What if Russia stops buying the next-generation T-14 Armata tank? Believed to be just what the Russian military needed to dominate 21st-century armored maneuver warfare, the T-14 has done little to tip the balance of the Ukrainian war in Russia’s favor. 19FortyFive has reported that at least one Armata has been observed in action around the village of Midginskaya near Luhansk, on social media posts on October 8.
But the T-14 Armata does not have the numbers to make the Ukrainians fear the newfangled Russian tank. T-14 production has been limited by international sanctions as parts and components become difficult to acquire, especially computer chips and advanced electronics.
Armata: Who Is Buying at This Cost?
Rosoboronexport has even tried to hawk the modern tank to overseas markets, but this has achieved little interest beyond a few nations who never pulled the trigger on a purchase. Since Russia is an international pariah, armies from the developing world are not likely to enter into major arms deals with Moscow. Russia originally wanted to buy 2,300 Armatas by 2025. They were willing to pay $4 million each.
That 2,300 number has been cut down repeatedly with different parts of the Russian defense industrial complex giving conflicting claims and excuses for missing that target. The number purchased may be as low as 100 new Armatas. The Russian army had such high hopes for the Armata that they thought it could have unmanned robotic partners that would be integrated into tank units, with the manned T-14 playing “quarterback” to lead the charge to deliver crushing blows to the enemy.
Quality Versus Quantity
Those heady days are over. The T-14 program has broken with tradition too. Russia usually produced tanks in mass quantities that were designed to overwhelm the United States and NATO if a conflict ever sparked up during the Cold War. But with the T-14, the Russian army thought it could focus on the qualitative aspect of tank production and create bells and whistles that would generate numerous advantages in head-to-head matchups with the American M1A2 Abrams, the German Leopard 2 and the British Challenger 2.
Ukraine Is Winning the Social Media War
Vladimir Putin’s forces are wary of the propaganda effect of Ukraine destroying or capturing a T-14 Armata and are using it sparingly in the country. After all, this is a war in which nearly every military action is captured on smartphones with cameras and immediately posted to social media. Russia cannot afford to lose even a single T-14, as one knocked-out tank would provide a public relations bonanza for Ukraine. Moscow is already losing the social media war. This is likely why Russia is refraining from sending the tank to Ukraine in high numbers, if they even have them available in the first place.
But Is It a Paper Tiger?
On paper, the T-14 Armata looks great. The tank has a lower silhouette than other Russian tanks, which reduces exposure to enemy fire. The turret is unmanned, and the crew is in front of the hull in an armored compartment for better protection away from where the ammunition is stored. The 125mm 2A82-1M smoothbore gun has an automatic loader, which requires only three crew members to operate the tank. There are modern thermal sights and laser range finders and designators. An advanced digital fire control system is also on board along with 45 rounds of ammunition.
It Has the Latest Protective Systems
The best part of the tank is its survivability. It can destroy enemy anti-tank missiles with its Afghanit active protection system. The Afghanit detects and tracks incoming rockets or missiles and fires its own munitions to eliminate these threats. This defensive system works in tandem with the Malachit dual-explosive reactive armor. There is also bar armor in the rear to protect against RPGs.
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Swift and Rangy
The A-85-3A turbocharged diesel engine puts out over 1,200 horsepower and it can reach speeds up to 50 miles per hour on roads. The tank’s range is 310 miles.
So that’s all fine. But what’s the point of all of those features if it is not going to be used in numbers? And that is if we assume it is in regular production. It may be stalled on the production line without the needed components for further assembly. It will probably only see limited use in Ukraine and will remain in the rear echelon for additional testing. The Ukrainian army has precision-guided shells that can be fired from howitzers. These along with anti-tank missiles makes the T-14 Armata susceptible to destruction. Why give the Ukrainian army the satisfaction of taking out the enemy’s best tank?
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.