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Responding to Russia
No Quiet on the Eastern Front

Tensions with the West are approaching a fever pitch ahead of Russia’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of its victory in World War II on Saturday. A rehearsal in Red Square on Monday featured the debut of Russia’s new Armata T–14 third-generation main battle tank—the world’s first completely new tank design in over 35 years as The Diplomat explains in an excellent rundown—as well as some new armored personnel carriers, S–400 air defense systems, and the Yars, Russia’s new ICBM. It’s all part of Russia’s ambitious modernization plan that’s set to replace 70 percent of its aging weapons by 2020. The Financial Times has more:

On Monday night, many local residents lined up along the capital’s streets had their attention focused on the massive trucks carrying the nuclear missiles. “This will be on CNN, and they will remember in America that we are a nuclear power after all,” said Andrei, a Muscovite who was filming the vehicles with his smartphone as they rolled towards Red Square.

But military experts said the most striking message of the parade was the large amount of new equipment entering the ground forces. “The ground forces are the part of the military that are starting to really feel the difference from the modernisation programme,” said a foreign defence official in Moscow who watched the rehearsal.

The rollout will have special resonance in Eastern Ukraine, where the threat of Russian heavy armor is a day-to-day worry as fighting picks up once again. Given the marked increase in violence, it’s easy to imagine that the West still has a large standing force of tanks ready to thwart a Russian offensive. Easy, but also wrong, as Jamestown pointed out last month:

[…] as of April 8, the combined rebel forces in Donbas (eastern Ukrainian region encompassing Donetsk and Luhansk provinces) possess approximately 700 tanks, 600 artillery systems and more than 300 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS). If true, on a comparison of the tank holdings alone, the Donbas rebels have more tanks than France, Germany and the Czech Republic combined.

With Europe slowly waking up to the fact that the world has not yet entered its postmodern phase, perhaps it’s time for the United States to step up its game, and do again what it did in Reagan era: demonstrate the utter futility of an arms race to Russia.

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  • Fat_Man

    I think the old tanks worked just fine against the Ukrainians.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    This isn’t the equipment that the US developed and combat tested in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was Drones, the Stryker wheeled armored vehicle, mine resistant vehicles of a couple types, guided bombs, rockets, and shells like the Excalibur, also digital communications designed for security, command and control, and prevention of blue on blue targeting. While main battle tanks still have a roll on the modern battle field, they are slow, fuel hogs, require transport to the battlefield, and can be destroyed by man portable weapons like the Javelin that cost $100 k compared to the close to $10 million cost of a new main battle tank so about 1%. It seems to me that tanks are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the drone with a $50 k Hellfire missile, and face numerous other threats that all that heavy armor won’t protect them from.

    • SLEcoman

      Two things come to mind.

      In Afghanistan, only a few months after the USMC said they wouldn’t need tanks, ground troops requested tanks because tanks are better at dealing with entrenched enemy positions, especially in urban settings, than other weapons.

      A lot of work has been done on improving armor technology, especially reactive armor. Your assumption that the Javelin or Hell fire missiles can easily take out tanks equipped with the latest armor technology may not be valid.

      • Josephbleau

        every tank is skinny on top, there is no other way.

        • f1b0nacc1

          If you mean thin armor, you are absolutely correct, but this doesn’t mean that other techniques cannot be used to counter top-attack rounds. Guidance systems can be scrambled, warhead detonations can be disrupted, targeting can be spoofed, etc. Certainly the problem is more complex then it has been in the past, but tank remains (and is likely to remain) the king of the battlefield for some time to come.

          • Josephbleau

            I agree, but I hope that there will be hundreds of 10 lb drone tank mines flying at 10′ above the forest floor programmed to drift over tank turrets and shoot a shaped charge. Reactive armor only means you need two hits.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I have seen DARPA’s plans for swarms of drones too, but the problem is that in an electronically ‘noisy’ battlefield (i.e. lots of EM interference, lots of jamming, spoofing, etc.) those 10 lb drones will be lucky to find the tanks (and keep in mind they may have a serious problem with fratricide as well), much less target them successfully.
            I don’t dispute that if everything works out well these weapons can be very, very deadly, but that is one big IF to depend upon. Anti-tank rifles were the answer, then squeeze-bore antitank guns were going to be the end of the tank, followed by CAS air strikes, followed by ATGMs, etc. Yet in almost a century, the tank keeps adapting and moving forward. The fact that tanks are now the preferred weapon for urban combat (where there are virtually no long lines of sight, and cheap infantry weapons and booby traps should predominate) should give you some idea of how flexible they are.
            Perhaps someday, but that day is nowhere near us yet. The latest assumption that swarms of robots can do the job ignores any number of countermeasures issues, however attractive it might sound.
            One point though…if the US is opposing a NON-peer, all of this might work out nicely. So bad if you are a tank commander in North Korea or Iran, but against the Chinese or Russians….not yet.

    • f1b0nacc1

      The death of the tank on the battlefield has been predicted consistently since before WWII, and somehow it just never manages to happen. New armor, active defense systems, suppressive fire, and a host of other factors have combined to save the tank from its endlessly forecasted demise, and I hardly see that changing anytime soon.

  • Blackbeard

    The U.S., and the West generally, will respond by continuing to reduce military spending.

  • Josephbleau

    US Consumer: Don’t buy a car made on Monday. Russian Soldier: Don’t go to battle with a tank made after the first week of the month.

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