The Russian tank design flaw that makes them ‘mobile coffins’: Multiple shells stored together means even an indirect hit can spark chain reaction and set off an explosion

  • Russian tanks store up to 40 shells in a carousel at the base of the turret
  • Even an indirect hit can spark a chain reaction, igniting the ammunition
  • This blasts the turret high into the sky and makes the crew ‘sitting ducks’
A fatal design flaw in Russian tanks dating back to the Gulf War has made them ‘sitting ducks’ for Ukrainian attacks, blasting the turret up to two storeys into the air

Sam Bendett, an adviser with the Russian Studies Program at the Center for a New American Security, told CNN: ‘What we are witnessing with Russian tanks is a design flaw.

‘Any successful hit … quickly ignites the ammo causing a massive explosion, and the turret is literally blown off.’

The flaw came to the attention of the West in the Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003 when Iraq’s Russian-made T-72 tanks were similarly exposed.

The design has benefits, allowing for extra space inside and giving the tanks a lower profile, making them harder to hit.

Subsequent models including the T-90 and T-80 had the same vulnerability due to the missile loading system.

A destroyed Russian tank is seen lying next to its blasted off and charred turret in Mariupol last month
Drone footage shows one tank exploding into a fireball as its turret is blown high into the sky
One turret was blasted into the second floor of a house after it was hit, causing a chain reaction inside the vehicle
In Brovary, a beheaded tank is seen on the side of the road in a common image seen throughout Ukraine
The ‘jack-in-the-box effect’ has contributed to the devastating loss of up to 970 Russian tanks, the Ukrainian military claims
This aerial view taken near Kyiv on March 30 shows a destroyed Russian tank in the village of Lukianivka

But Western militaries have learned from the flaw and their tanks now have compartmentalised ammunition.

Steven Zaloga, an expert on Russian and Soviet armour, told military site Task & Purpose: ‘If you see film footage of a hit followed by the ammunition fire, typically what happens is that one propellant casing goes off — or one or two — because of a penetration.

‘The explosion of the first propellant case tends to trigger more. And so, what you often-times see is a sequence where one propellant case or a couple of propellant cases go off and then the stowage down in the autoloader goes up, basically like a string of firecrackers.’

In the Chechen wars, Russians reduced their tank losses by carrying fewer rounds, which meant the ammo and propellant could be stored in the autoloaders instead.

A destroyed Russian tank is seen in front of a damaged house in Malaya Rohan with the turret split from the body
Western militaries have learned from the flaw and their tanks now have compartmentalised ammunition
A Ukrainian soldier stands on the wreckage of a burnt Russian tank outside of the village of Mala Rogan

But now, Kremlin forces are packing their tanks with as much ammunition as possible.

Two crew members and a driver are normally inside the tanks, and they are ‘sitting ducks’ for the catastrophic explosions, Nicholas Drummond, a defence industry analyst and former British Army officer said.

He added: ‘If you don’t get out within the first second, you’re toast.’

Some Western vehicles such as the US Stryker have turrets which do not enter the crew compartment, meaning the crew is still safe below if the top is blown off.

Others have no carousel, while the M1 Abrams has a fourth crew member to retrieve shells from a compartment before manually transferring them to the gun.

If a tank is hit, only one shell at most will be in the turret.

Analysts claimed yesterday that Russia has lost so much military equipment in Ukraine that it will be unable to fight another war for years.

Analysts claimed yesterday that Russia has lost so much military equipment in Ukraine that it will be unable to fight another war for years

‘It will take years for Russia to rebuild its inventories’, according to the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In fact, Putin will struggle in the Donbas because vital ‘inventories are getting low’, analyst Mark Cancian told The Times.

Wrecked Kremlin equipment now amounts to 970 tanks, 187 planes, 155 helicopters, 431 artillery units and eight ships, the Ukrainian army estimated this morning. 

Military analyst Henry Boyd from the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Putin could still draw on sizeable, Soviet-era reserve forces stationed across Russia.

But most Russian soldiers could be unable to use it, he added. 

Mr Boyd told the newspaper: ‘They kept a large number of Soviet-era tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery.

‘You can probably compensate in terms of sheer numbers by reactivating older systems but there is a question mark over whether they will have the crews to man the vehicles and if they do, whether they have had sufficient training.’

6 comments

  1. Oh now I get it. That’s why all the blown up cockroach tanks that I’ve seen have the turret blown off. My only regret…the tanks didn’t hold more cockroaches. Too bad!!! But I’ll take what I can get

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Tanks are a fine balance between Firepower, Protection, Speed and Cost. Everything is a trade off of one at the expense of the others.
    The trouble with Soviet designs is that they tended to emphisize one to the exclusion of all else. In the case of the Mig-29 for example the plane was desgned for close in dog fighting. She has limited ordinance and relitively short range.
    In the case of Soviet tanks low cost was paramaount. They were designed for charging head long across the planes of Europe. Fire power and speed were important and protection an after thought.
    Because of this they have a low silhouette for protection instead of armor. but this means they can not depress their gun far enough to use the “Hull Down” tactic of hidding behind a berm with only the terrent exposed. Their engines have only one reverse geer. Backing up and displaceing to a diffrent fireing position is an essencial skill to tanks. They insist on three man crews and replace the fourth with an auto loader. This reduces the manpower needed by the armored forces. However this means that they have fewer men to maitain and operated the vehicle for extended periods of time. The small interior of the vehicle makes living it exhausting for the crew also.
    There is a video of a UAF BTR-4 wirth a 30 mm cannon targeting a russian tank on the side just above the road wheels and causing either the fuel or ammo to explode.
    Western tanks have a better balance of the factors with cost a secondary concideration.
    This is why western tanks consistantly dominate the battle againest their Soviet opponants.

    Liked by 5 people

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