UK military intelligence issues warning over Russian supertank threat

Robert Mendick, Ben Farmer, Roland Oliphant — Telegraph.co.uk Nov 6, 2016

Armata tanks during the 2016 May Day Parade in Red Square, Moscow. Click to enlarge

Armata tanks during the 2016 May Day Parade in Red Square, Moscow. Click to enlarge

British military intelligence has issued a warning over a ground-breaking tank being developed by Russia, according to a leaked document seen by The Telegraph.

The Ministry of Defence internal briefing paper raises doubts over the UK’s ability to combat the threat posed by the Kremlin’s new Armata tank. 

It also questions why the Government has no plans for a rival tank for at least 20 years.

The internal document, written by a senior Army intelligence officer, states: “Without hyperbole, Armata represents the most revolutionary step change in tank design in the last half century.”

It adds: “Unsurprisingly, the tank has caused a sensation,” and it goes on to question the failure of current defence strategy to plan for a new tank that can compete.

There is growing alarm among military chiefs that a presidential victory for Donald Trump, who has criticised US funding of Nato, could leave the West badly exposed to Vladimir Putin’s aggression, especially in the vulnerable Baltic states.

A prototype of the Armata was rolled out last year at the annual May Day parade in Moscow, prompting the commissioning of the five-page intelligence report. The tank is pioneering, according to the document, because of a revolutionary turret design that makes crew less vulnerable under fire.

The tank is also reckoned to be lighter, faster and lower in profile than Western rivals.

The document also suggests the tank will be kitted out with a radar system currently used on state-of-the-art Russian fighter jets and new composite armour. It has a “reported higher muzzle velocity” gun and the possibility of an upgraded missile system.

“As a complete package, Armata certainly deserves its billing as the most revolutionary tank in a generation,” concludes the intelligence briefing paper.

“For the first time, a fully automated, digitised, unmanned turret has been incorporated into a main battle tank. And for the first time a tank crew is embedded within an armoured capsule in the hull front.”

The Army intelligence officer says UK defence strategy has concentrated on the threat from improvised explosive devices deployed by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and ignored the danger posed by tanks.

The paper asks: “Are we on the cusp of a new technological arms race? Has an understandable focus on defeating the single threat of IEDs distracted Western military vehicle designers? Challenger 2 [the British tank], with life extension programmes, is currently due to remain in service until 2035. Is it time to rethink?”

The paper also raises concern over the Scout, a light armoured fighting vehicle due to be introduced for British forces from next year. “In a familiar story of measure and countermeasure, the intelligence assumptions that informed the procurement of Scout as a superior battle-winning platform may now be open to question.”

The document says that on top of the Armata tank, Russia is adding “six additional armoured vehicles to the stable”, including a heavy infantry fighting vehicle and a self-propelled artillery system.

The intelligence report, which it stresses should “not be interpreted as an official MoD statement”, also raises the spectre of far superior Russian tank numbers, with plans to build 120 Armata tanks a year from 2018.

It points out Russia already has a fleet of 2,500 tanks with a reserve of 12,500, which is “35 times the size of the fleet in the British Army”.

“With such numbers, decisive effect is credibly achievable and losses are less important,” says the document.

The conclusions will ring alarm bells, not least following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and the threat to the Baltic states.

Analysis for Western military leaders has suggested Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – all Nato member states – would be overrun by Russian tanks within 60 hours of an invasion.

Brigadier Ben Barry, a land warfare specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said two features on the Armata would threaten Nato forces.

“Firstly, it is the first tank designed with an unmanned turret. This will potentially improve crew survivability,” he said. “The turret also looks to have the stretch potential to accommodate a larger-calibre gun of up to 150mm. If fielded, this would overmatch the guns and armour on existing Nato tanks.

“Secondly, it appears to be the first tank designed from the outset with an active protection system, to intercept incoming anti-tank guided missiles and shoulder-launched anti-tank weapons.”

He added: “This has the potential to greatly reduce the firepower of Nato infantry. Of course, there are few Armata yet, and it is not clear how rapidly they will enter service. But as they do, they will increase the effectiveness of Russian armoured forces.”

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