Rostec Chief Confirms Russian Army Now Fields T-14 Tanks: Explains Why They Are Held Back From Ukrainian Frontlines

The head of the Russian state-owned defence conglomerate Rostec, Sergey Chemezov, has confirmed that the country’s next generation main battle tank the T-14 Armata will not be used in operations in the Ukrainian theatre. The T-14 is currently one of two tank classes in production in Russia alongside the T-90M, which began deliveries in 2019 and was accepted into service in February 2020. Th T-90M is an enhanced derivative of the T-72 tank which first entered service in 1973, although several generations of comprehensive enhancements mean the vehicle is still considered one of the world’s most capable. The T-14 by contrast is a clean sheet new design which has posed significant technological challenges, and introduces a number of revolutionary new features including an unmanned turret and side by side crew seating in an armoured capsule.  The vehicle is estimated to be close to twice as costly as the T-90M to produce, although it remains uncertain whether its operational costs are higher or to what extent.

Regarding the decision not to use the T-14, Chemezov stated that its higher cost meant it was more cost effective to continue using T-90s in the theatre. “In terms of its functionality, it certainly surpasses existing tanks, but it’s too expensive, so the army is unlikely to use it now. It’s easier for them to buy the same T-90s,” he stated. He added that the T-14 remained part of the Russian Army’s arsenal – something previously unconfirmed as the class’ progress through manufacturer trials was unknown. Chemezov’s statement follows a similar comment by Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman Dmitry Medvedev on February 22, who revealed regarding why the Army had not put the next generation tank into service in Ukraine: “the Armata is a new tank, which has not yet fully passed all trials,” he stated, emphasising that it was also “not the cheapest of tanks.” The T-14 has notably been deployed to the theatre in what Kiev recognises as Eastern Ukraine, but Russia claims as its own territory, for limited combat testing from May 2023 at the latest, with limited modifications made to the design specifically for this operation. Larger deployments in force, however, appear to have been ruled out. 

It remains uncertain what stage of combat readiness the T-14 may have reached, and on what scale it may still be in production. Unlike Ukraine, Russia has not been able to devote its fully military attentions to the ongoing war, with tensions with NATO members and Japan on multiple frontiers meaning the country has had to hold considerable assets back from the theatre in case conflict breaks out with other states supporting Ukraine. It has been speculated that the T-14 may be a husbanded resource which, while potentially having little impact in Ukraine, is being reserved for a potential wider conflict. Among the new tank’s most notable features are its Vacuum-1 APFSDS projectiles and ability to withstand hits from any known tank projectile, both of which make it highly prized for potential combat with enemy armour. The tank’s frontal base armour protection of over 900mm, paired with Malachit explosive reactive armour and the AFGHANIT active protection system, make it on paper the best protected tank class in the world. Nevertheless, with Ukraine’s Western-supplied armour including Leopard 2A6 and M1 Abrams tanks having quickly taken heavy losses when deployed near the frontlines, and Ukrainian armour having generally placed relatively little pressure on Russian defences particularly from late 2023 as ammunition has run low, the Russian Army appears well able to afford reserving the T-14 for future potentially much higher intensity conflicts.