Despite lacking the economic power touted by nations like the United States or China, Russia has managed to keep their name on the tips of defense analyst’s tongues for years thanks to their unique strategy of using cost-effective hybrid warfare techniques to interfere with foreign governments while allocating funds to only high-profile defense initiatives. While often not very practical, these programs help to maintain the illusion of a massively powerful Russian military machine and include weapons like their array of exotic missile applications, robotic infantry support drones, and “doomsday” nuclear weapons more powerful than any that have ever been seen before. Each of these endeavors have been met with setbacks, delays, and sometimes, embarrassing failures, but because they represent the forefront of some of these technologies, their existence alone allows Russia to participate in geopolitical discussions that would otherwise be considered above their weight class.
While Russia has focused on programs that could garner headlines (and potentially foreign investments), they have ignored important elements of any modern global military — like maintaining their sole (and troubled) aircraft carrier or establishing a unified drone program. Instead, they have offered up more headline-friendly fare like their own entry into the fifth-generation fighter market, the Su-57. Meant to stand up to America’s F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Russia has positioned themselves as only the third nation on the planet to tout a fighter with stealth technology intrinsically tied to its design — but experts have questioned how successful they actually were in the effort. Ultimately, it doesn’t much matter, as Russia recently announced plans to order the production of just twelve of these aircraft in the coming year — quite shy of the 180 or so operational F-22s in the U.S. stable and laughable compared to the 2,443 F-35s American now has on order.
Now it would seem Russia’s prized T-14 Armata tank will be the next to receive the Su-57 treatment. After more than three years of claims regarding the T-14s superiority when compared to America’s workhorse M-1 Abrams, they have finally acknowledged that the nation has no plans to order more than the original run of 100 T-14s. That marks a sharp downturn from the claims made by the state-owned manufacturer of the T-14 just three years ago. At the time, the company’s CEO, Oleg Sienko, said Russia would be ordering as many as 2,300 of the new tank by 2020, though claims began to falter soon thereafter when one of the first tanks produced broke down during the rehearsal for its public unveiling.
Russian officials attempted to underplay the failure of the T-14 endeavor in public statements made over the weekend, claiming that the legacy T-72 tanks still in service are already superior to their competitors, so fielding a pricey replacement just wasn’t necessary.
“Well, why flood the all Armed Forces with the Armata tanks, we have the T-72s in great demand in the market, they take it all, compared to the Abrams, Leclercs and Leopards, for their price, efficiency and quality, It’s the same situation with “Boomerangs,” Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov said. “We don’t really need for this (mass purchases of new tanks – ed.), these models are quite expensive in relation to existing ones.”
It comes as little surprise that Russia’s expensive dreams of a T-14 laden military are being postponed indefinitely. With a struggling economy and stagnant defense budget, Vladimir Putin’s modernization initiatives throughout Russia’s military have widely been sacrificed at the altar of high profile programs like the RS-28 Sarmat ICBM, the Status-6 nuclear drone, and the Uran-9 ground combat drone. While most of these systems amount to little more than smoke and mirrors, they offer greater credibility in geopolitical discussion than a fleet of more capable tanks. As such, like the Su-57, it was more important to Russia that they develop the platform than it ever was to actually produce them in sizeable numbers. Russia’s efforts at military modernization have more to do with perception than capability, as Russia couldn’t technically afford to enter into an actual war with an opponent like the United States anyway.
So the T-14 will be placed on a shelf alongside lots of other unproven but highly touted Russian platforms — because as long as war doesn’t actually break out, the legend of the T-14 can persist.
Feature image: Main battle tank T-14 object 148 Armata in the streets of Moscow on the way to the Red Square | By Vitaly V. Kuzmin [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons