Tag Archives: tanks

The New Russian Armata Tank

It’s actually a family of fighting vehicles.

The prime variant is the T-14 tank. Finally some pics of it without  a tarp over the turret are coming out.

The big innovation here is that the turret itself is unmanned. That has the advantage that you can make it significantly smaller, in that you don’t need to leave space for people. That means a given weight of armor provides more protection, as it has less surface area to cover. But it also means any failure of the autoloader is much more difficult to remedy. The gun is basically the same 125mm smoothbore the Russians have been using for nearly 40 years. The flat panels suggest either composite armor similar to the M1 series, or integrated Explosive Reactive Armor panels. The bulky side sponsons along the hull suggest ERA. The prominent boxlike projection on the left top of the turret appears to be an independent thermal viewer similar to that of the M1A2 tank. What level of sophistication the fire control has is unknown. Interestingly, there are reports the tank will field a radar based fire control channel.
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The tank reportedly uses a 1500hp diesel engine, downrated to 1200hp for normal operation, on  a tank with a combat weight of 48 tons. Even at the downrated horsepower, that yields a very respectable 25 horsepower per ton.

The T-15 Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle variant uses the same chassis and engine, but apparently reverses the arrangement, with the engine in the front, and the troop compartment in the rear. This is actually a fairly common adaptation of tank hulls. Many early US self propelled artillery series used this trick. The T-15 likewise has a remote controlled turret, with a 30mm autocannon, and an anti-tank missile launcher. The troop compartment has space for 6-8 troops.

 

The first “public” display of the Armata family is expected Saturday, during the parade in Moscow celebrating 70 years since the victory over Nazi Germany.

Other variants ordered include a 152mm self propelled artillery piece.

Once you’ve developed a successful vehicle chassis, it makes sense to adapt it to other roles, to reduce development costs, and to benefit from commonality of production, spare parts, logistics, and training.

Of course, the downside is that an IFV on a tank chassis is much more expensive than one on a lighter chassis. The trend however, suggests most future IFVs will be tank chassis based, and have much higher levels of protection than those of today.

The Armata family appears to be quite capable, certainly near peer to our own M1 and Bradley series.

Having said that, virtually every vehicle produced so far will be in the parade Saturday, a force of somewhere around two dozen vehicles. And while Russia claims that some 2300 will be produced, the economic challenges Russia faces may make that production schedule difficult to keep. There are suggestions that the T-14 and T-15 will be specialized units, and that a less ambitious IFV will be the main replacement for legacy BMP-1, 2, and 3 series. The Kurganets 25 has been touted as the main replacement for older IFVs.

Kurganets-25 30mm gun variant with turret covered

The numbers of T-14s scheduled for production also suggest older T-80/T-90 series tanks will remain in front line use for many, many years to come.

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Armor Upgrades

We noted an article in The Diplomat remarking on the recapitalization of the Army’s armored fleet.

And you’ve probably seen in the news in the last year or two complaints about how Congress was wasting money on new tanks the Army didn’t even want. Well, that’s not exactly true- after all, when is the last time the press was accurate about anything related to the military. The Army hasn’t bought a brand new tank since the early 1990s. What they have been doing is running tanks through a complete rebuild, upgrading to the latest configuration, known as M1A2 SEP v2. And it was never that the Army didn’t want to continue upgrading tanks. But under the sequester, the Army had to prioritize spending, and wanted to delay M1 upgrades in favor of other programs. Congress noted that delaying upgrades would force the plant to close, and potentially lose the skilled workforce. It was a matter of pay me now, or pay me later. In the long run, reopening the plant would cost more than simply keeping it open. And so Congress told the Army to do so. Don’t think for a moment the Army didn’t know the Congress was going to do this. There’s a very, very long history of the services, when faced with a budget crunch, putting important, popular programs on the block, knowing full well that Congress will put them back in the budget.

At any event, having played that game with Congress for a bit, the Army has now gone in the other direction, asking for quite a bit more money to upgrade tanks.

