Undignified Death of T-14 Armata Main Battle Tank

Russia’s decision to cancel the T-14 production is hardly surprising that Russia would not mass produce T-14 Armata instead upgrade T-72 and T-84 tanks, put them back in service with Russian Army. The media spin doctors of Russian Federation glorified the T-14 platform so much that the Russian quietly cancelled the projects without domestic crowd noticing anything except Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, Borisov comments noted by the NATO officials. So, what went wrong with the T-14 Armata?

  • Production costs were higher than expected
  • Implementation costs (revising doctrine, training, maintenance) would be higher than expected
  • T-14 Russian Federation performance was below expectations
  • The need for a new tank changed or was re-evaluated
  • India factor – participation of India in to T-14 Armata program
  • There were mechanical issues with the broader Armata platform*

American Sanctions Hurts!

A combination of international sanctions and a sluggish domestic economy have forced the Kremlin to make cuts to their defense budget overall. Competing priorities and limited funds have already led the Russian government to put plans for new destroyers and carriers on hold and cancel two intercontinental ballistic missile programs, among several potentially painful decisions.

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Russian military has to cancel many projects including development of an Aircraft Carrier, Amphibious Assault Ship, Missile Cruiser, Corvette, Zhuk-AME radar, T-14 Armata and Su-57 projects. The Russian military rebooted the Su-57 project, but resulted with setback after setback during factory trial and fell short of safety and reliability expectations.

“Having a military budget ten times smaller than that of NATO, we are achieving our objectives due to such efficient solutions,” Deputy Prime Minister Borisov noted in his comments, clearly trying to put a positive spin on the Armata news. In May 2018, the Kremlin had announced a new round of budget cuts, slashing annual defense spending by almost 20-percent from the previous year.

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The Russian economy has been flat and Russian Federation under-performing, due to low energy prices, and exacerbated by targeted sanctions by forty countries.

Too expensive

The high cost of T-14 prohibits widespread deployment of T-14 is risky. Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat visited Russia, with Kremlin-owned media outlets widely reporting that part of his six-day visit will be devoted to discussing the possibility of India purchasing some number of T-14s. 

Indian Army’s General Bipin visited Armata plant but subsequently, Indian Army rejected on the ground of cost and technological changes; the T-14 will pose on the Indian Army. Without India committing to procure any T-14, the Armata was destined to fail.

India Factor

Ultimately, I think the Russian Federation stepped back from their level of commitment to the T-14 not because of this factor, but to be careful: Russia knows that there can be cost overruns and India is not there to pay for nothing as the Indian did for PAK-FA project, Russian Federation performance flaws. So, it makes far more sense to tone down the enthusiasm and cancel the project.

Mechanical Failure and Turret Problem

Post-Soviet experiences in Chechnya, for example, demonstrated this stagnation. In comparison to the experiences of Western tanks in the Gulf War, Russian tanks deployed to Chechnya suffered greatly. In a 2001 article published in Armor, Adam Geibel identifies that key factors of Russian tank losses during the Second Chechen War (August 1999 – April 2000) ranging from mechanical unreliability, a lack of sufficient protection systems in the form of Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) and fire suppression systems greatly contributed to the losses experience by Russian forces.9 Two explanations can be attributed to the cause of these factors; the first being ageing equipment, greatly affected by the second, financial cuts stemming from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic crisis within Russia at the time.

The T-14 Armata stalled during Russian national parade which forced the Russian Army to remove those tanks immediately from the scene of the parade.

Any investment in equipment, vehicles, or weapons is made on a cost/Russian Federation performance basis. In short, the original plan to field 2,300 T-14 tanks by 2020 (announced in December 2014) was determined to provide too few benefits to justify the cost of continuing it.

FGM-148 Javelin and Spike LR Threat

With the developments in APS, a trend can be identified with the co-development of anti-tank weapons. One of these is the American FGM-148 Javelin ATGM and Israeli Spike LR ATGM. The Javelin can operate on a ‘top-attack’ mode designed to attack the weakest point of the tank and therefore bypassing frontal or side armour which has been supplemented with ERA. Debatably, if American or NATO designers were so confident in their current stock of anti-tank weapons, such as the TOW guided missile and AT4 light anti-tank weapon (LAW), the Javelin and Spike LR would be killer combinations.  The Ukrainian military recently purchased thirty-seven Javelin launchers to remedy a large deficit in capable anti-tank weapons following fighting with Russian backed separatists. The Javelin proved very effective against Russian-made tanks and IVF in Donetsk, Ukraine. A 2017 article by Brigadier Ben Barry for the International Institute of Strategic Studies highlights how Norway has recognised the value of Javelin to defeat APS, necessitating the need for the Norwegian military to purchase Javelin to remain combat capable against APS equipped AFVs and MBT.

Underperforming T-14

Furthermore, we know the plan was launched but then aborted after all of the design, development, and production-line tooling and setup, for a whole family of military vehicles, so something quite serious changed this calculation in the meantime. Sixteen to twenty prototype tanks were ordered, and up to seven of them have been publicly paraded. Then a test batch of 100 was begun, initially announced as “full production,” delayed once or twice, and possibly scaled back—recent reports are vague, but early 2019 reports anticipated delivery of the first twelve tanks by the end of the year, but in November that slid back to “late 2019 or early 2020.”

