From: email@example.com (George William Herbert)
Subject: Re: Why did the Germans have better tanks?
Date: 27 Nov 2000 13:00:55 -0800
General preface: those interested in these subjects in detail should
invest in (or find in a library *gasp* 8-) the following references:
_Soviet/Russian Armor and Artillery Design Practices : 1945 to Present_,
Markov, Zalgoa, and Hull, ISBN: 1892848015 , in print and roughly $65
_Technology of Tanks_, Richard M. Ogorkiewicz, ASIN: 0710605951 ,
out of print and available in limited quantities for around $200/set
Brian <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>George William Herbert wrote:
>I think the problem is that you assume that there is only one way to
>skin a cat. The Russians have adopted a very difficult approach to the
>way in which they have decided to protect their vehicles, not
>necessarily because they believe that their armour technology is
>inferior but rather because they do not believe the western approach of
>creating increasingly heavier and heavier AFV's serves any other purpose
>than to reduce battlefield mobility.
Actually, until Nikita Kruschev ordered heavy tank production
ended permanently, they were enthusiastic believers in heavy tanks
as well as medium tanks. The whole JS-series, T-10, Object 770
show a long program of design, construction, and fielding of heavy
tanks from WW 2 until the mid 1960s. Kruschev thought that "reactionary
elements" in the military were hanging on to obsolete technology
and he politically squashed several areas, including big gun warships
at sea, and heavy tanks on land.
In a sense, everything you've seen since then has been an effort to
maximize what you can do in a 40-ton class chassis.
It's true that reactive armor is another way of thinking about
protecting tanks, but it has significant disadvantages.
It's highly unhealthy for nearby infantry, thus intrinsically
degrading the close armor/infantry pairing needed for proper
combined arms action. Despite the advances of the most modern
versions (Kontakt-5) it's not nearly as good at repelling long
rod penetrators as good composite armor is. It's also not all
that safe to train and work with; the US while having installed
RA mount blocks on most of its vehicles does not as a rule actually
mount the RA, as a fire or accidental impact/collision could
be made much worse for those around if RA explodes.
>You're also making the assumption, I suspect that what the US military
>has thus far been able to examine WRT Russian AFV's is necessarily the
>best that the Russians have produced or utilised. There is more than
>amble evidence that the export versions of their AFV"s are substantially
>downgraded compared to those that they supplied to their own forces. An
>excellent example of this was the comparisons between the East German
>version of the T-72 (the m3) and the Iraqi versions. The Iraqi ones
>were shown to be hardly better than the T-62 in most aspects whereas the
>tests conducted on the ex-East German vehicles was such that they were
>found to be, in the words of the US Army report, "impervious to all
>known AT weapons", including the 120mm APFSDS rounds, from the frontal
There is plenty of indication from within the US armor community
that they've successfully aquired the front line Russian issue equipment
since the fall of the Berlin Wall, possibly well before then.
It was well known since the 1950s that Russia had differing internal
and export versions of armor; the myriad differences (and reasons why)
are too much to get into here.
As to the T-72s being impervious to the 120mm rounds... the M829A1, M829A2,
M829E3, DM43 and DM53 all postdate that testing, and reportedly all are
capable of penetrating what we know of current Russian frontal armor,
depending on how effective Kontakt-5 is. It's also relatively immaterial;
Russian tank production of the versions thought to be highly resistant
has totaled only a small fraction of the armor that they're even keeping
under the CFE treaty, so most of their units are older, more vulnerable
types even today.
>Whereas the west has only relatively recently started to consider
>alternatives to passive armour, the Russians have been leading the way
>in the field for over 20 years. The use of ERA and EA are such that its
>now possible to design an AFV which is substantially lighter and better
>protected than one which relies exclusively on passive armour.
>Interestingly, there is now sufficient evidence to conclude that the
>introduction of composite armour was a Russian innovation which predates
>the use of such protection on a western tank by a good ten years. The
>utilisation of initially fibreglass and then later boron-fibre belts in
>the front glacis of the T-64, as a protection against HEAT rounds,
>whilst the development of ceramic-steel matrixes in its turret, predates
>the introduction of Chobham armour.
