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Steel quartet: the Russian tank programs

The Russian military modernization program has two superstars that have been grabbing the headlines, the T-50 Pak-Fa 5th generation fighter and the T-14 Armata main battle tank. The Armata has been dubbed as a wonder weapon that will make all other main battle tanks obsolete. The published plan was to phase out all other tracked platforms and gradually replace them with Armata variants. The T-14 Armata was supposed to be produced in great numbers.

The delayed development of the Armata platform has been evident, not only by it’s failure in the Victory Day parade at the Red Square, but also by the fact that the advanced T-72B3 variant has been produced in large numbers and an additional upgrade package has been applied to it in 2016.


In addition to the T-72B3M, two other Russian main battle tank upgrade programs are currently underway and the overall number of the modernized tanks will rise to thousands. It is remarkable that the Russian armed forces are committing to four separate tank platforms. At the same time, Russian armed forces and the Russian defense industry have worked hard to streamline the production and the maintenance of the other armored platforms, such as the BMP, BMD and BTR-families. Despite these efforts Russia still operates a staggeringly vast array of different vehicles, modifications and versions.

The T-72B3M is the first one of the modernized main battle tanks to enter service and it’s already being used by several tank and motor rifle brigades. Unlike the T-80BVM and T-90M, the T-72B3M is also being produced from scratch.

The upgrade programs improve all three corners of the classic protection-mobility-firepower triangle. All tanks are getting new reactive armor packages and active protection systems. The ERA packages on the T-90M and the T-80BVM look particularly impressive.

T-80BVM showing its cage-armor (photo: otvaga2004.ru)

The three modifications share the latest version of the Sosna-U gun-sight, the new fire control automation and the new gun laying components. More importantly all three modifications will give the tank commander an independent panoramic sights with thermal imaging capability.

T-80BVM (photo: otvaga2004.ru)

The T-72B3M and the T-90M will have modified versions of the basic 2A46M gun, while the T-80BVM will retain its original 2A46-2 gun. All of the tanks will be upgraded with the ability to shoot the new APDSFS rounds and the 9M119 Refleks anti tank missile. With the new digital communications and battlespace information systems and the similar optics, these tanks will be relatively similar to operate for the gunner and the commander.

The T-90M and the T-72B3M will share the 1000-1100 hp V-92S2F diesel engines. The T-80BVM will retain the signature gas-turbine engine, but they will be upgraded to a 1300 hp variant.The fuel inefficiency and the complex maintenance procedures remain as the drawbacks of the T-80 series.

T-90M with the signature Russian log (photo: otvaga2004.ru)

When these four parallel tank programs are looked at from a strategic perspective few alarming possibilities emerge. If the reason for the new modernization programs are either the delays in the T-14 Armata program on insufficient funds to purchase them in numbers, it hardly makes sense to divide the RnD and procurement funds to four separate programs.

Either the attrition from the increased training regime recently imposed to the Russian Ground Forces is proving to be too much for the older vehicles. The much more disturbing possibility is that Russia is planing to expand its military significantly or that it’s expecting massive attrition from an unspecified near future operation that have to be replaced rapidly.


On the other hand this could be the usual corruption ploy to waste government money to the completely unnecessary programs in order to allow the oligarchs and the officials to skim most of the budget in to their own pockets.


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