Intro- Everyone associated with defense was badly waiting for 9th of May 2015, for the Russian Victory Day parade. On this day, Russia was going to showcase a new tank, to be precise a family of armored vehicles which were being developed with utmost secrecy. We knew that the tank would be revolutionary, sport a lot of new systems and weapons, yet we seriously knew nothing solid about the tank, for example it weight, height, weapons, sights etc. The Russians successfully hid all traces of its design, development, construction, static tests etc. They led us down a false path by showing a design based on the T-72 family, consisting of 7 road wheels and an unmanned turret. It was first seen when the prototypes were being transported to the practice grounds and would be completely revealed only a few days before the actual parade. In this article we will talk about the tracked members of what is now being called as the unified heavy tracked platform Armata.
The original T-72 based design.
Armata was supposed to be a common platform, based on which Russia would get several different vehicles. These would include a main battle tank, an armored personnel carrier, an infantry fighting vehicle, a self propelled howitzer, an armored recovery vehicle etc. All of these vehicles would share variants of the same power plant and running gear etc. thus reducing maintenance vows and costs. Interestingly the SPH was not exactly a part of the Armata family as it sported components from the T-90 family of vehicles. All Armata family vehicles shared the same characteristic of unmanned turrets. This concept originally came up in the mid 1980s with the M1 TTB. This variant of the M1 Abrams sported an unmanned turret with the crew seated in the hull just in front of the turret. This allowed the turret to be lighter, smaller and more heavily armored. It increased crew survivability manifold, as in wartime, machines can be easily built but a training a tanker to excellence is very difficult. All Russian tanks until the T-14 Armata were infamous for blowing up when hit, thus Armata marked a change by giving the best possible chance of survival to the crew. When this article was being written, none of the vehicles were in service and hence had no official designations. Hence we will use the inhouse designations given to them ie T-14 MBT (Object 148), T-15 IFV (Object 149), Kurganets 25 (Object 695 for IFV and Object 693 for APC) and 2S35 Koalitsiya SPH.
The Russians misled us by showing a CGI of a tank which resembled a T-72, sported 7 road wheels, a new gun along with a auto-cannon and a Gatling gun mounted on the turret. As it turned out, the real T-14 was very different. We knew one thing for sure, that this tank would sport an unmanned turret, with the commander, gunner and the driver seated side by sided in the hull. We got the first glimpse of the tank while it was being transported by train to the practice grounds. Its wheels were similar to those of the T-80 and was enough to prove that this tank was not part of the T-72 family. It was much higher too. After this, videos appeared of the tank under going some trials, and as it turned out it was very high, similar to western tanks. We saw it practice at the parade practice grounds before it was completely unveiled on 4th of May 2015.
First image of the T-14
The tank sports a new main gun, designated 2A82, its a 125mm smooth bore gun which would fire a new range of rounds currently under development. It lacks a fume extractor, which is seen on most of the tank guns probably because the turret is unmanned. The gun is fed by a traditional carousel autoloader, seen on legacy tanks like T-72, T-80, T-90 etc. It has reportedly been uparmored as well. Since the tank is taller than all Russian tanks, the main gun ammo can be longer as well, thus allowing better performance. Commander has a RWS and a panoramic sight mounted on top of the turret whereas gunner’s optics are placed to the left of the main gun. Co-axial machine gun is missing and probably wasn’t installed for the parade. Whats even more interesting is that it also has 2 different types of active protection system. One of them is placed at the bottom of the turret and has been named Afghanit. It is a dedescendant of the Drozd APS which was extensively used on T-54/55/62 during the Afghan campaign. The second type of APS is placed in two types of launchers, one facing up and one which can be rotated. It might serve as a second line of defense for attacks to the sides while the up facing launcher might protect it from top attack weapons, which are becoming very common. The APS systems get information from AESA radar panels on the turret along with EO/IR sensors. It sports a new engine designated A-85 producing 1500bhp propelling the ~50 tonne bulk of this tank.
