A number of recent reports indicate that Russia’s new T-14 Armata battle tank, a revolutionary design first unveiled in 2015, may well be too sophisticated for the country ground forces’ defence needs at present - and the result of this is likely to be a postponing of mass production of the next generation combat vehicle. While the Russian armed forces have expressed considerable faith in the capabilities of the T-14, placing an order for a pilot batch of over 100 battle tanks in 2016 - with parallel orders also being placed for derivative platforms such as T-15 fighting vehicles and self propelled guns - recent reports indicate that the weapons program will not move from a low level initial production rate to mass production in the near future. The cause of this is a combination of both the new battle tank’s considerable cost, a result of the large numbers of next generation technologies integrated, and the view among Russia’s military leadership that existing platforms such as T-90M and T-72B3, coming at just a fraction of the cost of the T-14, remain well ahead of their rivals in Europe and the United States - making the Armata an unnecessary expense at present.
Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Yury Borisov stated regarding the factors which caused the decision to postpone mass production of the T-14 that modernised variants of the T-72 “leave behind” leading rival platforms deployed by the Western Bloc in terms of both quality and cost effectiveness - naming the U.S. M1 Abrams, German Leopard and French Leclerc as examples. “Why flood our military with Armatas, the T-72s are in great demand on the markets,” the official added. Minister Borisov instead noted that the T-14 and its sister the T-15 armoured fighting vehicle would be reserved as a “trump card” - an asset which could be put into mass production any time should the primacy of Russian armour be threatened by developments in the West. Research and development to further enhance the capabilities of these next generation Armata combat vehicles will meanwhile continue apace - allowing Russia to maintain its technological edge without committing to apparently unnecessary and highly costly mass production. As the minister noted regarding this valuable asset: “We can play it anytime we want, boost the series production when needed and stay ahead of our colleagues, so to speak.”
While the initial order for two battalions of T-14 tanks will be carried out, and is likely to be closely followed by another similarly small order, the mainstay of Russia’s modernisation program for its armoured units will in the short term rely on T-90M battle tanks alongside advanced variants of the T-72. Russia’s strategy in this regard, and the way its confidence in heavily upgraded platforms from the current generation has facilitated a postponing of mass production for next generation systems, closely reflects the strategy of the country’s Air Force - placing only small orders for its next generation Su-57 while continuing to further modernise the design and in the meantime relying on ‘4++ generation’ platforms such as the Su-35 and MiG-35. In the Air Force too, mass production of a next generation system appears to be an asset reserved for a time when near peer threats begin to emerge - an effective way to save considerable funds. Regarding the primacy of existing Russian tank platforms, with no rival Western platforms set to enter service in the near future, the one considerable threat to the country’s technological advantage appears to be Turkey’s planned induction of South Korean K2 Black Panther battle tanks. These next generation platforms are planned to enter service in the hundreds with capabilities surpassing all Western and Russian platforms currently in service - and possibly even the Armata itself. Should Turkey, a leading NATO member whose relations with Russian have historically been highly unpredictable, see its plans to induct the K2 in considerable numbers materialise in the near future, it could well prompt Russia to increase production of the Armata sooner than expected. Failing this, mass production can be expected once Europe and the United States' own plans for next generation battle tank platforms begin to materialise, at which time the Russian military will play its "trump card" and initiate mass production to ensure its continuing advantage.