Tag Archives: armor

Rampant Armata Speculation

Let’s have some fun with rumors, speculation, and armchair analysis, shall we?

We don’t know very much about Russia’s new tank, the T-14. In my review, I made the tacit (and completely groundless) assumption that the turret shell concealed some heavy protection for the gun. Something tank-like, i.e. that the frontal armor of the gun could be expected to withstand APFSDS rounds as well as big, high end ATGMs. Like the front of the turret of a Leopard 2A6/-A7/-E or an M1A2.

Let’s try to poke at this assumption a little, shall we?

First off, let’s forget about side protection. No tank in existence can take a modern sabot round to the turret flank and not care. Focus on the front. Clearly, the outer “shell” has negligible protective value. It does hold a lot of systems, most of which are fragile. Of course, there’s nothing else behind the turret face, so hits there will probably tear straight through the fragile sensors and APS effectors. The gun mantlet is not readily apparent, and the outer shell seems to be in the way. Compare the M1A2 and the Leopard 2A6, both of which have big, thick mantlet armor atop and around the main gun. This is curiously absent from the T-14.

Remember, composite armors trade weight for thickness especially when compared to an equivalent mass of steel. So if we want to stop sabot rounds from a tank, we’re going to need a bunch of bulk. And since we’d like to be able to elevate and depress our gun, we’re going to expect to see quite a bit of exposed, movable bulk.

We can also find some images showing a T-14 turret mounted on the relatively light (28-30 tonne) Kurganets APC hull. So there’s at least one lightweight version of the turret out there. Of course, the shell could hide more armor on the T-14 version, maybe. We can’t rule out two versions. Now, it’s hard to figure out how one could hide bulky composites under the shell, given its shape and attachment methods, but we really can’t be sure about anything. The Kurganets hull is a little unusual if only because this idea has gotten very little traction elsewhere. The Swedes have a CV90 version with a low-pressure 120 mm gun prototyped, but have not ordered it and have not achieved any sales. The US Army has a version of the Stryker with a 105 mm gun and autoloader, but this version hasn’t been too popular. The US Army has moved to add more conventional autocannon firepower to some Stryker APCs to get more firepower in the Stryker Brigade Combat Team. So no one else really likes this concept.

We should also note that T-14 has a lot of active protection system effectors. There are ten tubes for the Afghanit hard-kill APS, five on each side of the turret. Additionally, there are two boxes of twelve soft-kill (likely some kind of obscurant) effectors facing outward, one box on each side of the turret, and another twenty-four soft kill effectors in a vertically configured box to protect the roof. That is an awful lot of active protection.

For comparison, the Merkava IV has a Trophy (hard-kill) APS launcher on each side of the turret. Each launcher holds three effectors. No additional soft-kill system is mounted on Merkava. Of course, Merkava IV is also heavily armored, and Trophy is seen as a supplement for flank protection against high-end ATGMs (e.g. Kornet).

So what might this mean? Well, we know that the T-14 has a bigger hull than T-72. Scaling comparisons will tell us this. Also, we know that we have to fit all three crewmen up front, so that front compartment must be significantly bigger to accomodate the three crewmen plus all of the displays and computers. Also, loads of hull armor, since the front appears to be quite thick (it’s sloped, and likely some kind of composite or composite + ERA, all of which takes space). We don’t actually save all that much room in the turret basket, since we still have to have some sort of (probably vertical) carousel for enough rounds to make all this worthwhile. And while the engine is a weird X-configuration model, it’s quite a bit more powerful than the one on T-72, and it still needs a radiator, transmission, and of course fuel. So we’d expect the hull to be noticeably bigger, and this agrees with what we can see from playing with scaling.

We also know that while the T-14 is heavier than the T-72, it’s still a light MBT. While it’s hard to draw comparisons to Western analogues, we do note the large hull and thick glacis armor would eat up a lot of mass.

Historically, the Russians have been quite strict about the weight of their tanks, simply because their infrastructure can’t take the weight of big Western tanks.1 For this reason, they pioneered the autoloader in the 1960s, and made heavier use of ERA than anyone else. Both are lighter than their respective alternatives. It’s quite possible that something had to give to keep the weight within tolerances, and the designers chose to accept a less well protected gun. Active protection systems are pretty good at defeating ATGMs, and they’ve made sure to have something for both direct-attack and top-attack weapons. In the current small wars, they’re not likely worried about sabots.

Further, the roof seems like it would blow-out in the event the ammunition storage compartment is compromised, and there are a pair of blow-out panels on the T-14’s belly. So ammunition cook-off will not likely kill the crew. Further, the Russians have put an escape hatch on the floor of the crew compartment. Good for them.

Could Afghanit be effective against sabot rounds? Specifically, the kind of APFSDS rounds fired by a modern tank gun (120 or 125 mm). Again, we can’t know for sure. It might be possible. But I’m disinclined to believe the present statements about it. Afghanit looks to shoot some kind of fragmentation or mini-EFP warhead to damage incoming projectiles. It’s simple and cheap, and works great against RPGs and ATGMs. But these are relatively fragile. An APFSDS round is a solid rod of some dense alloy (based on depleted uranium or tungsten), and it’s moving a lot faster than a missile.

