Key point: Innovation comes at a price.
Does Russia’s much-vaunted T-14 Armata tank have problems?
There is evidence that the next-generation tank, which has caused a stir in Western defense circles, has run into difficulties, according to Russian defense publication Military-Industrial Courier.
Writer Oleg Falichev uses a bit of inductive reasoning. He first starts with the premise that Armata manufacturer Uralvagonzavod was awarded a contract for 132 experimental Armata models, including T-14 Armata main battle tanks, T-15 infantry fighting vehicles, and T-16 armored recovery vehicles.
“We divide 132 into three and come to the conclusion that the plant should supply 44 tanks annually,” Falichev writes. “...By the end of 2019, the plant will supply only 16 cars, four of which are BREM [armored recovery vehicles].”
“This leaves a deficit of 28 vehicles, which are very unlikely to be finished by the end of this year. In addition, state tests of machines on the Armata platform have not yet been completed and will continue until the end of 2019. Only after that will the final decision be made on serial purchases, which can be adjusted, possibly to the lesser side.”
Ironically, while Western observers are awed by the next-generation tank, which some believe is better than Cold War designs such as the M-1 Abrams or Leopard 2, the Russian military hasn’t exactly been in a hurry to acquire them. The biggest reason is the T-14’s price tag, estimated at almost $4 million apiece. Initial plans to buy 2,300 T-14s by 2025 have been pared down to a bit more than 100 experimental vehicles.
In addition, the Armata itself has teething problems as well as issues inherent to the design, according to Falichev. For example, the T-14 has an unmanned turret operated by a crew safely nestled in the armored hull. Yet while the turret can revolve, the crew compartment cannot. “It is not possible to turn the capsule like a turret, so the emphasis is on optical means and electronics, which can fail in battle,” Falichev notes.
Instead of an expensive new tank, Russia thinks it better to upgrade its older tanks. The Armata “became a hostage of many new technologies and systems introduced into it,” Falichev says. “At first it looked more than innovative and sparked explosive interest. But the car was prohibitively expensive. As a result, the Russian Ministry of Defense came to the conclusion that one cannot especially rush with large batches of Armatas. And the emphasis should be placed on the T-72, T-80, and T-90 tanks, using the huge modernization potential inherent in them back in Soviet times. Having received modern laser rangefinders and aiming systems, fire control, infrared vision, and protection (Arena and Shtora) against anti-tank missiles, these machines become even more formidable weapons, not inferior in combat power to the Abrams, Leopards and others.”
These are issues well understood by Americans, whose military has learned the hard way that cutting-edge weapons – the B-70 bomber, the F-35 fighter, Future Combat System armored vehicles – come with cutting-edge problems that sometimes can’t be fixed at reasonable cost. But Russia, which since Soviet times has had a reputation for producing simpler but cheaper and more rugged equipment than the West, is discovering that innovation comes at a price.