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T-14 Armata vs. U.S. Abrams: Potential Tank Showdown in Ukraine

While the T-14 tank’s lighter weight raises questions about its survivability, its advanced thermal sights and powerful 1,500-2,000 horsepower engine might offer significant advantages.

M1 Abrams. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
M1 Abrams. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Summary: While the T-14 tank’s lighter weight raises questions about its survivability, its advanced thermal sights and powerful 1,500-2,000 horsepower engine might offer significant advantages.

-However, the effectiveness of tanks in combat heavily relies on their armor configuration, countermeasures, and tactical deployment.

-The T-14’s unmanned turret reduces crew risk but may not provide a decisive edge.

-Ukrainian anti-armor tactics, including the use of Javelins and NLAWs, could challenge the T-14’s combat effectiveness despite its technological advancements.

Russian T-14 Armata: Lighter, Faster, but Is It More Survivable?

Russian media reports claim the T-14 is lighter, faster, and more deployable at 55 tons, much lighter than the 70-ton U.S. Abrams, and it is now possible that these two tanks could engage in direct combat in Ukraine. The M1 Abrams is now fighting in Ukraine, while the T-14 is still being held back. Still, a matchup is still possible. 

The T-14 is also reported to be faster than most tanks with speeds up to 55mph, something that enables greater mobility in support of infantry crossing bridges, traveling through urban areas, or more narrow passageways. The question is whether the T-14 is less survivable due to its being lighter weight than an Abrams, something that likely depends upon its armor configuration and countermeasures such as active protection systems.

How would a T-14 perform in combat against an export variant of the US Abrams? Interestingly, the effectiveness of tanks in warfare pertains heavily to the range and resolution of their thermal sights. During the famous tank battles in the Gulf War, the U.S. Abrams was able to see and destroy Iraqi T-72s at ranges where it could not itself be seen, an advantage that enabled the tank to prevail in tank-on-tank battles.

As for the T-14, Russian news reports such as GRU Pycckoe, say the T-14 thermal targeting sights can detect and destroy targets during the daytime out to ranges of 5km and can reach 3.5km at night. While, quite naturally, the range and particular technical capabilities of the U.S. Army’s emerging tank sights are not available for security reasons, upgraded variants of the Abrams have advanced forward-looking infrared sensors and thermal sights likely able to operate at considerable ranges.

Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Spc. Chengjie Liu (right), fires an AT-4 anti-tank weapon as Sgt. Jacob Saccameno, both infantrymen assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, supervises and assists during an anti-tank and air defense artillery range, April 23, at Adazi Military Base, Latvia. American and Latvian soldiers trained using a variety of weapons, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, Carl Gustav recoilless anti-tank rifles and the RBS-70 Short-range air defense laser guided missile system. Soldiers from five North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations, including Canada, Germany and Lithuania, have been conducting a variety of training together during Summer Shield XIII, an annual two-week long interoperability training event in Latvia. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Paige Behringer)

As for its weapons, a report in Popular Mechanics from several years ago says the T-14’s new, now-in-development 3UBK21 Sprinter missile can hit ranges of more than seven miles, according to the report. The Armata’s current round, the 9M119 Refleks, has a range of 3.1 miles (roughly comparable to the current Abrams) and can penetrate up to 900 millimeters of armor, Popular Mechanics writes.A report from hotcars.com, presents a number of interesting technical facts about the Armata, including its 1,500-2,000 horsepower diesel engine.

The article argues that its engine is more powerful than a U.S. Abrams due to its having a better thrust-to-weight ratio, meaning that a 1,500-horsepower Armata engine drives a 55-ton tank, whereas an Abrams 1,500 horsepower turbo gasoline engine powers a heavier tank at 70-tons. The largest advantage of the T-14, however, may be its unmanned turret, which of course greatly reduces risk otherwise associated with having a manned gunner on top of the tank.Unmanned turrets, perhaps using a high degree of automation, robotics, and human controls from the main crew compartment, have been under development in the U.S. for many years, so it is not clear how much of an advantage that might be, if any. Russia’s T-14 Armata main battle tank might be operating in the war in Ukraine if recent reports are to be believed. If so, what is the MBT’s impact?

