The Russian army is preparing to put into service and put into operation
the serial main battle tanks T-14 “Armata”. Together with these combat
vehicles, new projectiles capable of providing the required combat
potential should be put into service. It is expected that to fight the
enemy tanks, “Armata”, equipped with 2A82-1M guns, will use both
existing armor-piercing feathered sabot shells (BOPS) and a completely
new model called “Vacuum-1”. Also, until recently, there was information
about the possible inclusion of the latter in ammunition retrofit tanks
of existing models.
For obvious reasons, most of the information on the development of promising tank guns and ammunition for them remains secret. However, in recent years, the industry has reported on its achievements, and various “information leaks” have taken place. All this allows us to draw up a sufficiently detailed picture and understand how exactly the development of tank weapons took place in recent decades, and what it has led to so far.
Over the past few decades, the main weapon of Soviet and Russian tanks have been the 125-mm smooth-bore guns-launchers 2A46 of various modifications. For them, a wide range of various projectiles were developed, designed to solve all the main tasks. In particular, tankmen were asked to use BOPS of several models with armor penetration of up to 500-550 mm of homogeneous armor when fired from 2 km. This state of affairs, in general, suited the designers and the military, but it required further development of guns, associated units and ammunition.
In the mid-nineties, research was carried out to determine the future development of tank guns and BOPS. It was found that a further increase in combat qualities is directly associated with an increase in the longitudinal dimensions of both the projectile itself and the entire shot. However, the introduction of such projectiles was impossible: the existing automatic loader imposed certain restrictions on the dimensions of the shots.
This problem began to be solved with the help of two parallel projects. In the middle of the last decade, Uralvagonzavod Research and Production Corporation presented a draft of the main T-90A tank, one of the innovations of which was an improved automatic loader. Its trays could receive BOPS of the “Lead” type, differing in length increased to 740 mm. At the same time, the development of a fundamentally new 125-mm tank gun for the future projectile of ‘marginal parameters’ was conducted. Subsequently, a promising weapon became known under the symbol 2A82; BOPS for him was called ‘Vacuum’.
A few years ago it became known that the Vacuum project was not able to give real results suitable for deployment in the military. The projectile with enhanced armor penetration characteristics had a length of 1000 mm, which placed special demands on the carrier tanks of the 2A82 gun. None of the existing domestic tanks could take an automatic loader for such an ammunition; The proposed solutions to the problem did not justify themselves. As a result, two new projects were left without a real future. Fortunately, this situation did not last too long. Within a few years, projects 2A82 and Vacuum returned.
The reason for the resumption of work was the start of the Armat program. At this time, tank builders had to create a combat vehicle from scratch, which removed a number of restrictions. In particular, it became possible to develop a completely new combat compartment using the desired components and weapons with enhanced characteristics. For the future T-14, an updated 2A82-1M gun was created, which differed from the base version with a barrel length and some other features. Also in the framework of the project, “Armata” created a new automatic loader, initially compatible with promising ammunition.
As far as is known, in the project T-14 did not use the existing BOPS “Vacuum”, but developed a new version of this product. Based on the available developments, a projectile called ‘Vacuum 1’ was created. The most interesting information about this product is not yet available, but some of its features are already known. ‘Vacuum-1’ should be a traditional-type sub-caliber projectile, used in conjunction with a dropout master. The product should be made of tungsten, capable of providing high penetration characteristics. Also, an increase in the basic characteristics is provided by the length of the projectile. This parameter is 900 mm – a compromise between older shells and the promising “Vacuum” of the first version.
A few years ago, a version appeared about the possible creation of a second version of a new projectile called ‘Vacuum 2’. By analogy with BOPS of the “Lead” family, a projectile from depleted uranium was supposed to appear in addition to tungsten. However, such versions and rumors have not yet received a decent confirmation. Perhaps the customer in the person of the Russian Ministry of Defense decided to confine itself to only one armor-piercing projectile, designated by the number ‘1’.
For obvious reasons, the Russian defense industry is not in a hurry to announce all the information about promising BOPS for a new tank gun. In this regard, among other things, remains unknown armor penetration of the new product ‘Vacuum-1’, launched by a 2A82 / 2A82-1M gun. According to various rumors and estimates, this parameter should exceed 700-800 mm of homogeneous armor at a zero meeting angle at ranges up to 2 km. There are more bold estimates, according to which the thickness of the punched plate is comparable to the length of the ammunition or even exceeds it.
Exact numbers and figures still remain secret. However, it is clear that the 2A82 cannon and the Vacuum-1 projectile, designed for advanced armored vehicles, are capable of providing a substantial increase in the basic tactical and technical characteristics and combat qualities of tanks. First of all, it concerns the newest combat vehicle T-14 ‘Armata’. For the first time in a long time, a fundamentally new tank was developed in our country, which was not an upgrade option for the existing one, which gave the well-known technical and technological advantages. Also, new products could be used in the modernization of available equipment, but in this area, apparently, there were difficulties.
A gun for ‘Armata’
According to known data, the promising main tank T-14 based on the Armata platform is completed with an uninhabited fighting compartment with a weapon of type 2A82-1M. In the tank ammunition include several new products, including armor-piercing projectile ‘Vacuum 1’. Together with him will be used new projectiles of other classes designed to solve other problems. In particular, a fragmentation projectile with air explosions is being developed.
In connection with the removal of the entire crew into a separate compartment, the fighting compartment of the ‘Armata’ is equipped with mechanized styling and automatic loader. Accurate data on the layout of the crew compartment and the placement of individual units are not available. According to various sources, it was possible to place at least 40 shots in the mechanized laying of the tank. All operations with ammunition should be carried out by automation without any human intervention.
