Breaking Down the Features on Russia’s New Armata Tank

I’ve been studying, and talking about, Russian tanks for years. I can identify every model from the original T-34 onward and have an in-depth knowledge of their capabilities, strengths and flaws. I’ve spent hours learning the upgrades available for them, how widely they’ve proliferated and what they mean for a NATO unit going up against them. From Chinese T-54 knockoffs to the latest version of the T-90A, I know them all. For the last 35 years there’s been a thread of continuity running through Russian tank design because that’s how long it’s been since an entirely new model – the T-80 – was introduced. Even the T-90 is a rebranding exercise; it was originally called the T-72BU and it’s a major upgrade of the T-72B(M), not a new tank.

It’s all changed now, though. The recent Red Square parade to mark the end of WWII in Europe was the largest ever held and featured a huge assortment of military hardware, but the star of the show was the new T-14 Armata. The flagship of a fighting vehicle lineup designed to replace the aging Soviet-era arsenal over the next two decades, this is going to be the worst-case opponent for western ground forces from about 2020 on. It’s still in the pre-deployment trials stage right now and only a handful have been built but the basic shape of the design is clear, and five years from now the first battalions should be collecting their shiny new tank fleets. So what will they be getting?

The first thing about the T-14 is that it’s a clean slate design. Soviet designs were very much incremental, following the basic design principles of the previous model or even incorporating huge chunks of its technology. This new beast is different. It’s much larger than previous Russian designs, although still not as large as western rivals. There’s a lot of speculation about what it weighs, too, with estimates ranging from 48 to 60 tons. Personally I suspect it’s towards the lower end of that bracket.

What’s immediately obvious about the T-14 is that it’s a lot more lavishly fitted out than previous Russian tanks. There’s a remote weapon station on the turret, cleverly mounted on the same pedestal as the panoramic sight so one will never get in the way of the other. Four short-range radars are embedded in the corners of the turret and there are both smoke grenade and Active Protection System launchers on each side of the deck, under the turret’s forward overhang.

The turret itself is the most interesting feature. It’s fairly small and has a very angular, faceted shape. Publicity material from the manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, suggests that this shape is a stealth feature to reduce the detection range of millimetric-band radars like the AH-64D’s Longbow system. What’s certain is that the external turret shell is either lightly armored or even just light sheet steel. The real turret is much smaller, unmanned and almost certainly very heavily armored indeed. It sits above an advanced autoloader located in what would have been the fighting compartment and it’s remotely controlled from the crew pod.

Armata FrontThe most obvious feature of the turret is the gun. This is in the familiar 125mm smoothbore caliber but it isn’t the 2A46 weapon that, in one version or other, has armed every Russian tank since the T-64. Instead it’s a new design, the 2A82-1M. This looks to have a more tapered tube than the older gun, suggesting the use of higher pressure ammunition, and it’s also lacking a fume extractor – with no crew in the turret there’s no need to protect them from toxic propellant gases. The gun is capable of firing the usual range of 125mm fin-stabilized ammunition including HE-FRAG, HEAT and long-rod APFSDS rounds, with the newer versions probably having similar performance to the US M829A3 or British CHARM 3. It can also use tube-launched guided missiles, possibly the existing AT-11 Sniper or, according to some reports, a new weapon with a range of up to five miles. Secondary armament consists of a 7.62mm PKT on the pan sight pedestal and a 12.7mm Kord, both of them remotely controlled.

The T-14 seems to have a multilayered defense system, with the outer ring being the Afganit Active Protection System. The Soviet Union was the first nation to develop an APS, first Drozd – withdrawn because its warheads were so dangerous to infantry – then Arena. Afganit seems to be a refinement of Drozd although it’s unknown if the problem of it shredding nearby troops has been solved. The system is fully automated and consists of four small radars around the turret, a fire control computer and an array of five launch tubes under each side of the turret front. When an incoming threat is detected, the system traverses the turret to bring a launcher online and then fires a rocket horizontally at the threat. The rocket warhead functions at a preset distance from the tank, hopefully destroying the incoming weapon. Where Afganit is different from previous Russian systems is that it’s apparently effective against APFSDS rounds as well as RPGs and guided weapons. APFSDS darts have too much energy to stop them easily but a deflection of 7° is usually enough to make it shatter against the armor rather than penetrating. Alternatively it’s believed the system can fire a smoke screen from the T-14’s generous array of grenade dischargers, and possibly lay the main gun on the threat’s origin point.

If a threat gets past Afganit the next layer is the Explosive Reactive Armor; in this case it’s thought to be Relikt, which the makers claim is twice as effective as the already formidable Kontakt-5. Relikt is unusual in that it functions before the round actually hits it, again triggered by short-range radar. That obviously has emissions implications and my guess is that of the radar’s switched off it will function on impact, but be somewhat less effective. Firing before impact would let it disrupt a HEAT jet, or guillotine the nose of APFSDS, further away from the base armor; that means the penetrator will be more degraded by the time it hits the tank.

