2008/11/23

T-95

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The "T-95" is the rumored new Russian main battle tank (MBT) - it's been a kind of celebrity among tank enthusiasts since the mid-90's despite pretty much complete lack of information about it.
There are only rumors, and the most central rumor is about the gun calibre - it's expected to be 125, 135 or 152mm. An external gun mount with a minimum profile turret as well as an autoloader are also quite common assumptions about the T-95.
That's all an extrapolation from late Cold War and early 1990's tank design trends.

MBTs were too often considered as tank destroyers at that time, their original role of destroying all other opposition than MBTs was underestimated - an attitude that was changed by wars since the late 90's, especially in Chechnya and Iraq.

Let's have a look at the environment for the new Russian tank design. Tanks are often an expression of a greater philosophy for ground combat, so their design is quite interesting.

A) The ability to be deployed by railroad is an absolute necessity for a Russian MBT. This limits the width.

B) The Russians have emphasized a low ground pressure and good cross-country performance of their tanks - most visibly in the wide tracks used since the T-34 of WW2 fame. They have lost their strategic buffer satellite states in Eastern Europe and could expect to fight the next war in their own country or their present neighbors. There's therefore no good reason for a change of the policy. Small gaps between road-wheels, wide tracks, rather medium weight (less than 50 tons) and a rather normal length (no reduced length although that would be possible with modern compact tank engines) can be expected. (A 'short' tank is rather uncomfortable on rough ground and has shorter tracks, therefore less area to distribute the weight.)
The latter is most interesting, as it means that a lot of internal volume might be available in the hull for supplies.

C) The Russians have often emphasized a good road range (external drop tanks) and again I see no reason to expect this to change.

D) Russian tank protection became good to excellent since the 1940's and was mostly underestimated during the Cold War (an underestimation that persisted quite well). They pretty much pioneered the use of explosive reactive armor (ERA) and active protection systems (APS) in addition to introducing composite armor like the West did. Armor spacing was also common. Protection against secondary effects behind the armor was rather disappointing, though. The latter has drawn a lot of attention especially after the first Chechnya War and might be resolved.
The Russians pretty much showed their APS and ERA tech of the 80's and early 90's - it's reasonable to expect that they made some progress despite tight budgets.

E) Russian tanks had also a rather good firepower since the T-34, and often larger calibres than their counterparts (76 vs. 50mm, 122 vs. 88mm, 100 vs. 90mm, 115 vs. 105mm, 125 vs. 120mm were the contemporary gun calibre match-ups).
This served a role in the offense-defense spiral when ever more powerful guns were introduced to overwhelm ever better armor. The 135 and 152mm calibre rumors base on this tradition. There's a problem, though; large calibres become also ever less practical and ammunition supply either more voluminous or smaller.

F) The Russians have many, seriously: MANY! MBTs in their arsenal and demonstrated as late as this year in the South Ossetian War that even T-62's (at least if they were upgraded) can still be considered as effective tanks if not used in face of top modern AT weapons of MBTs.

G) The Russians have recently demonstrated a readiness to innovate outside of established development lines and to address other challenges than frontal MBT armor penetration with their BMP-T tank.

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This leads me to rather different conclusions than the standard expectation. I don't expect the new tank to be a big gun tank. It wouldn't be very smart to follow the spiral and simply add brute force. APS have probably bent the spiral away from ever larger calibres.
A very large calibre would be perfectly possible - there would even be enough internal volume for a meaningful ammunition load. I simply expect the Russians to be smarter. They had plenty time to come up with a smarter concept than brute force.

APS could be overcome much easier with multiple attacks (almost) at once instead of just "bigger" shots.
The recent combat experience has emphasized the shortcomings of tanks due to the limited elevation and depression of their main gun - and much smaller projectiles (about 80-105mm) than those of modern tank calibres (120-125mm) proved to be effective enough.

