TechExplosive flaw: Why Russian tanks erupt violently in battle

Explosive flaw: Why Russian tanks erupt violently in battle

A massive explosion of a Russian tank.
A massive explosion of a Russian tank.
Images source: © X (formerly Twitter) | Dr. Khaled Alfaiomi

5:03 PM EDT, June 1, 2024

Russian tanks are considered armored coffins for a reason. A relatively small internal damage can lead to a huge explosion. Here's how it's possible.

The video below shows a lightly smoking tank from the T-80 or T-72/90 family, which explodes with tremendous force shortly after. After the fact, little remains of the machine, and the turret, thrown several yards into the air, falls a few yards away.

Why do Russian tanks explode like this?

Russian tanks are designed according to requirements from the Soviet nuclear experiment described by Łukasz Michalik.

For this reason, Russian machines from the T-64, T-80, T-72, and T-90 families are equipped with a carousel autoloader. However, some differences exist between the Malyshev Factory designs in Kharkiv and the Uralvagonzavod in Nizhny Tagil.

The former's autoloader is more complicated and provides a slightly higher firing rate combined with a larger ammunition reserve (28 rounds). It is also worth noting that the rounds are placed horizontally while the propellant charges are vertically.

On the other hand, the autoloader of the T-72 and T-90 machines is slightly simpler, resulting in a lower firing rate and a smaller ammunition reserve (22 rounds). In these tanks, the rounds and the propellant charges are laid out horizontally.

However, neither ammunition magazine is isolated from the crew. In the event of an explosion, whether the crew is sitting on top of the ammunition or surrounded by it does not matter much. Furthermore, the rounds in the autoloader represent only about half of the maximum ammunition reserve because the rest of the rounds and propellant charges are scattered in holders throughout the tank.

This lack of ammunition isolation and the inability to vent the explosion force outward means that any fire within the tank or the penetration of a cumulative jet into its interior guarantees an immediate or delayed by a few seconds huge explosion resulting in the turret being torn off.

This approach differs from modern Western machines like the Leopard 2, M1A2 Abrams, or Leclerc, where the ammunition is placed at the back of the turret and isolated from the crew by a steel plate. Additionally, the ammunition magazines in these tanks have weak points that direct the explosion force outward in the event of an ammunition explosion.

This is very important because even in the event of armor penetration of a Western tank, there is a small risk of the entire crew dying if they are not in the path of the cumulative jet. For example, one of the Ukrainian tankers serving on an M1A1 Abrams mentioned that in the case of one hit, the driver lost a leg, but survived, as did the rest of the crew.

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