This is where it gets more mysterious. I suspect that the hull is a lot less heavily armored than previous Soviet – and current western – tanks. I’d expect it to have all-round resistance to 30mm AP and possibly smaller HEAT rounds, but not to stand up to a main gun round or ATGM. The hull armor isn’t the crew’s last line of defense though. The T-14’s three occupants sit in a heavily armored pod inside the front of the hull – driver on the left, commander on the right and gunner in the middle. There are two hatches, one each side, and a generous array of periscopes for all three of them. There are also video cameras giving all-round coverage, a lesson learned from urban combat in Chechnya. The point about putting the crew in a pod, completely isolated from both ammunition storage and the engine, is that with such a small armored volume to protect it can be very, very strong. I would expect this pod to give excellent protection all rounds with frontal armor far in excess of even a Challenger 2. It’s likely that the gun, autoloader and ammunition magazine are similarly tough, with the rest of the tank protected only well enough to prevent infantry weapons or fragmentation from causing a mission kill. This armor layout, while unconventional, would keep the weight down to something near the 48 tons the makers claim.

Armata SideIn terms of sensors, the T-14 looks to be well equipped. As well as the video cameras the panoramic sight has thermal and daylight channels, and there are rumors of an electro-optical periscope retracting into the turret that will let the crew observe from a turret-down position. One thing that’s been rumored, but was missing from the tanks on display in Red Square, is a long-range AESA radar supposedly based on the one fitted to the new PAK-FA stealth fighter. There’s a large square recess on the turret front that would probably hold that quite nicely.

In terms of mobility, the T-14 has a traditional torsion bar suspension and seven road wheels per side. Drive sprockets are at the rear and are powered by a Chelyabinsk 12H360 diesel rated at 1,500hp, although this is supposedly governed to 1,200hp in normal use. This is a big leap for Russian tank engines and, combined with the low weight, should give the Armata excellent acceleration – a key decider of tank survivability in combat – and tactical mobility. The step back from fuel-hungry turbines, as fitted to the T-80, suggests good operational mobility as well. Estimated top speed is somewhere between 50 and 56mph.

So what does all this mean? Based on what’s known, the Russians have started with a clean sheet of paper and a list of operational lessons from their recent wars; the result seems to be a design that’s a generation ahead of anything else in the world. Obviously it’s not yet a fully operational design; only four examples have been seen and they’re trials models, so the service vehicles are likely to have a lot of changes in sensors, system layout and possibly even secondary armament. It’s also possible that the technology is a bit too bleeding edge. Russia has done that before; the T-64 was intended as a high-end design for tank divisions while the cheaper, more traditional T-72 went to motor rifle formations. However the T-64 had a lot of issues with its more advanced systems and by the time they’d been sorted it the T-80 (another high-end design) was close to being ready. In the end, of course, the supposedly low-end T-72 proved to have more development potential than either. Anyway, there’s always a risk of the T-14 turning out to be too advanced to be soldier-proof, or of major systems not performing as well as expected.

If it works at something close to its design specs, however, this tank would make for a formidable adversary. It’s a lot more survivable than anything Russia has ever fielded before and its lethality should be on a par with current western designs. It also seems to have at least a near-peer sensor capability and with the addition of an AESA radar would gain a formidable ground and air surveillance capability. It’s not due to reach units for another five years, and it’s not an invincible super weapon, but this does look like it could take back the technical edge Russia last held when the T-72 entered service.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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15 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Features on Russia’s New Armata Tank

  1. This new tank is very good contribution to an independant European defence – I really hope that the European countries within some 15-25 years will be also military masters in their own home without non-European military bases on European soil, United from Greenland in the est to Kamchatka in the east here Russia in all cases is Europe’s military uncrushable spine.

      1. Agreed! J de Naucler has deep Post-Soviet delusions. However, with the U.S. having a complete joke of a leader in Obama (bent on neutering his own country) and Russia having a true, no nonsense leader like Putin (admirably dedicated to resurrecting his nation), the Russians are rapidly catching up to if not outright overtaking the Wests edge.

  2. If you read the comments section of main stream media articles on this Russian beast, most of them seem to be openly disrespectful or dismissive of its potential.

    Lots of folks – mostly civilians – make comments like ‘bigger target for anti tank missiles’, ‘drones have taken over war so tanks are useless’ and ‘Hellfire bait’ etc.

    Are they just ignorant or plain stupid about the interactions of various weapons systems?

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head there: They have no idea how weapon systems work together. Hellfire bait? Not so simple if the T-14s are operating under cover of an integrated air defence system. Missiles? Man-portable systems are horrifyingly vulnerable to artillery and pretty much every direct fire weapon on the battlefield, plus there’s Afghanit to get past.

