Russian tanks have adopted an odd characteristic on the battlefields of Ukraine. They have built metal roofs or cages over the turrets of their tanks. It appears they are trying to protect their armored vehicles from Javelin anti-tank missiles that swoop in from the top to hit the tank’s most vulnerable area – the turret.
These metal cages look like “barbecue grills,” and observers have seen many knocked-out Russian tanks with the contraption – showing blown-up Russian tanks littering the battlefields despite the Russian add-ons.
The More Armor the Better?
The welded iron cages on tanks were first seen before the Russian invasion when it became clear that armored forces would need extra protection against the anti-tank missiles that were being transferred to the Ukrainian military. These modifications are also supposed to protect against drones firing missiles from above – especially the deadly Turkish-made TB2 Bayraktar unmanned aerial vehicle.
Iron Cages Are Battlefield Innovations
These stopgap measures are not coming from the factory – it appears they have been welded on before the invasion in hopes of increasing survivability against anti-tank missiles and drones. That means assessment had to be done in real-time – on the battlefield. These experiments are risky without testing that usually accompanies defense contractors’ stringent evaluation programs.
Russians Thought the Cages Could Work
The Drive’s Thomas Newdick believes that the idea behind the iron welded cages made sense before the invasion.
“While the primary function is likely to protect against munitions launched by drones and loitering munitions, the metal structures could potentially interfere with an ATGM’s detonation sequence. In the case of Javelin, it could decrease the effectiveness of its tandem warhead, which is specially timed to defeat explosive reactive armor (ERA). Even if the cage doesn’t outright stop a missile like Javelin consistently, it could reduce its probability of a kill,” he wrote.
No Joy on the Battlefield
But this photo of a destroyed Russian tank shows an iron cage that apparently didn’t do its job. Another image shows that the tank crew not only built a grill over the turret, but they added sandbags to the top.
The Twitter account of Global Conflict News said, “Russian armor has been seen reinforcing improvised armor cages atop their tanks with sandbags. They are colloquially known as “cope cages” due to their seeming ineffectiveness to stop top-attack munitions like the Javelin.”
Other pictures clearly show the iron grill split in half showing that the improvised “cope cage” didn’t work.
Is the Javelin a Saint?
This destruction is another reason to laud the Javelin antitank missile. Ukrainians have already elevated the anti-tank launcher to sainthood with online imagery that portrays a “St. Javelin of Ukraine.” The meme has what appears to be Mary Magdalene holding a Javelin launcher imposed on top of a Ukrainian flag.
At this point of the war, the Russians don’t have much of a choice. They will have to advance on Ukrainian troops firing anti-tank missiles and risk dying in numbers. This is a state of affairs that the Russian high command did not plan for. Russian soldiers at the platoon and company level knew that top-down guided munitions would be a problem, but the iron grill contraption is just too little too late.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, Ph.D., is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.