February 2, 2023

Russia’s tanks in Ukraine have a ‘jack-in-the-box’ design flaw. And the West has known about it since the Gulf war

4 min read


Russian tanks whose tops have been blown up are the latest indication that Russia is not planning to invade Ukraine.

Hundreds of Russian tanks are thought to have been destroyed since the start of the Moscow offensive, with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace estimating on Monday that the number had risen to 580.

But Moscow’s problems far outweigh its total number of lost tanks. Experts say battlefield images show that Russian tanks are suffering from a defect known to Western forces for decades, known as the “Jack in the Box effect.” Moscow, he says, should have seen the problem come.

The problem is how the tanks ammunition is stored. Unlike modern Western tanks, the Russians carry multiple shells in their towers. This makes them extremely vulnerable because even an indirect target can trigger a series of reactions that explode their entire ammunition store of up to 40 rounds.

The resulting wave of tremors could be enough to raise the tank tower as high as a two-story building, as can be seen in a recent video on social media.

A man inspects a destroyed Russian military tank 40 kilometers west of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

“What we’re seeing with Russian tanks is a design flaw,” said Sam Bandett, a Russian studies adviser at the Center for a New American Security.

“Any successful target; quickly ignites the dynamite, causing a huge explosion, and the tower literally flies away.”

The defect means the tank crew – usually two men on the bridge and the third driving – are sitting ducks, said Nicholas Drummond, a defense industry analyst specializing in ground warfare and a former British Army officer.

“If you don’t get out in the first second, you’re a toast.”

Drummond said the explosives were causing problems for almost all armored vehicles that Russia is using in Ukraine. He gave the example of BMD-4 infantry fighting vehicle, It is usually managed by up to three crew members and can carry up to five more soldiers. He said the BMD-4 was a “mobile coffin”. “Just finished” when hit by a rocket.

But the design flaws with its tanks should be particularly troubling for Moscow because the problems have been telegraphed on such a large scale.

They came to the attention of Western troops during the Gulf Wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, when large numbers of Iraqi Army Russian-made T-72 tanks did the same thing – anti-tank missiles blew up towers from their bodies. gone. .

Drummond said Russia has not learned from Iraq and that many of its tanks in Ukraine have design flaws with their auto-loading missile systems.

When Drummond said the T-90 series – the successor to the T-72 – came into service in 1992. Its armor was upgraded but its missile loading system remained the same as its predecessor, leaving it equally vulnerable. Drummond said. The T-80, another Russian tank watching action in the Ukrainian attack, has a similar missile loading system.

A wrecked Russian tank sits in the Ukrainian village of Dmitryoka.

Such a system has some advantages. At the Center for a New American Security, Bandit said Russia had chosen the system to save space and give tanks a lower profile, making it harder to kill in battle.

However, Western troops were encouraged by the fate of the T-72 in Iraq.

“(Western troops) have learned from the Gulf War, and from the tanks being killed during that time, that you have to separate the ammunition,” Drummond said.

He was referring to US military striker infantry fighting vehicles manufactured after the first war in Iraq.

“It has a tower that sits on top, and that tower does not enter the crew compartment. It sits purely on top and all the ammunition is inside the tower,” he said. “So if the tower collides. And if blown up, the crew is still safe downstairs. It’s a very smart design. ”

Other Western tanks, such as the M1 Abrams, used by the United States and some allied forces, are large and have no carousel. In Abrams, a fourth crew member in the tank pulls out shells from a sealed compartment and transfers them to a shotgun.

Ukrainian soldiers look at a destroyed Russian tank on a road in the village of Rosanio in the Kyiv region on April 16.

The compartment has a door that the crew member opens and closes between each shot taken by the tank, meaning that if the tank is hit, only one shell in the tower is likely to be exposed.

“An accurate hit can damage the tank, but not necessarily kill the crew,” Bandett said.

And Drummond said shells are used by Western troops. Sometimes The oncoming missiles burn in the intense heat, but they do not explode.

There is no easy way to know how many Russian tanks have been destroyed in Ukraine. Open source intelligence Monitoring website Orex On April 28, it said at least 300 Russian tanks had been destroyed, with another 279 either damaged, abandoned or captured.

However, the site only counts instances where it has visual evidence, so Russian losses can be significant.

A Russian tank was destroyed and its tower blown up after fighting near Kharkiv, Ukraine.

And the damage is not just to the equipment. When British Defense Secretary Wallace gave the House of Commons an estimate of 580 lost tanks, he also said that more than 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed during the attack.

It is difficult to know how many of them are tank crew, but what is doubtful is that changing crews is not easy.

Alec Rouenella, a former tank member in the Finnish Defense Forces, said it could take up to 12 months to train the tank crew.

And it would be a long order for Russia to replace hundreds of personnel at this point in the war – especially when it is expected to use tanks that are so poor.

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