  3. The bigger they are the harder they fall. This new “beast” has great above ground protection but I wonder if it can “see” below ground. If this new tank were involved in combat against really determined opponents (US Army or Marine Infantry) I think it’s vulnerabilities would be exposed rather dramatically. We thought that the M1 was fairly indestructible, but some pissed off Iraqi’s with 120mm shells and a couple of shovels changed that.
    All I am saying is these technological leaps some time land the one doing the leaping in a deep hole from which they can not escape.

    1. If this tank were involved in combat against infantry (however determined) I think it would, like any tank, shred them nine times out of ten. Outside of a few urban scenarios, unsupported infantry who go up against tanks usually die.

  4. The idea isn’t mine – it came from the World war hero General and later President of the Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle – an independant European defence system from Brest to Vladivostok. Most Western Europeans want to get rid of the Washington ruled NATO and become masters in their own countries. If the Americans do really Think that they are the eternal defenders of western Europe and “western Culture” they do really not understand European politics. The Americans have really not understand this. More and more political parties growing in Europe want to have tighter relations with the growing new political-economical bloc of Russia/Chine/India – the western dominance is going to an end and the future is situated eastwards, not on trans-Atlantic relations – which only drive European countries in the hands of warmonglers of the Pentagon. The NATO is based on the 1949/1951 positions in Europe, but Europe changes every day, and more and more western Europeans want to have more political cooperation with future Russia, maybe post-Putin. In the long run to unite Europe Europe must choose Russia in front of the US. That’s a historical fact. No European security policy can be decided without Russia, only with it. It is not insane, it is the political realities of the new century. My guessing is that NATIO will disappear within 20-25 years as it costs too much for European economies to have a NATO-ditch in the kiddle of Europe with all these sanctions and tensions between peaceful peoples in all Europe. I understand that Americans can Think this is insane – in Europe – it is Realpolitik, which always in the long run will prevail. That’s European history in a nutscale. Amercans do not understand this European dilemma, but we will in the long run unite ith Russia, possibly in the post-Putin era, that’s for sure.

  5. “the World war hero General and later President of the Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle”

    Oh, Bignose?

    “Of all the crosses I have to bear, the heaviest is the Cross of Lorraine” – Winston Churchill.

    de Gaulle was a squalid, arrogant, egotistical nuisance. I wish the Jackal had got him.

  6. Quite rude to call a democratically leader a positive victim of a terrorist murderer. Charles de Gaulle was one of the most sane political and military leaders among the many disturbed leaders during the Second World War (Hitler, Stalin, the alcoholized Churchill, Mussolini and the most ignorant in world-politics at the time Roosevelt who had no mental capacity to see through learders like Stalin for example,, and not talking about a such dark political figure like Truman and his guaarding dog Joseph McCarthy, both who had no knowledge of World politics in 1945/46 at all). This comment of a World-leader like Genral de Gaulle shows clearly that the United States never have been a truly close friend and trustworthy ally to the united, peaceful and democratic Europe. Leaders like de Gaulle, Adenauer, Berlinguer, Palme and Willy Brandt did really pacify and truly democratisized our continent. I guess this point of view is not shared by the most extremist Nixonists and Reaganists. A fact which talks for itself.

  7. Yes, thanks indeed. Everyone talks the language he understands best himself. I think the moderators should finally close off people with this rude vocabulary.

  8. I am impressed with the Leopard II, Leclerc, and the newest Challenger II. I am not saying our M1A2 Abrams is not up to task but I have been speaking to deaf ears the last five or so years that this smells like Cold War part II. I know that my fellow leathernecks have the FGM-148 Javelin, but that is only one piece of the response so let’s not stop there. My biggest concern is the co lateral partnership with China and this tank being mass produced is not good. My biggest worry is, now that I am on the Civil Defense side, is when they make their way to our coast. We aren’t the type to roll over and piss ourselves either and they better know that it will be messing with the hornets nest if they push it.

    We support all our European allies, they have always been there with us and we need to make good with our friends…….keep the fire burning my friend.

    1. The Leo 2 is an excellent tank; the Challenger 2 is very well protected and pretty mobile, but getting on a bit and there are issues with the gun (it’s a good gun, but not NATO standard). The Leclerc I’m not so sure about. The M1A2 is still a world-class MBT though, because it’s been constantly upgraded.

      I wouldn’t worry about the Chinese building up a huge fleet of T-14s any time soon. They have their own designs, although they’re nowhere near the same standard, and don’t seem inclined to build them in huge numbers.

  9. De Gaulle as a “hero”…. That’s rich!! I guess that’s why the FFL tried to kill his gutless ass. And why he retreated from Algeria, Indochina, and Africa as well as sitting on his ass in England during WWII.
    I understand plenty about European history, I lived and worked there for years. Hmm… A French Communist – talk about being born to lose!

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