Since its first appearance in 2015, the Russian T-14 Armata tank has become a myth in the field of armored vehicles.
The problems of the T-14 revealed by RIA Novosti
Certainly, the T-14 is already a mythical tank before any images of it have been seen in combat, but as with all myths we must ask ourselves: what is reality in him? This question also applies to his recent deployment to Ukraine, announced on April 25 by the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti, which stated:
"The Russian armed forces have started using the latest T-14 Armata main tanks to fire on Ukrainian positions, but these tanks have not yet taken part in direct assault operations, an informed source told RIA Novosti. According to him, the "Armata" in the zone of special operations received additional side protection from anti-tank ammunition, and since the end of last year, the T-14 crews have been coordinating combat in the fields of training in Donbass."
This information is very revealing, especially for two tattoos. The first refers to its limited deployment and without participating in assault operations, which reveals the little confidence of the Russian army in the tank: it is not logical that a tank as good as it was claimed to be the T-14 is removed from the first line, if it is not because something is wrong. On the other hand, the need to add additional protection reveals an incomprehensible design flaw in a tank of such recent manufacture, and indicates that Russia may not have expected the great effectiveness that the anti-tank missiles delivered by Western countries to Ukraine.
Delays in deliveries of the T-14 Armata
The history of the Armata is, like Russia itself, a contrasting struggle between reality and propaganda. On November 22, 2014, Russian Defense Ministry television announced that "the new Russian tank will surpass all world analogues". The information added the following: "At the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Defense will receive the first batch of 12-16 new generation Armata tanks. These vehicles will replace the three main tanks of the Russian army at once: T-72, T-80 and T-90. Manufacturers are confident that "Armata" will surpass the analogues created in the world in all respects."
Later, the Russian Defense Ministry began to lengthen the deadlines: announced that the Armata's test cycle would be completed by 2020, in a report that claimed the following: "'Armata' armor is capable of withstanding any existing anti-tank means". If this is true, why has its armor had to be reinforced before its deployment in Ukraine? Finally, the announced commissioning of the T-14 continued to be delayed. In March 2021, the Russian Defense Minister announced: "In 2022, an industrial experimental batch of T-14 main battle tanks is expected to be delivered to the troops". Some deliveries scheduled for 2015 ended up being delayed by seven years. Why?
The manufacturing problems of the new Russian tank
First, the Armata has run into manufacturing issues. In August 2019, Russian outlet VPK News reported that Armata deliveries were being much lower to those anticipated. Uralvagonzavod, Russia's largest tank manufacturer, received a contract for 132 Armata vehicles at the end of 2015, an order that included T-14 Armata tanks, T-15 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers. recovery T-16. That contract involved the delivery of 44 tanks per year, but at the end of 2019 it had only delivered 16, and 4 of them were T-16s.
Russia opted to modernize the T-72, T-80 and T-90 due to the problems of the T-14
The manufacturing problems of the T-14 have a lot to do with its digital systems. Russia relies heavily on foreign countries for these systems, but Western sanctions on Russia over the illegal annexation of Crimea have led to a reduction in such imports. VPK News noted that the T-14 "became hostage to many new technologies and systems being introduced to it. At first it seemed more than innovative and sparked explosive interest. But the vehicle was prohibitively expensive. As a result, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation came to the conclusion that there is no need to rush with large batches of "Armata". And the emphasis it should be on the T-72, T-80 and T-90 tanks, using the huge modernization potential built into them in Soviet times."
Thus, given the problems that arose with the Armata, Russia ended up choosing to modernize the T-72, T-80 and T-90, which were to be replaced by the T-14. Those three models ( especially the T-72) have suffered heavy losses in Ukraine, so Russia has had to resort to obsolete T-54/55 (of the 1950s ) and T-62 (from the 1960s). While Russian propagandists bragged that the T-14 would end up tipping the war in Russia's favor, what appeared on the front lines were old Soviet tanks that were already overwhelmed by western tanks in the Gulf War in 1991.
A propaganda operation against the Leopard 2 and Challenger 2
The arrival in Ukraine of the modern Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 (and soon also the M1 Abrams) leaves Russia at an even greater disadvantage. That explains the deployment of the Navy in this invasion. But does it have a chance against western tanks? On 19 January 2023, a British intelligence report stated:
"Any T-14 deployment is likely to be a high-risk decision for Russia. Eleven years in development, the programme has been dogged with delays, reduction in planned fleet size, and reports of manufacturing problems. An additional challenge for Russia is adjusting its logistics chain to handle T-14 because it is larger and heavier than other Russian tanks. If Russia deploys T-14, it will likely primarily be for propaganda purposes. Production is probably only in the low tens, while commanders are unlikely to trust the vehicle in combat."
The problems of the A-85-3 engine of the T-14 Armada
British intelligence also noted that That low confidence of Russian commanders in the T-14 is due to its "poor condition". On the problems with the Armata, Sergio Miller, former British intelligence officer and contributor to the British Army Review, published an interesting and comprehensive article in the Wavell Room on February 10, noting that the T-14 was designed around a new engine. Miller noted: "All Russian tank engines, remarkably, are descended from the highly successful V-2 diesel engine designed in 1931 at the Kharkov Locomotive Plant", with the exception of the T-64, which carried a 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."
For the T-14, Russia tried to copy another German engine: the Simmering SLA 16. "The Russian engine was designated the A-85-3. However, Transdiesel Design Bureau did not design the engine for a tank but rather as a unit for compressor oil and gas pumping stations. It proved a flop and failed to make any sales despite repeated demonstrations at exhibitions", Miller points out.
Ultimately, Uralvagonzavod decided to use that engine in the Armata. "The tank was designed around the engine and not the other way round.", notes the former intelligence officer, adding: "The A-85-3 did not sell because it was complex, manifested too many problems, and was difficult to maintain. The engine needed many more run-hours to refine the design." Miller noted that "the only realistic engineering solution now is to start again. Currently, no authority appears willing to accept this reality."
The electronic components of the T-14 and the problem of sanctions
On the electronic components of the T-14, Miller notes: "Russian industry generally has been critically dependent on foreign microelectronics and associated technologies. These are no longer available due to sanctions (hence the joke Russian defence’s main supplier has become AliExpress). Captured Russian equipment such as drones reveals components are being sourced from wherever they can be found (including stolen Swedish traffic cameras in the case of the Orlan-10 UAV)." Add to that the corruption that pervades everything in Russia. Because of this, the Volgograd Krasny Oktyabr plant that makes the armor plates for Russian tanks filed for bankruptcy in 2018, Miller notes.
In December 2022, Roman Skomorokhov, a Russian defense journalist, pointed out the Armata's problems with relying on electronics to get a complete view around the tank, as its turret is unmanned and its three crew are housed at the front of the barge. If an enemy shell hits the digital turret sights, the T-14 would go blind: "The cameras, sensors, and everything else will stop working, and without them, the Armata is nothing more than an armored chest on tracks", Skomorokhov noted.
The Russian journalist criticized that the mentality that was implanted in Russia at the beginning of the 2000s, of not producing electronic components because it was cheaper to import them, has ended up harming its defense industry, when that market to Russia because of Western sanctions. The only components now accessible to Russia are Chinese ones, "which simply do not guarantee the proper quality of the devices."
Thus, Russia's announcement of the deployment of the T-14 Armata in Ukraine can only be interpreted as an act of propaganda. That tank is far from having a decisive role in this war. In addition, Russia risks exposing the defects of the T-14 as soon as one of these tanks is captured by the Ukrainians, which would be a serious blow to Russian morale and its defense industry. This explains their limited deployment and Russia's reluctance to use them on the front lines.
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