Armata tank: Should NATO be worried?

In your opinion, with unveiling new weapons like T-14 Armata tank how much is it for Russia just a show of force and how much should be NATO worried and why? Read few comments.

Johan NorbergSenior Analyst at FOI (Swedish Defence Research Agency)

On the T-14 main battle tank (MBT). First, context. The reason Europe should worry is not because this (or any other) new Russian weapons platform is displayed on parades. The plans seem to be to introduce a to me unknown number of them in units in the coming years. The BIG reason to worry is that Russia’s government is increasing oppression at home and aggression abroad and has for at least five years prepared its military, and partly society as a whole, to wage large scale war. Europe has not taken the same steps.  I see these new platforms as signs that Russia invests heavily in developing and modernizing its armed forces´ equipment, rather than just the actual tank per se.

Second, the new tanks role in military capability. One new platform does not automatically mean new capabilities. Military capability is the ability to do operations. Platforms are a part of this, but more important is that personnel are well trained, units cohesive and command and control systems well exercised. Here, a new tank as such means little. It is more important that Russia’s annual strategic exercises, despite all the talk about “anti-terrorism” etc, actually are about preparing the armed forces to carry out big joint inter-service operations in large scale wars.

Third, numbers matter. How many MBTs does Russia have? The quick answer: probably some 2,500 MBT in active units, but with a potential for some 18,000 more available for modernization. Both figures matter for military capability, the lower in the short time perspective (up to six months) and the higher beyond that since it is likely to require mobilization. Military Balance used to roll forward the same figure (around 18,000 in stores; some 2,800 in active service) if I remember correctly for the past few years. (Don’t quote me on the actual figures, check with Military Balance).

I used to discard stored tanks regarding short term military capability since there would be units to actually use only after mobilization. That was wrong. At least old T-64s seem to have been sent to the Russian forcesin Donbas. Although not formally a part of an army unit, they are a military capability that works to furtherRussia’s aims. “Old tanks also kill” as a Russian analyst once noted to me.

We assessed in 2011 that some 2,550 MBTs were needed for the new brigade based Новый Облик-structure launched in 2009. (See p. 325 in foir_3404.pdf (in Swedish). The table was not translated into the English version. The bulk of the MBTs is actually not for the tank brigades, but for the tank battalions in each of the around 35 Motor Rifle Brigades (MRB). 2550 is in line with the Military Balance figure for the number of MBTs “in active service”. A few months later, Putin talked about producing “more than 2,300 modern tanks” in his pre-election manifesto about defence in Rossiiskaia Gazeta in February 2012.

There is a lack of clarity about the term ”modern” (современный, а не новый) when it comes to the State Armaments Program (GPV 2020). Thus, 2,300 “modern” MBTs does not necessarily mean newly developed and produced such as T-14 or newly produced pieces of existing platforms (e.g. T-72s). It could also include modernizing existing MBTs. With this playing with words in mind, the GPV-2020 will doubtlessly reach the  “70% modern equipment” goal by 2020. Russia probably gets more “modern” MBTs (and actual tank capability in the field) by quickly by upgrading T-72s. Having fewer platforms makes sense since each platform (T-64, 72, 80, 90 and now T-14) has its own logistics/maintenance “tail”. Thus, upgraded T-72 for the bulk of the tank battalions in MRBs and T-14 for selected tank units seems reasonable. Upgraded T-72s is probably the most efficient gap-filler until new tanks are delivered

About the actual Armata-platform, I know only that it has been discussed for years and that the Russianmilitary press has done the usual Ура-reporting about it (as with all new Russian weapons systems). New MBTs will probably, after state trials, be delivered to the tank battalions in key motor rifle units and to the four tank brigades in the Novy Oblik-structure (2 in Western MD, one in Central and Eastern MD respectively). One brigade in the Western MD has been relabeled as a division (4th Tanks), but it is yet unclear to what extent that has actually changed its organization or way to fight.

Stephen Cimbala, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Penn State Brandywine

During and after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, Putin has followed a strategy of unconventional warfare/political warfare (UW/PW) emphasizing the use of proxy forces, deception and disinformation and other covert means.  His objectives appear to include: (1), keeping parts of eastern Ukraine under de facto Russian control or in a state of turbulence that denies effective control to Kiev; (2), preventing Ukrainian accession to NATO, and limiting Ukraine’s involvement with, and commitment to the EU; (3), making it impossible for Ukraine to serve as a template or a springboard for an Orange revolution in Russia, threatening the political survival of Putin and his regime; (4), reassertion of Russia’s role as a great power after, in Putin’s view, the post-Cold War humiliation of the 1990s, and moving toward international acceptance of a multipolar world and away from expectations of U.S. hegemony or primacy.  Toward that end, Putin seeks to reinforce Russia’s claim to privileged interest in former Soviet space, especially with regard to military and security issues.  As well, Putin’s strategy in Europe is accompanied by efforts to improve economic relations with China and to reinforce Russia’s already strong influence in Central Asia, although his larger dream of a Russia-conceived alternative to OSCE has as yet found difficulty catching fire.