I'm not disputing that the ceramic/steel usage in Russian tanks
predates Chobham; but you again missed the point. The exact same
ceramic/steel concept in fact dates back to WW II. While not deployed
by anyone at the time, it was built into the US experimental T-95 tank
which was part of the program leading to the M-60 (which as built was
more conventional). That well predated the production T-64 and was roughly
contemporaneous with the early Objekt 430 prototypes of the eventual
production T-64 series.
There is a *big* difference between being the first to invent or test
something and the first to decide to produce it. The basic ceramics
technologies as stated date back to WW 2, not mid-cold-war Russia.
It's not clear who exactly invented it back then (it seems to have been
in test in the US, Russia, and Germany) but goes back a long ways.
Similarly, fiberglass and boron fiber layers were well tested by all
parties in the 40s and 50s. The "common knowledge" on this subject
is really ignorant of how far the state of the art in R&D had progressed
in WW 2 and the decade or so thereafter; the real Russian advance,
which is significant and should not be minimized, was moving to deployment
with the first generation composites before the west did, but they
subsequently did not move on to Chobham-like armors arguably until
the mid-90s and then only in extremely limited form, given the
configurational limits their tank chassis impose.
> Indeed, when the British openned
>their Challenger II competition up to all competitors in 1988, the
>Russians provided an unsolicited bid which provided details of the
>possibility of them producing a completely ceramic vehicle to fulfill
>the role. Something which has not been contemplated elsewhere. The
>truth of the matter is that the Russians have only just started to slip
>behind the west now, in armour development.
Completely ceramic, or completely composite? Composite I can believe,
but none of the ceramics are suitable for bulk structural materials.
-george william herbert
From: email@example.com (George William Herbert)
Subject: Re: Why did the Germans have better tanks?
Date: 29 Nov 2000 01:32:20 -0800
arn_werks <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>With all due respect may I interject some comments on what you
Of course. More information and discussion is the point 8-)
>George William Herbert wrote:
>> arn_werks <email@example.com> wrote:
>> >Beg to differ.
>> >Colin Campbell wrote:
>> >> arn_werks <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>> >> >Ask about ceramic armor in the frontal area of tank turrets and
>> >> >see who has it. The same with multi layered ERA. How do they
>> >> >get that extra 200 to 300 meters per second from their main tank
>> >> >guns?
>> >> The ceramic/laminate armor on Russian tanks is superior to RHA but
>> >> inferior to Western composite armors.
>> >Western Composite armor ranges from velcroed on DU (M1A1/2 Dolly
>> >Parton model) to a layer of kerosene (Merkavas) to layered steel
>> >plate, ceramic and metallic composite chunks with an inner layer
>> >of steel (British). Aluminum oxide spheres are used.
>> >Found inside turret casting. AKM armor is a composite of three
>> >layer of steels chosen for outer glass hardness, inner
>> >toughness, and a non spalling interior.
>> >Used for welded portions of tank body (Russian).
>AKM armor is produced by placing the interior and exterior at
>each end of an sow mold and immediately after the pour has been
>made, the material is then hot rolled and heat treated as
>needed. This is not a conventional laminated armor plate.
>> Essentially everything Western from the origional M-1 on has used
>> some variant of Chobham armor.
>> The DU in HA M-1A1s and M-1A2 is internal, not external.
>Then you are saying as fact that the added on turret armor is
>NOT a DU material but rather some other form of armor?
I think you may be making a semi-common mistake here.
The very early prototype M-1A1 tanks added some external
plates to the turret front to add mass there to simulate
the heavier turret armor package. That was for simulation
purposes only; actual production M-1A1, M-1A1HA / HC,
and M-1A2 tanks all have standard flush exterior envelopes
with all the armor changes within the origional turret
shell volume and shape.
>> The Merkava uses its (diesel) fuel as
>> part of the armor system, as does the M-1 series.