Army leaders have thus far taken up a losing battle against Congress to temporarily halt funding for its Abrams tanks. However, that changed in its latest budget proposal as the service has reversed course and asked for 50 percent more funding for the M1 Abrams tank over last year.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Congress in 2o12 that the Army wanted to spend money on other modernization priorities. Congress pushed back saying it was a mistake to shut down the production line of the M1 tank, which is located in Lima, Ohio, even if it’s a temporary shut down. The Army would risk losing the skilled workers at the plants and spend more on training when they needed to reopen the production line for the Abrams upgrades the Army had said it needed in 2017.

The Army apparently listened to the critique, as service officials requested $368 million for upgrades to the M1 tank. Last year, the Army asked for $237 million.

What are some of the upgrades the Army is implementing in the fleet? Well, shortly the M1 fleet will have a new type of ammunition, and importantly, a new thermal sight/sensor.

The ability to identify targets prior to engagement remains one of the biggest obstacles to improving Abrams lethality. The new IFLIR solves this problem using long- and mid-wave infrared technology in both the gunner’s primary sight and the commander’s independent thermal viewer. The IFLIR will provide four fields of view (FOV) displayed on high-definition displays, greatly improving target acquisition, identification and engagement times – compared to the current second-generation FLIR – under all conditions, including fog / obscurants.

When the M1 was first introduced in the early 1980s, the tanks thermal sight was almost black magic. The ability to see through dark and smoke was astonishing to gunners trained on earlier systems. Up to that point, night gunnery was conducted with searchlights mounted above the gun tube!

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The technology of thermal sights has greatly improved over the last 30 odd years, and the sights have been steadily improved since then. The original sight would seem crude to today’s gunners. A second thermal sight was added in the 1990s to give the tank commander an independent thermal vision device.*

The improvements, taken together, will establish the M1A2 SEP v3 configuration.

*That capability was planned from the outset of the M1 program, but not intially installed for cost reasons.

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Javelin vs. T-72

We’ve posted other versions of this video before.

Possibly the greatest weakness of the T-72 series tanks is the storage of its main gun ammunition. The 2A46 125mm smoothbore tank gun uses an autoloader. It fires sabot rounds, High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) and High Explosive Fragmentation (HEF) rounds. The ammunition is separate loading, with the autoloader first loading the projectile, then a separate propellant charge. The ammunition is held in a horizontal position on a  carousel at the bottom of the turret basket.

The FGM-148 Javelin missile, using a fire and forget imaging infrared seeker, has a two stage tandem HEAT warhead. The first smaller warhead is to detonate any Explosive Reactive Armor, while the second warhead is intended to actually penetrate the main armor.

File:1-20 Javelin missile..PNG

You’ll note that the Javelin flies a lofted trajectory when used in the anti-tank role. Among other benefits, this means it is attacking the top armor of the tank, virtually always the thinnest armor of any tank.

If I had to guess, I’d say the explosive jet from this particular shot actually struck either a HEAT or HEF warhead in the carousel. Virtually any HEAT warhead penetration will usually set off the combustible propellant cartridges in the carousel, causing complete destruction of the T-72, but that usually doesn’t result in the utter devastation seen here.

As a contrast, the M1 series of tanks, while it uses semi-combustible propellant charges for its main gun ammo, places that ammo in the rear of the turret bustle. There are blast resistant doors separating the storage from the inside of the turret. On top of the storage are blow-out panels designed to fail and vent any explosion up and away from the crew in the turret. The vehicle might be destroyed, but the crew would have a good chance of escaping with their lives.

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The BBC’s 1964 Masterpiece “The Great War”

Of all the events of the Twentieth Century, it is the First World War that has had the most dramatic and longest-lasting impact on the psyche of Western civilization, more so than all the events that followed.   For anyone with an abiding interest in that war, the 1964 BBC documentary The Great War is an invaluable reference to understanding.  Narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, the 26-part documentary is a superbly-crafted work.  The tenor of the broadcasts reflects the erosion of the naïve hopes of the warring parties in 1914 into the grim fatalism that the years of slaughter evoked, and the upheaval that would ultimately topple the crowned heads of Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Serbia.  BBC producers make excellent use of voice to read the actual words of the key participants such as Edward Grey, Bethmann-Hollweg, Conrad von Hotzendorf, Joffre, Haig, Falkenhayn, and others.  The series features remarkable and little-seen motion footage of the world of 1914-18, including the civilians, the politicians, the armies, and the great battles of that war.   The battle footage heavily emphasizes the two great killers of that war (in inverse order), the machine gun, and modern breech-loading recoil-dampened artillery.

