The Abrams tank has been considered for decades a tank "Number one" in the world. However, experts say that the T-14 Armata, the next-generation platform being developed by Russia, may cast doubt on the superiority of Abrams.
As noted in the report “The most important task of modernizing the army: New Big Five for the 21 century”, published by the Washington-based Analytical Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), “The American tank today has not changed much, it is very similar to the tank that was developed in 70 years At the same time, having passed a series of upgrades, it still remains a formidable weapon system with a huge combat potential. ”
According to the authors of the report McCormick and Hunter, “The current version of the Abrams tank - M1A2 System Enhancement Program v2 Abrams is an extraordinary machine. For its steel-encapsulated depleted uranium armor, the Abrams tank is, according to some experts, a “almost indestructible” system. ”
At the same time, Russia is investing in its Armata T-14 tank, which is advertised as a next-generation battle tank with advanced weapons, defense systems and an uninhabited tower. According to Russian media reports, Moscow plans to manufacture 100 platforms for the 2020 year, while the tank is currently undergoing troop testing.
Abrams weighs more than 71 tons and, thanks to a powerful gas turbine engine, can develop a maximum speed of 42 miles / h; here it surpasses any tank that Russia has in service, including the T-72B, T-80 and T-90.
However, according to the authors of the CSIS report, there are certain design characteristics that align the capabilities of the Abrams tank and Russian tanks.
While the United States battle tanks rely on heavy armor for protection, the Russian fleet consists of smaller, lighter platforms that use counter systems such as active defense systems to combat anti-tank missiles and anti-tank grenades.
Russian active defense systems are effective "against most modern anti-tank guided missiles, thus compensating for some lack of armor, but they are not well resisted by the FMG-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles in the top attack mode."
“A robust, active defense system created from scratch is likely to be a key component of the Armata’s T-14 tank,” said David Johnson, lead specialist at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Research.
In the case of the tank "T-14 ... you do not screw the active protection on the bolts. You simply integrate it into the machine at the design stage. ”
Meanwhile, the American Army Research Armored Center is undergoing active defense systems that will be installed on the Abrams tank. “The question is how effective it will be after installation,” he noted.
Hunter from the CSIS center said that the importance of deploying an effective active protection system cannot be underestimated. “This is an urgent need that needs to be translated into reality as soon as possible. The T-14 tank will have a number of other improvements, including an uninhabited tower, which will provide the crew with better protection. It will also reduce the crew from four to three people and get a lighter system, which is likely to weigh significantly less than the Abrams tank. ”
“People are released and this gives you the opportunity to deploy another tank with the same number of troops,” he said. “This means that the Armata will be able to drive on roads that the Abrams tank cannot navigate.”
The CSIS report notes that a large mass of the American tank is the main limiting factor. “The large mass of Abrams makes it just a logistic nightmare. Due to the weight restrictions for European roads, this platform is too heavy for American heavy hauls and must be transported by German and British heavy tugs. ”
Johnson said that the mass of the system is increasing due to the constant addition of passive armor and bottom armored launchers to conduct urban combat. This can create big problems during ground operations.
According to the agency RAND Corporation "Enhanced deterrence on the eastern flank of NATO", the Russian army is able to reach the capitals of Estonia and Latvia in 60 hours.
From the CSIS report: “While the Abrams could qualitatively outperform Russian tanks, this advantage means little if it is not used in a real battle ... Russia will be able to more freely move its armored units throughout Europe, surpassing American defenders.”
Hunter said that Russia is known for its “sudden strike and capture” operations, in which it uses the excellent maneuverability of its vehicles to quickly capture the target area.
“They don’t need a lot of troops for this. This is a real challenge for the USA. However, the Russians can’t afford to buy many Armat tanks, ”noted Hunter.
“Their budget remains very thin,” he remarked. “A kind of open-ended question: how many of their forces are they really going to be and are able to modernize on the assumption that their budget is very limited.”
According to news agencies, Russia initially wanted to build 2300 systems by 2020, but later reduced this number to 100 platforms.
