The problem of Russian tanks
The video shows the “Jack in the box” effect
By Holger Preiss
The video of a Chinese journalist in Mariupol, Ukraine, once again proves that Russian battle tanks have a serious problem. There, the turret of a Russian tank, connected to a column of fire, is projected more than 70 meters into the air like a rocket. The reason for this is the so-called “jack in the box” effect.
The situation in the war between Ukraine and Russia is confused. Especially with regard to the material losses of the various warring parties. A video of a Chinese journalist in Mariupol proves once again that the Russian army has a glaring problem with its main battle tanks. It shows the turret and long-barreled gun launched 70 meters into the air, followed by a powerful burst of fire. Experts believe that Russia may have lost hundreds of main battle tanks in the same way since the start of the war.
But specialists have gleaned even more from the images of exploded tank turrets: they suspect that Russian tanks suffer from a flaw known in technical jargon as “jack in the box”. In German, this sentence could probably be translated as “jumping devil”. In the end, this means nothing more than the fact that the extra shells for the main battle tanks’ smoothbore gun are stored in the turrets.
Even an indirect hit on the turret can cause a chain reaction here, causing your own ammo to explode in the tank. When this happens, up to 40 grenades will explode. The resulting shock wave is enough to catapult the tank’s turret the height of a two-story house.
The tank crew is also killed
The explosion in the tank not only rips off the cockpit, but also kills the three-person crew, consisting of the commander, driver and gunner. “If you don’t get out of the tank in the first seconds of the bombing here, you’re just going to get roasted,” Nicholas Drummond, a defense industry analyst specializing in ground warfare and a former US Army officer, told CNN. British army.
Drummond sees the “jack in the box” effect not only in Russian main battle tanks like the T-72, but also in infantry vehicles like a BMD-4, which also carries three crew and five other soldiers. According to the specialist, the BMD-4 is also a “mobile coffin” due to the storage of its ammunition inside.
The problem is particularly troublesome for Moscow, as Western military officials had already recognized the weak point during the Gulf Wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003. Many of the T-72 main battle tanks used by the Iraqi military met the same fate. According to Drummond, Russia failed to make appropriate modifications to the tanks to prevent them from self-destructing. Although the vehicle’s armor was further improved with the T-90, successor to the T-72 and T-80, the internal ammunition storage was not changed, which also makes more modern systems vulnerable.
West learned from his mistakes
Of course, there are also reasons why the storage of ammunition in Russian combat vehicles is done in this way and not otherwise. The idea and the advantage is that space is saved. This in turn allows the tank to be built very flat, making it harder to hit in combat.
Incidentally, the knowledge of this weak point led to the construction of Western tanks according to a different principle, which makes it possible to store ammunition in such a way that the crew remains unscathed in the event of a “jack in the box”. Drummond is referring here to the US Army’s Stryker infantry fighting vehicle, which was developed after the first Iraq War. “Here, the turret, which holds all the ammunition, does not protrude into the crew compartment,” Drummond explains. “So if the tower is hit and taken away, the team won’t be hurt,” the pundit said on CNN.
Other Western tanks like the M1 Abrams protect themselves by having a crew member retrieve each shell from a sealed compartment and place it in the barrel for firing. The ammo compartment closes between each shot, ensuring that when the tank fires at it, there is only one shell in the turret at a time.
There are two problems for Russia
Anyway, during the war it is extremely difficult to determine how many Russian tanks have actually been destroyed to date. However, based on the UK Ministry of Defense calculations mentioned above, this would mean that a significant proportion of the crews were also killed. And they are not easy to replace. Former Finnish Armed Forces tanker Aleski Roinila told CNN that training a working tank crew can take up to a year.
Russia would therefore have the problem of having to replace not only the tanks, but also their crew members. It is hard to imagine this being easily possible in the turbulence of war.