Moscow uses the Syrian conflict as a testing ground for new weapons

Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov commented on the situation with T-14 tanks in Syria in April. April 19, 2020 in an interview with Nail Asker-zade in the program “Actors” on the Russian state television channel “Russia-1”.

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The original article has been published in Inosmi. Translation and editing by Defenseweek’s team.

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A representative of the Russian government said that Russia had conducted field trials of the main Armata T-14 battle tanks in Syria. If so, this was the first use of these tanks abroad. The Kremlin has long been using the Syrian conflict as an opportunity to test new weapons and other military equipment. But it is not yet clear how tough the T-14 tests in the Middle East were, if any, at all.

Russian Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov commented on the situation with T-14 tanks in Syria in April. April 19, 2020 in an interview with Nail Asker-zade in the program “Actors” on the Russian state television channel “Russia-1”.

Alexander Potapov, director general of the state-owned T-14 tank manufacturer Uralvagonzavod, told Vedomosti in February that the company would deliver the first production batch of T-14 tanks this year.

“Yes, absolutely right. They [Armata ‟tanks] were used in Syria, said Asker-zade Manturov. “They were used in the field, in Syria, so we took into account all the nuances.”

The minister did not provide any additional details about when and where tests were carried out in Syria, how many tanks were involved, and what exactly the tests consisted of. Until now, there have been no reports from the Russian Ministry of Defense confirming the deployment of [tanks] or offering any additional information.

The Russian military has already tested other existing and new weapons systems and military equipment in Syria, including sea-based Caliber cruise missiles, X-101 air-based cruise missiles, Su-35S combat aircraft, and BMPT Terminator combat vehicles and unmanned ground combat vehicles in real combat conditions.

However, with the exception of a small number of infantry fighting vehicles, Russia had not previously sent heavy armored vehicles similar to the T-14 to Syria. Even if a certain amount of T-14s actually entered the country, it is quite possible that the Russian military limited their actual use in order to reduce the likelihood of accidents or real combat losses.

Militant groups and terrorists fighting the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who rely heavily on Kremlin support, have successfully used guided anti-tank missiles throughout most of the conflict that began in 2011 and continue to do so.

The T-14 really has improved armor compared to Russian tanks of previous generations and an active defense system against anti-tank missiles and anti-tank systems. The tank also makes the crew less vulnerable. For this, the design implements a scheme with a capsule for the crew located at the bottom of the hull and an unmanned turret. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that a combination of different factors can lead to damage or disable the tank, which will be a negative result for the Russian authorities and a possible propaganda success for anti-Assad groups.

In 2018, the Russian VKS sent a couple of promising Su-57 combat aircraft to Syria, but only for a few days. Satellite imagery later showed that at least one of the planes located at the Russian Khmeimim airbase was lined with sandbags to protect against militant attacks. In December 2019, the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, General Valery Gerasimov, stated that the Su-57s returned to the Middle East country for the next deployment, but did not say when exactly this happened, nor did he provide other details.

Sending the T-14 to Syria, even for a short time, can still be useful for Russia’s propaganda goals and demonstrate a commitment to promoting this project, despite the existing problems. Russia first publicly unveiled the T-14 in 2015 during the annual parade dedicated to the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, and announced plans to acquire thousands of such vehicles by the end of this year.

Various problems, in particular the high cost of “Almaty” in comparison with other existing models, delayed these plans, and Russia now expects to buy only about 100 cars as part of the first production batch.

In 2019, Russia, in particular, supplied more T-34/85 tanks received from Laos for use in parades and other promotional events than the T-14. The Russian army continues to receive a large number of modernized versions of Soviet-designed tanks T-90, T-80 and T-72.

In an interview in the Characters program, Manturov expressed the hope that the cost of the T-14 would decrease as serial production increased. “It (the fighting vehicle) is expensive because it is still undergoing a series of additional tests, modernization, because the Ministry of Defense has ordered additional technical solutions in order to reach serial production next year under the contract that was signed,” he said.

The minister also spoke about potential export orders that could further help reduce costs, and said that there are “pre-orders”, but refused to talk about who these potential customers are. “Next year, when serial deliveries of these tanks to the Ministry of Defense begin and an export certificate is received, we will begin to work with foreign customers,” he added.

The opportunity to say that the T-14 “worked well in battle” or was otherwise successfully deployed in Syria will help the Kremlin to export tanks abroad.

Whether Russia’s own plans for the production of the T-14 will be implemented or not remains unclear regardless of their use in Syria. In recent years, the country’s defense budgets have been regularly reduced, and the Kremlin often changes priorities, especially in financing large strategic weapons systems, including hypersonic missiles, nuclear-powered cruise missiles and nuclear warheads, as well as ultra-high-range torpedoes.

The fall in world oil prices in 2014 had a significant impact on the Russian economy as a whole, and Russia and Saudi Arabia most recently entered a new oil price war. US diplomacy supposedly helped put an end to this quarrel. Unfortunately, just today the American futures contract for oil collapsed, and its price per barrel fell below zero dollars, and this happened for the first time in history. This highlighted serious instability in the global oil market, especially due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

Of course, it will be interesting to know the details of the deployment of the T-14 in Syria, and what consequences it may have for the future production and operation of the tank. [end]