Russia briefly deploys T-14 Armata tanks in Ukraine then withdraw, amid engine problem

Russia's T-14 Armata main battle tank stopped during Moscow parade due to engine failure. Photo Moscow Times.

Several advanced Russian tanks have been deployed by Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine, before being withdrawn, it has been reported.

Engine Problems

According to Russian state media outlet TASS, the tank has had issues with its engines and thermal imagers, which producers claim to have never been fixed in 2020. According to the Associated Press, in one instance one of the tanks broke down during a 2015 Victory Day parade.

The origins of T-14 Armata lie in the cancelled T-95 (Object 148).  This tank, a casualty of the troubled 1990s, was finally abandoned in 2010.  Conceptual vehicles with unmanned turrets had existed since the 1980s (CIA Top Secret ‘Soviet Tank Programs’, NI IIM 84-10016, 1 Dec 84 offers interesting historical perspectives on these designs).  However, in the case of T-14 Armata the idea did not start from the cancelled T-95, or even a tank design, but with an engine.

T-14 Armata, in the end, proved a story of technology over-reach.  ‘The fact remains that the T-14 will remain a prototype toy with no chance of mass production’, Russian defense journalist Roman Skomorokhov has sentenced.  The root problem with the engine means ‘the tank moves satisfactorily only under the cover of a group of technicians and engineers’.  Only one experimental company was ever formed anyway in Central Military District (CVO) and the chances it will appear on a frontline, except for propaganda purposes, are small.

Some context is necessary.  All Russian tank engines, remarkably, are descended from the V-2 diesel engine designed in 1931 at the Kharkov Locomotive Plant (now destroyed by Russian forces).  The V-84 (T-72s), V-92S2F (T-72B3s, T-90s), the UTD-20 (BMP-1s and BMP-2s), and UTD-29 (BMP-3s) are further upgrades of this engine. The V-2 is the Kalashnikov of tank engines.  The exception to this practical Soviet approach is the T-64.  This tank was fitted with the 5TDF engine, a failed attempt to copy a German wartime bomber engine.  It is for this reason that the 2-3,000 T-64s in storage will never return to service.

NLAW and Javelin

The military potential of the T-14 has also been questioned, given the role that modern anti-tank weapons such as American-made Javelin and British NLAW missiles have played a key role in defeating Russian tanks in the Ukraine war.

Armored forces from Russia’s southern military district (SMD) were given T-14 “Armata” main battle tanks (MBTs) for combat operations, according to the state news agency Tass, which noted that this was Moscow’s first official confirmation of their use in Ukraine.

“The Armata was actively used by the (SMD) in combat operations,” a military source told the agency. “Several units participated in battle to see how the tank would perform. They were then withdrawn from the front line.”

“All the necessary tests of the T-14 tank are still ongoing,” the source added.

The outlet did not specify the exact location or length of time of the deployment nor why it was withdrawn. Newsweek has emailed the Russian defense ministry for comment.

The T-14 Armata had been eagerly anticipated as a piece of equipment that would provide a huge boost for Russia’s armed forces.

Among its assets is an unmanned turret and it can support a 125mm cannon. Its crew operates the vehicle from an armored capsule within the tank’s hull, increasing survivability in case of a strike.

When it was unveiled in 2015, its high-tech specifications led a British army intelligence officer to hail it as the “most revolutionary tank in a generation.”

An article in defense publication The National Interest in 2016 said that the Afghanit active protection system on the tank was able to intercept depleted uranium-core armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot cannon shells, a type of ammunition used to attack modern armored vehicles.

The publication said that if Moscow’s claims were true, “the new Russian active protection system would be a game-changing development in the realm of mechanized warfare.”

Despite the advanced attributes being touted by experts and Russia’s military, the roll-out of the tank has been plagued with delays and technical problems.

Before it was unveiled in 2015 during Russia’s annual Victory Day parade in Moscow, the tank appeared to unexpectedly stop during a rehearsal.

Meanwhile, British defense officials said in January that Russia’s forces were reluctant to accept the first tranche of T-14s allocated to them because they were in such poor condition.

The U.K. Ministry of Defense said that the tank had been dogged by delays and faced a host of manufacturing problems. Also, Russia’s deployment of the tanks would be most likely for propaganda purposes because Russian commanders “are unlikely to trust the vehicle,” the defense officials added.

All of the armored vehicle systems come at a steep cost. Bloomberg reported in 2018 that the T-14 comes with an expensive price tag, limiting the proliferation of the platform through the military. 

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