Armata- Russia’s Future Main Battle Tank

This is an Oxford Analytica brief that was originally published on April 14, 2015. I’ve restored a few cuts made for space reasons.

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SIGNIFICANCE: Russia’s military is currently undergoing a 700 billion dollar rearmament programme, with Moscow aiming to supply the military with 70% modern equipment by 2020. The reform plan is looking to upgrade Russia’s armoured formations with a new family of vehicles collectively called Armata. The Armata tank variant will be far superior to any tank operating in Russia’s neighbours as well as many NATO armies. However, it is costly and the Defence Ministry is actively trying to force down the price.

ANALYSIS: Impacts

  • Defence spending has been largely protected from 10% spending cuts but budgetary pressures will remain.
  • It will take time to bring defence and procurement spending in many NATO members up from current low levels below 2% of GDP.
  • The Ukraine crisis will force Russia’s defence industry to produce weaponry domestically with less reliance on foreign supplies.

Russia has about 16,000 tanks in its inventory, including 4,000 T-64, 8,000 T-72 and T-90 variants, and more than 4,000 T-80s. Of these, only about 2,400 are in service; the rest are in storage. All T-64 tanks are in storage, although some may have been provided to separatist forces fighting in Ukraine. About 1,000 T-80 tanks were in service in 2013, though all are to be withdrawn from service by end-2015.

The majority of the in-service tanks are of the T-72 and T-90 variants, including 564 modernised T-72B3 tanks (according to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu), and 300 T-90 tanks. The modernised T-72B3 tanks are gradually replacing the other varieties, at a rate of 300 tanks per year.

Tank standardisation

The goal is to unify the types of tanks as much as possible in order to reduce maintenance costs. The modernisation of T-72 tanks costs 50 million rubles (962,000 dollars) each. These new T-72s have a new engine, new control and targeting systems, new armaments, and new active and passive defence systems.

These improvements have made the modernised T-72 less vulnerable to enemy ordnance and improved firing accuracy. However, active defence systems and electronics are still outdated by comparison with the competition.

Armata platform

The Armata is a universal tracked-vehicle platform designed to serve as the basis for a new Russian main battle tank (MBT), a related heavy infantry-fighting vehicle, a combat-engineering vehicle, a heavy armoured personnel-carrier, a tank-support combat vehicle and several types of self-propelled artillery.

Armata tank capabilities

The main armament will consist of a 125-millimetre (mm) smoothbore cannon with 40-48 rounds of ammunition, with an additional 30-mm secondary cannon and a 7.62-mm machine-gun. The main cannon is reported to have a range of 7,000-8,000 metres and the engine has been variously rated at between 1,200 and 2,000 horsepower, with a corresponding top speed in either the 70-75 kilometres per hour (kph) or 80-90 kph range.

The tank is designed so that the engine can be removed in 30-40 minutes in the event of a malfunction. The tank will have a crew of three, but unlike other tanks now deployed the Armata will have an unmanned turret operated by remote control.

Radar system

The tank will be equipped with a Ka-band active phased-array radar system similar to that being developed for the Sukhoi T-50 fifth-generation fighter aircraft. The targeting system is capable of tracking up to 40 targets.

Crew survivability 

Crew survivability appears to be a priority in the design. In addition to the advantages offered by the unmanned turret, the Armata will use a new type of light-weight armour, developed specifically for the tank by the Steel Scientific Research Institute. The armour will reportedly be able to withstand fire from most types of artillery. Furthermore, the armour is said to be able to maintain its defensive qualities in extremely low temperatures, making the tank potentially useful in the Arctic.

In addition, the Armata is to be equipped with active anti-missile and anti-artillery defenses that will protect the tank from both ground-based and aerial attacks. The ammunition, fuel, and crew are to be separated in order to increase survivability in the event of a successful enemy hit.

Comparison with competition

By comparison with previous Russian tank models, it has a revamped engine, new transmission and improved chassis strength. The Russian media have said that technically it will be four times as capable as the late Soviet T-72B MBT. They also argue that the tank’s capabilities will be superior to those of its main foreign competitors. Its armament and horsepower appear to be comparable to the US Abrams, German Leopard and Israeli Merkava tanks, while the UK Challenger has a less powerful engine.

The Armata‘s armour will probably be thinner than that of the Challenger or Merkava, but thicker than that of the Abrams and Leopard. However, if reports about advances in armour design prove true, it may be that the thinner armour provides comparable or superior protection. Finally, the tank will most probably be lighter than its competitors, all of which weigh in at 62-70 tonnes.

Procurement plans

The State Armament Programme calls for the procurement of 2,300 new MBTs by 2020. While some reports have linked this figure with the number of Armata tanks to be procured, the reality is that the Armata is going to enter the Russian military in much smaller numbers, owing to both production limits and high unit cost.

An initial batch of 20-24 tanks is expected to be provided to the military in time for the May 9 Victory Day parade in Moscow. After the parade, these tanks will be sent for field testing, which is expected to take at least a year. The testing programme could take up to three years and full serial production may not start until 2018.

Uralvagonzavod, its manufacturer, has stated that it is ready to produce 40 tanks in 2016, 70 in 2017 and up to 120 per year from 2018. So the absolute maximum number of Armata tanks potentially in service by 2020 is about 330.

High costs could impose limits

However, the high cost of the Armata tank is expected to limit procurement. According to unofficial sources, the cost per tank is approximately 400 million rubles, which is more than double that of the German Leopard-2 and about 60-75% higher than that of the French Leclerc and US M-1 Abrams. Yuri Borisov, the deputy defence minister responsible for procurement, has indicated that the cost is about 2.5 times higher than stated in the State Armaments Programme.

As a result, the Defence Ministry is expecting to reduce the number of Armata tanks it will procure, focusing instead on continuing to modernise existing T-72 tanks in the medium term. According to Russian media reports, Uralvagonzavod has agreed to lower some Armata costs, but the programme will still be expensive.

CONCLUSION: The Armata tank promises to be a formidable but expensive machine, limiting its procurement in the short term. Given Russia’s economic problems, it is unlikely to become the ground forces’ sole tank. The Russian military will continue to deploy upgraded T-72B3 tanks in most armoured units, while Armatas will be reserved for elite units. The first serious unveiling of the Armata tank will be at the Moscow Victory Day parade on May 9.

MCIS 2014 photos and tank maneuver videos

I’ll have a wrap-up post on the MCIS tomorrow. In the meantime, a few photos, courtesy of Ruslan Pukhov from the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and from the MOD Press Service. Also, if you are interested in Russian tank maneuvers, make sure to scroll to the bottom for some videos I took on the second day of the conference.

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Sergei Shoigu addressing the conference.

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Sergei Lavrov addressing the conference.

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Left to right: myself, Chief of the Russian Navy Viktor Chirkov, and CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov.

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Left to right: myself, Sergei Koshelev (the head of the Defense Ministry’s Chief Administration for International Military Cooperation), Chief of the Russian Navy Viktor Chirkov, chair of the State Duma Committee on Defense Vladimir Komoedov, CAST Director Ruslan Pukhov, and director of the State Duma expert council on defense Boris Usviatsov.

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Panel on Stability in Afghanistan.

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Head of Military Initellgence Igor Sergun.

And here are links to a few videos from the second day of the conference, during which we were taken to Alabino to observe a tank ballet and tank biathlon.

 

The Future of Russian Tanks

In the last month, the Russian media has started to cover the equipment modernization aspect of military reform, after virtually ignoring this topic for the previous nine months. I have already addressed the modernization of the Russian Navy. In this post, I want to briefly touch on the significance of the announced changes in the Russian tank fleet.

In July, the Ministry of Defense announced that they will reduce the total number of tanks in active service in the military from 23,000 to 2,000. (And down from an astonishing 65,000 at the end of the Cold War.)  These will be based in two separate tank brigades and more than 20 tank battalions that will be incorporated into other brigades.  The two separate brigades will be located in Siberia and Moscow.

The implication is that Russia has decided that it will no longer seek to be prepared to fight large scale land wars of the kind that formed the core of Soviet military planning during the Cold War. Instead, Russian military planners are planning to develop a rapid response army that is well prepared to fight in smaller regional conflicts, while depending on its nuclear arms to deter any potential aggression from major adversaries.

This means that planners are finally taking to heart some of the lessons that became apparent as early as 1994, at the start of the first Chechen war. This was when a column of unprotected tanks entering Grozny was destroyed by individual Chechen fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades.  While the weakness of  unprotected tank columns facing enemies using guerrilla tactics were recognized by Russian military observers at that point, the military did virtually nothing about it, neither in terms of changing tactics or modernizing equipment, for another 15 years. This continuing weakness became apparent during the war with Georgia, when the 58th army’s tank columns were heavily damaged by Georgian artillery. Some Russian analysts have in fact argued that Georgia’s Soviet-made T-72 tanks, equipped with thermal imaging equipment and superior West European navigation and communications systems, were superior to Russia’s T-72s and were only defeated in battle because the Georgian military could not provide their armored units with close air support. In other words, even the best tanks are largely useless without helicopters backing them up.

Nevertheless, Russia’s tanks do need to be upgraded to improve their communications, targeting, and manueverability. The reduction in numbers makes this modernization possible. The newest T-90s, of which there are around 300 in service, are equipped with thermal imaging sights and superior armor when compared to the T-72, its immediate predecessor. There are also efforts underway to modernize the T-72 to increase its speed and manueverability, though designs aimed at making the T-72 comparable in armor and firepower to the T-90 have not been accept by the Russian military. All of these measures can be seen as interim steps as the Russian military prepares to begin procuring a new generation battle tank in the next five years.

All in all, the announcement that the number of Russian tanks will be reduced by a factor of ten and those remaining modernized is another piece of evidence that Russian military leaders have finally prevailed on planners in the general staff to abandon their focus (left over from the Cold War) on planning to fight major land wars. The Russian military is being redesigned to fight small wars against opponents who may employ guerrilla tactics. Until now, this assessment was primarily based on evidence related to the restructuring of the force as a whole. It is now being confirmed by the choices military planners are making about equipment.