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The level of Russian Federation performance of the T-14 is yet to be demonstrated. The actual production run of 2,300 tanks has now been completely cancelled in favour of recommissioning tanks that had been lined up for the scrap heap. Of course, this was all part of the larger design, development, manufacturing, and adoption effort for the Armata platform of all-new vehicles that share common components: tank, IFV, ARV, heavy fire-support vehicle, and self-propelled artillery gun.

The full truth may never be knowable, but researcher Dr Mark Galeotti believes the military never requested the T-14, and it was ordered largely for political reasons. The T-14 design was to hook up the Indian Army into procuring a large batch of T-14.

As for the new T-14 Armata tank, feted in the Russian media and talked up as the new threat in the West, I have not yet met a Russian officer who says this is the tank they wanted. So advanced it is likely to be temperamental, ludicrously expensive, it is the tank Uralvagonzavod wanted to sell them, and even though at the time they were seeing the advantages of cheap, light, highly-mobile wheeled tank destroyers to supplement their tank fleet, like it or not they are now committed to the T-14 and its whole family of behemoths.

Need vs Wish List

This makes sense. A “next-generation” tank built according to a novel, untested design pattern is something you build when you want to show off, you want to rejoin an arms race with top military powers, you are flush with cash, and hopefully, after the bugs are worked out, and real combat demonstrations pan out, you want to sell for billions on the world market, a few years down the road. Not all of these conditions are currently met.

But the Russian Federation never needed the T-14. No matter what kind of tank it has, it is impervious to attack Russia because it has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. There will be no Third World War.

The Russian Federation only has frozen conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, and a dispute over a couple of islands in Japan, and some overseas deployments brewing in central Africa and perhaps Venezuela. The Russian Federation is only currently in hot wars in Syria, and against its neighbour Ukraine.

In Syria, the Russian Federation is limited by its small strategic reach—it cannot conduct a major conventional war there, but helps Assad carry on a civil war through air superiority, cruise missile strikes, and the activities of Russian military advisors, specialists, and mercenaries.

In Ukraine, the Russian Federation maintains escalation dominance by simply having more soldiers and tanks than Ukraine—for every tank company Ukraine fields, the Russians can send a battalion or two across the border. Superior technology is moot. The Russian Federation controls the pace of the fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, maintains the threat of larger regular incursions as in summer 2014 to January 2015, and holds the possibility of a still larger open invasion over Ukraine’s head.

As to other potential conflicts, the Russian Federation could only go to war against other smaller states that are outmatched by its current military disposition anyway.

The T-14 isn’t required for any of this. It is an expensive, unnecessary luxury that the Kremlin had big eyes for, but certainly can’t afford any more. So, after the mildly humiliating and terribly expensive dead-ending of the project, cash-strapped Russia follows Ukraine’s lead and will refurbish and upgrade thousands of Cold-War T-72, T-80, and post-Soviet T-90 tanks.

Similar decisions are being made about equipment for the Russian Air Force and navy as well.

Russian Spin Doctors- All Talk No Show

The announcement, procurement and de-commitment might be deliberate and for propaganda reasons. In this instance, a large impressive number is published, but either through examining with more realistic lenses or waiting until the spotlight has passed, toned down the orders. It’s relatively easy to flaunt your power even if you don’t have it, so long as after the fact you can quietly ratchet down without too many people noticing you were all talk.

The “fear factor” impressed toward the West was either successful enough that they no longer needed the Armata as a psychological weapon, or it failed to impress, so there was no point in investing into the platform any further. Like the above reason, but instead, the West called their bluff and the Russians are backing down without losing face.

The Armata platform might have been envisioned as a Russian equivalent to the Americans’ defunct Future Combat Systems; both had the idea of a universal vehicle platform from which tanks, infantry carriers, ambulances, etc. can be manufactured from a common template. The Russians, probably like the US, figured the cost to replace existing inventory may not be worth all the expense, and unlike the US which has a far greater budget for military, Russian can ill afford to replace thousands of old, still functioning tanks with far fewer modern ones that might (not) actually Russian Federation perform that much better. The usual “if it ain’t broke…” maxim at work here.

The T-14 and its variants can still achieve its the fundamental purpose of a test bed for advanced Russian military technology without having to be mass-produced. If anything, you do not want to mass-produce what are effectively prototypes in a non- hot war situation. Every time you roll out such expensive toys to test out in warzones, you never really want to have a lot of them, lest they DO have design flaws. In the hypothetical scenario that the Russians deploy T-14s into Syria, there will be investigation teams on hand to evaluate their Russian Federation performance on matters like protection, weaponry, engine failures. so that the guys back at the bureau can implement these improvements. This won’t happen if you decide to churn out all two thousand tanks.

Since the Soviet-era and the current Russian Federation, Russia was never about quality, but Russia is about quantity when comes to military equipment, Russia cannot make T-14 in large quantity hence cancellation is the right decision by the Kremlin.

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