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.
March 11, 2022 at 8:11 am
Absolutely any tank can be knocked out. As an example: Russian missiles can hit tanks like Abrams and Leopard at a distance of 5 to 10 km with a 98% guarantee.
The question is different: history remembers how the US and Britain supplied weapons and fuel to Hitler.
March 16, 2022 at 6:09 pm
Interesting article. Thank you. If you read many of today’s foremost thinkers of realist theory, this tragedy is a text book example of realist thinking. Therefore Russia will use a tactical nuke if push comes to shove. Russia probably wants to use one to show Nato what Russia is willing to risk for its survival. And Russia considers the Ukraine question to be about its survival. And Russia would never win a War with Nato if the War is only fought with conventional weapons. So, do you think Russia will use a tactical nuke very soon?
March 17, 2022 at 3:37 am
The cage like additions to armored vehicles, like Strikers, are designed to disrupt an RPG style munition by deflecting it before it hits the vehicle and detonates. I do not recall any reports on the effectiveness of the cage on Strikers. The Javelin does not need to hit the vehicle to detonate making any cage armor useless decoration.