also reputed to have a top speed of roughly 90km/h, whereas the M1 Abrams only has a top speed of roughly 72km/h. It is also cheaper than the M1 Abrams and the French AMX Leclerc, as well as other modern tanks such as the South Korean K2 Black Panther and Japanese Type-10. As of now, the Russian Ground Forces are operating only twenty prototypes of the T-14, but have ordered up to 2,300 T-14’s which will be delivered at a rate of roughly 500 tanks a year.

A Chinese VT-4 prototype undergoing testing
A Chinese VT-4 prototype undergoing testing

It is expected that, like the T-72 and T-90 before it, the T-14 will be exported to other countries with India in particular expected to be the T-14’s first and most important importer. There has also been talk of Egypt as well as the People’s Republic of China being potential customers, although there was some concern that the Chinese would simply reverse-engineer the T-14’s technology and develop their own copies of it, which the Chinese have historically done with copies of everything from the AK-47 (the copy being the Type-56) to the MiG-19 “Farmer” (the copy being the Shenyang J-6). However, recently the PRC stated that their own internally developed VT-4, also known as the Main Battle Tank 3000, is superior to the T-14 in terms of fire-control, mobility, and automation. It is important to note that the VT-4 (currently in development by the Chinese North Industries Group Corporation, or Norinco) has not yet entered the production stage, and there is no way to verify any claims of superiority as of yet.

The T-15 infantry fighting vehicle
The T-15 infantry fighting vehicle

As stated earlier, the Armata does not refer to just the T-14, but rather an entire family of armored vehicles. Aside from the T-14 tank, there is also the T-15 Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle (Object 149), the 2S35 Koalitsiya self-propelled artillery vehicle, the BM-2 rocket artillery vehicle, the BREM-T T-16 recovery vehicle, and a mortar vehicle. The first official public unveiling of the Armata Universal Combat Platform was during the 2015 Victory Day Parade, a parade held in Moscow to commemorate the Allied victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, although the T-14 was made infamous for a tank which broke down during parade rehearsal prior to the event. However, despite an unfortunate equipment failure the Armata has nonetheless proven itself as the future of armored warfare not just in Russia, but possibly the world.

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