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2025: Year Of The Armata?
Or epic procurement disaster?
The UK Ministry of Defense says that although Russia is likely to introduce its new main battle tank in Ukraine, the T-14 is only going to arrive in “limited numbers.”
Urlavagonzavod, the manufacturer of the Armata (lit. “armada”) remains “dogged with delays, reduction in planned fleet size, and reports of manufacturing problems” since the inception of the project, according to MoD.
Armata is supposed to be invulnerable and unstoppable. When they were first shown to the public in 2015 during the Moscow May Day parade, however, a T-14 stalled and had to be towed away (see above). If the MoD is right, things have not gotten better, and the Armata fleet is not ready for war.
It makes sense that RuAF would want to send the T-14 in response to western powers announcing this week that they will send Leopard 2, Challenger 2, Le Clerc, and Abrams tanks. Answering such a potential move by the west was the ostensible reason for holding them back from the renewed invasion of Ukraine in the first place. The bluff is now being called.
Western policy is part of Russia’s problem, but there are other reasons for failure. According to Anatoliy Herashchenko, Ukraine’s interior minister, Armata development is retarded by “poor design, multiple technical defects, total theft, absence of [imported] western electronics, and blocked deliveries of tank parts manufactured in Germany and Japan, because of sanctions.”
Corruption has reportedly contributed to teething problems with the thermal imaging sight, stabilizers, and targeting systems — basically, everything that makes it a 21st century MBT. A pervasive culture of lying to please supervisors leads to problems being unidentified or not taken seriously or covered up. This is all magnified by the impossible expectations built around the product in the first place.
“According to Russian state-controlled media,” writes Stephan Korshak at the Kyiv Post, “the fully-digitized Armata fires a shell capable of destroying any combat vehicle on Earth, is rigged with armor capable of defeating any incoming munition that exists or might be invented in the near future, and carries its crew in an air-conditioned steel cocoon impervious to radiation.”
It slices! It dices! It makes Julian fries!
According to the company sales literature, “an upward-looking sensor suite fitted to the Armata uses artificial intelligence to toss interceptor grenades into the air above the turret, making the tank invulnerable to even the very best top-attack weapons” such as the various shoulder-fired missiles that have destroyed thousands of Russian tanks in Ukraine.
Known as ‘active protection systems,’ devices like that have been under development around the world since the 1990s, but even the best ones still have reliability problems.
These are unrealistic expectations. Since the introduction of gunpowder, the material science of making armor has always lagged behind the material science of defeating armor because that is how energy physics work. Defeating an incoming kinetic penetrating round is very, very hard to do. Russia cannot fix reality with rubles or willpower. Armies have tried, and the casualties have always been high.
Still, the Russian MoD has every reason to introduce the Armata and test it against western weapons in Ukraine. Even if it proves a miserable failure, Urlavagonzavod can potentially improve their product with the lessons learned from failure. Nor are Russian engineers especially incapable of solving their problems. On the contrary, we should assume — as NATO planners apparently do — that Russia will find a way to get Armatas into the fight.
How, and in what numbers, are the important questions to consider. Quality can remain a question mark regardless.
Bearing in mind that President Biden announced the dispatch of 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine on Wednesday, presumably by the end of the year, let us assume that a like number of M1s are sent to Ukraine during 2024, so that in January 2025, there are going to be at least 62 M1 Abrams tanks entering Ukrainian service, minus any combat losses. This is a conservative mobilization curve for the M1.
What is the probability that, by the start of 2025, Russia will be able to put 62 T-14s into the field against that number of M1 Abrams tanks? I would say the chances are low, and all efforts to meet the quota will magnify any quality control issues.
The UK MoD would say the chances of RuAF meeting this threshold of success are low. The US DoD would probably say the chances are low, too. Just about every observer would agree the chances are low. Only Russians, or the most absurd Russophile, would claim that the chance of Russians successfully fielding more than 60 Armatas by, say, May Day of 2025 is high, and the Russians who might make this claim will secretly know better.
As a pure probability, it is far more likely that the average Russian soldier of 2025, one decade after that prototype Armata stalled out, will fight alongside a much older tank — at this rate, the median tank might be a refitted T-55, perhaps even some museum piece without so much as a thermal imaging sight.
Since last February, I have harped on mobilization curves for a reason. Vladimir Putin procrastinated on conscription until October, when his armies were on the point of collapse. Although the Kremlin keeps denying that another manpower mobilization wave is planned, rumors persist that 300,000 or 500,000 more Russian men can expect to be called up. Those two points are consistent with a long war strategy in which the regular conscription process in Russia simply enlarges to produce more armies.
Russia can doubtless find and impress half a million men into service by 2025 if they try. However, as we have noted, Putin cannot ensure that this new force will have as many Armata tanks as Ukraine can have Abrams.
In sum, two years from today. the Russian force will likely have lots of men armed with just a few modern MBTs and lots of much older tanks. I said last week that Russia will increasingly turn to human waves this year, and my back-of-the-envelope analysis suggests that Russian casualties will trend upwards until Russians refuse to die anymore.
If anything, the west is now signaling as much as possible that a long war strategy is doomed to fail. After tanks come jet fighters. The groundwork is already underway:
Washington has told Kyiv that supplying aircraft is a “no-go, for the moment,” the diplomat quoted above said, but added: “There’s a red line there — but last summer we had a red line on the HIMARS [multiple rocket launchers], and that moved. Then it was battle tanks, and that’s moving.”
A second senior envoy from a European power also stressed the speed at which the supply of Western weaponry is escalating. “Fighters are completely unconceivable today,” they said, “but we might have this discussion in two, three weeks.”
Defense ministers from Ukraine’s allies are due to hold a further summit next month at the U.S. military base of Ramstein, in southwest Germany, where aviation and air support are expected to be a key focus.
Putin took too long to take the threat of defeat in Ukraine seriously. “Slowbalization” has created a defeat trajectory in which the west is ready to supply Ukraine with more advanced weapons than Putin’s Russia can put in the field. The “special operation” began with too much metal and not enough manpower. Since then, Russian metal has grown older and increasingly obsolete, Russian tactics have gotten more primitive, and Russian casualty rates have risen accordingly.
The evident plan in Moscow is to fill the space between ambition and reality with hundreds of thousands of dead Russians. Extend that out to 2025 and we have a grim, but realistic, picture of the potential future.
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