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By Michael Peck,The National Interest
This piece was originally published in 2014.
Should direct conflict erupt between Russia and Ukraine, or between NATO and Russia, the Russian Army will be fielding some powerful weapons.
Purists may argue whether they are better or worse than comparable U.S. or NATO equipment. In many cases, we can't and won't know unless there rival weapons meet in battle. But what is clear is that the Russian Army has weapons far more sophisticated than anything the West has encountered in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been decades since even the Israelis fought advanced Russian tanks.
What lethal weapons can Russia bring to bear in Ukraine? Here are five:
The T-90 tank is the latest iteration of the T-72/T-80 family. Smaller and lighter than the U.S. M-1, it weighs about 46 tons versus 60 tons for the Abrams. But it is heavily armed with advanced fire control equipment and a 125-millimeter smoothbore cannon capable of firing armor-piercing depleted-uranium rounds as well as laser-guided AT-11 anti-tank missiles that can destroy targets out to 2.5 miles away.
Besides the expected thick armor, the T-90 is protected by Kontakt-5 explosive armor to destroy incoming anti-tank rockets. Its Shtora-1 defensive system contains laser warning receivers plus a suite of countermeasures that jam missile guidance frequencies, and even smoke grenades to blind infrared sensors.
However they would stack up against the U.S. Abrams, British Challenger or German Leopard, the T-90 is certainly more advanced than the decrepit T-80s, T-72s and T-64 fielded by the Ukrainian Army.
BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle:
Though the motto for the BMP-3 and its American counterpart the M-2 Bradley should be "We Are Not Tanks," these infantry fighting vehicles are still quite powerful. The BMP-3 is the descendant of the famous BMP-1, whose appearance in the 1960s shocked Western observers with the idea that an infantry carrier could be a weapons platform as well as a battlefield taxi.
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That the 19-ton BMP-3 can carry seven infantrymen behind an inch-and-a-half of armor tends to get lost. More attention is paid to its main armament, a 100-millimeter low-velocity cannon that can fire AT-10 Stabber anti-tank missiles. It can also be fitted with explosive armor and the Shtora countermeasures system.
Used as a light tank, the thinly armored BMP-3 might have problems even against Ukraine's aging anti-armor arsenal. But used as an infantry transport capable of generating heavy firepower, the BMP-3 is a potent weapon.
Tornado Multiple Launch Rocket System:
For heavy fire support, Russian troops can rely on the 9A52-4 Tornado. A lighter and more advanced replacement for the BM-30 Smerch, the Tornado features six tubes for launching heavy 300-millimeter rockets at targets up to 60 miles away.
Launched from a flatbed 8x8 truck, the Tornado is more or less the Russian counterpart to the U.S. Army's High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The Tornado's rockets can carry high-explosive, cluster or thermobaric warheads. A battery can deluge a large area with heavy fire.
RPG-30 Anti-Tank Rocket:
What modern Russian army would be complete without rocket-propelled grenades? The Russian/Soviet RPG has a long history of enabling infantrymen to destroy tanks and other vehicles, as well as bunkers, buildings and lots of other targets.
However, the RPG-30 is designed to defeat a special kind of target, namely tanks protected by active defenses such as Israel's Trophy system, which launch projectiles to intercept incoming rockets. The RPG-30 gets past this by firing two rockets; the launcher has a main tube that fires the anti-tank round, plus a side tube that fires a decoy projectile to fool the active defense system into intercepting the wrong rocket.
6B43 Body Armor:
Body armor might seem out of place on a list of powerful Russian weapons. But in today's limited conflicts where even small casualties can generate big headlines, any gear that can protect soldiers is an enormous asset.
6B43 body armor, which contains plates composed of titanium and hard carbide boron ceramics, may be resistant to NATO 5.56-millimeter ammunition or the 5.45-millimeter bullets fired by Ukrainian Army AK-74s. This could give Russian special forces and infantry an edge in firefights.
Image: Flickr/Dmitry Terekhov/CC by-sa 2.0