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Analysis: What happened to Russia’s new armoured vehicles?

Analysis: What happened to Russia’s new armoured vehicles?
Almost three years after the high-profile public debut of Russia’s new armoured platforms – the Armata, the Kurganets-25 and Bumerang families – their large-scale procurement for the Russian military still appears to be a distant prospect.

In May 2015, when the new armoured vehicles became the stars of Russia’s Red Square Victory Day parade in Moscow, they were touted as almost complete products, ready to be launched into production. At the time, observers noted that these vehicles would give Russia a significant technological edge over NATO forces.

But this now appears to have been presumptuous. The vehicles have suffered from funding problems, technical issues and conceptual changes that have caused serious delays to the development effort, and the follow-on launch into production and fielding into regular service.

According to Andrey Frolov of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), the previous State Armament Programme in Russia (2015-2020) prioritised air force and navy modernisation, while land forces renewal had secondary importance.

This changed with the new State Armament Programme, covering the period until 2025, which called for massive investments in purchasing new-generation armour equipment for both land forces and airborne troops. But, as Frolov hinted to Shephard, the development funding so far allocated by the Russian MoD for new armour programmes has proved insufficient for a normal development tempo.

He pointed out that the Armata, Kurganets-25 and Bumerang are brand-new, with new systems, armaments and structures, and do not rely on off-the shelf technology solutions.

This, in turn, has caused difficulties and delays during the developmental phase because it has also required exhaustive testing at system and sub-system level, in addition to the end-production testing effort.

The Kurganets-25 vehicle, a heavy tracked IFV platform that is supposed to replace the in-service BMP-2. (Photo: Russian MoD)
At the same time, as Frolov noted, the financial situation of the companies dealing with the development of these new-generation armour platforms is varied. Some of the companies are experiencing financial difficulties or have suffered from poor management, which has only served to compound issues.

Furthermore, the initial technical specifications of the Russian MoD were very stringent and subsequently had to undergo several amendments that caused an adverse effect on programme schedules.

The Armata heavy tracked platform, developed by Uralvagonzavod (UVZ), is the flagship of the Russian armour recapitalisation effort. It covers a family of three combat vehicles using a common tracked platform – the T-14 MBT, T-15 heavyweight IFV and the T-16 armoured recovery vehicle.

The T-14 has been described as a revolutionary combat vehicle with unmanned turret and crew accommodated in an armoured capsule in the hull for better protection. The tank has all-new sophisticated passive and active protection systems and is equipped for network centric operations.

Officially, the T-14’s development effort is proceeding forward on schedule, and this has been claimed by the Russian Land Forces commander-in-chief, Col Gen Oleg Salykov in November 2017.

He also reconfirmed previously released information that an experimental batch of 100 vehicles is set to be delivered for field testing with that effort slated for completion by 2020. Russia's TASS news agency reported in February 2018 that Russian officials had confirmed an order for two battalions of T-14s and a battalion of T-15s, possibly the test batch vehicles.

In mid-January, TASS also reported that the T-14’s full-scale production is set to begin after 2020, which tends to indicate that it would not start before the conclusion of field testing efforts.

There is no information yet on any specific problems encountered during the T-14’s testing.

The Russian military has begun contracting local industry to modernise its current vehicle fleet, including the BMP-2, a sign that all may not be well with acquiring new vehicles. (Photo: Rostec)
There is even more uncertainty surrounding the T-15 IFV, with elements such as the turret configuration still unknown.

It has been demonstrated so far only with the Bumerang-BM turret armed with a 30mm cannon and ATGMs, but it had been expected that the production-standard vehicles would feature a more powerful armament.

The Kurganets-25 medium-class tracked platform, developed by Traktornye Zavody, appears to have the most criticism levelled against it among all the new generation platforms in development.

It was used as the basis for the B-11 IFV and B-10 APC, both criticised by Russian military officers during 2015 for their significant size, much larger than today’s BMP-2 and BMP-3 used by the Russian Land Forces. A redesigned platform was expected to begin testing in 2017 but there is little evidence that this test effort has started.

In the spring of 2017, Russia's deputy minister of defence responsible for procurement Yury Borisov said that Kurganets-25 production had been postponed until 2021.

In August that year, the project’s reputation suffered a serious blow when one of the retired designers of the successful BMP-1/2/3 IFV family, Danil Ralin, had claimed in front of Russian media outlets that the Kurganets-25 was a flawed project and should be abandoned.

Meanwhile, little is known about the development and testing of the Bumerang wheeled 8x8 platform developed by VPK. So far it has only been shown in the IFV version, dubbed the K-17. It was announced during its public debut in 2015 that the K-17’s production is set to be launched after 2019.

Official Russian military sources, however, proved reluctant to confirm or update this timeframe in 2016 and 2017. Photos were publicly released in 2016 showing the K-17’s testing effort in progress, with the vehicle sporting some serious design alterations compared to the initial version shown in Moscow during the 2015 V-Day military parade.

The Bumerang wheeled 8x8 platform in its 'K-17' IFV configuration, when serial production of this vehicle will commence remains a mystery. (Photo: Vitaly Kuzmin/Wikimedia Commons)
According to Frolov, this development and testing effort of Russia’s new platforms has proved to be a protracted and expensive undertaking. As a result of these delays, the Russian military has had no other choice but to continue placing large-scale orders for upgraded versions of Soviet-era armour, which is cheaper and free from the technical complexity of new generation platforms.

In the recent years, the Russian MoD has invested heavily in upgrading its existing armour inventory such as the T-72 MBT and BMP-2 IFV and continues to place orders for newly-built T-90 MBTs and BMP-3 IFVs.