While much has been written about the T-14 Armata’s layout and armament, the Afghanit active protection system, or APS, utilized on the Armata also contains many innovations and even some systems that have never been seen on an APS before.
The issue with many APS on Russian and Soviet tanks before the Armata was that hard and soft kill systems were not integrated into one overall system. The only hard-kill system put on a tank in serial production, the Drozd system on the T-55AD was cued by a limited radar sensor suite and could only provide protection for a very limited arc to the turret’s front.
Soft kill systems like the Shtora had better sensor suites, including laser warning receivers, but had no hard-kill capability, relying on powerful infrared jammers and automated smoke deployment to divert missiles before they impacted the tank. Even then, the jammers themselves were considered to be rendered obsolete by newer versions of the TOW and HOT anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM).
Thus, the next-generation active-protection system for a future Russian tank would have to integrate well with the entire system and use various different detection methods to detect threats from all around. It would then use both novel soft-kill and hard kill methods to defeat that threat. Afghanit aims to accomplishes all of this and more.
While information is somewhat scarce, patents available online and various “powerpoint” type diagrams have given some picture of how formidable the full defensive suite of the Armata might be.
In order to detect oncoming threats, Afghanit utilizes two active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar arrays put on both turret cheeks. These provide a detection arc that covers slightly more than the 90 degrees to the left and right of the gun. The radars have also been described as being able to operate in active and passive mode. Presumably, the passive mode would allow the Armata to detect enemy ground search radars or perhaps even commands given by radio controlled anti-tank guided missiles.
In addition to radar, the Armata features an optical sensor suite to detect missile launches. The details are unsure, but similar systems on aircraft usually feature a distributed set of UV/IR sensors that provide a rough angle from which a launch occurred by detection the signature of a missile launching. The Armata also features a directional laser-warning receiver, but such systems are standard on Soviet tanks since the 1980s.
While all these systems are in position to detect when the tank is being attacked, the T-14 also has some “stealth” features that are aimed at preventing it from being detected in the first place. Some sources state that “Ternovik” radar-absorbing material is utilized on the Armata to make it harder to detect by ground search radar.
Information has also been published on methods to reduce the Armata’s magnetic signature, making it possibly immune to mines with magnetic fuzes. Heat managing coverings are also utilized on the Armata, but such coverings are already in use on many NATO tanks.
When the projectile is detected, the Armata’s Soft-Kill APS systems begin to kick in. As pure “jamming” systems a la Shtora are largely considered to be obsolete with contemporary ATGMs, Afghanit focuses on various methods to disrupt the ATGM gunner’s aim or the seeker’s lock.
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To accomplish this, the Armata has two launchers on the rear of the turret. These would likely be loaded with a multistage multispectral smoke cartridge with a flare/thermal decoy component and chaff cartridges. The smoke/flare cartridges probably aim to divert missiles that rely on a thermal or electro-optical lock like the Javelin or Spike-MR. The smoke could even counter the Spike-LR in a manual guidance mode or laser-guided missiles like the Hellfire, if it is thick and rapid enough and tank quickly moves evasively in a way to cause the gunner to be unsure where it is in the smoke.
While these chaff, smoke, and flare cartridges are going off, the integrated radio jammer that is also part of Afghanit is also attempting to jam the missile’s radio guidance, if applicable. Plenty of Western missiles use radio guidance, the Spike LR II uses it when fired from helicopters, and most advanced TOW missile in US service, the TOW 2B Aero RF uses it as well.
If an incoming projectile is not diverted at this point, the Afghanit hard-kill systems active. Unlike earlier Drozd and Arena systems which used large shotgun blasts of fragments to destroy projectiles, Afghanit uses a small homing projectile to destroy incoming projectiles. According to Russian sources, the hard kill component can intercept projectiles going up to 1.7 kilometers per second.
Despite the multitude of advanced systems, there are still significant limitations to Afghanit. One major concern is the use of “shotgun” type shells (such as the German AHEAD shell) by NATO tanks or armored vehicles that could severely damage sensors used by Afghanit. Such shells would break into a field of small projectiles outside of the Afghanit hard-kill interception range, rendering them impossible to stop.
The 1.7 kilometers per second interception limit is impressive but definitely breakable. 152mm
Soviet tank guns were reaching velocities in excess of 1.9 km/second, and as NATO considers larger and/or alternate gun technologies such as ETC, they are likely to push their rounds past the 1.7 km/s limit as well.
It’s also important to note that all of the systems are in development. The Afghanit system might exclude any of these modules for the sake of simplicity, or could include others. The capabilities of the system as a whole are very much an unknown, but this article aims to examine what capabilities a “best-case” Afghanit may have.
Charlie Gao studied political and computer science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national-security issues.