Russia and the United States continue to develop their tank forces with an eye to the distant future, but at the same time use different approaches. Russian industry has developed an entirely new T-14 Armata main battle tank, while American specialists continue to modernize the existing M1 Abrams. Both approaches are broadly in line with the needs and desires of the customers – but produce very different results.
The difference in approaches
At present, a major program for the renewal of tank forces is being implemented in our country. The modernization of the available MBT T-72, T-80 and T-90 according to modern projects is being carried out, which makes it possible to increase their characteristics and extend their service life. In parallel, work continues on a fundamentally new family of armored vehicles, including MBT. The T-14 tank was successfully brought to production of an experimental military batch and will reach combat units in the foreseeable future.
The only MBT in service with the United States remains the M1 Abrams. At the same time, machines of several modifications are operated simultaneously, both quite old and modern. Not so long ago, the combat units received the first serially upgraded M1A2C tanks (previously designated M1A2 SEP v.3), and the production of such equipment continues. New upgrades are carried out “on top” of old ones, and tanks gradually receive new and new components and functions.
T-14 in 2016. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
The theoretical study of the next generation of tanks has already begun, but the appearance of real samples of this kind is attributed to the distant future. In the near future, it is planned to continue the modernization of the Abrams. A new project M1A2D (M1A2 SEP v.4) is being created right now. In the past, it was reported about the development of a modernization project for the M1A3 with a larger list of innovations.
Thus, during the current decade, the Russian army will continue to operate the existing tanks of several types, but in an updated form. Over time, serial T-14s of the next generation will be added to them. In the US Army, the situation will not change dramatically. “Abrams” will remain in service, but with new units and improved characteristics. How soon this situation will change, and when the new American tank will appear is unknown.
Benefits of novelty
According to the available data, the T-14 MBT has a lot of important advantages over the previous generation tanks. Moreover, all of them to one degree or another are connected precisely with the novelty of the project. The Armata platform and the equipment based on it were developed from scratch, due to which there were no significant restrictions associated with the “continuity of generations”. In other words, the T-14 project was made using only modern components that give the best performance.
A new armored body with improved protection has been developed for the “Armata”. Also used are dynamic and active protection of the latest models – “Malachite” and “Afganit”, respectively. Other solutions have been applied to improve survivability and stability. So, instead of the traditional tower, an uninhabited unit with a minimum cross-section is used, and the crew is moved to a single compartment with maximum protection.
“Armata” at the exhibition in 2018. Photo Wikimedia Commons
The power plant and chassis were originally developed with the growth of the main characteristics in mind. The 12N360 engine was created specially for the platform with the ability to change power by forcing. An automatic transmission is used. The chassis received seven road wheels per side; active suspension was reported. The power plant and chassis are controlled by automation.
The new uninhabited fighting compartment has a 125-mm 2A82-1M smoothbore cannon with an automatic loader. A new generation of tank shells with improved characteristics has been created for it, which provides the fight against all typical targets. The possibility of using tank guided missiles remains. Auxiliary armament includes a coaxial and “anti-aircraft” machine gun. The latter is installed on the remote controlled module.
A fundamentally new fire control system has been created for the T-14, which includes a lot of different means. So, the observation of the situation and the detection of targets is carried out using optical means operating in the visible, infrared and ultraviolet ranges. Radar facilities have been introduced. Data from all detection systems can be used both for firing and for targeting active protection. In addition, the tank’s electronics work within the Unified Tactical Control System and is capable of transmitting and receiving data on targets on the battlefield.
T-14 tanks being assembled. Shot from the reportage of the TV company “Zvezda”
Due to the use of fundamentally new solutions and components of the MBT, the T-14 radically differs from the previous armored vehicles of the Russian design. The overall combat effectiveness of such a tank is several times higher, due to which it is of great interest to the army – and a great danger to a potential enemy.
The importance of modernization
In the United States, it is considered expedient to continue the development of the M1 Abrams tank with the gradual replacement of certain components, the introduction of new systems, etc. So, in the past, there was an increase in armor and an update of fire control equipment, and recent projects provide for the introduction of new means of energy supply, promising ammunition, etc.
