Thursday, May 7, 2015

T-14 Armata: tank evolution ongoing

I won't call the T-14 Armata a "revolution". It might be excessive to do so. But it sure is an evolution of the concept of Main Battle Tank, and promises to have several interesting features.Observation of the close-up photos coming from Moscow, however, leaves little doubt in me about the current models being prototypes, and incomplete as well. The external shield of the turret, and much of the sensors in it, appear to be representative mock-ups only. When seen from close by, the outer layer of the turret is seen to be a very thin metal sheet, which has also been assembled in a not too brilliant way.

The Armata project is not "just" about a new MBT, but about delivering a solid common base hull which will be produced in many different variants to cover multiple roles. At the Moscow parade we see the MBT (T-14) and the heavy IFV (T-15); but it is expected that engineer, fire support and possibly even a self propelled howitzer variants will follow. Specifically, a contract has been signed recently to build prototypes of new breaching and mine-clearing vehicles, to be trialed in 2017, which will eventually replace the current armoured bulldozer IMR-3 (on T-90 chassis) and BAT-M and BAT 2 combat engineer tractors. It is thought that these new vehicles will be based on Armata. The self-propelled howitzer should use the Koalitsya unmanned, automated 152mm howitzer turret on Armata hull. At the moment, the Koalitsya can be seen at the parade installed on a T-90 chassis (with six wheels, Armata has 7), with a heavily modified hull with all three members of the crew sitting in the front. It is not entirely clear if a move to a pure Armata base is still envisaged.
Another variant suggested is a new BMPT Terminator tank-support vehicle. The BMPT, based on the T-72 chassis, was proposed to the russian army, but rejected due to its elderly base vehicle. It is thought, but at this point it is hard to separate facts from speculation and fantasies, that such a fire support vehicle variant, based on Armata, will instead be procured, as the russian army endorses the idea, just not the mechanical base.

An Armata-based "Terminator" fire support vehicle is one possible variant.

Another variant is the BMO-2, a proposal by industry aimed at replacing the heavy APC BMO-T, basically a T-72 which has swapped the turret for an armoured "box" especially thought to carry, under thick armour protection, a team of up to 7 soldiers armed with RPO thermobaric / incendiary rockets (classed as "flamethrowers" by the russian army). These specialised support teams can force the enemy out of buildings and strongholds very quickly. In the industry brochure about the proposed BMO-2, the Armata derived vehicle is armed with a large remotely operated turret with a 30 mm gun and two boxes of rockets, for 24 rounds which can be fired from under armour.

An early industry proposal for a BMO Armata variant.

The current BMO-T carries over 30 high power incendiary and thermobaric rockets. But the men have to get out to employ them, and the hatches on the back of the converted T-72 aren't the most practical. These special teams bring huge firepower to bear, however.

In the next few years, in short, we could see several further developments of the Armata base. The T-14 is earmarked as replacement for the old MBTs currently in service, and the T-15 should equip the infantry battalions within Tank Brigades. These will thus become very heavy formations, with the infantry riding into battle with MBT-like protection.
The more numerous motorised infantry brigades will instead receive the new Kurganets-25 IFV, another whole new tracked design, lighter than T-15 (but armed in the exact same way) and with full amphibious capability; and the new Bumerang, an 8x8 IFV also fully amphibious.

The T-15, Kurganets and Bumerang, in their IFV variants, all share the Epoch-Almaty unmanned, remotely operated turret, armed with a 30mm gun with coaxial 7.62 machine gun and with two twin pods of Kornet anti-tank missiles.
The Kurganets-25 and Bumerang also have a lighter armed APC incarnation, with a smaller RWS with heavy machine gun (12.7 mm, it would seem, but 14.5 might follow). Many more variants can be expected if the plan to replace the BMPs, BTRs and supporting vehicles with these new products will go ahead.

The T-14's evolutionary aspect comes from having the crew all in the hull, inside a safety cell well protected on all sides. The turret is unmanned. However, it is suspected that the autoloader system has an architecture similar to the carousel on the T-72, and this could still be a major weak point, compared to the sealed ammunition compartments with blow-out panels used on other modern tanks. The autoloader's shape and the protection of the ammunition stock from catastrophic failure is one key factor to judge the Armata's true evolutionary potential, and there aren't yet good answers.

