Is Russia giving up on its T-14 Armata tank? It is starting to look that way.
After a long development period and overhyped publicity campaign, Russia may now just look to export it. Supposedly the main battle tank that was sure to dominate the Ukrainians, the T-14, has hardly been seen during the invasion. Russian propaganda organs have called it “cutting edge” and “revolutionary.”
All Sizzle, No Steak
TASS has written numerous articles extolling its virtues – always stating its introduction was right around the corner. Also touted as the world’s only fourth-generation tank, the T-14 just never cut the mustard in battle, unless you count its time in Syria. It is at least two or more years behind schedule.
More of a Paper Tiger
The tank had the advantage over other main battle tanks, at least on paper. Features such as the remote control turret, a better isolated protected space for the crew, a powerful gun, 360-degree cameras, and the advanced Malachit explosive reactive armor stand out. It was supposed to outclass the M1 Abrams, Challenger 2, and Leopard 2, not to mention Ukraine’s old T-64 and T-72 Soviet-era tanks.
If the Russian Military Won’t Buy Enough, How About Foreign Sales?
Rosoboronexport – the manufacturer of the T-14 — tried to sell the new tank at Army 2022, a major defense expo run by the Russian military. India, Algeria, and China are said to be interested. The arms maker also pushed the tank at the IDEX trade show in the United Arab Emirates in 2021. Rosoboronexport said there were six countries that made inquiries.
Lots of Features
The upside is substantial. The Armata can reportedly launch mini-drones. Since the turret is unmanned, it is less susceptible to anti-tank missiles that plunge downward on what is usually the weak point of a tank. The Afganit active protection system shields against guided missiles, too.
The 125mm smoothbore gun has fully automated loading. The magazine contains 45 rounds, and the main gun can also fire laser-guided missiles. In addition, the 125mm gun can be swapped out for an even bigger 152mm gun, while the T-14 comes with secondary weapons such as a 12.7mm machine gun or a 7.62mm machine gun.
Less Than 150 to Be Produced
At one point the Russian military said it wanted 2,300 T-14s by 2025. This is obviously not going to happen. They cut the total down to only 132 – not enough to make much difference – even if all those were deployed in Ukraine. The new systems made the tank expensive at $4 million each.
Too Much Tech At One Time
Business Insider found a quote from Russia’s VPK defense magazine with negative undertones. “It became a hostage to many new technologies and systems introduced into it. As a result, the Ministry of Defense came to the conclusion that there was no need to hurry with large batches of Armatas. And the emphasis should be on the T-72, T-80, and T-90 tanks, using the huge modernization potential built into them back in Soviet times.”
Could the Production Line Be On Pause?
It’s not clear if Moscow is even still producing additional T-14s. The international sanctions against Russia have bit deep into the defense industry. With a tank that needs the utmost tender loving care to integrate all of those features, Rosoboronexport is forced to import the latest electronics and other components. This is difficult if not impossible in the current sanctions environment. So, production has suffered.
This seems to be a pattern with Vladimir Putin’s defense industrial base. It is long on promises and short on results. The Su-57 and Su-75 next-generation fighters have shown growing pains. Aircraft manufacturing is complicated for any air force, but tank development is supposed to be a strong suit for the Russian military.
Moscow has often successfully worked on updated versions of its main battle tank throughout modern history. Now with its new tank’s made-from-scratch design, the defense industry is showing weakness, especially with the added difficulty of importing materials that are affected by Western sanctions. Perhaps some foreign sales of the T-14 will give the program a propaganda boost, but it less likely to change the facts on the ground in Ukraine and that has to make Russians wonder if their armed forces are up to the task of winning the war.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood 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. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.