Russia’s T-14 Armata battle tank has been touted for years as one of the most advanced platforms in the world. A significant departure from traditional Russian tank designs, the T-14 was purpose built for the modern Russian professional military, placing a much higher emphasis on crew survivability and defensive systems than any previous Kremlin effort. The result is a main battle tank with a turret completely separated from the crew compartment that relies on a complex suite of sensors for targeting rather than human line of sight — making for a tank most of the world believes is not only the safest to ever come out of Russia, but potentially, a solid match for America’s legendary workhorse, the M1 Abrams battle tank.
One of the most significant things the T-14 (and other Russian tanks) have that American platforms don’t is the ability to launch missiles from the tank’s main turret. This gives the T-14 far better long distance accuracy that they could have achieved using traditional unguided munitions, and could potentially offer a leg up in an offensive against their American counterparts. Their new missile, which is an updated version of their standard 9M119 Refleck missile, has an operational range of greater than 3 miles and, if Russia’s statements are to be taken at face value, the ability to penetrate armor that’s nearly a full meter thick. According to Russian statements, this new weapon is enough to tip the scales in their favor if ever Russian and American tanks were to meet in battle, and to be fair, this capability isn’t one to be scoffed at. However, Russia’s claims of tank superiority thanks to the T-14 and it’s new long range missile aren’t quite accurate for a number of reasons.
Missiles vs. Armor
While Russia’s claim of 990 millimeters of armor penetration is certainly a sobering one, the M1A2 Abrams tank boasts some of the best armor ever equipped on such a platform. It’s actual thickness and composition remain classified, but overlapping layers of steel, ceramic armor, depleted uranium, and lead is estimated to offer the hull of the tank about 700 millimeters of protection and the frontal arc a whopping 1,300 millimeters. That means a head on hit from Russia’s powerful new missile would not be enough to penetrate the tank’s armor, making it far more difficult to do away with a closing American assault. However, these missiles could potentially cause a great deal of damage if they were able to effectively target its less armored portions.
Active Missile Defenses
The Abrams may be able to withstand a direct hit from the T-14 Armata’s missiles as long as it took it head on, but all American tanks currently deployed to Europe are currently being updated to include the Israeli based Trophy Active Protection System. This automated system relies on a series of radar arrays to identify closing missiles on the approach. It then fires a shotgun blast-like pattern of metal bits and debris to detonate the weapon before it reaches the tank’s hull. This system has proven extremely effective at preventing missile strikes on tanks, and because it’s completely automated, it does not require an active awareness of inbound ordnance to do its job.
Despite the Abrams’ advanced armor and active defense systems, the T-14 Armata, equipped with a slew of weapon systems and forms of armor piercing ammunition for it’s main gun, doesn’t appear to be the same sort of slouch produced by other Russian military endeavors. In fact, a fight between Russia’s and America’s premier battle tanks, one on one, could prove interesting. The thing is, however, such a face off would never happen in real life. In an actual war between Russia and the United States, the deciding factor (when it came to tanks) wouldn’t be capability; it would be volume. Russia’s stagnating economy has forced a number of defense initiatives onto the back burner, and the T-14 is no exception. Russia recently announced that they were discontinuing their standing order for T-14s at 100. The United States, on the other hand, maintains more than 10,000 M1 Abrams tanks.
When you’re outnumbered 100 to 1, you’ll need a lot more than some new missiles to turn the tide.