First unveiled to the world during the annual victory day parade in 2015, the T-14 Armata has long been discussed in military circles as a contender for the best tank ever made. With state-of-the-art advancements in armor protection, crew survivability, power, communications, and so much more, it is no wonder that the T-14 caused much concern among Western analysts.
However, it appears those concerns are unfounded.
With little publicly confirmed data and a Russian government tight-lipped about developments, many are left wondering if these audacious claims about the Armata over the past few years are just a farce. Controversy around the design is becoming especially apparent, due to its protracted development and its absence in Russia’s conflict in Ukraine.
Trials are allegedly taking place this year, and full-scale production is not expected until at least 2023. But amid all the wild suspicions, here is what we know about the T-14 Armata.
The Russia that emerged after the Cold War realized it needed better equipment. With American and allied nations steamrolling Saddam’s army in the 1991 Gulf War, Russian military leaders realized that the Soviet-equipped and trained army was no match against advanced weaponry in large numbers.
With the bitter taste of defeat still in their mouths, Russia funded a series of modernization projects to bring its equipment up to par with Western counterparts.
Two of those projects were the Black Eagle and T-95 tanks.
Designed with advanced optics, guns, armor, and crew survivability in mind, the projects aimed to close technological gaps identified in legacy Soviet systems (T-72, T-80 etc). For example, most Soviet tanks lacked a commander’s sight and limited the crew’s situational awareness around the tank.
Legacy tanks also did not compartmentalize storage for their ammunition. This meant that if an enemy projectile penetrated the tank’s armor, it would likely cause a catastrophic explosion that would kill the crew.
The Russians wanted to bridge these technological gaps but were unsure if they wanted to use a 125mm or 152mm gun. The Black Eagle received the 125mm, while the T-95 sported the 152mm. However, the development of the two tanks soon floundered. Due to severe budget cuts, engineers could not meet the projects’ ambitious goals as quickly as their design teams wanted.
The Black Eagle was cancelled in the early 2000s and absorbed into the T-95 project.
For the next decade the project moved slowly, using the small amount of funding available. Sometimes, the prototypes would make a rare public appearance or get spoken about in the media. However, by 2010 the projects were officially dead. While money was a major factor, it was also noted that these tanks would not have been capable of the digital integration Russia desired. Very little is known about either of these projects.
But, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, many of the design features would be reborn and brought into Russia’s next-generation tank: the T-14 Armata.
Design and Features
Because of state secrecy surrounding the Armata, some of the exact specifications for the tank’s dimensions, technologies, and capabilities are unknown. The Armata is 8.7 meters (29 feet) long, 3.9 meters (12 ft 9 in) wide, 2.7 meters (11 feet) tall and weighs in at 55 tons.
Manning the tank are three crewmembers: a driver, a gunner, and a commander. The tank is alleged to reach road speeds of up to 55 mph (90 kph).
However, the most intriguing part of the Armata is its unmanned turret.
None of the Armata’s crew are located in the turret – instead, all are positioned near the front of the hull. This layout enables the turret to be made smaller, and armor to be prioritised around the most important areas, like the crew. The Armata does exactly this, with an armored “tub” around its crew compartment.
It also keeps ammunition away from the crew, protecting them in the event of a “cook off”.
As with anything, there are trade-offs to the unmanned turret. Most notably, the commander, and really the rest of the crew, lose a significant amount of situational awareness due to being situated lower down in the vehicle.
Regardless of whether the tank has the capabilities Russia claims, it stands out as a significant vehicle in the history of tanks for its use of such a layout.
It must be noted though that the T-14 Armata is far from the first armored fighting vehicle to have an unmanned turret – nor is it even first MBT with one. The Armata’s concept is strikingly similar to the US M1 TTB (Tank Test Bed), which dates back to the 1980s.
The Armata’s Engine
Propelling this futuristic tank is the 35 litre A-85-3A engine. This is a four-stroke, 12 cylinder, X-shaped twin-turbo diesel engine. The engine is extremely compact, and can provide varying power levels between 1200 to 2000 hp.
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In a radio interview in 2017, a spokesperson for the Armata’s manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, said the tank’s engine produces “at least 1500 hp.” This engine is paired with a 12-speed automatic transmission, and may have originally been developed for the T-95.
The T-14 Armata runs on a hydraulic active suspension system, which, its designers claim, even at max road speeds of 90 km/hr, enables the tank to achieve a near 100 percent hit ratio.
The Armata is reportedly able to instantly diagnose any technical or mechanical issues with it. Whether it is a electrical fault, a leaking hydraulic line, or something else, the tank can alert the crew to what is wrong.