Of note also are the poignant, and sometimes extremely moving, interviews with the participants of events of the great tragedy.  Some had been in the thick of the fighting, others young subalterns or staff officers at the sleeve of the decision-makers.   Most remarkably, the BBC managed to produce a documentary about momentous events that changed the world and yet also managed to allow the viewer insight into the inestimable human tragedy that these events summoned.   At the time of the release of The Great War, those events were closer in time to the audience than the beginning of the Vietnam War is to our contemporary world.   The twenty-six episodes are around forty minutes each.  Worth every second of the time spent.

Oh, and as the credits roll at the end of each episode, one can spot the name of a very young (19 years old) contributor named Max Hastings.

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More Tank Biathlon

In spite of the tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine, as far as I know the invitation for US forces to participate in a “run and gun” tank competition hosted by Russia is still on.

 

I think we could take ‘em.

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Scenes from a Gunnery

Ah, the culmination of a couple of weeks downrange. Pics and commentary courtesy LTC Esli Pitts,  AR, USA, 3/8 CAV

Formerly a lost art, with the end of the war in Iraq and drawdown of heavy forces in Afghanistan, heavy brigades are getting back to tank and Bradley gunnery. It was a rough start, given that many of the tankers had never fired gunnery, or certainly not in their current positions. Having shot our second gunnery within the year, we saw some pretty good results.

Even with the Texas heat, there are few things more satisfying than taking an M1A2 through its paces on a live-fire range. Sure, it is blindingly hot, but face it; there is something cool about things that go boom. The idea that I can put the reticle on a moving plywood target 2200 meters (yeah that is 1.4 miles) away and kill it about a second later is mind-boggling. And fun.

A unit goes to the field for about 2-3 weeks, and at the end, they are lethal tankers. It’s hard work and long hours, but in the end, it is fun. I like to say that we get paid year-round, but the only time we actually earn the check is on the range.

Before you can fire, there are prerequisites. They include a certain level of proficiency in the Advanced Gunnery Training System (AGTS) (way better than the old UCOFT). Additionally, you have to pass Gun Table I and the Gunner’s Skill Test, which include hands-on testing in loading and firing machine guns, loading the main gun (seven seconds to pass, but the real standard is under four seconds), conducting mis-fire procedures, rollover drills, boresighting the tank, etc. There are also a lot of maintenance checks required to get the tanks ready.

Once you meet the pre-reqs, you go to the field and fire the following day and night tables:
-Screening: a lot like zeroing the tank, this is a test to make sure that the tank hits where the computer says it is supposed to hit.
-Gun Table II: Crew Proficiency: This is a dry (or sub-caliber training device) run to make sure the crew can perform their crew duties properly
-Gun Table III / IV: Basic Machine Gun and main gun tables combined.
-GT V: Practice crew qualification. Usually with smaller targets and longer ranges, this is a hard table.
-GT VI: Crew Qualification. (For all of you old guys, yes, this used to be Tank Table VIII, but the HBCT gunnery manual published in 2009 revised all of them.)
Generally every other gunnery, you will progress to tactical tables including:
-GT IX: Section Qualification (two tanks)
-GT XII: Platoon Qualification (four tanks under the control of a Platoon Leader. I generally make GT XII a 72-hour event with tactical tasks as well as gunnery. These are fun, but high-stress for the PL.)

During GT II through GT VI, the crew fires ten engagements, each of which requires the crew to perform different tasks (called Minimum Proficiency Levels) from an offensive or defensive tank during either day or night. Some examples:
-Tank Commander’s engagement with main gun
-“Simo” including TC’s .50 cal, the loader’s M240 and the gunner’s coaxial M240.
-Change of ammunition: Tank target with sabot, then light armor with HEAT
-Change of weapons-system: tank target with main gun then troops with coax machine gun
-Use the Gunner’s Auxiliary Sight
-NBC conditions.

Target ranges vary, with machine gun targets up to 800 meters, and main gun targets out to about 2200 meters (training ammunition is not ballistically matched to service ammunition, so is not accurate much farther than this). The hardest target on my last gunnery was the commander’s engagement of a flank moving tank (about 10 mph) at 2200 meters.

