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By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington, D.C.) While it may at times be a challenge to sift through a lot of the hype and hyperbole surrounding Russia’s T-14 Armata tank, the war vehicle does appear to present a series of very significant threats to U.S. and NATO forces, should some of its reported attributes be accurate.
Multiple reports say the tank is lighter weight than an Abrams, weighing about 55 tons, as well as faster, meaning it can reach speeds up to 55mph compared with the Abrams top speed of roughly 45mph.
The T-14 is also listed to include other asset such as an unmanned turret, three-man crew, 12-round per minute firing range and 125mm smoothbore cannon. The platform is also reported to operate without a “fume extractor” and protect the 3-man crew with an armored capsule.
Over the years, the Russian T-14 has received a lot of press hyping its various attributes, yet it is not at all clear how much these technologies have been tested or place in actual war-like scenarios. A news report from Sputnik several years ago reported that tank-maker Uralvagonzavod has developed a "remotely-detonated" 125mm shell for the T-14 Armata. A report in Popular Mechanics from several years ago says the T-14s new, now-in-development 3UBK21 Sprinter missile can hit ranges more than 7 miles,, according to the report. The Armata’s current round, the 9M119 Reflecks, has a range of 3.1 miles (roughly comparable to the current Abrams) and can penetrate up to 900 millimeters of armor, Popular Mechanics writes. However, there do not appear to be any test reports or analyses about T-14 performance in wargames or live fire events, meaning it is not clear how much verification there may or may not be about its weaponry.
While, quite naturally, the range and particular technical capabilities of the US Army’s emerging tank sights are not available for security reasons, several Russian news reports – such as GRU Pycckoe (site here) – report that the new Russian T-14 Armata’s thermal targeting sights are able to discern tank-size targets during the daytime at ranges out to 5 kilometers. The same reports state the nighttime sights can reach 3.5 kilometers.
Yet another report cites a wide range of attributes of the Russian T-14, to include specific comparisons to the Abrams, yet much of its characterizations may lack context. The report, from hotcars.com, presents a number of interesting technical facts about the Armata, to include its 1,500-2,000 horsepower diesel engine. The article argues that its engine is more powerful than a U.S. Abrams due to its having a better thrust to weight ratio, meaning that a 1,500-horsepower Armata engine drives a 55-ton tank, whereas an Abrams 1,500 horsepower turbo gasoline engine powers a heavier tank at 70-tons. However, while the hotcars report cites the Aramata’s Afghanit Active Protection System, claiming it is extremely advanced, it seems very unlikely that a 55-ton tank would in any way be comparable in terms of survivability compared with an Abrams.
There is, at least at the moment, nothing in the world of lightweight composites ready to truly replace or match the protective functions of heavy armor, and the materials built into the Armata may not be fully known. Also, while the Abrams does have a Trophy Active Protection systems, that does not necessarily mean heavy protective armor should disappear, at least not yet. Therefore, power-to-weight ratios, speed and mobility-enhancing weight may not matter much if a tank is quickly cripppled, disabled or destroyed by incoming RPGs, Anti-Tank Missiles or other kinds of incoming fire. While survivability details regarding exactly what an Abrams can withstand may not be available for security reasons, it seems possible that a more heavily armored Abrams might be in a position to better withstand enemy fire.
There is a lot of information available about the various technologies and attributes built into Russia’s T-14 Armata tank regarding key features such as weight, speed, fuel efficiency, power, active protection and weaponry.
A report from hotcars.com says the T-14 has a greater range than the Abrams because it can operate at ranges of 310 miles, compared with what the article claims as a 265 mile range for the Abrams. This range difference, if true, may not amount to much, especially if unmanned robots can deliver fuel to forward positions on the battlefield. Also, the hotcars report draws unverified conclusions about weapons comparisons between the Armata and Western tanks.
“The T-14 sports the all-new 2A82-1M 125 mm (4.92 in) smoothbore cannon, replacing the older 2A46 125 mm gun of previous Russian and Soviet tanks. This cannon is more powerful than its Western counterparts like the German Leopard 2's Rheinmetall 120 mm gun,” the report says.
Perhaps of greatest significance, the hotcars report makes a number of comparative claims without addressing, incorporating or even discussing the available details about Abrams modernization, facts which bear prominent upon any comparative discussion. Newer variants of the Abrams tank, for example will include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links, laser +warning receivers and a far more lethal, multi-purpose 120mm tank round,senior Army weapons developers have explained. The hotcars reports makes a case for T-14 weapons superiority but also fails to recognize or include that, in terms of weaponry, the Abrams 120mm cannon has not only been upgraded but will fire a multi-purpose ammunition round able to fire High Explosive Anti-Tank rounds as well as Canister rounds, among others. Upgraded Abrams tanks also have an ammunition data link, advanced targeting systems and programmable fuses.
Other elements of the Abrams left out of the hotcars report include the incorporation of advanced computing, electronics, targeting technologies and auxiliary power units able to redefine combat operations moving into the future. The rapid advances in autonomy and manned-unmanned teaming are also left out of the discussion, factors of clear relevance when it comes to an article citing 10-reasons why the Armata is superior than an Abrams. U.S. Army futures command, for example, is fast making progress with new robotic vehicles of various weights and configurations increasingly capable of operating with higher-degrees of autonomy and networking technologies such that they can operate forward and perform reconnaissance missions, targeting and possibly even attack missions with manned Abrams operating in a command and control capacity.
Also, the Abram’s advanced FLIR uses higher resolution and digital imaging along with an increased ability to detect enemy signatures at farther ranges through various obscurants such as rain, dust or fog, Army officials said. Improved FLIR technologies help tank crews better recognize light and heat signatures emerging from targets such as enemy sensors, electronic signals or enemy vehicles. This enhancement provides an additional asset to a tank commander’s independent thermal viewer.Thermal targeting sights, as demonstrated during now famous Gulf War tank battles including Abrams tanks against Russian-built T-72, can create range mismatches enabling tanks to destroy enemy tanks without themselves been seen.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.