The history of the battle tank goes back 100 years. In 1915, the British produced what is considered the first battle tank, named Little Willie, and by 1916 the British had a fleet of armored vehicles fitted with caterpillar tracks, known as the Mark I. The French, Germans and Russians all soon had their early form of battle tank, although they bear little resemblance to the tanks of today. In 1917, America quickly realized it needed to start building tanks of its own. This heralded the mass production of the first U.S. tank, the M1917. Since then, the race has been on to create the perfect model of these heavily armored vehicles. Today, we’ll compare two of the most advanced tanks, developed by the American military, and the Russian military, in this episode of the Infographics show, The M1A2 Abrams vs the T-14 Armata.
Before America designed its first iteration of the Abrams, the country had seen all manner of tank innovation, including light tanks, medium tanks, heavy tanks, to the sweet sounding tankette. A vast number of these tanks were deployed 70 years ago – each with varying success. Pundits generally agree that America’s M4 Sherman tank was its best invention during that era in the early 20th century.
At the same time, Russia also created a long line of battle tanks to take on the superb engineering of the German forces. While Russia leased the M4 Sherman from the U.S., it’s often said that its foes were “stunned” by this beast on tracks, the T-34. 60,000 of these had been produced by 1945, and it’s often suggested it was pivotal in many of Russia’s victories. As author Philip Kaplan writes in his book, Rolling Thunder: A Century of Tank Warfare, the T-34 “is now often referred to by tank experts and historians as possibly the best tank of its time.”
So, this brings us to an interesting head-to-head of Russia and America, regarding two of the best tanks ever created, America’s M1A2 Abrams and Russia’s T-14 Armata.
Let us start with a short history of the M1A2. This third-generation tank first entered service in 1980, as the M1 Abrams. One of its outstanding assets was its Chobham armor, a material that has remained a secret. The M1 has had a lot of experience, having been deployed in many conflicts between 1980 and 2003. While vastly superior to many other modern tanks of the world, problems did occur, and so the M1 became the M1A1, then the M1A2, while the M1A3 is still being developed.
Russia’s new generation T-14 has not been in existence for very long, but is said to have been fully developed by 2015. While a lot is already known about the tank, it is also to some extent a secret weapon, one which western militaries have stated is undoubtedly a fearsome machine. Unveiled at Russia’s Victory Day parade in 2015, Russian officials claimed it was 20 years ahead of anything of its kind in the West. Moreover, they boasted it was immune to anti-tank weaponry, protected by an impervious armor. The tank is equipped with state of the art weapons, and because it is partly automated, it has been called the “robot tank.” Designed in direct competition to the Abrams, the T-14 is part of a massive multi-billion-dollar injection into the Russian military under Vladimir Putin.
That said, America is the biggest spender in the world when it comes to military budgets. While it’s thought there have been over 10,000 M1 Abrams built in total, many of these are early iterations, with an estimated number of around 2,000 tanks being M1A2’s and the M1A2 with the System Enhancement Package. The current cost of the tank is around 8.92 million dollars. As for the T-14, it’s thought only around 20 have been built so far, with each unit costing around 3.7 million dollars.
Now it’s time to look at some specs. We’ll start with the M1A2, noting that there are variants concerning specifications. The tank is 12 feet wide and stands 8 feet tall, with a length of 26 feet, not including the gun. It holds a crew of 4 people, a commander, gunner, loader, and driver. It has a top speed of around 42 mph on road and 25 mph off-road.
The T-14 is slightly bigger at 28 ft long, 11 ft wide, and ten ft tall. One significant feature of this tank is that there are only three crew members, all of them placed inside an armored capsule in the middle of the tank. The turret is unmanned, with the onboard computer system controlling what happens. Ilya Demchenko, an Armata designer, once told the media that for the crew, controlling the tank is, “like playing video games.” It travels at a top speed of 50-56 mph depending on terrain, and most pundits give it better mobility than the M1A2 due to its superior power-to-weight ratio.
As for firepower, the Russian tank has a 125mm smoothbore gun with an autoloader, which some say is a game changer. The M1A2 has a 120 mm smoothbore gun. The M1A2 is equipped with new guided projectiles enabling it to hit objects at a long distance, although the Russians boast that their tank is fitted with the most advanced censors yet to be seen in tank warfare. It’s said its Afganit Active Protection System covering every bit of the tank can detect incoming missiles easily, at which point the automatic defense system comes into action firing missiles back at whatever is doing the firing. If that fails, the tank’s radar detonates a reactive armor brick so that just before a missile hits, its explosive reactive armor neutralizes the impact. This, however, is yet to be proven.
As we’ve seen, the M1A2 has the improved System Enhancement Program, with more advanced digital command and control capabilities. There have also been a slew of improvements under the Tank Urban Survival Kit plan, which sees upgrades such as reactive armor, as well as a Transparent Armor Gun Shield which gives visibility and protection.
While on paper, Russia’s newest tank looks to be winning the war, the secretive armor capabilities are not proven and some experts have suggested it may be somewhat hyped. Other military pundits have stated the unmanned turret and computerized controls are an extremely valuable asset, yet others have said a man less in a tank is a negative aspect. The firepower of both tanks is quite similar, although Russia states the T-14 will at some point be fitted with a 152-mm cannon.
Some critics say Russia just doesn’t have the money to invest in such advanced fighting machines, while America obviously does, given its huge defense budget. Some of this money will no doubt be put aside for the newest tank on America’s military horizon, the M1A3 Abrams. Currently under development, and possibly ready to be deployed by 2020, the M1A3 is said to be lighter and have improved mobility – possibly able to match that of the T-14. One of the concerns regarding its predecessors is that they were seen as being sluggish. The M1A3 will also be equipped with more advanced onboard computers, have better suspension, improved firepower and defense capabilities, while remaining fairly lightweight.
Both these tanks appear on just about all lists of the world’s best tanks, with nationalinterest.org admitting in 2016 that because of the introduction of the T-14, “the Abrams can no longer assume the inferiority of opposing tanks.” It’s also worth noting that while the T-14 is untested, the Abrams has never been put up against some of the world’s other most highly advanced machines, such as the German Leopard 2, the French Leclerc, and the British Challenger 2.
So, what are your thoughts on Russia’s piece de resistance, a veritable champion of ground warfare or merely hype?