>> >> The Russians _have_ to use ERA due to the fact that their armor
>> >> technology is inferior. ERA carries serious drawbacks from shock
>> >> damage to internal components.
>> >No, their armor is not inferior and they use multi plate boxes
>> >of ERA. It may cause interior rattling but I doubt that they
>> >are so foolish as to have delicate equipment not anti shock
>> >mounted. They have lined at least three generations of tanks
>> >with plastic of high hydrogen content to protect against neutron
>> You're missing the point. The ERA helps, but the underlying passive
>> armor technology is relatively primitive. The US T-95 tank in the
>> early 1960s had alumina composite armor.
>ERA or flying plate armor is not an attempt to defeat dart
>penetrators, but rather to disrupt stick off fusing of shaped
>charge weapons, countered by putting two tandem warheads, which
>is defeated by the multi plate layer, up to 4 to 6, I think.
>They are mounted on brackets which will decouple the spike of
>their firing to the main armor/interior. A dart will be
>deflected, with a lucky tank crew, but it can still sail through
>ERA plates like a hornet through a spider web. It probably can
>through penetrate the side or back armor but may well not punch
>through the much thicker frontal quarter of the turret.
Advanced ERA such as Kontakt-5 and western ERA which I will avoid
describing in detail are intended to defeat both shaped charges
and long rod penetrators. If you make the ERA heavy enough,
and particularly use thick enough ERA faceplates, then the
ERA stands a fair chance of degrading or shearing the long
rod KE penetrator in half, which wrecks the penetration quite
nicely as it won't impact the same target point. There's a tradeoff
there; thicker faceplates are marginally less effective against
shaped charge HEAP rounds but much more effective against long
rod penetrators. Prior to Kontakt-5, Russian ERA was effectively
useless against KE long rods; Kontakt-5 was an attempt to balance
the effects to defeat both threats.
Perversely, this seems to work best with a narrow range of
penetrator shapes/sizes, and both shorter/wider and longer/narrower
darts seem to work better against ERA. The A1, A2, and E3 versions of
the M829 120mm KE projectile played with projectile dimentions to try
and defeat Kontakt-5 (among other changes), though the details are
>> The US chose not to produce
>> it (the relatively conventional M-60 was chosen instead). The Russians
>> used alumina in tanks from the T-72 on, and retrofits to older models.
>> Russian tanks started to move to advanced controlled deformation
>> composite passive armor systems, and even so have been crippled by the
>> lack of available volume with which to properly impliment the armor
>Actually, Russian tanks have been down sized to the point that
>they have to have very small crew men. The reason that they
>down sized the tanks was not to raise a nation of tanker
>dwarves, but to be able to get the tanks through the railroad
>tunnels. They simply did not plan to rebore these tunnels but
>simply made the tanks to fit on lowboy RR carriers.
As I replied later in the thread, this is in fact a western myth.
The truth seems to be (based on numerous primary sources as
investegated by Hull, Markov, and Zaloga and reported in
_Soviet/Russian Armor and Artillery Design Practices: 1945 to Present_)
that Nikita Kruschev thought that "reactionary elements" in the
armed forces were not adopting to the new nuclear world,
on both the technical and policy levels, and that symptoms
of this were found in the Navy (big gun warships) and the
Army (heavy tanks). Both weapons types were canned directly
at Kruschev's personal order. There had been a long history
of Soviet heavy tank development, the JS-series from early WW 2
through the 1950s (JS-1, JS-2, JS-3, JS-4, JS-5, JS-6, T-10,
and experimental tanks Object 277, 279, 770 among others).
In particular, the Object 770 seems to have been a very successful
prototype for a heavy tank which was in a lot of ways a 55 ton heavy
tank version of the configuration and general technology
which went in to the T-64 tank. That would have been an
interesting opponent for western tanks indeed...
>> >> The Russians get the extra muzzle velocity by increasing the number of
>> >> calibers of the gun. This results in two serious drawbacks. The
>> >> first (and worst) is the loss of accuracy and difficulty of
>> >> maintaining boresight. The second is a dramatic decrease in gun tube
>> >> life (1/10th that of Western designs).
