- I asked crew members of a US Abrams tank what they thought about Russia's next-generation T-14 Armata tank.
- They said it seemed like a capable platform but that its autoloader and automated turret didn't seem practical.
- They also said the idea that the tank could eventually be unmanned seemed rather unrealistic.
At first, they were a little taken aback and looked at one another as if they weren't sure whether they should answer. But they agreed to give their opinions when I said I wouldn't publish their names.
"T-14's got a three-man crew," one specialist said, sitting behind the .50-caliber gun atop the Abrams. "All the crews in the hole, so it sounds pretty safe."
The specialist zeroed in on the T-14's autoloader.
"You looked around in here," he said. "You see how sandy it is? You need something that's going to work in all terrain."
"Generally, I think the Russians like to build things that — like the AK, you can throw it through the mud and it'll keep shooting," the specialist said. "I feel like with the T-14, they got their eye off the ball, trying to be fancy."
Russian T-14 tanks with the Armata Universal Combat Platform at the 2016 Victory Day parade.Reuters
The specialist also said a crew member could load the cannon faster than existing mechanical autoloaders — so I asked what the point of an autoloader was.
"If the ammunition is so heavy, and so long — it's a small turret here," the specialist said. "The T-14 has gotten around that by having an entirely automated turret. What happens, though, if something goes wrong in the middle of battle, and somebody's gonna have to get up in there, get out of their position? I don't know."
"Let's say there's a misfire," another crew member interjected. "How much work would it take to get that machine open, get that breach open, and get down in there?"
"Maintenance-wise, an unmanned tank is going to be really difficult," the specialist said. "All I do is maintain tanks ... and these tanks still go down."
Despite unveiling the tank in 2015, Russia has still not mass-produced the T-14 because of the high cost of the platform. Moscow initially said it would produce 2,300 T-14s by 2020, but last year, it said it would make only 100 in that time.
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