Moscow has reported that Russian Ground Forces (RGF) expect to receive the first dozen advanced T-14 Armata tanks as soon as next month or as late as early 2020.
Unlike many of Russia’s new weapons systems that tend to offer more bark than bite, defense experts around the world are fairly certain that the T-14 represents not just a significant step up in technology for Russian troops, but also a legitimate threat to America’s venerable M1 Abrams family of tanks, long seen as among the best battle tanks in service.
The T-14 boasts fully digitized systems, a new A82 125mm smoothbore cannon, a 12.7mm anti-aircraft gun, and a run of the mill 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. But despite the significant punch that the T-14 packs, it’s not just the loadout that makes it such a significant upgrade for Russian troops. The Armata’s advanced explosive-reactive armor, coupled with an active protection system meant to intercept inbound projectiles, was purpose built to manage modern anti-tank weapons. It also has an unmanned turret, a first for Russian tanks, which allows for the mechanization of more tasks and a safer crew compartment.
The T-14 Armata’s 125-millimeter main gun has been designed, like those of previous Russian tanks, to be able to fire anti-tank missiles. The T-80 was the first, equipped with 9M112 Kobra HEAT projectiles that could cover 2.5 miles and penetrate tank armor up to 700 millimeters thick. Current anti-tank missiles employed by Russian military have a range of 3.1 miles and the potential to destroy targets through up to 900 millimeters of armor. But a new missile, called the 3UBK21 Sprinter, is in development for use in the T-14. It boasts a maximum range of over seven miles and has as yet unannounced armor penetration capabilities.
The T-14 Armata has already drawn the attention, and the concern, of NATO allies who see it as a real risk to America’s Abrams, Germany’s Leopard, the UK’s Challenger 2, and France’s Leclerc. Each of these battle tanks, while considered modern and extremely capable, could find itself facing a far more dangerous opponent if Russia manages to muster an entire fleet of Armatas — but that’s where this new wonder-tank of Putin’s stops sounding quite as threatening.
Like the long-troubled Su-57 stealth fighter, which Russia also claims will start arriving in December, the costs of fielding a sizeable fleet of the T-14 Armata still seem prohibitive for the stagnant Russian economy that is riddled with corruption and stifled by international sanctions.
This first batch of 12 T-14 Armata’s might make for some good headlines, but would be far too small to have any real affect in a conflict with a developed nation’s military. Like their Su-57s, these deliveries seem more about trying to garner foreign buyers’ interest than they really are about bolstering Russia’s military capabilities. If Moscow can line up a few buyers, the profits from those sales could fund further production of these advanced weapons systems for themselves.
So, while the threat posed by this capable new tank may be formidable on a one-on-one basis, these new tanks will likely do little more than pose for photoshoots until Russia can get an injection of funding into its defense apparatus.