A target is presented for 50 seconds. The crew is scored on how quickly it can kill that target. In the defense, the time to kill does not start until the tank pulls up to fire (i.e. could be hit by the enemy). For example, a target could be exposed for 40 seconds before the tank comes up in the battle position and kills it. If your tank was only up for 5 seconds or so, it would be 100 points. On the other hand, if the target came up and the tank crew immediately came up to fire, but did not fire for 10-15 seconds, the crew loses points with every second they are exposed to the enemy’s fire. In the offense, when you are already exposed, time starts immediately and you must be quick. In 50 seconds, you may have two targets. A third may be presented on a 15 or 20 second delay. This might seem like a long time, but sometimes it takes a lot of time just to find the targets. It takes 70 points to qualify each engagement.

If a crew qualifies seven of ten engagements and scores 700 points or greater, than he is “qualified” as Q1. If he qualifies eight of ten engagements with a score of 800 points or more, than he qualified with a “Superior” rating. And for those that qualify nine (or ten) engagements and score 900 points or more, they have qualified with a “Distinguished” rating. A crew that fails to qualify “Q1” will re-fire engagements until he has qualified 7 of them with 70 points, and is qualified as a “Q2.” This is not good. But it happens.

A change with the M1A2, which is hard for older tankers to get used to, is the extremely abbreviated nature of fire commands now which literally saves seconds with each engagement.

There are lots of traditions associated with tank gunnery. Some good. Some not so good.
-Not changing whatever worked. One former PSG shot every gunnery wearing the same red long underwear regardless of temperatures, and always included his stuffed teddy bear, even after his angry wife once ripped its arm off. I’ve shot every gunnery but my most recent with the same pair of gloves.
-Blessing the tanks. Some units used to to put the tanks on line and have the chaplain bless them.
-No peaches are allowed on the tanks. No one knows why, but that is good enough reason.
-Firing a HEAT round with a roll of toilet paper soaked in flammable fluids placed over the spike. Frowned upon but spectacular.
-Loading a lieutenant’s hat in the breech and firing it. Dumb. Having witnessed this result in a sabot round stuck in the chamber and hours spent freeing it, this is not worth it by any means.
-The earning of the right to wear tanker boots after qualifying.
-Steak and eggs on the range after qualifying.
-Kill rings on the main gun of the tank. One ring for a Q1, two rings for Superior, and 3 rings for Distinguished. Tan tanks get black rings; green tanks get white rings. The top tank gets gold rings.

On the way!

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This is the office on my home-away-from home…

…..

That’s brand new track on the tank. Considering my tank rolls more and farther than any other in the BN, we deserve it! Yes, the fender is damaged from taking the tank into a wooded environment for crew training. Hey, that’s why they are cheap.

New paint job on the CIPs panels: 8th CAV crests. WARHORSE!!!

My crew after I had the distinct honor and privilege of pinning Army Achievement Medals on them for shooting Distinguished. Then, into the tents behind for steak and eggs, and watch some of “The Beast.” Great night.

Just hanging out after the final night run AAR. The paint is barely dry on the crests.

Showing off the kill rings the next morning. Three means we qualified Distinguished. Gold rings would be for the top tank. We weren’t even close to D34 with a 1000 point run.

I am looking at a job in art one day; all of the new artwork was mine… Kill rings and 8th CAV crests.

Gunnery was always a lot of hard work and late nights (and early mornings, as always) but it was also a lot of fun. And shooting stuff was the whole point of being in the combat arms.

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The Challenge of Airborne Armor

Craig’s recent posts on the SPAT and the Ontos build on an earlier post I did on the M551 Sheridan armored vehicle. All these vehicles had a common heritage. They tried to find a practical combination of mobility, firepower, and protection that could give light and airborne forces greater firepower on the battlefield, while still being small enough to be delivered by air.

Weight is always a critical issue for the designers of armored vehicles. But when you need to be able to drop those vehicles by parachute, it is even more critical. There’s a very finite limit on the amount of lifties an airplane can generate, and trying to get a C-130 to lift more than that will only lead to disaster. And there are so few other airlifters in our fleet, designing an armored vehicle that can only be lifted by C-5s or C-17s severely limits its air-drop utility.

