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Russia May Have a Secret Main Battle Tank

Kyle Mizokami
·3 min read

From Popular Mechanics

  • Russia’s difficulty building new T-14 Armata tanks could provide another tank concept, the Burlak, with the opportunity to take its place.

  • The Burlak builds on past Russian tank technology to produce a tank that has many of the same advantages as the Armata.

  • The tank would be cheaper and easier to produce, while still being a formidable adversary to NATO forces.

A “new” tank concept has surfaced in Russia, about 10 years after the country abandoned it in favor of the sleeker, newer-looking T-14 Armata tank. Production problems with the Armata, however, could allow the “Burlak” tank to take its place.

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In June 2015, the Russian government unveiled the Armata, which was designed to replace older T-72B3 and T-80 tanks in the arsenals of the Russian Ground Forces. Moscow promised to build 2,300 Armata tanks by 2020, enough for about eight tank and motor rifle (mechanized) divisions. Equipped with a new engine, dual-reactive armor, lower radar cross section, and the Afghanit active defense system, NATO tank forces viewed the Armata as a formidable new threat.

Photo credit: YURI KADOBNOV - Getty Images
Photo credit: YURI KADOBNOV - Getty Images

But despite the lofty promises, the Armata project was mired in financial and technological difficulties that slowed development to a crawl. Today, the Russian Ground Forces have precisely zero Armata tanks, with serial deliveries now promised for later this year.

So what comes now? A Russian military blog recently uncovered another tank design that apparently lost out to the Armata in the late 2000s. The Burlak (seen in the Facebook post above), is an interesting compromise design that leverages Russia’s huge inventory of older tanks and existing tank technology to produce a vehicle that’s almost as good as the Armata.

Photo credit: BTVT Info blog
Photo credit: BTVT Info blog

The Burlak takes a new tank turret and puts in on a modified T-80 tank chassis. The turret’s hexagonal geometry is derived from the T-90A tank that’s currently in service, but lengthened considerably in the rear to accommodate a dual-feed auto loading system for the main gun. This would allow the 125-millimeter main gun, the same caliber as the Armata’s gun, to quickly load two types of ammunition.

The turret features additional armor plating on the front to both protect the smoke dischargers and add more armor to the turret’s frontal aspect in general. The Burlak would also have the same Afghanit active protection system fitted on the Armata, giving it protection against NATO anti-tank missiles and rockets.

Photo credit: Anton Novoderezhkin - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anton Novoderezhkin - Getty Images

One feature that makes the Burlak more affordable—and easier to manufacture—than the Armata is its use of the T-80 tank chassis. That tank was considered a failure, since its gas turbine power plant was unreliable. But Russia built about 3,000 T-80s, and so hundreds, if not thousands, of them are still stockpiled across the country. A refurnishing and new power plant could make a decent home for the Burlak turret.

Could the Burlak replace the Armata in Russian tank divisions? The Burlak is just as heavily armed, and the lower cost and risk reduction certainly makes it attractive. And while the Burlak won’t have the same hull protection as the Armata, its explosive reactive armor plates and Afghanit active protection system could help make up the difference.

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