Russian tanks participating in a special military operation in Ukraine have confirmed good protection against hand-held anti-tank weapons and increased accuracy compared to the tanks of the Soviet period that were in service with the Soviet and Russian armies earlier, conclude British experts from the British Royal Joint Institute for Defense Studies (RUSI).
The key conclusion made by the experts was that Russian tanks are superior to their predecessors from the Soviet Union, but basically, nothing has changed.
As the authors of the article ‘Technical Reflections on Russian Armored Fighting Vehicles’, the observation of Russian armoured vehicles only confirmed the previously drawn conclusions. Russian tanks have good frontal protection, capable of withstanding hand-held anti-tank systems. The angle of inclination of the armour, dynamic armour protection and the armour itself provide good protection for the crew.
Russian tanks are fairly well protected at the front for the massive frontal engagements they were designed for, especially in defensive positions where tanks can be buried in the ground. They are combat-ready and effective, provided they are used correctly. Even with poor use, Soviet T-72 performed well during the Iran-Iraq war, British experts wrote.
At the same time, tanks such as the T-72B3M are armed with 125-mm 2A46M-5 cannons and can fire advanced projectiles capable of penetrating 500 mm of armour at a two-kilometre distance. And their shooting accuracy will be higher than that of Soviet tanks.
Among the shortcomings, British experts name the less modern fire control systems and weapon stabilization, especially when firing on the move.
The British did not like the crew of three and the small space for the crew, the automatic loader and the location of the ammunition under the turret, the lack of an armoured partition between the crew and shells, etc. They say that reducing the height of the tank is levelled by the risk of detonation of ammunition. At the same time, in Western tanks, there is more space in the turret, the ammo rack is separated from the crew, and the loader is more reliable than the automatic loader.
On the other hand, there are no ideal tanks, British experts sum up. Winning in one, you are bound to lose in something else.
As per the experts, it is necessary to take into account Russian tactics and doctrine, which usually emphasize combined arms operations using artillery and aircraft. Delegation of authority to lower levels of command is rare in Russian training. This means that armoured formations operating independently of the branches of support troops are likely to do what they are not trained in. In general, Russian armoured vehicles are quite effective. But it is important to consider it in the context; they wrote.
Explosive Reactive Armour
The Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) installed on the Russian tanks is particularly effective against anti-tank weapons like the RPG-7 and its counterparts, which use HEAT warheads to engage targets. But they have limitations. ERA should be supplemented by passive armour to stop weapons like the Panzerfaust 3 anti-tank grenade with a penetration of about 800 mm of Rolled Homogeneous Armour (RHA).
A number of testimonies from Grozny indicate that T-72 tanks are capable of withstanding multiple rocket-propelled grenades from hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers and guided missiles from anti-tank missile systems without a catastrophic explosion. Anecdotal reports from Ukraine support this conclusion.
Most importantly, all these problems were known before. Russian tank crews have experienced it themselves in Chechnya and Georgia. The Western invasion force could see the same consequences when conducting military operations against Iraqi forces in 1991 and 2003. In fact, almost every armed conflict in which tanks of the Soviet-era participated, from the T-64 onwards, showed the vulnerability of these designs to defeat by anti-tank weapons in the upper and side projections.
Contrary to the images
Some of the earliest images to surface during the war in Ukraine, apart from the devastation caused by long-range Russian missile strikes, were images of burning Russian armoured vehicles. As the conflict developed, pictures emerged of some of the most advanced tanks in Russia’s arsenal: the T-80BVM and T-72B3M. Images of the Russian tanks, in which only burnt hulls remained and the turrets were thrown in the nearest ditch due to the detonation of ammunition, may seem shocking. They create the impression that Ukraine has found an antidote in the fight against the tank scourge. However, if we look at the design of main Russian tanks – as well as Chinese, Indian, Ukrainian, Polish and many others – these images are not so shocking and not so helpful in studying Russian tank forces.
The war in Ukraine reveals nothing fundamentally new about tanks. It only confirms the old lessons and reflects the problems of conducting military operations using armoured vehicles.