The Russian military is getting to put its newest battle tank through extensive testing in a dry, desert-like, environment, with a backdrop of a bloody civil war, in Syria. The purpose is to iron out any potential issues with it before it is fielded widely to its own forces in 2021.

The head of Russia’s Ministry of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov, said in an interview with Russian television channel Rossiya-1, “Yes, that’s right. The T-14 Armata was used in Syria. We observed the tank’s performance in field conditions.”

“It is expensive because it is still undergoing extra trials and modernization after the defense ministry requested additional technical solutions in order to begin serial supplies starting from the next year under the existing contract.”

Manturov added, “We are planning to obtain an export certificate for the T-14 next year. We already have advance orders for the tank.”

The T-14 Armata in action in Syria (YouTube).

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The T-14 Armata tank, a 5th-generation main battle tank, is an entirely new design for Russia. Their heretofore designs had primarily followed an evolutionary path built upon each preceding tank model. This went all the way back to the earliest days of World War II with their simplistic, but easily manufactured T-34. 

The T-14 Armata is armed with a 2A82-1M smoothbore gun, 57-millimeter grenade launcher, and a 12.7-millimeter machine gun. The 2A82-1M 125mm smoothbore gun is supposed to provide 15-20 percent better accuracy over the gun currently fielded in the T-90 main battle tank. 

It is much bigger than the traditional Russian tank designs. Its three-man crew all sit in the hull as the turret is completely unmanned to improve crew survivability. T-90 has no gunner and uses an autoloader. (Most Western tanks have a crew of four.)

The tank is heavier since the designers opted to install a newly-developed base armor, made of steel, ceramics, and composite materials. Additionally, it has a new Malakhit explosive reactive armor claimed to be a better design than the previous ones. The T-14 is also fitted with the Afganit active protection system, which can detect incoming rockets and missiles and shoot them down before they can hit the tank. It is also fitted with NBC protection and automatic fire suppression systems.

The tank is powered by an A-85-3 turbocharged diesel engine, capable of 1,500 horsepower, with an automatic transmission. It can reach speeds of 46-50 mph. The T-14 is the first Russian designed tank in which the engine and transmission can be easily removed as one component in field conditions — something Western tanks have had as a feature since the 1950s. 

Russia has long used Syria as a test-bed for its military hardware. It isn’t known if the Armata was actually used in combat in the Syrian civil war or was just tested in the environment. Many of the anti-Assad forces involved in the civil war have made heavy use of both guided and unguided anti-tank missiles. It would be a propaganda loss for the Russians to lose one of their newest designs to separatist forces in the conflict. But by releasing that the tank was field-tested in Syria, the Russians can claim that the new tank is “combat-proven,” which will no doubt help with its export orders.

The tank was already supposed to be widely distributed in Russia, but a number of problems have slowed the development. As of today, only a few prototypes have been fielded by the Russian military.