Reinventing the tank

There isn’t going to be any ground war in Russia. There had better not be, anyway:

Russian experiences in Ukraine—where both sides are using upgraded Soviet-built tanks and anti-tank weapons—have shown that despite the best active, reactive and passive armor available, a tank will eventually be penetrated. “We discovered that no matter how skillful the crew, the tank would get up to ten hits,” Pukhov said during a luncheon at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, D.C.—which is the foreign policy think-tank that publishes The National Interest—on July 26. “Even if you have perfect armor—active, passive. In one case it will save you from one hit, in another case from two hits, but you’ll still get five hits and you’re done. That’s why now you’re supposed to have some kind of Tank 2.0.”

The Tank 2.0, as Pukhov describes it, is not the T-14 Armata—which despite its advanced unmanned turret and active protection systems—is still a more or less a conventional tank design. “I know Russians are thinking about this new tank and this tank is not Armata,” Pukhov said. “It’s what we call among us Boyevaya Mashina Podderzhki Tankov [Tank Support Fighting Machine]—but in fact it’s not a Podderzhki Tankov, but which can protect itself. So there is a serious debate about it.”

Later, during a one-on-one interview at the Center the same day, I asked Pukhov to elaborate on the Tank 2.0 concept. Pukhov said that traditionally, infantry has protected tanks—particularly in built up urban areas—but given the speed of modern armored vehicles, that is no longer possible in many cases. But while during previous eras tanks were more or less protected against weapons like rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank missiles, the latest generation of those weapons can punch through even the toughest armor.

What should alarm Western planners is that the Russians are rapidly transforming their military into a much more effective one than its larger, cumbersome Soviet predecessor. In both Ukraine and Syria, both air and ground arms have proven to be very effective; the swamp-them-with-numbers approach is clearly a thing of the past.

This wouldn’t be a problem, of course, if the Bush-Obama administrations hadn’t sought to make them an enemy rather than an ally in the Third Wave of Islamic Expansion.