Russia’s T-14 Armata tank has already made waves for its armor that can reportedly stand up against NATO’s current anti-tank missile systems. Now it’s making news again because it can reportedly destroy targets more than seven miles away, which is more than twice the range of America’s vaunted M1 Abrams tank. The real question, though, is whether any of this will be a game changer in an actual war.
It probably won’t, because the Russian budget may not allow for as many T-14s as Moscow desires, and it may not ever find itself in a position where it can fix on a target seven 7 miles away in a real war, but that still doesn’t mean the T-14 platform shouldn’t keep Brussels up at night.
Let’s start off with its range. As Popular Mechanics reports, the T-14 can hit targets at a range of 7.4 miles by firing a 3UBK21 Sprinter guided missile out of its barrel. The current missile the T-14 uses is the 9M119 Reflecks, which has a range of 3.1 miles and breaks through up to 900 millimeters of armor. The penetration capabilities of the 3UBK21 Sprinter are unknown, but it will likely be as powerful as Reflecks.
In comparison, NATO’s Abrams has a firing range of between 1.86 miles and 2.48 miles. If you were to look at this from a purely one-on-one battle standpoint, the T-14 could possibly hit the Abrams before it engages in combat. But, as PopMech writer and occasional Foxtrot Alpha contributor Kyle Mizokami astutely notes, it is rare that a tank will have the opportunity to fire at a target seven miles away because battle terrain likely will not allow for it:
In real-world war situations, though, there are rarely situations where two objects at ground level are visible to one another at seven and a half miles. Hedges, trees, buildings, elevation changes, and other terrain features all conspire to block visibility at ground level. Outside of the plains of Kansas, the Russian steppes, and the Sinai desert, there are seldom places where two objects are visible at even three or four miles.
Then there is the issue of the Abrams’ armor. Outfitted with depleted uranium and reactive armor, it would take on the Sprinter’s warhead pretty well. And the U.S. Army is preparing to arm the Abrams with Active Protection Systems (such as Israel’s TROPHY system), which can knock incoming projectiles – like RPGs and missiles – by shooting ball bearings at them, much like skeet shooting with a shotgun, according to Scout Warrior.
All of this being said, NATO shouldn’t be without its concerns. Seven miles is quite a long distance to hit a target. Not to mention, Russia is integrating its own APS into the T-14, as the BBC reports. The biggest fear is that Norway’s U.S.-supplied Javelin anti-tank missiles may not be able to hold up against the new generation T-14's armor. Brigadier Ben Barry at the International Institute for Strategic Studies told the BBC that NATO countries aren’t discussing this problem nearly enough:
APS threatens to make existing anti-tank weapons far less effective, and there is little real discussion of this among many Western militaries, he says.
Some countries are conducting research and trials to equip their own tanks with APS. “But they seem to miss the uncomfortable implications for their own anti-armour capabilities,” he says.
Norway, however, is spending $24-42 million to replace its Javelin missiles so that they can penetrate APS systems.
According to The Diplomat, the T-14 will be ready for operational evaluation in 2019; by 2025, Russia hopes to induct 2,300 of them. However, there is only one problem: Moscow likely will not be able to afford it.
Costing around $8 million per unit, that many T-14s may not fit into Russia’s future budget. The Russian Defense Ministry cut its budget by 25.5 percent for 2017, which is the deepest cut since the early 1990s. And, given that Russia’s economy is already struggling from Western sanctions and unpredictable oil prices, who is to say that Russia will not be forced to cut its budget even more in the upcoming years?
That said, while proposing 2,300 T-14s may be a lot of unrealistic bluster, the tank’s capabilities are not. If NATO were wise, it would brace itself by replacing its current anti-tank missile systems with hardware that can penetrate newer, more powerful armor and strategize around ways in which its M1 Abrams tanks can contend with with an incoming anti-tank missile traveling seven miles away.