NewsUnmasking the T-14 Armata: A closer look at Russia's elusive tank project

Unmasking the T‑14 Armata: A closer look at Russia's elusive tank project

T-14 Armata tank
T-14 Armata tank
Images source: © Lic. CC BY-SA 3.0, Vitaly V. Kuzmin, Wikimedia Commons | Vitaly V. Kuzmin

9:34 AM EST, November 12, 2023

The T-14 Armata, a much-hyped tank that was predicted to revolutionize the battlefield, is still not ready for production. Although Russian authorities claim that the T-14 has participated in Ukrainian battles and performed admirably, no one seems to have observed this. Does this mean the Russian 'monster' is, after all, standing on unstable clay feet?

In the winter of 2022, Russia promised that the T-14 Armata tanks would soon join the battlefront. However, the only evidence available at the time were pictures from training grounds capturing the training process for tank operators.

In April this year, RIA Novosti, the Russian government press agency, reported that the T-14 Armata had made it to the front lines in Donbas. They noted, nevertheless, that the tanks were not yet engaging in active combat but were being tested on actual terrain.

Reports surfaced on social media that Russian tank operators weren’t overly enthused about these tanks, but no substantial proof or credible stories emerged that the tanks had indeed made their appearance on the front lines. After all, if the rookie tank, purported to be among the most advanced worldwide, had indeed participated in the battle, the Russians certainly wouldn't resist broadcasting this news globally.

One consensus in this ongoing tug-of-war of media-propaganda struggle is that the tank crew members aren't satisfied with the T-14 Armata tanks, which reportedly still encounter several technical issues. However, such issues aren't unexpected considering the tanks are in the prototype phase. This explains why Russian engineers are continually fine-tuning them.

Publicly released footage from the training grounds reveals that several units had their power units replaced. Originally, the plans were to equip the tank with a 1500 horsepower A-85-3A diesel engine. However, the training ground recordings sounded more indicative of a gas turbine engine, recognizable by its characteristic whistle sound.

Quarter of a century in development

The development of the new tank project began in the early 21st century at Uralvagonzavod. The first prototype which was developed in 2009 was publicly unveiled in 2013 during the Russian Arms Expo in Nizhny Tagil. Two years later, the tank was due to be presented publicly during the Red Square parade. Unfortunately, the debut didn't pan out well.

The prototype malfunctioned and produced smoke, and technical staff couldn't tow the defunct tank due to a drivetrain malfunction. This caused panic at the Kremlin, but authorities attempted to manage the situation tactfully, relying heavily on propaganda. Kremlin films emerged showing the Armata performing well during training. The breakdown at Red Square was dismissed as an occupational hazard due to human error.

Meanwhile, improvements were being implemented on the drivetrain system and passive defense system, and the placement of sensors was tweaked. In 2019, the T-14 began state tests at research institutes of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Subsequently, Denis Manturov, head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation, announced that the tank had undergone testing in Syria. But, there was a lack of visual evidence like videos or pictures to back this claim. At the same time, state trials of the tank began, which was expected to be the last step before kick-starting mass production. Unfortunately, this has yet to begin.

The vanishing production

In 2015, Uralvagonzavod's director, Oleg Sienko, proudly stated that they had received orders to manufacture 2300 T-14 units over the next five years. However, if the Russian Federation was to reduce its military budget, the plan could be extended until 2025.

The enthusiastic plans started to crumble swiftly. By 2016, Sienko announced that production had dwindled to just 100 units. By January 2018, the conversation was about an even smaller number, 80 units. The production program suffered further setbacks until Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov, announced on July 29, 2018, that large-scale procurements of the T-14 tank for the Russian Armed Forces had been cut due to its high cost per unit.

To this day, the official tally stands at twelve prototypes and twenty pre-production units which were dispatched to the 1st Guards Tank Regiment and the 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Mechanised Division for army trials.

Information surfaced in early November from the Russian Ministry of Defense that the serial production of the tank will finally commence, and the ground forces are expected to receive approximately 500 units of this tank type by 2027.

Financial complications

It remains to be seen whether the T-14 Armata will indeed be a breakthrough in the field of military tanks, a potential game-changer for the opponent. Despite the myriad of promises, the Russians have yet to present proof of any combat involvement of the T-14. The Ukrainians, apparently, haven't encountered these tanks either, despite having ample time to do so. Thus, the fear factor of the T-14 is yet to be established. What is certain, however, is that this 'monster' has been consuming the budget at an alarming rate.

Russian journalist Oleg Falichev accurately summed up the issues surrounding the Kremlin program in his article in the 'Military-Industrial Courier'. He wrote, "The Armata tank is plagued by the numerous new technologies and systems incorporated into it. Originally, it appeared more innovative, sparking significant interest. But the vehicle turned out to be too costly." He concluded the article with the point that "Russia, famous since Soviet times for producing simpler, more sturdy and less expensive equipment than the West, has learned the hard way that innovation comes at a steep price."

As a result of these expense-related concerns, the Russians decided over a decade ago to focus on the modernization of their existing tank fleet rather than on investing in completely new structures. It was decided back then that the T-72, modernized to the B3 version, would be the primary tank for the Russian Armed Forces.

In September 2023, information about Russia's intentions to resume production of the highly upgraded T-80 tank was made public. The upgraded version boasts enhanced passive and active defense systems and a new fire control system, serving perhaps as a 'budget substitute' to the T-14 Armata. All things considered, the T-14 is likely to wind up as an extremely expensive 'white elephant'.

Related content