What surprised everyone was that this tank was not designed to be a smaller target to hit like all Soviet era tanks were. It was taller than the M1 Abrams and much larger than the T-72/90. This is because the crew sits abreast in the heavily armored capsule in front of the turret whereas the engine is placed behind it. The commander sits to the right, gunner in the middle and the driver to the left. All 3 of them have their periscopes but only 2 hatches. Thus the gunner uses either of commander’s or driver’s hatch to disembark. The tank is protected by newly designed base armor and ERA. The sides of the tank sport heavy side skirts to for added protection. The frontal part is similar to the T-90MS and the Object 187 prototypes, thus increasing protection in the frontal part.
The BMPT family of armored vehicles was developed after the lessons learnt during the Chechen conflict. Tanks in urban areas were sitting ducks to weapons fired by troops positioned higher up. Thus BMPT was developed to accompany tanks in such areas and use their autocannons to take out targets higher up. They also carried ATGMs to take out other tanks if necessary. T-15 sports a smaller unmanned turret carrying 4 Kornet ATGM launchers, 30mm autocannons, a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and sights for the commander and the gunner. The turret is called as Bumerang-BM .The turret reportedly has no hull penetration, ie the turret is self contained and does not penetrate the inner compartments. This adds another level of protection as the inner area can be isolated and no explosives or inflammable material is placed inside it, thus reducing the chances of ignition if penetrated. Like the T-14 however, it sports both the Afghanit and the lighter APS along with the sensors. Again just like the T-14 it sports heavy side and frontal armor along with the same engine but weighs slightly less around 40 tonnes. It can stand toe to toe with main battle tanks while providing them protection from infantry. Unlike the T-14 however, the engine is placed at the front, adding frontal protection, thus the space in the rear can be used for wide range of applications. The seating arrangement is different from the T-14 as well, the commander sits in front of the gunner on the right and the driver to the left of the commander. They all have separate hatches.
It wasn’t considered a member of the Armata family originally, but when pictures appeared, it shared the running gear with the Armata family along with the sensors, turret and protection suite. From the pictures taken during the Victory Day parade, we can see 2 different variants of this vehicle, an IFV and an APC. The IFV sports the same turret as the T-15 ie Bumerang-BM, along with Afghanit and the lighter APS and their sensors. The APC variant however sports a different turret, with a 12.7mm machine gun, gunner’s sight and the lighter APS. The powerpack consisting of a 800bhp engine is placed to the left of the frontal part, the driver sits just behind it, roughly on the central axis of the vehicle abreast with the commander. The gunner probably sits in the troop compartment which can carry 6-7 armed troopers. Again like the T-14 and the T-15, its sports heavy side armor and frontal armor. It is reportedly amphibious as well, even though it weighs around 25 tonnes, a full 7 tonnes heavier than the BMP-3.
Kurganets 25 APC (Credits-Vitaly Kuzmin)
Kurganets 25 IFV (Credits- Vitaly Kuzmin)
2S35 Koalitsiya SPH
Although the SPH was also supposed to share components with the Armata family, interestingly it turned out to do so with the T-90 family. It sports engine and running gear of the T-90. This is good for maintaining commonality with existing platforms and might hint towards earlier entry into service. Initially 2S35 was supposed to have 2x152mm guns on the turret, placed one above the other and firing alternately. This was done to improve rate of fire, but the firing mechanism was very complicated and hence costly. It was therefore abandoned for a conventional design. However the turret is unmanned and completely automated just like other Armata vehicles, with an RWS atop the turret. The crew sits abreast in the hull, with the commander to the right, gunner to the left and driver in the center.
Armata will surely be a tough customer as and when it participates in exercises and conflicts of the future. The unmanned turret reduces the situational awareness of the crew, as all tank commanders prefer to have a look outside instead of relying purely on the sights they have. The turret on the other hand improves crew protection manifold. With the crew isolated from the ammunition, they could still use the tried and trusted carousel autoloader without compromising safety. Heavy side armor further reduces the chances of rounds penetrating the autoloader magazine and further improving safety. A big concern however remains, how will the complicated control mechanism for the turret fare in actual combat? how will the tank perform if there is a glitch? are there any backups? will they be able to repair the complex systems during the conflict? and many more. Only time will answer all these questions.
Click here for info-graphics of the Armata family.
Click here for reading about T-90MS.
T-14 vs M1 Abrams
T-14 vs T-72