BEIJING, Sept. 20 (ChinaMil) -- Russian news agency Sputniknews reported that Russia's deputy defense minister Yuri Borisov recently announced that the Russian military will purchase more than 100 T-14 Armata tanks for trial use, and the first batch is already under combat testing. This means that after Russia exhibited the early-stage development model at the V-Day military parade, its new-generation heavy main battle tank (MBT) has entered the stage of mass production.
America's National Interest magazine listed Russia's five most powerful weapons in the future, with T-14 Armata on top of the list. Featuring multi-layered compound armor, unmanned turret, advanced fire control system and compartment design, the tank's performance is considerably improved and it will be commissioned in the Russian army on a large scale after being tested and improved. It will be Russia's future "king of ground battles".
During the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008, the Russian army exposed several defects such as lack of experience and weakness in dealing with multiple new security threats, so it launched a bold and massive military reform aimed to modernize the military system, weapon and equipment.
As a star project for enhancing Russia's military main battle weapons and equipment, T-14 Armata tank developed by Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) was officially approved by the Russian government in 2012 and premiered at the V-Day military parade on May 9, 2015.
As Russia's future "king of ground battles", Armata tank features strong combat performance. With an unmanned turret, it has a full combat weight of 65 tons and is fitted with the 125mm smoothbore gun that is able to fire basically all of Russia's current cannons and ammunitions.
To fully improve the tank's detecting capability, Russia installed the Active Phased Array Radar (APAR) specifically developed for the T-50 fighter in Armata's fire control and active defense system, so as to quickly ascertain the type and flying trajectory of incoming missile and guide the tank to carry out targeted strike and movement.
Armata tank is able to organize combat and strike around the clock and in all kinds of complicated meteorological conditions, and can automatically track, identify and choose targets.
Equipped with new-type weapon systems such as artillery, machine gun and autoloader as well as new observation, modern communication and navigation systems, Armata is not only capable of battlefield positioning anytime, but can also precisely attack enemy targets either still or on the move.
Besides, considering the serious performance defects in the propulsion system of previous Russian tanks, Armata tank has improved engine, transmission and other power systems, and adopts the mature hydraulic transmission device to fully improve its maneuvering performance.
The 1500hp diesel engine it uses prevents the power system from overheating automatically and can be replaced within several minutes, which is more suitable for the modern battlefield environment featuring high-speed maneuverability, complexity and variability, and can increase the tank's survival rate on the battlefield. At the same time, the lower cost of the new technical solution also reduced the manufacturing cost of Armata tank.
The T-14 Armata tank is developed to replace the technologically more complicated and costly T-95 tank and its technical and tactical indicators are nearly three times as good as those of the T-72 tank currently serving in the Russian military. Based on Armata, the Russian military will further step up the development of heavy armored platforms.
Star equipment draws close attention
As one of the key projects in Russia's development of multi-purpose armored platforms, the Armata tank is produced in modules and will be a milestone in Russian military's equipment modernization drive. Russia plans to produce Armata tanks on a large scale from 2018 and commission at least 2,300 of it by 2020.
Armata tank is a "masterpiece" of Russian tank manufacturing and defense industry development. It adopts the compartment design to optimize the tank layout, so that the tank crew and ammunitions can be separated in different compartments, thus considerably reducing collateral damages to the crew when the tank is under attack.
To be more capable of defense, Armata tank is equipped with the Afghanit active protection system and its powerful electronic combat capability can effectively disturb and destroy incoming missiles. Moreover, Armata is also largely enhanced in terms of combat maneuverability, destructive and defensive capability.
Armata tank represents the capability of Russia's military IT equipment. At present, the three crew members onboard Armata have touchscreens that can connect with battlefield network and transmit real-time messages, videos and images to surrounding tanks, and it's also fitted with Russia's independently developed GLONASS positioning system.
Russian military also plans to modify it into an unmanned battle platform that can serve as "open unmanned combat equipment with a reinforced concrete foundation" in the future.
As a matter of fact, a series of parameters aren't enough to create a future "king of ground battles", so Armata tank still has to be further studied and improved based on the troop's feedback and tempered through trainings, exercises and real combats.
It's worth noting that western countries adopted targeted countermeasures in response to Russia's development of the Armata tank.
Germany is planning to install the new-type 130mm tank gun in the improved Leopard 2 MBT and is developing the new MBT commonly known as the "main ground combat system" at a faster pace.
The American Army will commission the mass-produced M1A2 SEP v.3 Abrams Tank in 2017, which has better internet connectivity and MMI and can help the tank crew to better perceive the environment.
The British Army is also studying to upgrade the Challenger II MBT or buy new tanks to cope with the combat crisis imposed by Armata.
Booster of military enhancement
As Russia's new-generation MBT, Armata has subversive innovation in its structural design that completely changes the design style of traditional Russian tanks, not only largely reducing the R&D cost, but also creating the conditions for integrated weapon and equipment support. It is a "universal heavy battlefield platform" for the future that the Russian military is proud of.
The Russian military is paying more attention to developing platform, modular and universal weapon and equipment. Armored systems represented by Armata feature open structure, modular functions and unified platforms, so they can form different combat modules to accomplish various battlefield missions as needed and fight as an "armored brigade" in the future.
Regarding Armata's defensive design, Russia changed its traditional design philosophy and turned to stress the perception of battlefield environment and guided weapon, and made full use of proactive defense means to protect the tank crew.
To date, the Armata universal combat platform exhibited by Russia included the T-14 MBT, T-15 heavy infantry fighting vehicle (HIFV) and T-16 armored recovery vehicle (ARV).
Although Armata is a breakthrough in Russia's tank innovation, it still has many shortcomings compared with those of western countries. As Armata varies largely from Russia's current tanks in structure, principle and operation, the Russian army has to improve personnel formation, institutional system, combat command and other auxiliary systems according to the tank's technical and tactical performances. Only by improving the man-tank coordination and fully tapping the new tank's combat potential in IT conditions can it become a true "king of ground battles".
According to Russia's National Outline for Weapon and Equipment Development 2011-2020, the Russian military plans to invest 23 trillion roubles ($355.60 million) in weapon and equipment upgrade, which will raise its military modernization rate to 70% by 2020.
According to the plan, the Russian army will complete the development and commissioning of three combat platforms of different weights by that time. Whether Armata will coordinate with other weapon platforms and how to develop the army's IT capability and its equipment systems' combat capability is a major test in front of the Russian military.
In the tens of years after the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Russian military system that was hit hard has been resting on its laurels and has tinkered old weapon and equipment for a long time. In recent years, western countries launched a series of economic sanctions against Russia because of the Ukraine issue, putting it under tremendous economic pressure.
To lift the national morale and put up a tough stance, Russia urgently needs to "flex muscles" as the Russian-Ukraine conflict is making a big splash and NATO is continuously squeezing its strategic space. Therefore, the development and hurried commissioning of its new-generation "king of ground battles" is an inevitable choice that fits Russia's national interests.
(By Ma Jianguang, Zhang Naiqian, Research Center for International Studies, PLA National University of Defense Technology)