The Russian Army is back. Like a bear awakening from hibernation, the Russian Ground Forces are shrugging off decades of neglect with a rearmament program designed to make it once again the most powerful army in Eurasia.
Russia’s ten-year armament program, scheduled to run through 2020 at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, is halfway through. Russian defense spending increased by one-third this year, and should reach $96 billion by 2016.
Next week the world will see the fruits of that program, when the new might of the Russian Ground Forces will be on display at Moscow’s seventieth anniversary Victory Day parade. Several new vehicles, including the Armata tank and Kurganets infantry fighting vehicle, have already been spotted during parade practice.
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All of these new vehicles—as well as the aggressive foreign policy behind them—do not bode well for a NATO that has been enthusiastically dumping its tanks. The Russians are still serious about state-versus-state land warfare.
T-14 Armata Tank
The next-generation tank for the Russian Ground Forces, Armata is a long-overdue replacement for the T-72/T-80/T-90 series of tanks. Armata is expected to be a totally new design, a clean break from the T-72 series that has dominated the Soviet/Russian tank force since the late 1970s.
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Developed under a veil of secrecy, there is little confirmed about Armata. However, images of the mysterious tank have leaked out of Russia in recent weeks during the lead-up to the Victory Day parade in Moscow, where it is expected to be officially unveiled.
The turret and main gun are covered canvas in the leaked photographs. Regardless, we can make some pretty good guesses about the tank’s ultimate configuration. Armata is expected to mount a brand-new crewless turret armed with a 125-millimeter main gun. It will almost certainly stick with an autoloader, keeping crew count at three. The tank will also have a remote weapons system on top of the turret, probably armed with a heavy machine gun.
Concept drawings have depicted Armata with a turret-mounted 30-millimeter autocannon and two machine guns, but the shape of the canvas-covered turret seems to point only to a single additional machine gun in addition to the main gun.
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Armata is expected to be heavier than previous Russian tanks, and indeed has seven road wheels instead of the six normally seen on the T-72 series. This will give the design room to grow over the coming decades, including carrying a larger main gun and ammunition if and when the Russians decide they need it. Armata appears to have a modular armor system, making damage easier to replace during wartime, with armored side skirts and slatted armor protecting the engine compartment. Armata will almost certainly include active and passive protection systems similar to those mounted on the T-90.
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The Russian Defense Ministry expects to receive 2,300 Armata tanks by 2020, replacing 70 percent of the existing Russian tank fleet. Although Russian industry has a reputation for herculean feats when it comes to tank production, going from building zero tanks a year to more than eight hundred is an unrealistic goal.
Armata is expected to be the foundation of a family of heavy combat vehicles. A heavy infantry fighting vehicle variant, T-15, has been sighted and is also expected to make its debut at the parade.
T-90 Main Battle Tank
The last of a dynasty of tanks that started in the 1940s, the T-90 hardly resembles the T-54, a tank that debuted in 1945. Still, the lineage is clear as the Soviet Union stuck to an evolutionary approach to tank development. Over the decades, the T-54 medium tank evolved into the T-55, which beget the T-62, then T-64, T-72, T-80 and finally the T-90.
The T-90 was a post–Cold War tank for a Russia without the finances to pursue a new design. The T-90 is an improvement of the T-72B, as though the Russian Defense Ministry preferred to pretend T-80 had never happened. The T-90 retains the general layout of the T-72 series, including the hull, turret, main gun and diesel engine, but its general shape is distorted by the considerable amount of add-ons that make a modern T-90.
The T-90’s 2A46M 125-millimeter smoothbore gun is the same as that in the T-64, T-72 and T-80. The 2A46M fires high-explosive anti-tank and kinetic-energy rounds. It can also fire the Refleks guided missile, engaging armored vehicles and even slow, low flying aircraft at ranges exceeding that of regular gun rounds. Supplemental armament consists of a 12.7-millimeter heavy machine gun and a coaxial 7.62-millimeter machine gun.