By Derek Bisaccio, Forecast International.
From September 9-12, Russia will host the 10th anniversary of its annual arms exhibition, called the Russia Arms Expo (RAE). The event, described on its website as “one of the biggest international exhibitions of Russian- and foreign-made armaments,” reportedly attracts over 20,000 visitors, among them important global defense contractors and representatives of militaries.[i] Many different weapons and weapons systems will be demonstrated over the four-day event, but one of the biggest sights to see will be Russia’s new T-14 Armata main battle tank, which was unveiled in May at Russia’s Victory Day parade.
The Armata is a heavy chassis that serves as the base for a tank or an infantry combat vehicle. UralVagonZavod (UVZ) began development of the system in secret in 2011. The tank’s primary armament is a 125mm gun, which officials have said could later be replaced by a 152mm gun. Its secondary armament includes a 12.7mm machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun.[ii] The U.S. Army Foreign Military Studies Office noted that the T-14 weighs 48 tons and can reach speeds of up to 90 kmph (about 56 mph).[iii] For protection, the tank features what a military-industrial complex source told Russian news agency Tass was “new generation active armour.”[iv]
Starting in 2016, UVZ will make deliveries of the tank for field testing. This testing is expected to be completed sometime during the year. Serial production is expected to begin in 2017-2018, meaning that the tank will be on the market within the next few years. Though the Russian Army will procure the T-14, it appears that the Armata chassis will also be available for export.
The Armata has an impressive price tag, reportedly $7.4 million[v] per unit, putting it up there in cost with the U.S. M1A2 Abrams and well above that of Ukraine’s T-84. Russia has therefore heavily advertised the tank’s features to potential foreign buyers, marketing in particular the universality of the Armata chassis. Deputy UVZ CEO Vyacheslav Khalitov told Tass that the company had “created a universal platform with a variety of configurations,”[vi] which can be modified to suit a particular client’s needs. UVZ has boasted of the T-14’s prowess in comparison to other main battle tanks, even going so far as to claim that the vehicle is “invisible” to radars.[vii] The jury is still out on many of the claims, including that last one, for there has not yet been any public demonstration of the T-14’s abilities (subject to change at RAE 2015).
The advertising campaign is attracting interest, nonetheless. Potential buyers are taking notice of UVZ’s product, despite the fact that it is unclear who Russia would be willing to sell the Armata to. What’s more, the system’s cost may be unaffordable for some countries. Among those that either have expressed interest or are rumored to have expressed interest are Egypt, India, Iraq, China, and a number of unnamed Southeast Asian countries.[viii] Russian media reported in late June that the Indian Army is looking to develop its own main battle tank using the Armata as a prototype.[ix]
According to data produced by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Russia is the number 2 arms exporter in the world,[x] and Moscow likely views foreign contracts for procurement of the tank or its variants as an important way to boost its stagnant economy over the next few years. Development and production of the new-generation vehicle do not come cheap, and this is more so the case for a country facing poor economic straits.
Low energy prices and economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, in particular, are taking their toll on Russia. Business Insider estimates that, for the Russian government to break even on its annual budget, oil prices need to be around $105/barrel.[xi] Thanks to OPEC’s continuing decision to not cut production even as the energy glut grows, oil was last at $105/barrel about a year ago. At time of writing, Brent crude was at $49.07/barrel – less than half of what Moscow would like. To offset the low prices and stabilize the ruble, Russia has dipped into its foreign currency reserves. According to data from the Central Bank of Russia, as the Ukraine crisis began in late 2013, Russia had around $524.3 billion in foreign currency reserves. Nearing two years later, that figure has dropped almost 33 percent, to $357.6 billion.[xii]
It is unclear when energy prices will rise to the amount Russia wants or when economic sanctions will be rolled back (new U.S. sanctions against Russian oil fields just came out recently). In the face of that uncertainty, Russia is looking to add the T-14 to its list of military exports. But the tank will enter an already cluttered global tank market, with competition from other modern tanks either already in production or soon to be in production, some of which carry a smaller price tag. It is thus important for Moscow that the T-14 makes a big splash at RAE 2015.