Incredibly, the Ukrainian M-55S tank that ate what appears to have been a Russian artillery round last week survived the blast with moderate damage.
A social-media post by the tank’s crew, depicting the damaged but mobile tank, is all the evidence we need to herald the 36-ton vehicle’s return from the dead.
It’s possible the four-person crew of the ex-Slovenian tank—a 1990s Israeli upgrade of an ex-Soviet T-55 from the mid-1950s—owes its good fortune to the Rafael-made explosive reactive armor that covers the frontal arc on all 28 M-55Ss.
ERA basically is a sandwich of steel and plastic explosives that blasts outward when a fast-moving projectile impacts it. The outgoing blast disrupts the incoming blast, and hopefully spares the tank major damage.
One problem with ERA, however, is that it works by way of a controlled explosion. That represents an obvious risk for tanks whose turrets are covered in optics, radio antennae and other sensitive equipment.
Sure enough, the video and photo that appeared online a few days after the M-55S came under attack appear to show serious damage to the tank gunner’s Fotona SGS-55 day-night sight.
It’s possible the M-55S’s ERA saved it from total destruction, but at the cost of the tank’s ability to fight. That’s what soldiers call a “mission kill.” The Russian artillery strike at least temporarily has removed the M-55S from the Ukrainian order of battle.
Expect the Ukrainians to either repair the M-55S or pop off its turret and use the intact hull as the basis for an engineering vehicle or something. Ukrainian technicians are famous for repairing even badly-damaged vehicles—and salvaging major components from those vehicles that are too far gone for economical repair.
All that is to say, it’s too soon to add that or any M-55S to the list—363 entries and growing—of tanks the Ukrainian armed forces totally have written off in the 17 months since Russia widened its war on Ukraine.
The possible role Israeli-made ERA played in the M-55S’s survival reminds us why the Ukrainians are so fond of the welded-on armor blocks. A thick layer of ERA—the Soviet-style Kontakt armor is a favorite in Ukraine—can double the effective protection on certain parts of, say, a T-64 or T-72 tank.
It’s not for no reason that the Ukrainian army steadily has been rotating through workshops the 40 or so German-made Leopard 2A4 tanks Kyiv’s allies have pledged to the war effort. The A4s lack the latest composite armor that protects the 21 newer Leopard 2A6s Ukraine also has received.
Kontakt ERA doesn’t quite turn a Leopard 2A4 into a Leopard 2A6, but it helps. ERA likewise could significantly improve the survivability of the tank that’s set to become Ukraine’s most numerous Western-supplied tank: the German Leopard 1A5.
The Leopard 1A5—a 1980s upgrade of a 1960s tank—is available in much greater numbers than the newer Leopard 2 is. A Danish-Dutch-German consortium is restoring at least 135 of the four-person, 40-ton tanks for transfer to Ukraine starting later this year.
The Leopard 1A5 is thinly protected. Its armor is just 70 millimeters thick at its thickest. That’s less protection than even a T-55 enjoys.
A hefty application of ERA may have helped that M-55S struggle through Russian bombardment. And it might be the Leopard 1A5’s only chance of surviving even near-misses on the Ukraine battlefield.
Source : Forbes