Procurement: Too Good, Too Expensive And Too Few

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October 24, 2021: In September Russia released videos of the two prototypes of their new IFV (infantry fighting vehicle) design, the T-15. This is the first evidence that this Armata variant exists. The T-15s shown look like a T-14 tank without the turret and this may be the case because the T-15s in the video are described as 48-ton vehicles powered by a 1,500 HP diesel. Max road speed is 70 kilometers an hour (43 miles per hour) and range of 550 kilometers on internal fuel. This T-15 is described as having the same armor protection as the T-14 tank.

Israel introduced a similar IFV back in 2009. This was the Namer (or Nemer) IFV, which uses the chassis of older Merkava tanks. Israel originally planned to build 600 but budget cuts and reduced military threats reduced that to less than 200 so far. Production can be resumed if needed but so far only about 120 are in service. Several infantry battalions are already equipped with Namers, mostly in the Golani Brigade up north near the Lebanese border. In early 2010 Israel used several Namer IFVs in Gaza. This was the first combat experience for the Namer, and it performed as expected. One was used for a forward command post, enabling officers to get close to the fighting and, using several radios and sensors in the Namer, to quickly shift forces and call for air support on specific targets.

The Namer is based on the chassis of older Merkava I and II series tanks. These vehicles are being retired, so they can either be scrapped, or recycled. Namer has the thick armor of the Merkava. With the turret removed, a remotely controlled (from inside the vehicle) heavy machine-gun has been added on top. The Merkava lends itself to this kind of modification, because the engine is mounted in the front and there is already a door in the back of the vehicle.

Namer is a 60-ton vehicle with a crew of three and room for nine troops. There is a RWS (remote weapons station) that can use a 12.7mm machine-gun or 40mm automatic grenade launcher. There is also a 7.62mm machine-gun that is operated by a passenger from an open hatch. Namer is powered by a 1,200 HP diesel and has a top road speed of 60 kilometers an hour and range of 500 kilometers.

For fighting in urban areas, against Palestinian terrorists, Namer has an edge because of its thicker armor. Israel had added armor to their existing supply of M113 APCs because of this threat. Based on tests, and the first experience in Gaza, troops prefer the Namer, mainly because it is more resistant to anti-vehicle mines and roadside bombs and generally safer for the infantry inside.

The Namer passenger compartment is also equipped with a stretcher that enables one casualty to be carried along with a full load of passengers and crew. Namer has the Merkava battle management system, as well as four cameras providing 360 degree vision around the vehicle. The remotely controlled machine-gun has a night vision sight. The vehicle also has a toilet, an addition based on troop feedback and many missions where they had to stay on board for up to 24 hours at a time in combat zones. Cost of the Namer is about $3 million. The T-15 must cost more because it uses a new chassis built for the task.

Israel has over 500 Merkava IIs eligible for retirement. Removing the turret, and adding more armor to the bottom, leaves you with a 60-ton Namer, the heaviest IFV ever built. While successful in combat, Israel realized that it was a specialty vehicle and existing IFVs, based on the American M113 APC, were adequate, especially when equipped with the Trophy ADS (active defense systems) that also equip Israeli tanks to protect against RPGs (rocket propelled armored piercing grenades) and ATGMs (Anti-tank guided missiles). Russian tanks, including the Armata vehicles, also use ADS, which Russia pioneered but the Israelis perfected.

Israeli combat engineers also got some Namers for use as CEVs (Combat Engineering Vehicles). These have been around since World War II and are usually based on a tank with the turret removed.

Cost is preventing the Russian army from getting more than a token number of Armata vehicles. In 2019 the army received twelve T-14 tanks and four BREM tank recovery vehicles for the T-14. These were the first production models. There were doubts that these vehicles would appear, given the dire financial condition of the manufacturer and reports of unresolved technical problems with this revolutionary tank design. The most serious problems are with the electronics, which are more extensive than in any previous Russian tank. The crew size has been increased to three and there is now a toilet in the crew capsule. Because the crew is confined to the armored capsule they have limited visibility even if someone sticks their heads out of one of the two crew entry hatches. Visibility is normally dependent on the cameras installed outside the tank and the reliability of the power supply and electronics that keep those cameras operational. Despite all this, the manufacturer was supposed to deliver about 40 T-14s by 2021. This slow production schedule allowed time for developers to solve many of the remaining technical and design problems. That apparently enabled prototype T-15 IFVs, which videos showed acting as well as the T-14.

