Putin’s Got a Cool New Tank: How Many Can He Afford?
Policy + Politics

Putin’s Got a Cool New Tank: How Many Can He Afford?

As Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to host foreign leaders at Saturday’s Victory Day parade in Moscow – that is, the foreign leaders who aren’t either boycotting the event over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or staying away for other unspecified reasons – state-controlled media is seriously hyping the Kremlin’s unveiling of its newest main battle tank.

The new tank, the T-14, or Armata Main Battle Tank, is indeed an impressive piece of weaponry. Described by Russian officials as the most powerful tank in the world, it is the first overhaul of Russian tank design since the 1960s, and integrates multiple new technologies that arguably make it a match for any other tank currently in service.

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The turret of the weapon, where a gunner historically sat somewhat exposed to direct fire, is controlled remotely by a crewmember inside a protected pod in the front of the vehicle. The 32 rounds it carries for the smoothbore main gun are loaded automatically by a robotic system, while advanced armor technologies protect the crew.

Some defense experts have suggested that the T-14 represents one of last manned tank designs, with the future belonging to remote-controlled or robotic weapons systems. Its Armata platform will also be the basis for a number of other new Russian combat vehicles expected to be officially unveiled on Saturday.

The word “officially” is used here advisedly. The T-14 has not been developed in absolute secrecy, and people who pay attention to things like this, such as Jane’s Defense Weekly, have a pretty good sense of what the T-14 will be able to do.

That hasn’t stopped Russia’s state-friendly media from treating the unveiling of the T-14 as something akin to the birth of a new British royal.

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Without any obvious sense of irony, the Kremlin-run Sputnik News has been breathlessly reporting “sightings” of the new tank in Moscow. On Wednesday, it posted a link to a YouTube video showing the tank moving through the streets as rehearsals for the Victory Day parade were conducted.

The Russian government has set a target of 2,300 T-14s in service by 2020, but given the state of the Russian economy, which is likely in recession, it’s not clear how possible that is -- recently as last year, the Kremlin was publicly complaining about the cost of the new system. More telling, the likelihood of waves of T-14 being deployed on Russia’s borders appears low.

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