The Buzz

Spotted: A New Version of Russia’s Fearsome Armata Series of Combat Vehicles

A new version of Russia’s fearsome Armata series of combat vehicles has been spotted—the T-16 armored recovery vehicle. While the T-14 main battle tank variant and the T-15 infantry fighting vehicle have been seen on parade in Red Square in Moscow, the T-16 however only been fleetingly spotted on the Russian military TV channel Zvezda.

However, Uralvagonzavod—which is developing and manufacturing the Armata series—has released a photo of the vehicle in its corporate calendar for 2017. The photo reveals a two-person crew vehicle that may have the ability to facilitate the recovery of a three-person tank crew inside its cabin, theorizes Russian defense reporter Alexey Khlopotov in his personal blog. If Khlopotov is correct, then the new armored recovery vehicle is the first such machine with that capability.

Other than the ability to recover a tank crew at the same time as a disabled tank, the T-16 appears to be based on a similar chassis as the other Armata series vehicles. It seems to be of similar dimensions and weight—which makes sense because the Armata is a family of systems. Likewise, the vehicle seems to incorporate similar defensive systems as the T-14 and T-15 variants—including the Afghanit active protection system (APS) as well as the Malachite reactive armor package.

In terms of firepower, the T-16 is not as heavily armed as the main battle tank or infantry fighting vehicle variants of the Armata. However, the T-16 is equipped with a 12.7mm machine gun mounted in a remotely controlled turret—which is respectable for a combat support vehicle.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Armata series is the Afghanit active protection system. The system uses  a 360 active electronically scanned array radar and a potent electronic warfare system to disrupt the guidance of incoming rounds. It also has a countermeasure suite to jam enemy laser guidance systems. As well, the tank is equipped with interceptor rounds for the APS, which are fitted with explosively formed penetrators. The Russians claim that the Armata’s APS is effective against even kinetic energy rounds—something most Western experts doubt.

APS systems are usually most effective when used against chemical energy rounds like rocket-propelled grenades or missiles—which means direct fire armaments are likely to become evermore important in countering new Russian armor.

“Most revolutionary is the Armata-based T-14 Main Battle Tank featuring an uncrewed turret. There is emphasis on protection across the platforms—including active protection systems (APS)—reflecting lessons learnt as well as perceptions of future operating environments,” states the Military Balance 2016 report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “When it enters service Armata will be the first tank designed for an unmanned turret and APS. Successful fielding of APS will reduce the effectiveness of anti-tank guided missiles and shoulder-fired weapons such as rocket propelled grenades. This will change battlefield dynamics by increasing the importance of cannon, anti-tank guns and tanks.”

Ultimately however, the best way to survive on the battlefield to not to be seen in the first place, as such, the Russians have taken steps to reduce the tanks radar and infrared signature so that it is more difficult to detect and track.

Should a vehicle of the Armata series be found—and an incoming round makes it through the APS—the vehicle is protected by dual-layered Malachit explosive reactive armor in addition to robust passive armor. The composition of the armor is not known—but it is likely some form of laminated ceramic composite matrix. It’s also equipped with slat armor to protect certain areas that would otherwise be vulnerable to rocket propelled grenades.

It appears even the T-16 armored recovery vehicle is equipped with such defensive measures. As such, the Armata series is a source of major concern for Western armies.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image Credit: Creative Commons.