Russia’s New Tanks Could be a Problem for the Baltics

More information continues to leak out about Russia’s new Armata series armored vehicles. So far, it has been relieved that the Armata has an unmanned auto loading turret, a better cannon, and improved armor relative to the T-72 and T-80 . Perhaps most troubling, it also features and a built in active protection system .

Active Protection Systems Explained

Active Protection Systems are designed to destroy ATGMs and anti-tank rockets that pose a threat to tanks from infantry, light tanks or infantry fighting vehicles. “Active” means that they take action before the tank is hit; as opposed to “passive” systems like steel, or composite armor that can only protect the tank when it is hit directly.

The Armata is equipped with a “hard” kill system called the “Afganit” composed of five launch tubes on either side of the turret and designed to physically destroy incoming threats. It also features a “soft kill” system likely comprised of smoke dispensers meant shield the tank from tracking. The Armata is suspected to use an AESA radar for detecting and tracking potential threats.  

History

Russia has been developing APS for years and the Armata is not the first tank equipped with one. In the Russian case, APS can be seen as a response to advanced western anti-tank systems as well as experiences in Chechnya and the Syrian Civil war. In these wars RPG-7s and American supplied BGM-71 TOW missiles have proven extremely effective against Russian tanks.

Other Examples 

A T-90 with a “Shtora” APS was recently spotted in Syria. While not capable of kinetic action against missiles; the Shtora does have softkill capabilities. It uses smokescreens and electro-optical jammers to confuse incoming missiles. Although this wasn’t much use in Syria (the TOW is wire guided and has no seeker) it will pose a problem in situations where the ATGM does not have a hardline connection to the launcher and must rely on its own seeker to hit the target. An FGM-148 Javalin for example.

Irr3vWm.jpg
A T-90 Main Battle Tank retrofitted with an APS.  Note the two glowing IR scramblers active on each side of the Turret.

 

Implications

The proliferation of APS in Russian service could be very bad for the Baltic States. As noted by a recent Rand Corporation war game, the land forces of the Baltic states are comprised primarily of light infantry. They possess no heavy armor outside of a training role and no kinetic anti-tank weapons. To make up for this, the Baltic states have been building up their stock of infantry fighting vehicles and light armor in recent years. Latvia and Lithuania have obtained  CRV(T) and Boxer armored personnel carriers and are planning to mount Israeli “Spike” ATGMs on them. Estonia is in the process of acquiring FGM-148 Javelin ATGMs and has a fleet Finnish AX-188 APCs.

In the event of a war, each nation very likely expects that these vehicles will be capable of functioning as tank destroyers to blunt a Russian onslaught.

As the Defense Update report points out, the Armata’s APS is designed to defeat top attack missiles like the Spike and Javelin as well as conventional anti-tank missiles. With the advent of the Armata and the proliferation of other APS equipped tanks, the Baltics may no longer have an effective weapon to fight a potential Russian incursion should the spearhead consist of Armata type vehicles or older vehicles retrofitted with active protection systems.

The implications of this development go far beyond the Baltics. Vehicles like the Armata also poses a threat to light infantry in general. In the event of an invasion, American rapid response units are likely going to be some of the first to confront Russia in the Baltics. Units like the 173rd Airborne Brigade have no heavy armor and would have to rely on ATGMs or recoiless rifles to deal with any tanks they come across. Again, if the main battle tanks they run into are Armatas of retrofitted T-90s, then their options are going to be very limited.     

 

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