Sunday, October 16, 2016

Russia is mass producing the improved Svinets-1 and Svinets-2 ammunition

Photographs and video footage of a visit of a Russian ammunition manufacturing facility have been posted to several different web forums. Apparently a government delegation accompanied by a number of journalsits or at least a photographer has visited the site.

It seems that Russia is mass producing a version of the Svinets-1 or Svinets-2 APFSDS. This fin-stabilized armor-piercing ammunition with sabot is meant to penetrate heavily armored vehicles such as main battle tanks (MBTs). The development of the original Svinets ammunition (without numerical suffix) was started in 1985 and lasted until at least 1991. It is not known to have entered service with the Russian Army. The original Svinets round uses a penetrator made of depleted uranium (DU) with a length of 546 and a diameter of 25 milimetres in order to penetrate an estimated 600 to 650 milimetres of steel armor at a distance of 2.000 metres; some people suggest this estimated penetration is based on performance against 60° sloped steel, which is usually 10% to 20% higher than the penetration against unsloped steel plates. Compared to the Svinets-1 and Svinets-2 ammunition, the original design has a shorter overall length of only 635 mm in order to stay compatible with the older autoloaders of the existing Soviet tanks.

Partly assembled projectiles
The Svinets-1 and Svinets-2 APFSDS ammunition is supposedly in development since the late-1990s or early-2000s. Some sources proclaim that it has been ready for series production since 2002 or 2005.  While it has been known for quite a while that both the Soviet Union and Russia have been working on the development of more advanced APFSDS ammunition for the T-72, T-80 and T-90 tanks - a number of different types of prototype ammunition has even been pictured - many recent photographs confirm that most of Russia's tanks are still supplied with old ammunition from the mid-1980s, probably taken from former Soviet stocks. Other users of tanks armed with 125 mm smoothbore guns of Soviet origin, among others countries such as the Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slowakia, have already adopted more advanced ammunition based on local development projects or Israeli technology.

125 mm APFSDS prototypes from the mid-1990s designed for the T-72
There is a factor of secrecy involved in the production of tank ammunition. In so far it seems possible, albeit not very probable, that Russia has been producing the improved Svinets ammunition since a few years already. If these rounds were ready for series production in 2002 or 2005, as claimed by some sources, it would be interesting to know when exactly the series production of this ammunition started and what the key factor to start the production at this time was. Are the delays related to some funding issues? Is the introduction of the T-14 Armata with the new 2A82 tank gun the key factor for the Svinets production? Has it something to do with delays during the development of Svinets-1 and Svinets-2?
An explanation might be related to the autoloaders of the older Soviet-designed MBTs; these cannot handle ammunition parts longer than approximately 640 milimetres. Thus Svinets-1 and Svinets-2 are too long for the average T-72 and T-80 tank. Supposedly at least the T-90A features an upgraded autoloader design capable of supporting longer parts, but the original production model of the T-90, which largely relied on the old T-72B chassis, might not have been fitted with an improved autoloader. This might result in the newer ammunition being only useful with a limited number of tanks, which would result in a lower production volume and higher per unit costs. The Armata with new gun and autoloader is most likely capable of handling the Svinets-1/2 APFSDS rounds and larger ammunition.

The Svinets-1 APFSDS is using a tungsten penetrator, while the Svinets-2 APFSDS is fitted with a depleted uranium (DU) penetrator. Both of these rounds could mean a major boost in anti-armor capabilities for Russia's tank force. Supposedly the Svinets-1 has the designation "3BM-59", while Svinets-2 is designated "3BM-60". They utilize an aluminium sabot with three points of contact - this is rather unique, as most other types of APFSDS sabot use only two points of contacts. If and how this affects accuracy and barrel wear is currently not known.
Despite the increased length of the sabot, the projectile length for the improved Svinets ammunition is still limited to at most just 680 - 700 milimetres based on the older photograph of Svients-1 and -2 (above), but this still is a decent improvment over the older Mango (3BM-42) and Vant (3BM-32). 