Finally, there are some indicators that the Russians don't expect to deny their enemy the air superiority if they have to face Western, very modern forces - and they would need no new tank against other neighbours. A lack of air superiority means a significant aerial threat to the tank.

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Here's my personal speculation about the T-95 (or how it will eventually be called):

Hull and drive:
A compact diesel engine and a rather conventional three-man (driver, gunner, commander) hull that looks externally quite similar to the past models (T-64, T-72, T-80, T-90).

Protection:
A layered protection of APS (effective against APFSDS, redundant), heavy ERA and composite armor plus spaced armor in some places. Behind armor effects will be limited by spall liner, fire suppression and few combustible materials as well as ammunition well-hidden in a different compartment than the crew and with blast doors.

Turret & weapons:
This is where I don't follow the common big gun assumption. The Russians might go back to their classic 76, 85 or 100mm calibre - with an autoloader and a very high rate of fire as well as with good gun depression and a rather anti-air capable maximum gun elevation (more than 40°). This gun could double as defense against air targets (including small drones that don't justify the expense of a missile) in addition to its ability to shoot up to mountain ridges and high floors. Such calibres are very effective against soft targets and should be able to penetrate MBT side and rear armor as well as to saturate MBT APS defenses with a high volume of fire. Such a concept was shortly explored by the Americans in the 80's with the RDF/LT tank which was too radical to be accepted (it was coupled with a high-tech light tank approach).

A second main weapon would represent the high-end frontal anti-MBT niche; missiles like CKEM mounted to the turret sides - these can punch through MBT front armor (about 10 MJ penetrator). Frontal armor + APS can be overcome either by ripple fire or after saturation of the APS with cannon shots. Such a missile enables even some indirect fire without line-of-sight against targets observed by a third party. The Russians have used missiles with their MBTs since decades - albeit usually with a shaped charge warhead and launched with the main gun.

The third weapon would be a classic coaxial machine gun, possibly reinforced by an automatic grenade launcher - the Russians demonstrated a strong affection for this class of weapon in the past ten to fifteen years.

Sensors:
The usual modern sensor suite (integrated with the APS) can be expected.
A T-95 with APS and said unconventional armament might additionally have a multi-purpose battlefield radar. The APS is probably emitting anyway, so the possibly compromising emissions of such a radar would be a lesser counter-argument than usual. A radar could help against aerial targets (including missiles), enable ripple missile fire against more than one target at once as part of a hit & run tactic and it could help when multi-spectral (infrared-blocking) smoke is in use.

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This was a high-tech approach for a possible new Russian MBT - a low-tech tank would make no sense as simple upgrades of the existing tanks would be more economical than a new low or medium tech MBT. Furthermore, it's a tank design that rather complements the old armada of MBTs instead of replacing it right away - it closes capability gaps and could be used in mixed formations.

The actual 'T-95' might look very different, of course.

Deviations from the standard design could tell us about the Russian's intentions and conclusions:
A very light tank would emphasize strategic deployment by air or tell about a lack of trust in passive armor.
A rather slow & heavy tank would hint at operational areas with rather good soil conditions and road network as well as a less mobile tactical concept.
A tank without much fuel capacity would hint at a less mobile operational concept.
A production of many BMP-Ts instead of a new T-95 would hint at expectations of combat against MBT-weak, infantry-heavy forces.

A big part of the fascination "T-95" is probably that tank enthusiasts can think freely about modern MBT design...but the tank might become quite relevant in military affairs as well, even without a hot war.

S O

2 comments:

  1. Brilliant considerations! I'm thinking to a similar mbt armed with a OTO 76/62 using Davide/Dart guided projectile - like in the Drako system (http://www.otomelara.it/EN/Common/files/OtoMelara/pdf/business/land/Hitfist/DRACO.pdf) -, and CKEM ... a real nightmare

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.de/2010/04/medium-calibre-allround-option.html
      :)

      Delete

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