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The new T-14 tank Russia has been bragging about? We haven't seen it 'a single time,' Ukraine's military intel chief says

Russia T-14 Armata tank
A T-14 Armata tank during a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade in Moscow's Red Square in May 2015.Getty Images
  • Russian media has reported that the new T-14 tank has seen combat in Ukraine.

  • But Ukraine's military intel chief says Ukrainian forces haven't seen any T-14s in action.

  • It's possible the T-14 has been used, but the war has tarnished the reputation of Russian tanks.

It wasn't long ago when Western experts feared that Russia's T-14 Armata tank would leave Western tanks in the dust. But Ukrainian intelligence says its forces have yet to see the Armata in action, despite Russia committing other advanced weapons to the conflict.

"We haven't seen a single instance of this machine being used," Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukrainian defense intelligence, said in response to a question about the T-14 during a recent conference in Kyiv. "Not a single time to date."

Budanov's comments seem to contradict reports by Russian state media. News agency RIA said in April that Armatas had been used to fire on Ukrainian forces but weren't involved "in direct assault operations." In July, the news agency Tass cited an unnamed defense industry source who claimed that Russia's Southern Military District had "actively used Armata in combat."

"Several vehicles participated in combat to see how the tank will perform. After that, they were withdrawn from the frontline," the source told Tass.

Russia Moscow T-14 Armata tank
T-14 tanks drive to Red Square for the Victory Day parade in May 2015.Sean Gallup/Getty Images

It's possible that the T-14 saw very limited combat without being identified by the Ukrainians, but for a weapon touted as a next-generation tank more advanced than Western models such as the Abrams and Leopard 2, a lack of use in combat suggests either design or manufacturing issues.

Indeed, "any T-14 deployment is likely a high-risk decision for Russia," the British Defence Ministry said in January. "Eleven years in development, the program has been dogged with delays, reductions in planned fleet size, and reports of manufacturing problems."

"An additional challenge for Russia is adapting its logistical chain to handle T-14 because it is larger and heavier than other Russian tanks," the ministry added.

Budanov suggested that Moscow fears the prospect of a T-14 being destroyed or captured, a fate that has already befallen some 2,300 other Russian tanks. A destroyed Armata would ruin the tank's "export attractiveness," Budanov said.

Russia T-14 Armata tank
A T-14 on display at the International Military Forum Army outside Moscow on August 15.ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images

Russia has shown off T-14s at arms shows in hopes of selling them to nations such as India to help defray the cost of developing the pricey — by Russian standards — vehicle. Estimates put the cost of an Armata between $5 million and $9 million, compared to about $1 million for a T-72 and $3 million for a T-80.

All of which may be why the Russian army has retreated from an initial plan to buy 2,300 Armatas by 2025. (The British Defence Ministry believes production is only in "the low tens.") Not only is the T-14 expensive, but Russian defense industry publications have reported development and manufacturing problems with it.

Now the Armata is being "fine-tuned" based on "the results of its use" in Ukraine, a defense industry source told Tass in August. The report didn't specify what modifications will be made, though RIA said in April that additional side armor had been fitted to the tanks in Ukraine.

Nonetheless, the West would not be wise to discount the Armata. It has several advanced features that will likely be found in the next generation of Western main battle tanks.

Russia T-90M tank in Ukraine
A Russian T-90M tank destroyed by Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv region in May 2022.REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi

While older Russian tanks had the commander and gunner in the turret, the T-14 has an unmanned turret with a 125-mm cannon, which the three-member crew remotely operates from the safety of the well-armored hull. The T-72, which has ammunition stored beneath the turret, is notorious for blowing its turret off after being hit by enemy fire.

Other advanced capabilities include on-board reconnaissance drones as well as automation that makes the T-14 closer to Western tanks than traditional Soviet/Russian models, which were designed as simpler, cheaper — and expendable — tanks.

Indeed, the Armata "universal combat platform" is meant to produce a common family of vehicles to replace Russia's numerous models of tanks and troop carriers. Alongside the T-14, Russia intends to build the T-15 infantry fighting vehicle as well as self-propelled artillery vehicles and combat engineering and armored recovery vehicles, among others.

However, the dream of a fleet of Armatas will remain just a dream if the T-14 can't even fulfill its prime mission as a tank. "If Russia deploys T-14, it will be for propaganda purposes," the British Defence Ministry said. "Commanders are unlikely to trust the vehicle in combat."

Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine, and other publications. He holds a master's in political science. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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