TechExploring the T-80's survival against Javelins in Ukraine conflict

Exploring the T‑80's survival against Javelins in Ukraine conflict

A recording from a camera on the Russian T-80 tank just before a Javelin hit the barrel.
A recording from a camera on the Russian T-80 tank just before a Javelin hit the barrel.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | Andrei_bt

12:17 PM EST, March 1, 2024

Russians have observed that tanks within the T-80 family are the only ones offering a potential survival chance for the crew upon being struck by a Javelin missile. There are instances of these tanks sustaining hits on the gun breech and the engine compartment at the rear, circulating online.

While such impacts render the tank inoperative, the ability of the crew to evacuate and reengage with a new unit is significant. This scenario contrasts with the typical outcome of a destructive explosion, leaving no survivors. It is noteworthy that the USA supplied Ukraine with older versions of Javelins. The emergence of newer models equipped with advanced targeting algorithms could address these challenges.

The T-80BW and BWM tanks stand out in the Russian military arsenal, boasting a gas turbine instead of the conventional diesel engine. This distinctive feature offers several benefits, notably the immediate availability of torque, akin to electric vehicles, enhancing the tank’s mobility without needing the engine to rev up.

Such advanced mobility has earned the T-80 tanks the nickname "flying tanks" among Russians, setting them apart from the T-72 or T-90 tank families. However, the gas turbine brings drawbacks, including complex construction and maintenance requirements, higher fuel consumption, and an exceptionally high exhaust temperature.

The high exhaust temperature is pivotal because it warms the engine cover significantly, thereby attracting the infrared sensor of the Javelin's targeting system. Consequently, Javelins tend to hit the tank's rear rather than the turret. Another factor potentially misleading the thermal imaging of the older Javelin models is the gun gas ejector, which accumulates hot gunpowder gases.

It is crucial to highlight that Ukraine has mainly been equipped with older models of the FGM-148 Javelin launchers, dating back to the '90s and early '00s. These include the A/B/C/D versions from the first Block 0 series and the E variant from the Block 1 series.

These older versions are not only limited by their shorter range of about 1.55 miles—compared to the 2.95 miles range of the newer F models produced since 2020—but also by their less sophisticated guiding heads equipped with lower-resolution infrared sensors. With the advent of higher-resolution sensors and improved software in newer versions, Ukraine's targeting challenges are expected to diminish. Moreover, the latest G variant, currently under testing, promises to eliminate these issues with a new sensor suite.

Effectiveness in the field heavily relies on the "fire and forget" mechanism of the FGM-148 Javelin, governed by the precision of its onboard infrared guiding system. The prominence of a hot tank against its surroundings emphasizes the importance of multispectral camouflage coatings, which can substantially lessen the thermal signature of a tank, decreasing its visibility to heat-seeking weapons.
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