There are several key variables to consider when answering that question, including ability to mass and tactical dynamics.Russian news reports and other assessments of the T-14 Armata have hyped the tank as having advanced weaponry, composite armor, an unmanned turret, and speeds reaching up to 55 miles per hour. Some of this may be difficult to confirm, and the combat value of technological advances depends on their being paired with effective tactics.

The other key question pertains to the strength of the T-14’s armor composition. At 55 tons, it seems unlikely that a T-14 Armata would prove as survivable as the larger, heavier T-90 and T-72 tanks. However, perhaps Russian innovators discovered newer kinds of blended composite materials able to provide unparalleled survivability at much lower weights. Whether they have is largely unknown and quite relevant to the tank’s performance.

Carl Gustaf. Image Credit: Saab.

Carl Gustaf. Image Credit: Saab.

Regardless of range, T-14s might be vulnerable to Ukraine’s anti-armor tactics and weaponry.  Dispersed groups of dismounted fighters using buildings and terrain to obscure their positions might be effective against T-14 tanks. These are formations the Ukrainians have already employed to great effect, so while advanced thermal sights might see Ukrainian armored vehicles at impactful ranges, they are not necessarily immune to Ukraine’s tactics.

If T-14s prove to be vulnerable to Javelins, Carl Gustafs, and NLAWs, then long-range, high-resolution thermal sights might not be as impactful.

Javelin. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Javelin missile firing.

About the Author: Kris Osboen 

Kris Osborn is the former Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Written By

Kris Osborn is the Military Editor of 19 FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Omega 13

    June 17, 2023 at 5:11 pm

    Here’s a question: How many Armatas are out there? A few dozen? So the Russkies can field a company of their “new” tanks. Meh.

  2. Dan Farrand

    June 17, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    “At 55 tons, it seems unlikely that a T-14 Armata would prove as survivable as the larger, heavier T-90 and T-72 tanks.”

    I think everything about this sentence is wrong. I believe T14 is physically larger than T90 and weighs more.

    The idea of the unmanned turret is to increase the likelyhood that the crew will survive a hit. Therefore armor protection is concentrated around the crew capsule. Current Russian auto loaders make it very difficult to isolate the crew from the ammo. An auto loader in a turret bustle limits ammo loads accessible to the auto loader. Thus the unmanned turret protects the crew from ammo and at the same time also allows for a larger ammo load to feed the gun.

    The unmanned turret probably means the weight dedicated to the turret is a good deal less than in other tanks since the turret no longer houses valuable human crew so turret armor can be lessoned.

    To my mind the whole issue with the unmanned turret is the question of situational awareness. In a manned turret on an Abrams the commanders hatch can be in the protected position allowing the commander to have his head out while still enjoying reasonable protection. This allows him (perhaps) to have better all around awareness of the battlefield.

    It’s unknown if the sensor fusion battle management system in T14 provides better awareness than human eyeballs and instincts in a swiveling head amped up to stay alive. Russian bias has always been for the tank crew to fight buttoned up and so in that sense T14 is not a big departure for Russian design. Will T14 provide the crew with improved awareness – that remains to be seen and perhaps depends on the quality of the sensor fusion.

    Finally, I think the T14 design choices finally show the Russians acknowledging the importance of ergonomics to a tanks effectiveness. Videos of a crew operating inside a T14, show a roomy (no more height restrictions for Russian tank crew ?), comfortable space, where the crew can interact. I suspect it likely pretty quiet and can be heated and cooled efficiently.

  3. GhostTomahawk

    June 17, 2023 at 8:32 pm

    All tanks are vulnerable to anti tank weapons. ALL TANKS. The key is supporting them properly so they don’t get gacked.

  4. Jacksonian Libertarian

    September 18, 2023 at 10:40 am

    Is the latest M1 a few percentage points better than the latest T-14? Yes, but they are both obsolete Industrial Age dumb weapons that will be killed by the first Information Age smart weapon to target them.

    For the price of one obsolete Industrial Age dumb weapon M1 Abrams tank ($7m-$14M?)[6 gallons, per mile], as many as 300 NLAW ($30k-$40k) anti-tank smart weapons can be purchased. The NLAW is responsible for 30% of Russia’s Tank losses (#1 tank killer).

    No one should expect the Abrams to be a game changer, anymore than the Leopard or Challenger tanks now getting destroyed in Ukraine.

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