It’s certainly not impossible to intercept an APFSDS round, but it’s a lot more difficult than intercepting a rocket. And the extent to which you disrupt it is important. You intercepted it. Great. What’s the effect? Is it destroyed? Damaged? Destabilized? If the round is still incoming, how much armor is needed to stop it? And what was the incoming speed and penetrator design? Test details are, naturally, hard to find. So color me skeptical that Afghanit can reduce the effectiveness of modern APFSDS rounds2 sufficiently for a lightly armored turret3 to be able to stop them.

Okay. So what do we think? Given the large amount of active protection systems, the reported wait, the size of the hull, and the nature of the turret shell, I think it’s quite possible the Russians are taking the T-14 in a new direction with a less protected main gun. They’ve pushed the envelope before. Some things have caught on, some things haven’t. This isn’t a notion I’m overly fond of, but that’s ok. The proof is in the combat, and the Russians will likely get into some before too long4. The keen observer might then be able to learn something as to whether or not these ideas work.

  1. I pick on Leopard 2 and Abrams enough, so let’s talk Challenger 2. Wouldn’t want the British to feel left out. With their “Streetfighter” Urban Warfare supplemental armor kit, the Challenger 2 tips the scales at 75 tonnes. 
  2. To be clear, I mean M829A3 or M829A4 depleted uranium APFSDS rounds fired from the M256 gun on an Abrams or the DM63 round from the Rheinmetall 120 mm/L55 gun on the Leopard 2A6 and subsequent models. Modern rounds, modern guns, no reduced-power charges. We never know what ad copy means, but that’s what you think of when I say “tank rounds shot at Russian tanks,” da? 
  3. Supposing the T-14 turret is lightly armored, that. But I suppose we should still define things, so something meeting STANAG 4569 level 5 or 6. In plain english, something ‘resistant to 30 mm APFSDS rounds”. 
  4. Unlike some other countries, the Russians are likely to get into a fight and test their new stuff. 

Armored Vehicle Fuel Capacities

I’ve found these to be quite hard to find on the net. All do not include supplementary drop tank options. Except where specified, variants have the same capacity of the original.

VehicleFuel (US Gal)Fuel (L)
M1 with UAAPU4501,703.4
Leopard 2317.01,200
Challenger 2420.61,592
Merkava IV369.81,400
SPz Puma237.8900
Boxer MRAV145.3550
Panzerhaubitze 2000264.21,000
K9 Thunder224.5850

IFV Autocannon Ready Ammo Capacities

I mentioned this already in Bradley Planned Improvements, but it’s easier to find if it’s separated into a nice reference post. Also added information for the Stryker with Kongsberg MCT-30 unmanned turret.

IFVReady CapacityCaliber (mm)
M2A3 Bradley30025×137
M2 – 30 mm conversion18030×173
Stryker with MCT-3015030×173
T-15/Epoch turret50030×165

Some notes on the above:

  1. I’m defining “Ready rounds” as “rounds from which you can fire without manual loading”, since these are autocannons. So the CV9040 gets the quick-access rounds counted as ‘stowage’, because someone has to grab them and refill the 24-round ready feed system (three eight-round racks).
  2. The K21 gets credit for 224 rounds because the 200 rounds it has under the turret basket are connected to the gun via an automatic resupply system. No manual top-off required.
  3. Russian IFVs do not have any additional autocannon rounds stored separately in a non-ready condition. I.e. ready capacity is all you get.
  4. The “Bradley 30 mm Conversion” listed uses the existing 2-man turret suitably modified to accept the new gun and ammo. There’s also images of a Bradley with the turret crew moved to the hull and what appears to be an MCT-30 unmanned turret mounted in place of the original turret. It will match the Stryker/MCT-30 for ready ammo capacity.

US Ground Combat Systems Are Not Obsolete

I came across this article in the Free Beacon this morning, whose headline reads as follows: “Army’s Ground Combat Systems Risk Being Surpassed By Russia, China”.

Look, if you’re reading this article, you’ve read a lot of our articles. You know that I, Fishbreath, am not the expert on ground combat systems. Not really my cup of tea. You know, therefore, that when I say, “Man, this article is dead wrong,” that it really is just flat out dead wrong. Let me revise the Free Beacon’s headline: “Army’s Ground Combat Systems Risk Being Roughly Equalled By Russia, China After 40 Years Of Curb-Stomping Dominance”.

In the modern era, a combat system’s age is not nearly as important as its current capability. The T-14 and the Type 99 are modern tanks. They compete against the modern American system, the M1A2, in the three categories by which all armored fighting vehicles are judged: firepower, protection, and systems1.