The use of a new gun with increased energy parameters and more efficient BOPS should give the T-14 serious advantages over existing main tanks with guns of 120 or 125 mm caliber. These advantages can be used both for effective defeat of armored objects from a greater distance, and for destruction of targets with improved protection at standard ranges. In any case, the complex in the form of 2A82-1M and ‘Vacuum-1’ will give advantages both to individual tanks and armored formations in general.
According to known data, the Russian Ministry of Defense is not planning to deploy a truly massive mass production of Armata tanks. More than a hundred of such machines have been ordered, which will serve in some units of the army. An increase in production rates should be expected no earlier than the beginning of the next decade. Such decisions were made taking into account the cost of new equipment, the needs of the army and current threats. The adopted approach will not allow to quickly rearm all armored forces, but it should give other positive results. Some of them will be directly connected with the latest tank weapons.
Difficulty with T-90M
A few years ago it became known about the new project being created by the designers of Uralvagonzavod. In the interests of the Russian army, the Proryv-3 development work was carried out, the purpose of which was to increase all the basic characteristics of the T-90A production tanks. As reported, during the modernization of the tanks will receive a set of new units for external and internal installation. Among other things, a replacement fire control system and the main weapon were to be replaced.
According to the first data, the T-90M tank was to receive a Kalina-type control system, and it was proposed to replace the 2A46M with a more sophisticated 2A82. Also offered a new automatic loader. Among other things, this made it possible to improve the combat qualities of the vehicle due to full compatibility with the new armor-piercing shells, which simply did not fit into the old automatic loading machines. New weapons and improved controls should have given clear results.
In September 2017, the first open demonstration of an experienced modernized tank T-90M took place. Together with the car, they demonstrated an information stand, the information of which raised some questions. Both the stand and the appearance of the experienced armored vehicle indicated the preservation of the 2A46M-4 gun. The newer 2A82 gun was not used. Last year, a contract for the serial upgrading of equipment appeared, and the updated T-90M, apparently, did not receive the weapon of the latest model.
Until recently, the main explanation for the rejection of the 2A82 in the T-90M project was related to the design features of the gun and the automatic loader needed for it. However, a few days ago it became known that such problems did exist, but were not significant. As it turned out, the existing T-90 automatic loader without cardinal adjustment could be adapted to work with products 2A82 and “Vacuum-1”. However, the necessary refinement affected not only the machine itself, but also the combat compartment, as well as the tank hull.
A few days ago, Aleksey Khlopotov, a well-known specialist in armored vehicles, published an article about the principles of redesigning existing tanks into a 2A82 gun and new projectiles. It turned out that in the course of working out ways to modernize the tanks, a fairly simple and beautiful solution was found, which made it possible to fit longer BOPS “Vacuum-1” into a modified automatic loader.
In the past, during the creation of the T-90A project, the designers of Uralvagonzavod managed to remake the horizontal conveyor of an existing automatic loader for the 740 mm Lead projectile, but its cells now almost rested against the hull sides. The perspective BOPS “Vacuum-1” is 160 mm longer, and therefore did not fit into the available volume. However, this did not prevent the modernization. In the sides of the hull with a thickness of 80 mm at the level of the conveyor it was proposed to make the windows, and from the outside to cover them with plates of the same thickness. Due to this, it was possible to find the required 160 mm width of the fighting compartment. Also, taking into account the dimensions of the new BOPS, the design of the elevator and rammer was updated.
The proposed processing of the fighting compartment and the hull made it possible to equip T-72 and T-90 tanks with a new 2A82 gun with the possibility of using more effective armor-piercing shells. However, the customer for one reason or another refused this idea. In the future, official representatives of the Ministry of Defense and the development organization confirmed that the T-90M would nevertheless retain a regular gun and be able to use only projectiles compatible with it.
Old and new
According to current plans of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, in the coming years, the main efforts of the industry will be focused on the modernization of the existing main tanks of several types. Machines of the T-72 family will continue to be improved according to the design of the T-72B3, and in parallel, the other equipment will be updated to the state of the T-90M. In the coming years, the army expects to receive several hundred T-72B3 and T-90M tanks.
Simultaneously with the modernization of cash tanks, the mass production of the newest T-14 Armata will be carried out. However, it was decided so far to abandon large-scale production, and at the same time the army will transfer no more than 130-150 armored vehicles of this type. Defense plans for subsequent periods remain unknown. Perhaps they are not yet formed. However, it is obvious that at some point a decision will be made to halt the modernization of combat tanks and the launch of full-scale production of new T-14s.
Thus, in the field of weapons and ammunition for tanks in the coming years there will be a curious situation that cannot be called fully positive or negative. So, the T-72B3 and T-90M tanks will keep their 2A46M guns, but they will receive automatic loaders of the type used on the T-90A. This will allow them to use not only relatively old BOPS, but also modern products of the “Lead” family. At the same time, they will not have to get into service newer and more effective Vacuum-1 shells. Thus, the bulk of Russian tanks in the near future will use quite effective, but still not the newest and most advanced armor-piercing shells.
Such ammunition, developed in the framework of the ROC ‘Vacuum 1’, can only get a promising T-14 tank. However, the number of such vehicles in the troops will be insignificant for the time being, and it will not be able to argue in this regard with other combat vehicles. It can be noted that the lag in quantity will be accompanied by superiority in quality.
Obviously, the development of Russian armored troops continues. It is carried out both by upgrading existing samples and by creating new ones. And we are talking not only about tanks, but also about their individual components, as well as ammunition. Thanks to these processes, the combat capability of armored units will increase, keeping the level corresponding to current and future threats.