NATO’s response to Putin’s actions in Ukraine and in Europe more broadly should be one of alliance cohesion, political steadfastness and military preparedness.  Alliance cohesion means that, despite differences of emphasis among member states about various security issues, NATO must speak with a singular diplomatic stance and public voice on the issue of Russian military behavior in Ukraine.  Political steadfastness means that NATO must insist that all states in Europe, including Russia, adhere to the principles of state sovereignty, territorial integrity, and negotiation rather than the use of force as a means of settling disputes.  Military preparedness means that NATO must support its Article V commitments to the entirety of its membership, including those countries in Eastern Europe formerly part of the Soviet Union and now feeling threatened by the shadow cast by Russian military power.

Even if the Minsk II agreement holds and is implemented, dangers remain.  The first danger Is that Russian-controlled or Russian-supported separatists in eastern Ukraine disconnect from de facto Russian control, operating as autonomous terrorists, militias or other formations not accountable or responsible to higher authority: a forest of “loose cannons” roaming New Russia and looking for targets of opportunity or engaged in destabilization and chaos as ends in themselves.  The second danger is that, faced with stronger political opposition at home and a weakening national economy, Putin moves to use military adventurism in and around Ukraine as a distraction from Russia’s domestic problems.  This second danger involves the possibility of escalation from a local conflict in or near Ukraine into a larger conflict possibly between one or more NATO members and Russia.

Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Research Scientist, CNA Corporation

The tank has some important improvements to crew survivability when compared to previous Russian tanks. Unlike any other tank presently deployed the Armata will have an unmanned turret operated by remote control from the main compartment, which will greatly reduce the danger to the crew. It will use a new type of armor that is supposedly able to withstand fire from most types of artillery presently in the field. Furthermore, the armor is said to be able to maintain its defensive qualities in extremely low temperatures, making the tank potentially useful in the Arctic. In addition, the Armata is to be equipped with active anti-missile and anti-artillery defenses that will protect the tank from both ground-based and aerial attacks. The ammunition, fuel, and crew are to be separated in order to increase survivability in the event of a successful enemy hit. All of these features will greatly improve crew safety.

Also, by comparison with previous Russian tank models, it has a revamped engine, new transmission and improved chassis strength. Russian media have argued that its capabilities are 25-30 percent superior to its main foreign competitors. The problem with the tank is that it is going to be very expensive. Russian officials say the cost is 2.5 times greater than budgeted, which will limit procurement in the foreseeable future. It is unlikely to become a wholesale replacement for the T-72 and other older Soviet-era tanks. Instead, the Russian military is modernizing some of these older models.

So the overall takeaway is that if it does what the reports say it does, it will be quite a good tank, but it is unlikely to enter the Russian military in the kinds of numbers needed to make NATO worry.

Konrad MuzykaEurope and CIS Armed Forces Analyst, IHS Jane’s

We need to look at short and long term perspective. In the case of the former, the T-14 does not pose a threat to NATO or any other countries in the region. What we are seeing in Moscow are vehicles, which fall somewhere between prototypes and series production vehicles (One T-14 broke today during parade rehearsal).

In the long run, new weapons are to improve serviceability, survivability, and sustainment of Russian armoured capability. Modular design will also enable the same baseline chassis to be used for a wide range of battlefield roles and missions and will thus decrease costs associated with military procurement.

These are rational decisions, which in the longer perspective will improve overall combat capabilities of the Russian land forces.

One more thing as far as T-14 goes. Despite the fact that presently T-14 does not possess combat capacity, its future capabilities, weapons employed, and unique design should force NATO to start working on a new generation tank, kinetic energy penetrators, armor-piercing shells, and anti-tank missiles. The T-14 seems to possess active protection system against top attack missiles such as BGM-71F TOW and FGM-148 Javelin. This is concerning.


Stephen BlankSenior Fellow for Russia, American Foreign Policy Council

Much of these exhibitions of new weapons are a show of pride in the achievements of Russian defense industry and an attempt to intimidate the West with Russia’s great military capability. There is no doubt NATO should be concerned because Russia does not respect the sovereignty or integrity of any European state east of Germany and insists on being utterly unaccountable in its actions. But while its military capability has undoubtedly improved, by its aggressiveness it has begun to turn European thinking on defense around and defense budgets will continue to rise throughout NATO as long as Moscow continues to behave this way.

Paul Robinson, Professor, University of Ottawa

I don’t think that NATO has any reason to be worried, for two reasons. First, Russia has no intention of attacking NATO. Second, NATO’s military power far exceeds that of Russia, even with the addition of new weapons such as the Armata.



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