Skip to main content

Death from above – Russian ad hoc top attack defenses

T-72B3 tanks with crude top armor cages


The recent Russian tank upgrade programs and the ever slower moving T-14 Armata saga, have all had significant portion of the efforts put into improving the survivability of the tank and its crew. Both static and explosive reactive armor (ERA) have been upgraded and small amount of the latest T-90M and T-72B3 tanks have active protection systems that may be able to defeat most of the anti-tank missiles and slower moving HEAT shells.


Environmentally friendly T-90M


While these programs have put some emphasis on the armor on the top of the turret, the main focus has been in the sides and the front of the hull and turret. Additional ERA elements have been mounted on the skirts of the vehicles and slat-cage type standoff armor has been attached into the rear sides of the turrets and hulls.


These modifications however have very little effect on direct top attacks by modern anti-tank missiles such as the American Javelin, that is also in the Ukrainian inventory. Another, more recent, threat to the turret tops has been the proliferation of armed UAVs capable of delivering rather light weight, but extremely accurate, munitions directly to tanks, even when they are placed behind traditional obstacles.


The combination of Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 drones and MAM-L and other precision munitions proved somewhat devastating in the recent Azeri offensive against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia had a front row seat in this conflict and it has had a full access to the Armenian losses and battle damage suffered by the Armenian vehicles.


Ukrainian Air Force TB-2 with MAM-L under the wings

In the recent weeks several of the Russian Southern Military District units have been spotted with a variety of standoff armor solutions on top of their T-72 series tanks. Some of the armor kits seem rather refined with what looks like an set of small sandbags mounted on a light weight frame.


T-72B3 obr 2016 with additional armor on turret top and soft ERA bag elements on the skirts


Other armor kits look like they were constructed by the company level maintenance crews from the materials they found or managed to source from a local steel vendor. Unpainted RHS frames roughly welded into the turret sides and slat armor made of flat steel bars placed between the frames. While crude, the system looks reasonably effective.


Crude, in unit made top armor.

The fact that the Russian armored forces are welding additional armor into their tanks on unit level, rather than supplying the units with factory manufactured and easily removable kits via the normal procurement channels reveals that the additional top attack protection is an urgent requirement.

A lot of additional slat-armor kits have been used in Syria and Libya, but they have always been aimed more against RPG and ATGM attacks from the sides than from above.


Syrian slightly up armored T-55

Ukraine is currently procuring the TB-2 from Turkey and that sort of a deal and a Russian plan to use their armor against Ukraine might explain the urgency. And while Russia is updating its front line units with these additional defenses, it’s unlikely that they will need them for very long as they are capable of rapidly grinding through any adversary’s smart munitions stocks with the sheer weight of their armored forces. 

Attrition still matters.


-Petri Mäkelä

@pmakela1

Popular posts from this blog

Quick guide to identifying the Russian tanks Part 1: Updated Dec. 2021

  As most of the western nations have reduced their inventories to a few or mostly one type of main battle tank model in their active inventories, the myriad of tank platforms and distinct versions employed by the Russian armed forces may feel overwhelming. Here is a quick guide to identifying Russian MBTs. When you come across an image (or the actual thing), follow the steps to identify it properly. Updated 15.12.2021: T-90 modifications Family of the tank Russian Armed Forces currently operates, or at least storage, the following tank platforms/families: -            T-55 (<2000 in storage) -            T-62 (2000 in storage) -            T-64 (2000 in storage) -            T-72 (2000 active duty, 8000 in storage) -            T-80 (2000 active duty, 5000 in storage) -            T-90 (350 active duty, 600  in storage) -            T-14 (20 in field testing) So how can you identify what type of a tank are you looking at? There are two features that can be used to distinguishing th

Russian Tanks 2022: Thicker and Blinder

  Since the all out invasion of Ukraine the Russian army has lost at least 1700 tanks. This has caused the Russian army some supply problems, when they are re-forming their mauled units. Fighting has also revealed the need for upgrades on most of the Russian tank designs. The most obvious issues with the existing Russian tank fleet are the insufficient armor protection, the lack of reverse mobility and the vulnerability of the automatic loaders and their ammunition carousels. Although the last one has gifted us the sport of Turret Throwing. T-72B obr 2022 tanks Very little can be done for the mobility with the limitations of the existing transmissions and the autoloaders can’t really be replaced with better designs or human loaders either. The armor part on the other hand can be improved during the activation and refurbishment of the deep stored Soviet-era tanks. The first new design that appeared in the battlefield was an upgraded T-72B3 with additional armo,r mimicking the T-90M layo

Russian Spring offensive 2023: Kyiv Take Two

Russian T-80U tanks stuck and abandoned in Ukraine in spring 2022   The spectacular Ukrainian victories during the 2022 forced the Russian army to the defensive. With the Russian retreat from Kharkiv and the areas north of the river Dnipro in Kherson, the focus of the fighting has returned to the Donbass. The Russian forces, with Wagner mercenaries and penal battalions doing the bulk of the fighting and dying, are trying to take Bakhmut in a battle that invokes parallels to the meat grinders of the Great war. The Ukrainian armed forces on the other hand are slowly making progress towards Kreminna. Despite the continuous rumors about a new massive round of mobilizations, the Russian army cannot sustain the present level of attrition indefinitely. By throwing enough men and material against the prepared Ukrainian positions manned by experienced and highly motivated defenders, Russians may be able to gain some localized breakthroughs. But even if the Russian mechanized forces are able to