The West Plays Catch Up to Counter the Armata

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This analysis originally appeared at SouthFront in October 2016

The Armata tank has become a real challenge for NATO tank builders. Design offices of Western countries were discouraged by the tank’s passing into service, which has the most advanced features in terms of mobility, protection and firepower. That is why tank builders have to adjust their current projects on future tanks, and prepare them for a possible confrontation with the Armata on the battlefield. But are the efforts being made to catch up to the Russian engineers successful?

At the Eurosatory exhibition which was held in June in France, German weapons company, Rheinmetall, presented a promising sample of a 130 millimetre (mm) gun – L/51, which is aimed at combatting modern armored vehicles, including Russian main battle tanks (MBT) T-14 and the Armata. The latest modifications to the T-90 were also presented. Manufacturers are affirming that the gun will be between 10% and 50% more efficient than the previous model of the 120 mm gun, the L/55, which is widely used in the army. However, the manufacturer has not reported on the method of estimation for the effectiveness of the gun.

Despite the increase in the firepower of the gun, its weight remains almost the same: the shutter – with a vertical locking mechanism – weighs about 3 tons (t) and the trunk has a weight of 1 400 kilogrammes (kg). This result is achieved through the use of high-tech materials and optimal design that allows for the new gun to be used on existing tanks of the latest modification, such as the German Leopard 2A7. This means that the weapon can be distributed widely. It can also be installed on the projecting German-French tank, the MGCS, which is anticipated to be placed into service after 2030.

To increase the armor penetration for the gun, new, longer and heavier projectiles were developed –   Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) – as were separable trays and high explosive air-bursting munitions (HE-ABM).

Despite the manufacturers’ declaration of the significant increase in the firepower of the guns, experts have expressed doubts. The sample that was presented is designed for manual loading and experts have confirmed that the rapidity of fire cannot exceed more than six to eight rounds per minute. The T-14 has an autoloader, which provides for the rapidity of fire of about 10 to 12 rounds per minute.

Regarding the “increased efficiency” of the gun’s shot, as claimed by Rheinmetall, it must be noted that the rounds DM63 for the previous gun model, the Rh120 L/55 – which is installed on the tank Leopard 2 – has a penetration of up to 800 mm of homogeneous armour. Therefore, an efficiency of 10% in the L/51 model yields 880 mm. In comparison, Armata’s 125 gun, the 2A82-1M, provides armour penetration of between 850 mm and 1 000 mm. The 152-mm gun, the 2A83 – which has been tested in the 1990s to 2000s and will be installed on Russian tanks in future – hit 1 024 mm of homogeneous armor. It is known that field tests of the German guns were not carried out and that the gun has not been set on a real tank. Therefore, it is hardly possible that a 50% improvement in the performance of the German gun can be said to be achieved.

The Russian tank crew is set in a separate capsule, protected by a modern, multilayer counter-heat protection-effect armor. In addition, a dynamic Armata ‘Malachite’ protection system and the active protection system, ‘Afghanit’, provide protection against all existing anti-tank weapons. Finally, according to Armata’s developers, the mounted machine gun which obtains data from the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is able to protect the tank by knocking the flight of anti-tank missiles and changing the trajectory of the rounds or damaging cumulative jets.

It appears doubtful whether the new German gun can defeat such a fortress at this stage, even with a possible 50% increase in its efficiency. Of course, much depends on the situation awareness systems used, the ammunition, fire correction systems and electronic warfare; but it will take years or decades to develop such a combat-complex and corresponding strategy of its application. It should be kept in mind that Russian engineers will continue to design more sophisticated armaments.

Since it is possible to now assert that the Armata is currently the most powerful and protected main battle tank in the world, Rheinmetall’s affirmations that the gun can defeat the T-14 are seen as a marketing ploy and an attempt to attract the attention of potential customers to the objective problem of the need to combat the modern Russian tank.

The arms concern also raises the question of the expansion of financing for such developments. Clearly, the Western, or at least the European tank-building industry is behind the Russian industry. Nevertheless, the US military technologies could pose a significant threat to Armata, as demonstrated by the Future Combat Systems (FCS) and familiar doctrines. US military strategists are betting on the interaction of unmanned and mixed combat systems operating in three dimensions: ground, air and space. According to this approach, the target should be defeated from the zone located beyond the line-of-sight of the enemy. For example, a promising lightly-armored 20 t tank, the XM1202 (project FCM), equipped with a 120 mm gun (XM360), was supposed to launch the Mid Range Munitions (MRM-KE or MRM-CE) to a distance of 12 km and targeted with drones (class 1 T-Hawk or 4 Fire Scout). It is therefore more likely that in the coming years, we will see more Armata-oriented systems of weapons and even so-called ‘Armata killers’.

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  • Pounce

    The biggest weakest the Armata has is…cost.
    The T64 and the T80 tanks replaced vehicles at a cost rate of 3 to 1, Russia simply cannot afford to refit its armoured regiments with the Armata

    Then there is training. Western troops will spend their entire military career as volunteers, this allows them to be trained in the use of the most complex machinery , in contrast the Russian army is around 40% professional , with the rest conscripts with just 6 months training under their belt. In the past Russia could simply play the numbers games when it came to conflicts, but since its retreat from Afghanistan, its ability to take huge losses without question is no longer extant.

