The Russian T-14 Armata tank receives a lot of attention from around the world, with some advocates of the platform claiming it may be the best tank in the world.
Is it really? The answer may remain unknown or at least full of mystery unless there is a direct warfare engagement involving a T-14 Armata and upgraded M1 Abrams tank, a serious development likely not wished for by anyone. However, there are some interesting points of comparison, and several of the reports on the T-14 claiming that it is superior seem to completely overlook defining elements of an upgraded Abrams.
A report from Hotcars.com last year, for example, tries to claim that the T-14 can operate at ranges of 310 miles, compared to a 265-mile range for an Abrams tank. It is not clear if a range difference of this kind, if accurate, would have a massive tactical impact given the advent of unmanned systems capable of sustaining long-endurance forward armored reconnaissance missions.
The Hotcars.com report also says the T-14 is more powerful than rival tanks, writing “the T-14 sports the all-new 2A82-1M 125 mm (4.92 in) smoothbore cannon, replacing the older 2A46 125 mm gun of previous Russian and Soviet tanks. This cannon is more powerful than its Western counterparts like the German Leopard 2's Rheinmetall 120 mm gun.”
This claim, however, offers little to no specifics about Abrams lethality and likely does not account for several key lethality enhancements made to the Abrams such as its ammunition data link, programmable fuse and new multi-purpose ammunition round which combines several different rounds into one, such as High-Explosive Anti-Tank rounds and anti-personnel canister rounds. Newer variants of the Abrams tank, for example, will include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links, laser warning receivers
Other elements of the Abrams left out of the hotcars.com report include the incorporation of advanced computing electronics, targeting technologies and auxiliary power units able to redefine combat operations moving into the future.
Ultimately, targeting range and accuracy of high-fidelity sensors and computing will most likely determine which tank might be superior. Small differences in lethality will likely matter less if one tank is able to see the other while the other cannot detect at similar ranges. The tank that can find, target and hit the other from the longer range is likely to prevail in any kind of war engagement.
The Abrams is being engineered with AI-capable computer processing and a fast-emerging ability to operate nearby drones and function in a manned-unmanned teaming capacity. Will the Armata be similar in this respect? Unknown.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. 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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.