>> >No, they use a powder design based on Finnish/Russian advances
>> >in powder technology. The same powders have drifted to the
>> >United States as powders that are capable of increasing
>> >projectile velocity without any increase in interior pressure.
>> >They loose neither accuracy nor tube life.
>See the new lines of Hornady light and heavy magnum rounds for
>an example of increased velocity with the same cartridge. That
>is at least part of the higher velocity of the Russian tank guns
>, along with as you say a lighter projectile. These powders are
>commonly called triple base type powder.
Triple base powders have been used in some western artillery and large
caliber guns since the 1960s, usually adding nitroguanadine to the
nitrocellulose/nitroglycerine mix to decrease flame temperatures.
This again is nothing terribly new...
> The Finnish/Russians
>also found how to make powders whose environmental range was
>near space spec, -55 C to 150 C. We are seeing a lot of that
>technology in our powders now, both commercial and military.
>> For a long time, Russian guns merely used lighter projectiles.
>> For example, the 125mm guns 3BM9, 3BM12, 3BM15, and 3BM17 had
>> 3.6-3.8 kg penetrators at ~1,800 m/s. That's 5.8-6.2 Mj ME.
>> The total projectile weights are around 5.2 kg and total
>> round weights of 19.5-21 kg.
>> The 3BM32 and 3BM42 allegedly have 7.1 kg penetrators at
>> around 1,700 m/s, for 10.3 Mj ME, but I've heard sources
>> that the 7.1 kg is the total penetrator+sabot weight,
>> not pure penetrator, so actual ME may be less (probably
>> in the range of a 4.8 kg penetrator, thus around 6.9 Mj).
>> Total round weights are around 21 kg.
>> The origional 120mm M829 was a 4.3 kg penetrator at 1,680 m/s
>> for 6.1 MJ ME. The DM 43, DM 53, and M829A2 rounds are
>> somewhat higher. This from a gun tube with 8.5% less cross
>> sectional area, with total round weights of 18.7 kg (M829)
>> to 20.4 kg (M829A2).
>> The underlying gun technology is roughly a tie. The "wonder ammo"
>> isn't really, and the guns aren't any better. The Russian guns are
>> probably not quite as accurate, but there's a large factor there
>> for the sighting system rather than gun accuracy proper, so it's
>> hard to tell for sure.
>I'll spot you that we have better stabilization platform systems
>for the tank guns and deny that they are any less accurate from
People who Know have said that field tests of the Russian 2A45 and 2A46
125mm guns both indicate they're not quite heavy enough in some areas
and not quite tight enough tolerances to be as accurate as the western
standards are. Nor is the Russian ammo produced to quite as tight
There really hasn't ever been a need to; if you accept the practical
range limitations of the Russian sighting systems, the difference
at 2.5 km between 2 MOA and 0.75 MOA is a 1.27 vs 0.48 meter group.
Only at 5 km does the difference become significant (i.e., scale
of the same size as tank frontal area leading to gun accuracy causing
a significant number of misses), and if the Russian fire control can't
typically hit at 5 km then the gun not grouping that tightly isn't an issue.
I don't think that there's anything inherent about Russia which would
make their guns not able to be made more accurate. I think that,
as with their other technologies, they made an appropriate cost
versus performance tradeoff and simply don't care about making the
gun more accurate than their fire control can shoot to. I have little
reason to doubt that they'd be able produced a new gun system (in whatever
caliber) for a future tank with better fire control to tighter tolerances
and accuracy levels if it were militarily justified in the cost
In a way, this is like the tradeoff on accuracy that the AK-47 makes
compared to a M-14 or M-16. The M-16A2 can be fired by a good eyesight
marksman and get mostly hits on stationary known range human sized
targets out to 800m or so. The AK-47 has by comparison lousy sights
and much worse inherent gun accuracy (2-3x larger bullet group sizes).
But at 200m it basically doesn't make much difference. In quantity you
can buy AK-47s for $80, the M-16A2 costs around $440 in quantity, 5.5
times as much.
-george william herbert