The T-72 ammunition storage and handling system has been the cause of the well known nasty habit of the tank of exploding and throwing its turret away. Moving the crew into a safe cell inside the front of the hull reduces the immediate lethality of such a nasty habit, but it will be interesting to find out if Armata's design does something to reduce the vulnerability in this area.

Another key element of the T-14 and T-15 is the new Active Protection System, reportedly known as Afganit. This should use a variety of sensors, mainly radar, to detect incoming missiles and even APFSDS darts, and counter them with soft and even hard kill ammunition. The intended position of the Afganit's radar antennas are visible in the T-14's turret, but close observation suggests that what we are seeing now is just demonstrative material.

The Armata's turret is apparently composed by a "core" tower containing the main and coaxial gun and related weapon sight. On top, there's the panoramic sight, with high elevation machine gun RWS. But all around this, there's a modular outer shield, comprising also a significant extension to the rear, which could contain additional systems.
The observation of photos coming from Moscow, however, shows that, at the moment, the outer shell is just a very thin sheet of metal. The radar arrays and some of the sensors also seem to be only mock ups. This suggests that development of this part of the tank is still ongoing, and thus what we see might not be exactly like the finished product.

Earlier concept art and at least one industry model seen in 2012 suggested that the T-14 would also be armed with one or two light guns (a 30 mm autocannon and a gatling machine gun in the 2012 model). These do not currently appear on the tank, but there is a possibility that the module sticking out of the rear of the turret could contain the ammunition and hold one or two guns in elevable pods at the sides.

Look at how thin the metal plates are. The sensor aerial installation also isn't looking very concrete. The assembly work also doesn't look too high quality. It is fair to assume that at least the outer shell of the turret is currently only a mock-up. 

Again, the poor assembly and sheer thinnes of the outer shell are evident. The core turret can be guessed behind the large tubes at the bottom of the structure, which are thought to be the launchers for Hard Kill interceptor projectiles of the Afganit APS.

The large hole on the left side might be a port for the ejection of spent stub case elements of the ammunition. 

The large module sticking out from the back of the turret is not expected to contain any key system. Maybe in the future it could be used for the installation of the small calibre guns seen in models and concept art. The rear-facing sensor of the Afganit can be seen. Another circular port is present on the bottom rear of the turret, under the protruding basket.

The Object 195, an earlier prototype MBT, had a 30 mm gun on the turret, which could be elevated to take out targets high above. Useful in urban scenarios, it can partially be seen here, with the barrel sticking out to the right of the main (152 mm!) gun.

Light, high elevation guns were test mounted on the T-72M2 Moderna as well. Here, it is armed with two 20mm guns. 

T-72M2 Moderna with a single 30mm gun. It is still early to say that Armata won't have an installation of this kind.

This photo by Andrey Kryuchenko shows the Armata T-14 from above. There is a bit of a mistery about the third crew member, who seems not to have a proper, personal hatch. Supposedly, the gunner sits in the middle, between Commander and Driver. He might have to get in and out through the commander's hatch, unless there's an opening he can use (at least when the turret is turned to the sides)

As the top image shows, there is a large maintenance hatch on top of the tower. More interesting, the Afganit APS includes substantial banks of smoke grenades and other munitions, including a large number apparently meant for vertical launch. The exact purpose and employment method can only be guessed: supposedly, Afganit should intercept top attack munitions as well. Curiously, the photos seen so far show that the rear of the tank has no evident APS coverage.

This photo, again by Andrey Kryuchenko, shows the T-15 IFV variant. The crew's positions are much clearer here. The turret is also definitely more mature than the T-14's. The Epoch-Almaty has a 30 mm gun, coaxial machine gun, sensors and 4 Kornet missiles. It does not penetrate into the tank, leaving plenty of space for the embarked infantry squad. 

The T-14 Armata, at least for the moment, has a 125mm gun. It is not clear, however, if Russia has effectively abandoned the 152mm gun it has been experimenting for years, or if it might be adopted later. The main drawback of the gigantic 152mm is the huge size of the ammunition. If a fully automated system is not as concerned as a human loader by the weight and bulk of the shells it moves, it is still true that the sheer massiveness of the projectiles inexorably means carrying fewer rounds.

