T-14 update. Why isn’t the T-14 mass produced yet?! Is Moscow broke ? Can’t it afford its new wonder weapons ? Or is the T-14 not as good as the hype led us to believe?
Well, the truth is a little bit more nuanced and the answers reside as much in politics as they can be found in economics. Money is a problem, but not as we see it. Russia’s economy has been growing non-stop since 2018. State expenditures (Federal) are so well managed that Moscow turns a budget surplus annually. Russia also owns a 500 billion dollar currency and gold reserve sovereign fund. Finally, the defence budget is ring fenced so as not to inflate past a certain point of GDP. It currently stands as below 5% of Russian GDP, making it sustainable. So there is money available! But… The Russian armed forces are pursuing an increasingly large number of programs, on land, at sea and in the air. As a result of budget orthodoxy, the defence budget has to be respected. Cost overruns are not tolerated at federal level. Therefore, priorities have to be set. And the T-14 program was not deemed an urgent project… Let’s not forget how much money was spent on the Russian armed forces with the 2011-2020 modernisation/investment program, which is still ongoing, albeit more modestly, with the current (revised) 2018-2027 program.
Do also keep in mind that the T-14 is a high-end products that require modern assembly lines to be mass produced. UralVagonZavod somehow upgraded its production lines to deal with more modern platforms such as the T-72B3 obr. 2016, T-80BVM and the T-90M. But those are still variants of existing older platforms.
However, to mass produce the T-14 would require its assembly lines to be completely overhauled, modified, modernised and partially automated. The manufacturing processes for the T-14 are completely different. Without assembly line modernisation, UralVagonZavod will be hard pressed to produce more than 40 T-14 Armata per year! Such plant modernisation does require money. But investments in the factory would not solve all its problems…
The current assembly lines are working around the clock to produce T-90S for export markets as well as to overhaul and modernise Russia’s T-72B3, T-80 and T-90, BMP-2s and BMP-3s to newer variant/standards. The BMPT Terminator is also manufactured there. To sum things up there is currently very little spare capacity in what is still the biggest tank factory in the world! This is one busy plant, indeed!
As for OmskTransMash, the other major Russian Tank plant, its assembly lines have seen even less investment than at Ural’s and the workforce there is more used to produce parts and kits than full tanks built from the ground up. It will take even more time and money to bring this factory and its workforce up to the standards needed to be able to mass produce the T-14.
Finally, there is a political dimension to this: This is (in theory) Putin’s last mandate as president and he wants to polish his legacy at home. The Russian population, having seen their wages and quality of life increase steadily under his presidency between 2000 and 2008 saw a reversal from 2014 onward when Russia was hit by a combination of low oil prices and western sanctions (following the Crimea crisis). The Russian economy recovered from 2018 onward but ordinary citizens, having suffered a drop in quality of life and income in that period (2014-2018), are still waiting to see their lot improve… With a sudden focus on civilian expenditures/investments at home, non urgent military projects such as the T-14 will be on the back burner for the time being… It doesn’t mean the project has been cancelled. The program is still alive, but we are talking about a new platform sporting brand new systems. It is still pretty much a work in progress… Talking about serial production of the T-14 does not make sense just yet when what we are seeing right now, in the Armata testing program, is nothing more than a validation phase of a design/prototypes. It will still be some times before Uralvagonzavod and the Russian Army finally declare the T-14 a finished product, free of teething problems and gestation defects.
And that’s before we even talk about the global Coronavirus pandemic/crisis. The global recession it is currently causing will do to the economies of most countries on earth damage not seen since WWII. As such, experts and economists expect defence related expenditures/budgets to fall sharply in the upcoming few years all around the world. That does include the USA and Europe. Russia, too, could well be forced to slash its defence budget in order to protect its economy and subsequently relaunch it when the Coronavirus storm finally passes…