First off: firepower. The American contender mounts the stalwart Rheinmetall 120mm smoothbore gun in the 44-caliber length. The Germans, being a little squeamish about depleted uranium2, made an L/55 version for higher muzzle velocities. This gun, either the lengthened version or the original with depleted uranium, still sits in the top tier of tank guns as far as penetration goes3. The Russian and Chinese entries both use the Russian standard 125mm caliber; the Armata uses the 2A82, the shiny new version sans fume extractor for installation in the unmanned turret, while the Type 99 uses the ZPT-98, the traditional Chinese clone of the 2A46. Neither is clearly superior to the Western choice of gun. Standard 125mm ammo is nevertheless lighter and shorter overall (counting the penetrator and propellant) than the one-piece 120mm loads usually fired through the Rheinmetall guns. In exchange, the Russian-style gun gains the ability to launch ATGMs—questionably effective against modern tanks—and a little bit more power for HEAT rounds, which have the same issue as the ATGMs. Call this one a slight win for the Abrams.

Next: protection. The Type 99 falls behind quickly here; it’s more or less a T-72 hull, and the T-72 doesn’t have a great deal of headroom for armor. Too, the Type 99 has to deal with the swampy, rice-paddied Chinese south. The Chinese can’t build a T-72-based tank much heavier than the current 52 to 54 tons, and the protection they can achieve there is limited, given what they have to work with. The Armata, though it weighs in in the 50ish-ton range itself, has the benefit of an unmanned turret. Unmanned turrets can be smaller, and armored volume is expensive in weight terms. Our own parvusimperator claims Armata has roughly Western-equivalent protection. Give Armata an edge, even; there are no squishy humans in its turret, and no explodey ammo in its hull. The unmanned turret, unproven though it may be, neatly isolates the two. Call this one a slight win for the Russians.

Finally: systems. This is the hardest one to write about, since the Russians and the Chinese aren’t talking. We know more or less what’s in the M1A2: nice digital moving-map navigation, color displays, modern sighting units, separate ones for the commander and gunner, with nice thermal displays. I think it’s reasonable to assume the Armata has similar. We can see that it has an independent sight for the commander, and the Russian avionics industry has built color MFDs and moving map systems in the past. Presumably, the charionics4 in their tanks won’t be too far behind. It’s even less possible to speculate about the Chinese; their latest MBT entered service around the turn of the century, and who knows what they’ve stuck in it. Call this one a tie between the Americans and the Russians.

In a way, though, systems are the least important item here. Unlike armor or guns, swapping out the computers, stabilizers, navigation systems, and sights in tanks is more or less trivial. There may be integration costs, and there are definitely upgrade costs, but ordinarily, you don’t run into the same sort of critical design problems you find when, say, trying to cram a 140mm gun into an Abrams turret.

So that about wraps it up. Contra the Free Beacon article, the new Combloc5 tanks do not surpass the Abrams in any meaningful way. Where they are superior, it’s a matter of degrees. Elsewhere, they still fall behind the Abrams. What we have today is not a new era of Combloc dominance. It’s a return to parity for the first time in almost forty years.

Let’s go back a few years more than that. It’s 1972, and the fearsome T-72 has just entered service. It’s faster than the M-60, hits harder, has better armor, and is being cranked out of the Soviet tank factories at an astonishing rate. The armored fist of the Soviet Union could well crush Western Europe. This doesn’t sit well with Western Europe.

The Germans and Americans are already hard at work on the MBT-70. It reaches a little too far, and doesn’t quite work out. The Germans and Americans each take the blueprints and build something on their own, and we get the Leopard 2 and the M1 Abrams, entering service in 1979 and 1980. This begins the aforementioned era of Western tank dominance. The Abrams and the Leo 2 are vastly superior to the T-72 and T-80. The Russians do some various upgrade projects to the T-72 and T-80 over the years, but never regain the lead. The Leo 2 and Abrams see upgrades on more or less the same schedule; they’re still a generation ahead.

Finally, today. The Russians have Armata, a legitimate contender; the Chinese have the Type 99, which is sort of the Gripen to the Abrams/Armata F-22: some of the same technologies, still half a class behind. Which brings us to the final decider. Quantity.

The Russians have about one hundred Armatas. They only entered service last year, so I give them a pass. Their eventual plan is to acquire about 2300.

The Chinese have about 800 Type 99s. I have no idea if they’re still being produced.

The Americans have roughly 1000 M1A2s, the most recent Abrams. Of course, we also have about 5000 M1A1s of various marks, most of which have been upgraded to include nearly-modern electronics.

Even if we allow that the Type 99 and the Armata are superior to the average Abrams in American service, which is wrong, we still have twice as many as both other types combined.

The Free Beacon may say otherwise, but I say we’re doing just fine.

  1. To include sights and viewers, as well as command and control computers. 
  2. Understandable, given that in most hypothetical wars, the Wehrmacht Bundeswehr would be shooting it over their own land. 
  3. As far as anyone knows. Armies are a little cagey about revealing how punchy their guns are, for some unfathomable national security reason. 
  4. Electronic systems for tanks, by analogy to avionics. (An avion is a French plane, a char is a French tank.) 
  5. Yes, I know they are, respectively, not Communists anymore and nowadays only Communists inasmuch as they’re heirs to a truly Communist body count. I don’t care. ‘Combloc’ is a reasonable way to refer to Russia and China in the context of this article.