Armor: History Evaluates The T-14

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July 18, 2015: The May 9th World War II victory parade in Russia provided the first public display of the new T-14 tank. This provided tank experts and historians a detailed view of the new tank and the reviews were mixed. The experts agreed that the T-14 was a bold design, but one that had been proposed before. The Russians get credit for actually acting on all those ideas. Chinese experts openly doubted that the Russians could get all the new tech in Armata to work and implied that some of it was still unreliable. Whether this comes from legal inside information (Russia sees China as a T-14 export customer) or some unacknowledged espionage (via the Internet) it does spotlight a common problem the Russians have had with their new military tech. This is a problem that goes back over 80 years and was especially common with new tank designs. Western experts agreed with the Chinese on the “new tech” problems, which everyone suffers from but the Russians have a habit of screwing this up worse than most. For example, in the 1960s the Russians introduced an auto-loader for the main gun (which reduced the tank crew from four to three) but it took over a decade to make the auto-loader design reliable and safe (for the crew). There were similar problems with other new tech the Russians developed for tanks.

Russia has been trying to develop a radical new tank design since the 1960s. This effort already resulted in the T-64, T-72 and T-80. The only design that showed promise was the T-72, but it was not radically new, just a refinement of designs that appeared early in World War II and quickly replaced all competing designs and became the basis for all modern tanks (T-72, M-1, Leopard and so on). When it was clear (by the 1980s) that the T-72 was the best they had, several new T-72 variants appeared, not all of them Russian. But it was obvious (especially after several wars) that the T-72 was inferior to Western designs

Russia then sought to create another breakthrough design and after several false starts they believe they finally have a winner in their new “universal combat platform” called the Armata system. The first prototypes of this vehicle began testing in 2013 and the Armata platform is currently being used for the T-14 tank prototypes. This vehicle uses the engine and tracks as well as the heavily armored crew capsule of the Armata system. Added to this is an automated 125mm gun (and 32 shells and missiles) in a turret. There is also a RWS (remote weapons station) for a 30mm autocannon and another for a 12.7mm machine-gun. In addition to the weapons the crew of three would operate several sensor systems (thermal, vidcams and AESA radar) and an automatic defense system for protection against missiles and weapons like RPGs (shaped charge rockets used by the infantry). All this would be in a 55 ton vehicle that would require the services of additional maintenance personnel nearby (behind the fighting) who would help fix problems and assist the crew in maintaining all this complex equipment. Prototypes of the T-14 are supposed to be available for field testing in 2015 or shortly thereafter.

There is already another Armata vehicle. In 2014 Russia began testing the newly built prototypes of its new Kurganets 25 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). This is based on the Armata chassis and will eventually replace all the existing BMP and BMD IFVs. Kurganets 25 is very similar to the American M-2 Bradley IFV as it has a turret equipped with a 25mm autocannon and two ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) mounted on either side. The turret also has computerized fire control, thermal sensors and a 7.62mm machine-gun. The 25 ton Kurganets 25 will have a front mounted engine, a crew of three and carry six or seven infantry.

As impressive as the Kurganets 25 seems to be, the Russians may have missed the fact that after 2007 the U.S. Army stopped using the M-2 in combat. By then it was clear to the U.S. that the enemy was intent on using mines and roadside bombs in a big way and the M-1 tank, Stryker, and MRAP vehicles were much better able to handle these blast weapons than the M-2.

The Kurganets 25 is only one of several armored vehicles that use the same basic chassis and systems as the T-14, support vehicles and self-propelled artillery. It is rumored that prototypes of some other Armata vehicles will be shown in military parades during late 2015.

 

 


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