Soldiers near the door in the rear of the T-15. The door is protected by an application of bar armour, and opens into a large ramp which can be lowered to ease combat embarkation and disembarkation. The impressive armour protection and several APS elements are visible.

The heavy AFV modernisation of the russian army is certainly impressive, especially when we add in the Kurganets-25 and the Bumerang. The airborne troops are also receiving new equipment, namely the airdroppable IFV BMD-4M and the Rakushka airdroppable APC, which preserve the exceptional level of mechanisation of the russian paras.
The 2S25 Sprut-SD airdroppable tank seems to have been substantially abandoned. 24 were procured, but it was found to have significant flaws. However, the Paratroopers will still have a 125mm tank which can be parachuted into action, as a contract has been signed to design a successor to the Sprut, based on the BMD-4M instead of on BMD-3.

Kurganets-25 IF. Russian MOD image. 

Bumerang, in APC variant. The IFV variant has the same turret as T-15 and Kurganets-25 IFVs. Kurganets-25 also has an APC variant, with the same RWS seen here on Bumerang. Russian MOD image

A BMD-4M and Rakushka APCs, the main vehicles in the Airborne Force's shopping list. The BMD-4M has a 100mm gun, with 30mm coaxial weapon. Image by Ura.Ru
The Sprut airdroppable tank hasn't proved entirely satisfactory. But the Airborne Force has signed new contracts to develop an alternative. Russian airborne formations can bring a lot of firepower and armour to bear via air drops. A capability that no western airborne formation, not even the armerican ones, retains.

I've been collecting images of the new russian armour on the web for a while, now. I don't have a reliable way to establish who was the original author behind the photos. If you see your images in this article, let me know so i can acknowledge you, or remove the image if you'd so prefer. 


  1. you are clearly not neutral, so much butthurt. The T-14 turret is not even halfway done, the sensors are undefended on every high end MBT-s.

    1. The only one butthurt here is you, man. I am saying that the Armata turret right now is clearly not finished, and that it is currently at least in part a mock up. Which i think is exactly what you are saying, too. So, what...?

    2. Thank you for a very fascinating article Gabriele.

  2. Hi Gabby, from listening to the Janes 360 piece about the Wildcat it seems the AAC will be left with 28 aircraft?, is that you how you understand it?. With aircraft used for training and those in maintenance that does not leave many Wildcat's for frontline duties?. Again thanks for the great blog.

    1. The helicopters are eventually all going to be held centrally, actually, and allocated to the squadrons according to where they sit in the force generation cycle. What matters is more the number of crews and maintainers. The allocation of six helicopters to 847 isn't set in stone, i would think. It is applicable now because army squadrons haven't converted yet. But later on, the squadrons will have to make do with helicopters coming from a single pool of 34.

    2. On one hand i have the urge to say 34 Wildcat isn't enough, and if the AAC manages to hold onto those 21 AH9 post the upcoming SDSR then they should seek a second order of Wildcat to keep overall numbers at around 50 cabs.

      Though on the other, beyond wanting to see more of everything, i'm not really sure what the Army version of Wildcat is actually for?

    3. The Wildcat AH1 is for reconnaissance, artillery direction, light utility (a bit too light, probably) and armed escort (although the sole M3M is a bit light for the task, the Lynx 9 with the same weapon has done some really useful work in Afghanistan).

    4. Are they not already well provisioned for recon and artillery spotting now that Watchkeeper has entered service?

      As for armed escort and light utility, fair enough, they are useful attributes, but if the armament for escort work consists of light caliber machine guns or at most a M3M/20mm cannon then it would have been much better to buy Blackhawks or the AW149 that could carry the same weaponry as well as more troops and cargo for a similar price-tag.

      Or alternatively sacrificing the utility aspect entirely and having a very small and cheap Gazelle replacement for recon and escort duties would have also made sense.

      I know this ship has sailed, but Wildcat was and is uncomfortable in the middle. Too small to be a proper utility helo, but too large and expensive to be operated in serious numbers for other work.

      It does of course all come back to a 'if it's not broke don't fix it' mentality, the danger of challenging the RAF's dominance in the helicopter medium-heavy lift role and the need to give AW something to build.