    Then there is the tank, the King Tiger was deemed invincible, as was the T34, why when the T72 tipped up inside Lebanon (A budget T64) it was deemed the worlds best tank, Israel using WW2 era Centurion tanks took them, thus resulting in Russia adding extra armour and bringing out the Super Dolly Paton T72.

    Until the Armata struts its stuff in battle , we don’t know how good it is. On that note I’m pretty sure that Hama and Hezbalah could take one out no problem.

    • Barba_Papa

      You’re 100% right that Russia can not replace every tank in its active duty inventory. Of course the same applies to Europe and the US as well so parity remains on that issue. That leaves Western volunteer crews vs. Russian conscript crews. But methinks even that point is moot. Any direct war between the West and Russia will go nuclear faster then I can type this. That leaves war by proxy as it has always been. Armatas in the hands of Russian allies, or those who have bought Russian gear vs. those who bought Western gear and/or its allies. And in that sense anything can happen. The Israeli conscripts have made mincemeat of Russian armor in Arab hands, the Indians tend to use their Russian armor very well against Pakistani Western armor, and the Saudis fail miserably with whatever gear they get from anyone against everyone.

    • ChiefWiggum

      Hi, just a couple things:

      1- I did not understood what you meant by: Western troops will spend their entire military career as volunteers, this allows them to be trained in the use of the most complex machinery , in contrast the Russian army is around 40% professional , with the rest conscripts with just 6 months training under their belt.

      How is this bad for Russia? they would have a more experienced army, and this does not mean they can’t upgrade their knowledge on higher technologies.

      2- About the cost…the t-14 cost 7,2 its higher than the 6,2 from M1 Abrahams but yet far less than the 10.9 from the leopards

      • Pounce

        About the cost…the t-14 cost 7,2 its higher than the 6,2 from M1 Abrahams but yet far less than the 10.9 from the leopards

        Western tanks have always cost more, but in turn have been of a higher quality and crewed by better trained men.

    • Robert Ferrin

      But you forget our armed forces are just about 50% who joined with about a 10% retention rate and the other 50% are made up of corporate hired guns,all our armed forces have had to reduce our system of training to accommodate the female’s who make up those forces.
      Now reality should point to Afghanistan and Iraq where we didn’t fare so great in fact we haven’t fared so well since WW2 as Korea and Nam are stark examples,3.1 million served in Nam against a force without all the modern tools of warfare and still left in defeat>.

      • Pounce

        But you forget our armed forces are just about 50% who joined with about a 10% retention rate and the other 50% are made up of corporate hired guns,all our armed forces have had to reduce our system of training to accommodate the female’s who make up those forces.

        Regards those corporate hired guns, want to tell me where I can find them as a WO2 in the army, that’s the first I’ve heard of it.

        • Robert Ferrin

          Try Afghanistan or Iraq or Syria lol you should have no problem at all finding them well that is if you wish to.!!

          • Robert Ferrin

            Just about half of those in Afghanistan and without a doubt Iraq were mer’c.!!

      • Pounce

        1 million served in Nam against a force without all the modern tools of warfare and still left in defeat>.

        Militarily, the US did not lose, look it up.

        • Robert Ferrin

          No 3.1 million served in Nam 58,000 died and another 58,000+ committed suicide after their return (Kill Anything that Moves) by Nick Turse 301,000 injured and yes we lost ,otherwise there would a U.S. complex there another listening post for the empire,not only did we loose but also as he stated ‘somewhere in the jungles of Vietnam America lost its soul’ he was right.!!!

          • Ace

            Our military prevailed. The Congressional Democrats sold them out.

            Next.

          • Robert Ferrin

            Lol keep telling yourself that but it was still a defeat.

    • Nexusfast123

      The Russians are moving to an all professional military. It’s in a plan they published a few years ago.

      • Pounce

        The Russians are moving to an all professional military. It’s in a plan they published a few years ago.

        And good luck to them doing so. Currently they are at 40% professional and 60% conscript.

  • Drinas

    They have a long way to go..In the EU in particular, it is highly unlikely new programs will materialize.

  • VGA

    All this talk about Armata but they still have not put it in mass production …

    • Clarke Alexander

      Because the T-90 can handle all existing tanks without any problems, so no rush to mass produce the Armata.

      • VGA

        It doesn’t matter if it can “handle” enemy tanks, it cannot handle enemy sandal wearing ATGM teams.

  • Joseph Scott

    Typically, penetration increases with something like (Factor of increase in projectile diameter) ^ 2.4, assuming projectile length and propellent charge are scaled up proportionately, and barrel length in calibres remains similar. Consequently, Rheinmetall’s new gun could be expected to have penetration more like (130/120)^2.4 * 800 = @969mm, not 880mm, making it quite competitive with the stated values for the 2A82-1M. As you should expect! Historically German and Russia have been the two leaders in AFV design. It is only reasonable that the other leading tank builders stay neck and neck in an area they also focus on.