A British Army intelligence report offers an alarmist assessment of Russia’s new T-14 Armata main battle tank. Most U.S. defense analysts, however, are much more measured in their analysis of the new Russian machines. While the T-14 will likely be an excellent tank when it becomes operational, it is not quite the “revolution” that the British claim it to be. Moreover, it is far too expensive to produce in mass numbers.
“Without hyperbole, Armata represents the most revolutionary step change in tank design in the last half century,” states a British Army intelligence report cited by The Telegraph.
But most U.S. assessments suggest that’s exactly what the British report is: hyperbole. As The Telegraph notes, the British intelligence document questions the U.K. Ministry of Defense’s current defense strategy, which does not call for Great Britain to plan for a new combat vehicle to replace its Challenger 2 main battle tank. “Are we on the cusp of a new technological arms race? Has an understandable focus on defeating the single threat of IEDs distracted Western military vehicle designers? Challenger 2 [the British tank], with life extension programmes, is currently due to remain in service until 2035. Is it time to rethink?” the report asks.
To be sure, the report does have some valid points. The T-14 does have some very impressive features. “As a complete package, Armata certainly deserves its billing as the most revolutionary tank in a generation,” the intelligence brief states according to The Telegraph. “For the first time, a fully automated, digitised, unmanned turret has been incorporated into a main battle tank. And for the first time a tank crew is embedded within an armoured capsule in the hull front.”
While the report excerpts in The Telegraph don’t mention it, U.S. analysts note that many of the Armata’s advanced survivability features are drawn from the Israeli Merkava series. Nonetheless, the Russian seem to have advanced the state-of-the-art in terms of reactive armor and active protection. Indeed, if the Russian Afghanit active protection system works as advertised, the Armata could prove to be a serious problem for the West if it were ever produced in numbers. However, most Western analysts—government and private sector—are dubious about Russian claims that their APS can defeat kinetic energy rounds.
However, even if the Armata was as dangerous as the British report claims, Russia is not likely to be able to afford the expensive new machine in the huge quantities. Using the British reports own numbers—120 Armata tanks produced per year—CNA Corporation research scientist Mike Kofman, a prominent Russian military affairs expert in Washington, noted it would take nearly 21 years to replace Russia’s 2500 operational tanks with T-14s. That’s if the Kremlin has the financial wherewithal to buy that many Armata tanks—which is somewhat dubious.
Kofman noted that the Russians simply do not have the money to afford a huge fleet of T-14 tanks nor has the Armata family completed development. “There is an irony to the British report, and similar such publications by military establishments bemoaning their land forces, in that the Russian Ministry of Defense can no more afford to replace its armor fleet with Armatas than anyone else,” Kofman said.
Most analysts tracking the Kremlin’s military developments agree that the principal tank used by the Russian Ground Forces through the 2020s will be the relatively cost effective T-72B3. Even the T-90A is too expensive. “In the coming years the principal battle tank that NATO will have to face in Europe is not even the T-90A, it is the T-72B3, which Western counterparts can handle,” Kofman said. “There are still years of field trials ahead for the Armata—tinkering, and changes, with lingering questions on the final version and what the Russian military will ultimately be able to afford in quantity versus for arms expo shows.”
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor of The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveMajumdar.
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