      Still annoying though!

  3. I am honestly not surprised that they haven't got a fully functional turret yet. That is going to be the most important and revolutionary part of these new tanks. There is going to be a lot of unforeseen stuff cropping up when doing something that hasn't been done before by your industrial base.

    The hull however looks to be mostly complete and I fully understand why Russia wants to have this universal hull for a hose of vehicles. They have been carrying around the burden of having T-64, T-72, T-80 and T-90 hulls and equipment in their armed forces since the end of the cold war. Heck even some T-55 still remain. It has to be a logistical nightmare.

    It's also rather obvious which mainstream news sites lack decent military experts. Since all the articles about Russia's new AFVs have generally only focused on the T-14 and ignored all the rest. While they are of equal importance, especially if they get exported like the BMP and BTR did.

  4. Daniele MandelliMay 8, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    Relieved to see the threat to the UK that is Labour and the SNP rejected!

    Now the threat of the Conservatives to the Armed Forces.....

    I echo Gabs comments on the promises made. We are waiting. Though I do not trust the tories no more than I can throw them after what happened in SDSR 2010 after a decade of Labour neglect.

  5. Gabriel.

    nice work, but i have to point out that the vehicles presented mark a departure from what we've seen from the Russians and the Armata MBT is perhaps the most revolutionary step we've seen in armored vehicle development since the 1960's with the failed MBT-70 project.

    I believe its a game changer. Why does it appear that you disagree?

    1. Gabriel, you should know what Solomon has lied about his military service. Best to keep this scum off your fine blog.

    2. The revolution here is in moving to an unmanned turret, placing all crew in the hull. And technologically, we already knew it was doable: the point is that most still believe that moving the crew to the hull, where it has much less direct situational awareness, is not particularly desirable. The other most impressive bit is the Afganit system, but we don't even really know what it is supposed to do exactly, let alone if it can do it for real. These are the many reasons for holding back from shouting from the rooftops about "revolutions". Evolution, sure. And some daring choices made. But much yet to be seen and more properly evaluated.

      As for Sol, i don't know about that. It is nasty if true, but i don't bar people from commenting so long as the comments are okay.

  6. Daniele,
    I have already Emailed Gabs text to my new MP, whom I did vote for as well. The following is the assurance I have received from him. "Regarding your family members serving in the military, you have my word that I will push for the best possible investment in our armed services. Nothing is more important than the defence of our nation and the safeguarding of those who serve."
    So perhaps those comments and the highlighting by the likes of Gab and Sol of Russian armour upgrades will see UK armed forces stabilise for a few years.
    Whatever I believe we need to ensure we pressure our local MP`s as many today have seen how quickly a public P45 can arrive.

    If I may be a little of topic I also do not share the belief that a "Seismic change in Scotland has happened"
    I see a party in the worst of times,Still not managing to get 50% of the vote. Many of the SNP votes I believe (And know from family members) are objection to Westminster. But should another referendum be called I am not sure SNP would get a boost if they lost again. Devo-Max on the other hand is what many wanted in Scotland and today they are on the brink. Now we may see the SNP take responsibility for the Budget. As a consequence perhaps we are at the high water mark of SNP ....

  7. Daniele MandelliMay 8, 2015 at 9:57 PM

    Nice to hear again from you Degradable.

    I agree with you on the SNP. My own disappointment in this election was the FPTP system that gave the SNP 56 seats with 1.5 million voters where my party, UKIP, got 1 seat with almost 4 million voters and 12.6% of the vote. 3rd biggest party by a distance, yet 1 seat in Westminster. The DUP in contrast get 8 seats for 23 times less vote. So much of the UK's politics is really flawed in my opinion.

    But I respect your opinion if you disagree, as we did often enough in the good old days on

    With a majority maybe the tories will be better, with the resurgence of Russia maybe they will take defence more seriously. Maybe maybe maybe.

    Regards Daniele Mandelli

  8. Daniele,
    Me disagree with you.... Indeed I see on the BBC Site a graph of representation if some form of PR had been in place.