The current M1A2C modernization project proposes the transfer of the auxiliary power unit under the armor, inside the engine compartment, which will reduce its vulnerability to major threats. The power unit also receives a Vehicle Health Management System. In this case, the engine and transmission are not changed. Moreover, the issue of remotorization has not been considered for a long time.
The standard armor of the hull and turret in the M1A2C project is supplemented with overhead means. The frontal projection receives additional ballistic protection. Provides for the installation of dynamic protection ARAT on the side screens. Active protection Trophy has been tested and is being prepared for implementation on combat tanks. The bottom receives additional armor plates to enhance mine protection.
Upgraded tank M1A2C. Photo Leonardo DRS
The standard 120 mm M256 cannon remains in the manned turret. New infrared devices of the gunner and commander with increased characteristics are introduced into the FCS. For the first time, a programmer is used to enter commands into controlled projectile fuses. Auxiliary weapons are being improved through the use of the new low-profile CROWS DBM.
A new project for the modernization of the M1A2D is currently being developed, providing for further innovations. First of all, it will affect the MSA. The existing optical and infrared cameras will be replaced with new ones, as well as the laser rangefinder will be updated. The meteorological sensor unit will also be replaced. Fighting qualities will be improved through the introduction of new shells, incl. multipurpose XM1147 with programmable fuse.
There are no plans to rework the armor, but there will be new means of protection. Thus, a set of laser radiation sensors will be introduced. The system of smoke grenade launchers will be able to shoot ammunition in the direction of the radiation source in order to timely hide the tank and escape from the attack.
At present, the Russian industry is engaged in the production of a pilot batch of T-14 tanks and other vehicles on the Armata platform. According to the plans of previous years, 132 units. equipment of various types should have been transferred to the army until 2021 inclusive. Part of this order has already been completed, but the exact number of tanks built remains unknown.
Experienced tank M1A2C with an incomplete set of equipment, 2018 Photo by US Army
According to various estimates, over the next few years, the T-14 will go through all the necessary procedures and will be officially adopted into service. At the same time, serial production will begin, and then the equipment will be mastered by combat units. How many tanks and in what time frame will enter the army has not yet been specified.
The American industry introduced the M1A2 SEP v.3 prototype several years ago, and it has been undergoing trials since 2015. The deliveries of serially modernized equipment began in 2017-18; the first units on updated tanks reached full readiness in 2019-20. In the coming years, it is planned to upgrade all existing M1A2 SEP v.2 tanks. At the same time, significant quantities of equipment of other modifications will remain in the troops.
The next project M1A2D / SEP v.4 is still under development. A prototype of this type will be built only in 2021, and several more years will be spent on testing and other activities. Serial tanks of this type will enter the troops no earlier than the middle of the decade, and several more years will be spent on the supply of a sufficient amount of equipment and the formation of combat-ready units.
Similarities and differences
The Russian and American armies receive new armored vehicles that meet the latest requirements and built using the most modern technologies. However, the methods of its creation were radically different. One tank, the production of which is currently being developed, was developed from scratch, and the other, designed to compete with it, is another version of the development of a fairly old model.
The tank is being tested. US Army Photos
Both approaches have their pros and cons. So, creating a completely new design allows you to get rid of the limitations of existing platforms and improve performance, but it turns out to be quite expensive and time-consuming. Modernization of a finished tank is faster and cheaper – but it does not allow solving some problems without cardinal changes to the original sample.
From the point of view of technologies and prospects, at the moment the Russian approach used in the “Armata” project looks more interesting and useful. Against this background, the next modernization of the Abrams looks like an attempt to catch up with a competitor without wasting time and money on a fundamentally new tank. Judging by the published data, this task will be partially solved, albeit with a noticeable delay.
It turns out that in the current confrontation between the advanced MBTs from the leading tank-building powers, the Russian approach with the creation of a fundamentally new combat vehicle turns out to be more effective and promising. However, this state of affairs will not last forever. The US is already planning to create a new tank, and in the distant future it will be able to change the situation by becoming a new leader. But the timing of this remains unknown.