A member of the design team behind Russia’s new Armata tank has claimed that the vehicle is so easy to use it’s like “playing computer game.”
The tank played a huge part in Russia’s Victory Day parade in Moscow’s Red Square last month, and has been touted as a state-of-the-art machine which could one day evolve into a robotic combat vehicle.
The Armata is one of a number of military innovations that have emerged from Russia over the past few months, a sign of President Vladimir Putin’s renewed focus on the country’s armed forces. Commentators have lauded the remote-controlled turret and complex defense systems on board the tank, and its designers claim that it could provide a platform for a fully autonomous robotic battle vehicle in the future.
Ilya Demchenko, deputy chief designer, lauded the capabilities of the new tank. “A new philosophy of these machines is that they have a remote controlled combat module, multi-spectre channels, new algorithms and, if I may draw an example, it’s as if the crew, roughly speaking, plays a computer game,” he said. “It’s only left to take some conclusive action, make decisions.”
The design team claim that the Armata is, technically speaking, around 15-20 years ahead of Western tank designs. As well as the remote-controlled turret, the crew are is housed in a capsule which is isolated from ammunition and fuel. Such a design dramatically increases their survival chances should the vehicle suffer a direct hit.
Another innovation is a new kind of armor, which better protects the tank from enemy fire. Specific details about the armor have not been revealed, although it is known to be protected by a layer of reactive armor designed to prevent incoming fire from reaching the main layer of armor.
Offensive capabilities are largely similar to existing tanks, with a standard-caliber 125 millimeter cannon on board. However the designers claim that the Armata will be capable of handling a more powerful 152 millimeter cannon.
The new design is bigger and heavier than previous Russian tanks, which were known for their low silhouette and small size. In contrast to the uncomfortable tanks of old, the designers say that they have made the Armata as easy to drive as an SUV, with a special focus on ergonomics.
Thanks to a digital control system, crew members do not have to perform routine tasks such as tracking targets and activating defense systems, which gives them more time to carry out crucial combat functions.
Andrei Terlikov, chief designer of the new Armata, stated that “the level of automisation, the principles we put in it, the technological edge we created represent a decisive step towards more advanced unmanned machines, including those which could operate autonomously in combat situation, at some moments even without an operator controlling it.”
Ambitious rearmament plan
Such an advanced machine does not come cheap, and some commentators have claimed that it could cost as much as a fighter jet. The Russian economy has suffered due to low world oil prices and sanctions imposed after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea, and it may struggle to afford the new tank.
Putin drew up plans for a $400 billion program for the modernization of Russia’s armed forces, which would involve buying 2,300 new tanks, hundreds of aircraft and missiles and tens of new ships, at a time when the country’s economy was far healthier. Its current struggles may lead to the curtailing of such ambitious plans.
However unlikely it may seem, Putin has promised that the military upgrade will go ahead, and has increased military spending by 33% to $60 billion this year. Observers believe that the plan will run into difficulties as the Russian economy continues to suffer, despite a stabilization due to a devaluation of the ruble and more consistent world oil prices so far this year.
Russia’s economic struggles could affect military modernization
The current recession is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, and analysts predict a further contraction until the end of next year.
The conflict with Ukraine will have a dramatic effect on the viability of these plans, as Ukrainian factories used to export a variety of weapons and sub-systems to Russia. Government officials have stated that a huge amount of time and money will have to be invested to replace the lost Ukrainian capacity.
Putin has repeatedly highlighted the importance of producing defense components within Russia’s borders due to worsening relations with the West. Even if the high-tech armaments can be produced entirely independently, such ambitious rearmament plans seem unlikely to become reality given the state of the Russian economy.