    My one concern for PR is the inability to have strong Governance. I often have joked with others that a period of Dictatorship gets the necessary unpleasant policy done...! It could be argued this is one area where an unelected body such as the Lords should put a hold on populist policy.
    Needless to say Gab and Sol have been highlighting the update of Russian Armour and military units. My concern is in Europe, we are all looking around and hoping someone else will pick up the ball of "Extra Defence Spending" and run with it. Of course in the past it has been USA, but why should they do this...? To a lesser extend it has been UK, and we are tired of the responsibility and cost of it. But if no one does it then it is extremely dangerous. We have so much to lose.
    That is the only reason for the 2% figure of GDP. To ensure all nations in Europe COMMIT to the same level of defence spending and earn the right of defence by other nations units.

  9. Fascinating piece Gab. Very serious looking bit of kit. Although I agree it looks like a work in development. Particularly as one rather inconveniently broke down mid display last week.
    So embarrassing when that happens to your new MBT.
    On the subject of crew situational awareness I note several ( what I assume ) are cameras in the turret. Although I cannot find the equivalents I would have expected in the main hull ?
    There are clearly periscope arrangements, but they seem purely back up if I had to guess.
    Together with the radar and main sighting array the crew is likely very situationally aware, probably much more that many tanks. Assuming they can get this distributed aperture system working any better than the F35.
    Intrigued by the defence system. And the arrays of various dispensers around the turret. I’m assuming this is not common to all variants ?
    Sooner or later someone was going to start moving to this type of system. To get past the eternal battle between armour and tank weight.
    I think this tank in any numbers and if perfected represents a serious threat.

    1. I’ve been studying a few pictures of Armata and its kin and It’s the smaller square clustered launchers that are the main active part of the defence system. I’m pretty sure.

      I think each its working on a similar system to the Israeli active defence system for their armour.

      You monitor an incoming rocket \ tank or mortar round and at the right moment launch what is effectively a large 40mm grenade with a set timed fuse. The “grenade” flies a rough trajectory and explodes, you have to have timed this correctly to intercept the incoming round, which is then set off, disabled or deflected by the concussion of your “grenade”

      Its not a phalanx, you don’t have to be THAT close, and you do have the advantage that you know where the incoming round is going ( i.e. straight at you ! ), I imagine the intercept point is quite close to the tank. And the concussion quite large.

      The Israelis apparently had some success, but there can be issues with infantry and fragmentation.

      It takes good radar and a very good computer, but is effectively fully automatic.

      [It does look like the same system is installed in various positions and in varying numbers of rounds in all variants.]

      We just have to see if they have perfected it?


  10. Gab,
    Really no nothing about tanks but have a bit of knowledge of 4.5 Turret on Type 42`s and Mk 6 on HMS Plymouth.
    Do know simple things like micro switches for logic circuits were the bain of our lives. A guns recoil was always causing damage to the circuit thus causing a stoppage.
    I really can not see past this, in a system so complex, it really does introduce to many potential stoppages. Additionally it does seem that the awareness of the crew so much lower down in the hull will reduce fighting capability. Indeed the only loss of a Challenger was reputed to be due to the Commanders hatch open, this we would assume is due to the age old preference peripheral view and awareness of surrounding versus associated risk of being unbuttoned against reduced awareness.
    I am going to go out on a limb, expose my lack of knowledge of these systems and say this will prove to be a non starter and is more a political gesture than a "Working Tank". But I do understand the need to standardise on a hull and see this as a good thing. I would not be surprised to see a conventional turret pop in soon.

  11. FYI, the next iteration of the T-14 will have a 152mm gun and shell. Otherwise, what would be point of the whole exercise? Without it, Armata remains ultimately a modernized version of the T-72 gun system, which is inferior to the Leopard-2 and M-1 A-1 and therefore DOA, just like the F-35!

  12. btw, what do y'all think about the other two nice pieces of kit on display at 70th VE Parade, the KA-52 helicopter and YARS RS-26 ICBM?

  13. Let's get real, guys. THIS IS ALL JUST YOUR STANDARD RUSSIAN POTEMPKIN VILLAGE. They really haven't done anything beyond the SU-30 and T-90, both of which they can afford to buy only in ones and twos. When they build--instead of flying unproven oooohhh one-offs like the oooohhh-so-scary T-50--they're still building 35-year-old designs.


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