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The Russian T-14 Armata Is Far From Ready

January 7, 2019

Russian media revealed the T-14 Armata main battle tank is scheduled for “state trials” organized by the defense ministry in 2019. This is the latest benchmark for the platform that’s being spun off into a “heavy” APC, an infantry fighting vehicle, and a self-propelled howitzer. The T-14 Armata’s public debut was during Victory Day on May 9, 2015. A company of T-14’s have since appeared in Moscow’s Red Square each year leading columns of T-90A tanks.

But with the exception of a yearly arms show, T-14’s are scarce during the Russian military’s major exercises and even its much hyped tank biathlons. There’s little evidence to go by proving they’re in production at Uralvagonzavod’s gargantuan tank plant.

The T-14 is perhaps the most advanced main battle tank in the world today and the Russian army are expected to receive a small batch of 132 tanks in 2021. This means its armored fleet will depend on upgraded T-72 and T-80 tanks for another decade. If more T-14’s enter service over time this should worry NATO, whose own tank fleets have withered. The T-14 is best known for an unmanned turret armed with a powerful 125mm main gun controlled from a separate crew module at the front of the hull.

According to the US Army’s OEWatch magazine, the T-14’s main armament is a 2A82 125mm gun fed by an autoloader. The same turret includes a remote controlled machine gun and the cylindrical Afganit active protection system for destroying inbound missiles and warheads. Another rare feature of the T-14 are multiple high resolution cameras that function as gun sights and viewing windows for the crew. One is located above the driver’s compartment. Reports later surfaced in Russian media that a 152mm gun is being readied for the T-14.

The T-14’s spacious chassis “reportedly” supports 65 tons on its seven road wheels, which are the same as those used by the T-80U. It runs on a Chelyabinsk A-85-3A diesel engine producing 1,500 horsepower, on par with its rivals from the US and NATO. The OEWatch assessment of the Armata platform forecasts that it may replace at least 13 different vehicle types throughout the Russian Army.

If the T-14 is just about to enter a new round of tests this contradicts the defense ministry’s earlier claims it wrapped up field trials in 2017. Given the rapid pace of tank development in the former Soviet Union (a new model entered service each decade), the “Armata” family was already under development in the late 2000s and almost five years have passed since its debut. This laborious gestation period can’t be a fault of its technology, since these are all based on proven designs and patents.

There’s now sufficient reason to believe financial constraints are endangering the entire Armata program, whose failure can leave the Russian army stuck with the same aging but familiar equipment it rolled out for the Vostok-2018 exercises. Should this happen, Russia’s vaunted military engineering and mass-production can fall behind its neighbors–the newest weapons from China and Turkey do come to mind.

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