Russia is supplying production contracts like this, as well as more loans, to keep the manufacturer from going out of business. Kurganmashzavod, the firm that developed the new T-14 tank and T-15 IFV, has been effectively bankrupt since 2016. Kurganmashzavod stays in business because it is part of a much larger firm, CTP (Concern Tractor Plants) which, as the name implies, is the largest manufacturer of agricultural equipment in Russia. Kurganmashzavod started out as a state-owned industrial crane manufacturer in 1950 and later began producing military (for hauling artillery and such) and commercial tractors. During the 1960s Kurganmashzavod became the primary manufacturer of the BMP IFV. Kurganmashzavod developed several successful BMP variants into the 1980s. The government continues to purchase BMP and amphibious BMD vehicles mainly to keep key production workers employed. Russia has learned the hard way that once a lot of these skilled workers are out of work, they use their skills to find new careers or even emigrate, and are virtually impossible to get back later. Orders for unneeded or unready vehicles are an effort to maintain the workforce that, once lost, is extremely difficult and time-consuming to rebuild.

Kurganmashzavod, like many defense manufacturers of high-tech equipment (vehicles, aircraft, ships, missiles and electronics), had a difficult time staying in business and retaining its skilled workforce since the 1990s. When the Cold War ended in 1991. so did orders for BMPs. Kurganmashzavod got by with contracts to refurbish BMPs and manufacture new components (like turrets) as well as some commercial vehicles. In 2014 the Russian economy, and the defense budget took a major hit from lower oil prices and Western sanctions resulting from the Ukraine invasion. The situation got desperate for Kurganmashzavod as it was surviving on loans because the BMP refurbishment income was largely gone and so were military orders in general. The company gambled on developing and marketing the revolutionary T-14 and T-15 vehicles. Russian leaders were impressed but there was no money to place large orders and there were no export customers either. The government encouraged work on the T-14 because it was a prestige item that proved Russia was still a major defense developer and manufacturer. That was not true but the government was willing to scrape up the cash to make it appear so.

That attitude is being exploited by Russia because of much reduced post-Cold War procurement budgets. For example, in early 2021 Russia announced that the army would receive over 400 upgraded tanks and IFVs in the coming year but none will be the new T-14 Armata tank and T-15 Armata IFV. Upgraded tanks like the T-80BVM are filling the gap for the missing T-14s. The Armata is a radical new design for tanks and IFVs but is too expensive given the defense budgets available. This is due to a 2013 plunge in oil prices that did not recover while the 2014 Ukraine invasion resulted in many economic and trade sanctions. Since then, the Russian replacement program for elderly Cold War era gear has had to settle for more rebuilt than brand new stuff. Russia does plan to start building more T-14s in 2022 or maybe late 2021, unless the procurement budgets suffer more cuts because of the poor state of the economy.

Most of the “new” tanks the Russian army has received since 2000 have been refurbished and much upgraded T-72B3s. Currently the Russian Army has about 3,000 tanks in service and most (65 percent) are T-72B3s, which you hear little about. Russian troops prefer the T-72B3M over the T-80 and T-90 and few have any personal experience with the T-14.

Since 2013 the army has been receiving an updated version of the old BTR-80 wheeled armored personnel carrier, the 8x8 BTR-82A. While the United States abandoned wheeled armored vehicles after World War II, Russia kept theirs and constantly improved their BTR series. The BTR-80 appeared at the end of the Cold War (in 1986). While not as heavy or as high tech as the American Stryker, the BTR vehicles are popular with many nations, especially for use by police and paramilitary forces. The current export model of the BTR-80 is the BTR-90.

The 15-ton BTR-82A is armed with a 30mm autocannon in a turret. This weapon is stabilized, enabling it to fire accurately while the vehicle is moving. There is also a 7.62mm machine-gun. The BTR-82A has a fire suppression system and a floor built to better protect the three crew and seven passengers from mines and roadside bombs. The hull incorporates a Kevlar layer to provide better protection against shell and bomb fragments. The BTR-82A has an improved engine, electronics, and is amphibious.

Then there are the older tracked IFVs. In mid-2017 Russia ordered 540 upgraded BMP-2 and BMD-2 IFVs as part of its 2018-2025 military modernization program. Upgrading the current fleet of BMPs and BMDs will take time as 540 vehicles are a small portion of 4,000 BMP-2 and BMD-2 IFVs in service and part of the modernization. The BMP upgrades are mainly about improving firepower and fire control capabilities while other areas like armor and mobility remain relatively unchanged. The 14.6-ton BMP-2 and 11.5-ton BMD-2 were designed in the 1980s as upgrades or successors of the original BMP-1 from the 1960s. The BMP-2 needs major mechanical and engine upgrades to support other weight increases. That’s why the BMP-2M weighs about 15 tons and basically has a new turret and fire-control system. The lighter BMD-2 is for airborne forces but is otherwise similar to the BMPs. BMD deliveries were soon completed but the upgraded BMP-2M will take much longer. The BMP-3M IFV features the new Berezhok turret, fitted with four ready-to-launch Kornet ATGMs (laser guided anti-tank missiles) in two twin launchers on each side of the turret. Kornet's range is 5,500 meters and is much easier to use than older Fagot or Konkurs single tube ATGMs previously used on IFVs.

 


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