What Are T-14 Armata Battle Tanks? Russian Vehicles Plagued With Problems

The T-14 Armata tank, once labeled by a senior British army official as “the most revolutionary tank in a decade,” is being reluctantly accepted by Russian commanders in Ukraine, the British defense ministry (MoD) said on Wednesday.

Russia has likely been considering whether to send a first wave of its new main battle tanks to Ukraine, the MoD said on January 19. Images published by the ministry on Twitter showed two T-14 Armatas in southern Russia at a facility “associated with pre-deployment activity” for Ukraine.

In an intelligence update published on Wednesday morning, the MoD once again looked at Russian preparations for the first possible deployment of the main battle tank in combat.

But Russian forces deployed in Ukraine have been “reluctant to accept the first tranche of T-14 allocated to them because the vehicles were in such poor condition,” the MoD wrote in a Twitter post.

Although the ministry could not confirm the details of the reportedly lukewarm reaction to the tank from Russian command, it suggested that a slew of delays and problems likely contributed.

A T-14 Armata Tank In Moscow
A Russian T-14 Armata tank participates in a Victory Day Parade rehearsal in Moscow on May 4, 2022. The problem-plagued T-14 is reluctantly being accepted by Russian commanders in Ukraine, the British defense ministry said on Wednesday.
Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

What is the T-14 Armata?

The T-14 Armata is a new main battle tank, first revealed in Moscow back in 2015. After beginning preliminary testing in 2019, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in 2021 that a first “pilot” tranche would be delivered the following year.

The T-14’s development prompted a level of worry in Britain’s armed forces, a leaked memo highlighted. In 2016, a briefing paper from a senior army intelligence officer, seen by British newspaper The Telegraph, described the T-14 as deserving of “its billing as the most revolutionary tank in a generation.”

“Without hyperbole, Armata represents the most revolutionary step change in tank design in the last half century,” the unnamed official wrote.

The briefing paper zeroed in on the T-14’s new, unmanned and remotely operated turret design. The turret, able to support a 125mm cannon, was built into the highly automated design, which was also equipped with sophisticated anti-tank rocket protections.

Rather than have crew located within a turret to control armaments, the T-14 shielded personnel in an armored “capsule” within the tank’s hull.

“For the first time, a fully automated, digitised, unmanned turret has been incorporated into a main battle tank. And for the first time a tank crew is embedded within an armoured capsule in the hull front,” the briefing paper said.

The tank was also fitted with an on-board toilet, so personnel did not need to expose themselves to additional danger during combat.

Retired British Army Brigadier Ben Barry told The Telegraph at the time that the turret could potentially accommodate a 150mm caliber gun, which would “overmatch the guns and armour on existing Nato tanks.”

However, before its debut appearance in the 2015 Red Square parade in the Russian capital, the high-tech battle tank appeared to stop unexpectedly during a rehearsal. Speculation over a malfunction was quickly denied by its manufacturers.

In the years since it was announced, the T-14 “has been dogged with delays, reduction in planned fleet size, and reports of manufacturing problems,” the U.K.’s MoD said on January 19.

A bigger, heavier tank than many of Russia’s alternatives, the T-14 poses logistical issues whose deployment would be a “high-risk decision for Russia,” the ministry added.

Considering Shoigu’s confirmation of a “pilot” tranche, it continued, it is unlikely that any T-14 Armatas making their way to Ukraine “will have met the usual standards for new equipment to be deemed operational.”

The MoD indicated reservations about the T-14 could also be down to hiccups with its engine and thermal imaging systems.

An appearance for the T-14 in Ukraine, therefore, would “likely primarily be for propaganda purposes,” the MoD commented. “Production is probably only in the low tens, while commanders are unlikely to trust the vehicle in combat.”

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