This isn’t a new problem. Almost from the very first days of airborne operations, planners have struggled to match the strategic and operational mobility of airborne forces to firepower that was strong enough to keep them from being swept off the battlefield by conventional forces. The very first airborne units in our Army were limited to small arms, machine guns, and some light mortars. They were superbly trained, but would not have lasted long against determined enemy opposition. By D-Day, US Airborne Divisions had some light artillery and some light anti-tank guns, but no real armor. They were restricted by the lifting capacity of the C-47, which was suitable only for troops and bundled cargo, and the gliders of the time, the Waco CG-4 and the British built Horsa. The British also designed the Hamilcar glider to carry a light tank designed specifically for airborne forces, the M22 Locust. The Locust never saw combat with American forces, and only the slightest service with British forces. It was not considered a success.

But the problem of armored firepower for airborne and light forces had not disappeared. It continued to plague planners in the post-war years.

The British 1st Airborne Division had learned the hard way that lightly armed airborne troops could not attack into the face of armored formations. US planners had learned from that, and sought a way to bolster the strength of airborne forces. The results were mixed at best.

Craig did an admirable job of describing the M56 Scorpion which offered good firepower and mobility, but no protection. And he also described the M50 Ontos, which also struggled to find a balance between firepower, mobility and protection. Next in line was the M551 Sheridan. Like the other vehicles mentioned, it was not entirely successful. It wasn’t a complete failure, mind you. But it suffered from the compromises that had to be made to meet very stringent weight requirements.

So it stood for a long time that the Sheridan was the only armor for the airborne forces. Eventually, old age took its toll on the fleet, and the Sheridans were due for a well earned retirement. The question became, what to replace the with? At the same time, the Army was looking to increase its strategic mobility by converting one of its two active cavalry regiments to a lighter formation that could be moved primarily by air. The 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment traded in its tanks and Bradleys for lightly armored (and lightly armed) Humvees. This made the unit easier to move, but again, it was pretty light on staying power. The Army took another crack at coming up with an air transportable armored vehicle.

Eventually, after running through a couple different acronyms and the usual program shenanigans, the contractor presented to the Army the XM8 Buford Armored Gun System. It it one of the few vehicles that could honestly be described as a light tank. It was fully tracked, had a 105mm main gun, and was actually fairly small. And it was light enough to be transported and airdropped from C-130 aircraft.

Now, as always, there is the pressure of weight constraints to be balanced against the vehicles vulnerability to anti-armor weapons.  In order to get the M8 weight down to a level that would fit onto a C-130, they had to accept very thin armor, barely enough to stop small arms fire and some artillery fragments. That meant the M8 would be very, very vulnerable to any anti-tank weapons. The solution to that problem was bolt on armor. Normally, any armor on a vehicle actually forms an integral part of the hull, and is part of the load bearing structure. But for the M8, the contractor came up with two additional levels of armor that could be bolted on in the field with simple hand tools, and increase the protection of the vehicles.  For instance, the 82nd might be forced to drop in someplace unpleasant, and to drop, would have to accept the risk of going in with just the lightest armor. But as soon as possible, the additional kits of armor could be flown in and applied. The M8 would never have the level of protection that an M1 Abrams would have, but it would be a good deal better armored than either an M551 or any Humvee.

The development of the M8 was actually fairly smooth (compared to a lot of programs, at least) and the vehicle had just been accepted for service and was just about to be placed in series production when the entire program was cancelled. What happened you ask?

Well, in 1996, the President and the Secretary of Defense told the Army they were going to cut end-strength another 20,000 troops for the Army. The Army was aghast at the cuts, and asked if they could keep some of those troops if they found other savings. And one of the easiest ways to save money was to NOT spend a billion or so on buying the M8. The deal was made.  Eventually, the Sheridans were withdrawn, and the 82nd was without any armor.

With the advent of the Stryker brigade, we’ve seen (and written about) the Stryker MGS or Mobile Gun System. It fulfills much the same role as the M8, but has less armor capability. Nor is the Stryker expected to be airdropped. It is, however, expected to be moved by air, in addition to surface shipping. The same challenges of balancing protection, mobility, and firepower are still with us.

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