Did Russia's New Armata T-14 'Die' in Syria?

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By Peter Suciu, The National Interest

Last month multiple media reports suggested that the Russian military's new T-14 Armata tank had been "battle-tested" in Syria. Russia Beyond cited Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov, who had reportedly said in a mid-April TV interview on Rossiya-1, "Yes, that's correct. They (Armata tanks) were in Syria. The testing in combat conditions in Syria took all finer aspects into account."

Those "finer aspects" may have included the crews' survivability if other media accounts are to be believed that an Armata tank was destroyed during the operations.

According to the Russian media outlet Репортёр (Reporter), the Russian-made tanks took part in fighting with Syrian-rebels, described as "terrorists," in the providence of Latakia, where "allegedly three T-14s were hit from TOW-2B anti-tank system, and one Armata was completely destroyed."

There has been no actual footage or photos of the allegedly destroyed T-14 tanks, and as other media outlets have noted, "The jihadists and their allied militants release footage of their forces destroying tanks, especially on the battlefield… If the Armata was indeed destroyed, there would have been photos and videos of its destruction, especially because of its unique look and operation capabilities."

What could be telling about the alleged destruction is that some military analysts didn't think the tank could even be adequately tested in Syria. Dimtry Litovkin, editor-in-chief of Independent Military Review told Russia Beyond, "There's nothing for the Armata to do in Syria. The machine was tailored for battles with the most modern US and European tanks: the Abrams and the Leopard. But in Syria, who or what will it fight? Militants on pickup trucks or machine-gunners in foxholes?"

If the T-14 Armata was indeed taken out by insurgents – whether they simply "got lucky" or not – might not bode well for the advanced tank, especially given its costs, which are believed to have delayed delivery. Even as testing of the next-generation main battle tank (MBT) continues, the mass deliveries to the Russian Army will only begin next year.

"The high cost is also because the T-14 is going through a series of additional tests and upgrades ordered by the Ministry of Defense so that serial production can start next year under the signed contract," Manturov added.

The T-14 has been seen as an entirely new design for Russia, and it was first demonstrated during the May 2015 Victory Parade in Moscow. Unlike other Russian designs that had primarily followed an evolutionary path that was largely built upon preceding tank models, the T-14 began with a more simplistic design that could be traced back to the T-34. While much larger than traditional Russian tank designs, its three-man crew all sit in the hull as the turret is controlled remotely to increase crew survivability. As a result the T-90 has no gunner and instead uses an autoloader.

The tank is also fitted with the Afganit active protection system that is meant to detect incoming rockets and missiles, which can be shot down before hitting the tank. However, the reports from Syria may suggest that if an enemy can get close enough this tank is as vulnerable as any.

In addition to the alleged loss of a T-14 tank in Syria, three "additional" Armata tanks – along with three more T-15s, the armored troop carrier version of the Armata – were "destroyed" in a simulation conducted by the Invictus attack helicopters in a recent exercise-styled presentation.

The timing of the release of that new video along with the news that the actual tanks potentially came under fire just means the T-14 isn't have a good week! The fact the Moscow has postponed this week's planned 75th anniversary Victory Parade due to coronavirus – where the tanks likely would have been seen – hasn't helped matters.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

This piece was originally published by The National Interest

Comments (1)
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MMAI
MMAI

When Tiger VIe were first deployed in Russia, the 'super tank' mythos saw them fighting in ways which were overly exposed and particularly vulnerable to concentrated artillery fire. 40-60mm roof armor was just as vulnerable on a Big Cat as a Panzer IV and they got thrashed as a result of being too exposed, forward.

It should also be noted that these vehicles carried both tropical mods and an early version of smoke dischargers. The external pipes on the tropical filters got holed and compromised them. And the smoke dischargers got hit and cast blinding, choking, smoke all over the Tiger's turret and upper hull, incapacitating the crews.

Yet The Tiger went on to be a fearsome tank, much loved by it's crews and much feared by the Soviets.

But this did not happen until they eventually learned that you had to deploy them as the battlegroup centers of a Panzer Keil with much lighter, quicker, (still possessed of power turret drives at the time) PzIII/IV to act as trip wires for antitank guns and mines so the Tigers didn't get clipped from the sides.

As such, at Kursk, they accounted for an amazing number of kills, despite being relatively new and untried systems (535 kills vs. 6 losses from 146 deployed by 13 Companie 1st SSPz Regiment and SPA.503).

The same will apply to the T-14 and underlines the major flaw in the Russian conop of developing a paradigm altering game changer of a weapons platform and then proceeding with a 'production at leisure' hold or limited pilot production in only small batch, quantities.

You will lose that edge as the attraction of a new vehicle type. And then the West will deploy countermeasures as vehicles with equivalent capabilities.

You have to buy enough vehicles to at least:

  1. Set up a Schoolhouse.
    Where maintenance and combat crews can convert with good availability on vehicles which will be broken a lot because they get used hard, by novice crews. They don't have to have a lot of them, because smaller classes do better with more time on the vehicles but they have to be well maintained by a cadre staff who can use them to show the basics 'this is different' in an efficient and effective manner.

  2. A Tactics College.
    Akin to NTC. Wherein you can set these new vehicles against EXPERIENCED Russian tank forces with good vehicles that can emulate foreign systems in pushing a doctrinal playbook.

  3. A First Fielded Unit.
    Wherein you have a deep spares pipe with direct access to the factory to keep a full unit TOE in play at strength. And thus discover all the foibles and eccentricities of the vehicle so as to plan unit structures around a number of tanks that can be kept ready for deployment vs. those which receive updates from the tactics group while providing adequate followon tactical (workup) training to those fresh from the the conversion course.

Ideally, depending upon the size of your perceived force emulation, this will be 50+30+100 vehicles in a battalion, company and regimental unit level and you will gradually build out from there until your A-level forces have two or three regiments which can be used in dual field and headquarters exercises to provide an elite force (breakthru, mobile defense, theater entry etc.) that anchors more conventional units in the defense and exploits them in the offense. With however many numbers it takes to do so.

Instead, it seems like the Russians are still in the prototype or early FSD phases, wringing out the vehicles and unable to purchase that initial test force composite.

THIS LOOKS BAD.

Because it follows the Russian habit of saying they have something (Su-35/37) when in fact they have a concept that needs money to be developed into a service ready force.

It is particularly negative in it's effects upon potential overseas customers who might be interested in taking the next step in AFV design but don't have a working unit structure to send a delegation to in seeing the vehicles undertake major field problem exercises as a means to gain a favorable opinion.

To my knowledge India has no complaints with their T-90As. The Saudis are having a hard time keeping their M1A2s in operation. The Iraqis have already gone back to Soviet Hardware. It's not like the Russians cannot build good kit that is rough and ready fieldable with less than optimal foreign user support and maintenance.

But the T-14 is not that kind of a vehicle. The T-14 is potentially the T-64 of the 21st century and that means it's competing directly against Leopard 2A7, M1A2C, and Leclerc T6. As well as the upcoming MGCS/Leo-3 and NGCV.

As a high tech, not second tier, vehicle. Russia has never tried that before (T-64s were never exported outside the WarPac) and so they need to be doing things cleaner and sharper, not haphazardly start/stop like this.


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