Russia’s T-14 Armata Tank: Just More Russian Military Hype? Seems So, For Now: Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, the massive potential of the Russian military was feared across Europe. This was despite its stunning defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), which saw the Russian Navy humbled at the Battle of Tsushima, the only true decisive battleship-to-battleship engagement in history. In fact, Germany was so concerned about the Russian potential that it sought to devise a plan to defeat France first before turning its attention to the east. It was a costly mistake that lead to four years of horrific trench warfare in the First World War, and cost the lives of millions.
Throughout the subsequent Soviet era, the mighty bear was once again feared as it was seen as the only other true “superpower” apart from the United States. Yet, it was humiliated in a costly decade-long war in Afghanistan – a war that certainly contributed to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union. At the start of this year, there were concerns of a resurgent Russia as it massed its forces for its invasion of Ukraine. Now nearly six months later, history is repeating itself. Moscow is being humbled again by a nation that it expected to easily defeat.
What is different this time is that Russia reportedly had the most capable military hardware that should have made for easy work in overrunning Ukraine. Its Sukhoi Su-57 fifth-generation fighter aircraft, S-400 Triumf air defensive systems, and its Ratnik body armor were all seen as highly advanced systems that should have given Russia the edge in any conflict.
T-14 Armata: The Tank That Never Really Was…
Then there is the T-14 Armata, a main battle tank (MBT) that the Kremlin had touted as the most capable in the world. First demonstrated during the May 2015 Victory Parade, it was truly a modern design that wasn’t simply the next evolution of tanks that dated back to the T-34. The outline of the tank, from its hull to its long and boxy turret, which resembles Western tank turret designs, was a notable departure from those past Soviet designs. The T-14 also features seven road wheels instead of the six wheels that were commonplace on almost all previous Cold War Soviet and even modern Russian MBTs.
Among its innovative characteristics is its unmanned turret, which includes a remotely controlled 125mm 2A82-1M smoothbore main gun with fully automated loading. The turret’s magazine contains a total of 45 rounds of ammunition, but the main gun can also fire laser-guide missiles. In addition, the 2A82 125mm gun can even be upgraded to the 2A83 152mm gun, while the T-14 can also be fitted with secondary weapons such as the Kord 12.7mm machine gun or a PKTM 7.62mm machine gun.
In addition, the driver, gunner, and tank commander are housed in a crew compartment that is located in an armored capsule at the front portion of the hull, isolated from the automatic loader, as well as the ammunition storage in the center of the tank. The Armata also features a low-silhouette that reduces exposure to enemy fire, and enhances the safety and survivability of the three-man crew.
It promised to be a formidable weapon on the battlefield – but Moscow hasn’t apparently sent any to the fighting in Ukraine, even as its aging tanks have been destroyed en masse. One issue has been that Russia, which now faces economic hardships due to the international sanctions, is unable to continue producing many of its high-tech weapons. It has relied too heavily on imported components, of which the T-14 Armata required quite a lot.
Russia’s coffers are also running low, which is somewhat ironic as the UK had bought enough Russian oil and gas since 2014 to fund the purchase of 8,000 T-14 MBTs. Now as Europe weans off Russian oil, Moscow will be increasingly hard pressed to build any additional T-14s.
T-14 Armata Seems Like All Hype
It could also be argued that no weapon has been as massively overhyped as the T-14, only to fail to live up to it. That should have been clear when it made that aforementioned debut in 2015, as the tank was unable to cross Red Square after breaking down during parade rehearsals and had to be towed away for repairs.
Just five years later, there were reports that three T-14s were hit by anti-tank weapons in Syria, with one being completely destroyed.
It is likely that the Kremlin knows that despite all the hype, the T-14 could be easily destroyed by American FGM-148 Javelins, British NLAWs and Swedish AT4s. The Kremlin may be concerned that the T-14 likely suffers from the same design flaw of the Cold War-era T-72, which has seen turrets literally blown off in the so-called “jack-in-the-box-effect” when an anti-tank missile strikes the ammunition storage.
Western analysts have reportedly known of this problem since the Gulf War in 1991 when Iraqi T-72s suffered catastrophic damage from hits near the turrets – which often killed the crew. About the only saving grace is that the T-14’s crew might survive, but the tank would still be left as a ruined hulk. At this point, it may simply be a matter of Moscow not wanting to risk the few expensive T-14s it has in its arsenal. It likely knows that the T-14 doesn’t live up to the hype.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.