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Outside View: Russia's tank woes -- Part 1

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Yury Zaitsev
Moscow (UPI) Mar 31, 2008
Although warfare featuring tank armadas over vast territories is already a thing of the past, armor still remains the main striking force of modern armies.

Requirements for any new tank are protection, mobility and firepower. Historically, Russia has always tackled these problems by developing new models and continuing to exploit existing ones. For that reason its armed forces today are an amazing mix of all types of tanks, something not seen anywhere else in the world. Their maintenance costs are enormous.

Four-star General of the Army Nikolai Makarov, Russia's current chief of armaments, looks forward to a breakthrough in tank building soon. In 2009 the Russian army will get a new tank -- the T-95 -- far superior to existing models. This is an entirely new battle tank, with new running gear, power plant, armaments, fire control, reconnaissance and target identification facilities.

The tank is currently undergoing tests, expected to be completed this year. Its adoption for service will, hopefully, bring the long-awaited unification to this sphere.

Russia's is the only army in the world using two types of main battle tank: the gas turbine T-80 -- T-80U -- and the diesel-powered tank T-90 -- T-90S. Both have the same weight, size and identical combat characteristics. Other types in service include the T-62, T-64, T-72 and their versions, and even the T-55.

This range of types creates many problems for providing fuel, lubricants, spare parts, tools, equipment and maintenance. It is also economically wasteful to maintain such diverse models. Large numbers of tanks and their ammunition require annual utilization, the funds for which have never been fully available.

In a global perspective, tank-building policy has remained unchanged since the 1960s and 1980s when the T-64, T-72 and T-80 were designed. A comparison of tank characteristics -- including the T-80M1 Bars and advanced Black Eagle, which never reached the mass production stage -- shows the hallmarks of "creeping" modernization.

But since tanks have remained the main offensive factor for ground forces, many countries have been proactive in developing and manufacturing cutting-edge anti-tank missiles. Equipped with non-contact fuses, they effectively penetrate all types of explosive reactive armor.

Also under development are devices that disable the engine fuel system, rendering tanks immobile. Moreover, despite its high firepower, the modern tank is unable to deal with air attacks.

The fitting of Russian tanks with anti-tank missiles fired through the gun barrel has greatly increased the effectiveness of tank armament. Its kill radius is now over 5 kilometers -- 3 miles. But this advantage is offset by the absence of up-to-date reconnaissance and observation systems -- aerial, let alone space-based ones.

The line of sight and fire are set so low that it is practically impossible to see and, moreover, aim at a target from the tank. Nor are there high-quality communications available, affecting control over tank units.

So we can say that the "tank crisis" that has hit the Russian army has been largely provoked by the diversity of its tank fleet.

According to Alexei Maslov, commander in chief of the ground forces and general of the army, the ultimate solution is only possible in the long term.

Next: The electronics problems

(Yury Zaitsev is an adviser at the Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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