The main battery of the Armata is its 125mm 2A82 gun. This is a newer version of the 2A46, the type used on tanks such as the T-72, T-80 and T-90. As it is contained within an unmanned turret, the barrel is not fitted with a fume extractor, which is normally required to keep the turret free of gasses from the gun.
The gun can fire high explosive, discarding sabot, and guided missiles. At this time it does not appear that Russia is developing depleted uranium rounds, but has sabot rounds up to 900mm in length.
If needed the tank can be modified to receive the insanely-powerful 2A83 152 mm gun, a weapon derived from the type used on the 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled gun.
The tank is also armed with surface-to-surface missiles and a remotely controlled 7.62mm machine gun on top of the turret. The stated magazine capacity of the tank is 45 rounds. The Armata, like many other Russian tanks, is equipped with an autoloader. The autoloader has a capacity for 32 rounds in the drum, and can fire 10 to 12 rounds per minute.
The ammunition is still stored below the turret like on previous Russian designs, but, in theory, the crew may survive a “gentle” ammunition cook-off as they are in a separate compartment. A full detonation, which often results in the complete disintegration of the tank, is still a possibility.
Even more interesting is the tank’s impressive radar. Utilizing an active, phased array radar, the Armata can send directed energy out to up to 60 miles (100 km) to find targets. With the capability of keeping up to 45 ground and 20 air engagements in the queue at one time, the fire control system is one of the most impressive features of this tank.
The commander can also use a mixture of computers and infrared communications to build a common battlefield picture. Because the Armatas rely solely on cameras for vision, they can share information to build better situational awareness.
Russia says it has developed software to integrate the feed from multiple tanks into a common data link that can also be shared with aircraft and ground units. This is similar to some systems used by Western designs, like South Korea’s K2.
Armor and Protection System
What makes the Armata so special is its immense focus on survival. The crew is encapsulated in an armored bubble, and the ammunition and turret are in their own compartment, with the engine at the rear.
The steel used for the armor is apparently the strongest and lightest steel Russia has ever made. Their own tests have shown that the steel alloy used in the tank is 15 percent lighter than previous steel armor but is still stronger and far less brittle. It is claimed that this armor provides up to 1000 mm of protection. Of course, Western observers cannot truly test these claims unless analysts put it to the test.
Moving outward from its armor is the impressive Afghanit active protection system (APS). The Afghanit consists of two parts; a radar detection system and anti-projectile munitions. As with any APS, Afghanit aims to destroy incoming projectiles before they reach the vehicle’s armor.
Afghanit interfaces directly with the vehicle’s radar – if the radar detects incoming missiles or projectiles approaching it it above certain speeds, the tank will create a fire control solution to shoot it down. Russian designers say that by using one of several rocket pods on the tank, there is a very low likelihood any modern threat can even get to within four meters of the vehicle.
However one critical drawback of the Afghanit APS, is it lacks the ability to counter top-attack weapons like the Javelin, which have proved to be extremely deadly in combat. This is a vulnerability shared by other APS though.
Naturally, the Armata is fitted with explosive reactive armor (ERA) over exposed parts of the tank. This is of a new type, known as “Malachit”. Malachit ERA supposedly works alongside the Afghanit APS, and can be triggered primitively. It has an increased resistance against sabot rounds, and can help defend against top-attack munitions.
The mystery and intrigue surrounding this vehicle is immense, and as a result is featured by news channels and in reports more than virtually any other tank. It is often described as a “super-tank” and a NATO-killer, but as history shows, no single tank can win wars on its own, and the Armata is likely no exception.
Its gun is proven, but many of the other systems found on the T-14 Armata are advanced, and have not yet been thoroughly tested by the rigors of combat. Its lack of crew in the turret may increase survival rates, but it means the crew are heavily reliant on the vehicle’s optics and electrical systems to maintain visibility outside.
Outside of this, recent events in Ukraine have shown that the Russian military is severely lacking in terms of organisation, logistics and funding. The technology-based Armata will be a demanding vehicle in service, as it will likely be complex and require skilled mechanics to repair.
In addition, its crew’s understanding of the battlefield around them relies on the Armata’s own electrical systems, and those of other units connected to a network. From what we have seen so far, this may be something Russia will struggle to pull-off.
In the end though none of this may matter, as the T-14 Armata’s full entry into service has been a long time coming.
Since its unveiling in 2015, the Armata has moved from awaiting production, to being too expensive, to trials and back to awaiting production. Between 30 and 100 have been built in total.
The tank has been notably absent from the conflict in Ukraine, spurring rumours that the platform is suffering from problems, or that Russia simply cannot afford to build them in large enough numbers.
Currently, the Armata is undergoing further trials, and it is said that a batch will be acquired in 2023. Time will tell what comes of the T-14 Armata.