A Shortage Of Optics Was Holding Back Russian Tank Production. That Shortage May Have Ended.
I write about ships, planes, tanks, drones, missiles and satellites.
Aug 7, 2023,06:33pm EDT
Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu visits the Omsktransmash tank plant in June. RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY
Its possible Russian industry has unclogged one of the major bottlenecks in its production of modern T-72B3, T-80BVM and T-90M tanks.
Their optics. Before Russian forces invaded Ukraines Crimean Peninsula back in 2014, Russias two active tank plantsUralvagonzavod in Sverdlovsk Oblast and Omsktransmash in Siberiasourced Catherine-FC thermal cameras, the core component of the Sosna-U gunners sight, from French firm Thales.
French sanctions on Russia barred the export of the thermal cameras. Which is why, as Russian tank losses exceeded a thousand last summer roughly a year into Russias wider war on Ukrainethe Kremlin began pulling old T-62, T-72 and T-80 tanks out of long-term storage and fitting them with 1970s-vintage 1PN96MT-02 sights.
The Russians simply didnt have enough Sosna-Us in stock to complete more than a few hundred of the latest T-72B3s, T-80BVMs and T-90Ms. They even created new, downgraded versions of these tanks that traded the unavailable Sosna-U for the available 1PN96MT-02.
That mattered because the result, for Russian battalions on the front lines, was a bunch of tanks that couldnt fight very well at long distances, especially at night.
The Ukrainians at the same time were rearming with German-made Leopard 1A5 and Leopard 2A4/A6 tanks, Swedish- made CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and M-2 and Stryker IFVs from the United Statesall combat vehicles with excellent long-range optics. For Kyivs troops, Russias industrial woes translated into an important battlefield advantage.
That advantage may be slipping. A video that circulated online this week depicts a trainload of T- 80BVMs30 or soapparently leaving the Omsktransmash plant. The tanks feature the distinctive optics housings that point to the presence of Sosna-U sights.
Or not. Five years ago Russian industry launched a crash program to copy the Thales thermal camera, replacing French components with Russian ones. The resulting PNM-T sight looks like a Sosna-U sight, but might not have the same long-range, high fidelity and reliability that the Sosna-U is known for.
Omsktransmash either has begun installing PNM-Ts in new T-80BVMswhich arent actually new, per se, but rather are old T-80s that have undergone deep overhaul and upgradeor Russia somehow has found a way around French sanctions, and has sourced a batch of Sosna-Us.
The latter isnt impossible. Researchers have torn apart the remains of Russian drones and missiles recovered in Ukraine and found components produced by scores of smaller European and American firms that shouldnt be able to ship products to Russia, but somehow have managed to do so.
In any event, its apparent Russian industry now is shipping new tanks with modern optics. Maybe the optics run out and the Russians again resort to shipping older tanks. Or maybe Russian industry permanently has solved its optics problem.
A permanent resolution of the optics crisis would be bad news for Ukraine. For now, at least. Once American-made M-1 tanks start arriving in Ukraine this fall, the battlefield balance of power again could shift. The M-1 has some of the best optics in the world.