“At the same time, Russia can start selling tanks to countries that are not very friendly to the United States.” Russians are great experts, ”said Hunter. “Some of these systems that the Russians produce and that we worry about, we may not see in battle with Russia, but we may see them in a war with someone else.” And buyers can become North Korea, Iran and Syria. "
Johnson remarked that the Russians are happy to sell weapons to countries that the United States is wary of. He suggested that they could sell a less functional platform than the one they have in their arsenal.
“Since Russia is developing its Armata tank, we should not lag behind. Therefore, the American army is taking its first steps towards the deployment of a new tank, ”said General Mark Milli, chief of the army general staff, in his speech at the national press club in Washington. “We really need a new armored platform for our mechanized infantry and our armored units.”
When asked about the true purpose of the Armata tank, which according to plans should be put into service in 2020, Millie did not voice the degree of threat that the tank could pose to both the United States and their NATO allies.
“However, Russia is fundamentally undoubtedly a serious threat to the United States,” Milli said. “The country has made significant investments in upgrading its conventional weapons systems over the past 15 years.”
Milli heads an analytical group that studies innovative technologies and develops the concept of a new American tank. "The army is considering a number of new technologies that can be implemented in a similar system, including new armor."
“First of all, what we are paying attention to in this project is the material, the armor itself,” he said. “If a large amount of research and development is carried out, then we will be able to discover a new material ... much lighter in weight, but with the same level of protection.” This will be a real big breakthrough. Modern ammunition is also on our list. ”
“We have been using kinetic or powder projectiles for five centuries now, but now we see the advantages of non-powder kinetic systems,” he noted. “Two developing weapons systems — lasers and rail cannons — can be considered promising.”
“Robotization will also be the basis of any new machine that the army will buy,” Milli said. “Perhaps we need to achieve dual use so that the commander on the battlefield can, if necessary, select a machine mode, habitable or uninhabited.” He can switch the toggle switch and then the tank becomes a robot. Although the Abrams platform is almost forty years old, many of its components have been updated and roboticism is quite possible. ”
“Today we have a good, reliable tank. The M1 tank we see today visually looks exactly like a tank from 80 when I was a second lieutenant. But, of course, this is not the same tank. Internal stuffing, its fire control, power plant, armor, etc. Everything has been updated and modernized over the past years. ”
According to Hunter, although the army is interested in the emergence of a new system, the reality is that it has limited funding in order to conduct some kind of research.
In accordance with 2011, the Budget Expenditure Act, research and development budgets for this topic were completely cut, and in some cases were reduced by 70 percent.
“At the moment, there are simply not too many funds in the army’s budget for research of anything. They conduct some basic research, scientific and technological, to try to create opportunities in the future, to do something interesting in terms of modernization, but now there is nothing really valuable to buy in the near future. But it is obvious that this situation needs to be corrected. ”
Paul Sharr, director of national security programs at the New American Security Center, remarked that the army should be careful if it wants to deploy a new tank.
“I don’t see any gain right now in order to go and create a new tank,” he said. “In general, when people at the Pentagon use the phrase“ next generation, ”I tense up a bit because we all saw a kind of breakthrough thinking during the transformation era of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.”
“Officials often blurt out a list of urgent, expensive needs, many of which are technologically impossible to fulfill.”
The army must be sure that any such undertaking will not follow in the footsteps of the closed program Combat Systems of the Future (Future Combat Systems), which was canceled after spending billions of dollars and a minimum of what would really go wrong. “The army must also compromise between maneuverability, lethality and survivability,” he added. “At the same time, it’s unrealistic to have high levels of all these characteristics in one machine.”
Hunter remarked that although the time for the resignation of the Abrams tank would come sooner or later, this day has not yet arrived. “There is a lot of work to be done regarding improvements and updates. You can upgrade the engine by making the car more mobile. In theory, you can develop new types of ammunition that can provide additional firepower and simplify logistics. A lot can be done today with the Abrams tank in order to maximize its combat capabilities. ”