As part of its military resurgence, Russia plans on rebuilding its mechanized forces around a single 'Universal Combat Platform' that will replace a whole slew of disparate tracked vehicles, some of which have been in service for many decades. At the center of this one-size-fits-all armored strategy is the shadwoy T-14 'Armata' Main Battle Tank.
Although details remain very sketchy, we know that the T-14's main armament includes the 125mm smoothbore 2A82 cannon, which is flanked by 12.7mm gatling gun and a heavy 30mm auto-cannon. The technology behind the T-14 is said to have migrated from the decades spanning T-95 program, which never really went beyond the prototype phase.
The T-14 will be lighter than the T-95 at around 55 tons, and it will be classed somewhere between a heavy and medium battle tank. It will also feature a smaller main gun than the T-95 and will be an overall less complex design. This makes great sense as simpler tank designs have historically been the most successful for Russia.
The T-14 will likely run on the 1,800hp or 2,000hp version of the A-85-3A diesel engine tied to an eight speed automatic transmission. Top speed is said to be in excess of 45 mph with a range of over 400 miles being mentioned. A hybrid-drive version may also be in the works for the T-14, although it almost certainly won't be part of the tank's first iterations. Such a system would allow the 50+ ton mammoth to move immediately and near silently at low speed, without having to start-up its loud engine or emit an infrared or smoky visual signature. This capability is seen as a game changer, especially in urban combat environments or when paired with special operators units.
It is not fully clear if the T-14 will leverage an 'unmanned turret' design philosophy, seating everyone in the tank's hull and further separating its occupants from high explosive ammunition. This also continues on, and further extrapolates, Russia's tradition of autoloading tank cannons. Under such a concept, one of the three crewman would control the entire turret in a specialized compartment that would be outfitted with high-end electronics, with technology progressively added to automate the tank's functions as much as possible, with hopes that by doing so will eventually lead to an unmanned main battle tank sometime in the future. Similar sensors and automation technologies have be discussed in relation to the T-14 design as have been promoted as part of the Poland's innovative PL-01 stealthy tank design.
Although the T-14 may look impressive even considering how little we know about it, the Universal Combat Platform concept is even more interesting in that it aims to create on common base for a whole array of heavy tracked combat vehicles. Beyond the T-14, these include a heavy infantry fighting vehicle (called the Kurganets-25), a heavy armored personnel carrier, several types of self-propelled artillery, an air defense platform, a combat engineering vehicle and an armored recovery vehicle.
Russian Generals have compared this new modular design format metaphorically to Legos, where different missionized systems can be plugged and played into the a common Universal Combat Platform chassis. What is even more interesting is that for every type, aside from the T-14 tank apparently, the engine is said to be placed in the front of the vehicle. This design is said to help protect the armored vehicle's inhabitants from forward fire and allows for ease and safety of access out the back during combat operations.
Russia seems to think that having commonality between all these weapon systems would allow for cost savings, faster fielding, ease of upgrades and beneficial synergies on the battlefield. Considering Russia's historic numerical advantage strategy, this may actually make some sense, although there will be decreased potential performance from each vehicle type compared to fielding individual purpose-built design. Additionally, this 'commonality' concept is nothing new, with the US wheeled Stryker combat vehicle, Littoral Combat Ship and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter being controversial examples of it. In all, the Universal Combat Platform vehicles could replace 2,300 Main Battle Tanks (about 70% of Russia's tank fleet) and thousands more armored fighting and support vehicles by the mid 2020s. That is if Russia can afford it.
Another issue when it comes to the feasibility of fielding a super high-tech new tank, or any other heavy tracked combatant for that matter, is that Russia has recently relied on Western European defense firms for targeting and sensor land combat systems. Having to revert back to Russian industry alone for these extremely high-tech components may be necessary under the current geopolitical situation. With this in mind, we may see a tank built for cutting edge sensors and combat management systems, that has to rely on inferior locally produced electronics. Although this would not neuter the new tank's capabilities, it would surely hamper its combat effectiveness.
Word is that the Universal Combat Platform concept quietly picked up major pace over the last few years, and was pushed in high gear just last year. Much of the system's technology and requirements remain deeply classified, although this may be coming to an end. The General Director of Uralvagonzavod, who is building this new tracked vehicle family, and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, have both said that the prototype for the T-14 will be unveiled at the 2015 Victory Day Parade, possibly alongside some of its sister vehicles.
We will just have to wait five months to see if the shadowy T-14 actually appears on Red Square, yet alone if it lives up to its already growing hype. Big claims and questionable results are something that Russia has had some trouble with in recent times when it comes to armored vehicles. So without seeing it for ourselves, when it comes to Russia's combat capabilities, we must take concept art, eye-popping capability claims and rumors with a grain of salt and a shot of Vodka.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com