Compared to the 3BM-32 Vant APFSDS with a 380 mm long DU penetrator, the two types of new ammunition have an approximately 79 to 84 percent longer projectile, which should lead to a significant increase in penetration power.
The 3BM-42 Mango relies on an outdated pentrator design, using two relatively short tungsten rods inside a steel body. The greater parasitic weight (as steel penetrates armor less efficiently than a high-density heavy metal alloy) and the construction lead to rather poor performance against steel and specifically against more complex armor arrays. A problem of one and two-piece heavy metal penetrators sheathed by steel body is that during penetration of ERA, spaced armor or composite armor, the penetrators can become unaligned; when the two penetrators don't hit the same spot, the penetration is significantly worse.

Unfortunately a lot of data for a proper assessment of the penetration performance is still missing. The exact shape and construction of the penetrator aswell as the muzzle velocity and deceleration play a major role in the process of penetrating and perforating armor. Still the general length of the penetrator suggests a penetration of some 650 to 750 mm against homogenous armor steel sloped at 60° at a distance of 2,000 metres. Against conventional armor arrays, the Svinets-2 might be penetrate about as much armor as the current US M829A3 APFSDS; against composite armor targets and those protected by heavy explosive reactive armor (ERA), the M829A3 might have significantly better penetration due to the nature of it's constructions, which might utilize an approximately 4 inch long steel tip to penetrate heavy ERA and NERA, a feature which is not known to be existing on the improved Svinets ammunition. 

Some photographs might also show parts of the longer Grifel APFSDS, which supposedy has been developed exclusively for the 2A82 gun of the T-14 Armata. While the sabot length in most photographs is clearly too short for the Grifel, there appear to be at least two different types of penetrators; one of them is thinner and longer.


  1. Nice article as usual.

    Given the development of meter long projectiles for the NATO 140mm gun, Grifel has the potential to be pretty damn terrifying- getting smashed with a "telephone pole" of dU or tungsten is *likely* beyond even the Leo 2A7 or M1A2SEPv3's capability to survive. I reckon it's prompting a substantial rethink of passive armour systems. Two questions:

    1) Odds of next-gen NATO MBT's going unmanned turret/"bunker" hull route?
    2) How vulnerable would such a long APFSDS rod be to an ADS intercept? They're no doubt going to have huge inertia but with their size surely any yaw would dramatically increase the risk of them shattering?

    1. 1)Going unmanned (turret) is definitely the trend that started relatively recently on LAVs. T-14 was just the first to materialize this trend on MBTs.
      Unmanned turrets allow much better armoring of the hull while also increasing mobility, thus enhancing both survivability of the crew and combat performance.

      2)There's only been 1 recorded interception of an APFSDS by the ADS. Without knowing the exact method of operation, we cannot determine if and how effective it is against larger targets.

      Creating yaw will defeat even heavier 152mm APFSDS, though we know for sure the ADS doesn't tilt the rod. So again, we can't know for sure without knowing how the ADS works.

      Currently the Afghanit is the only operational APS capable of defeating KEPs. Iron Fist, AKKOR, and LEDS also exist but they're not operational.

    2. The odds of the next "NATO MBT" - the Main Ground Combat System currently being developed by Germany and France - having an unmanned turret appear to be rather high. The previous attempt of Germany to develop a MBT as part of the German NGP project, was designed with unmanned turrets in mind. Most of the NGP was canceled due to fundings, but the Puma (after numerous changes in requirements bringing the weight down from 77 tons to just 43 tons) is the final result of the NGP project.

      The issue with estimating the ability of ADS to intercept a 140 or 152 mm APFSDS rod is that we don't exactly know how ADS works. It is classified and we only have theories. The Franco-German institute at Saint-Louis has developed a prototype APS, which used steel plates to defeat APFSDS penetrators - in the best case the penetration could be reduced by a whopping 97%! If ADS can mimick this behavious using a metal-free composite plate or a DIME-like system, I'd believe that will affect the penetration of larger APFSDS rods (albeit maybe not by that large amount as at the institute). If ADS uses a different, unknown working mechanism (and on forums people have speculated on it using HE blasts or electric arc discharges), then it might be more affected by longer/thicker rods. I've been trying to write an article on APS, but I always stop to cover more recent events.