As many of you may know, I have quite the interest in loitering munitions, which are also referred to as “kamikaze drones” since their main purpose is to fly into targets and explode. The technology isn’t new by any means, but the outbreak of the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan showcased just how effective these weapons systems are on a modern, conventional battlefield against both infantry and armored targets. If you haven’t been around the page for very long, one thing I have been paying attention to for a while now are these metal cages/canopies Russia has been retrofitting to its armor. I first began to cover them back in July 2021 when they first began to appear on T-72s during training in Crimea.
— ?-???? (@L_Team10) July 11, 2021
July of 2021 found itself after two key events: the aforementioned 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, which ended in November of that year, and Russia’s troop build up at the Ukraine border, which really began in March 2021. The implementation of these canopies, on paper at least, were supposed to be lessons learned from the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war when it came to countering anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and loitering munitions. A major turning point of the conflict was the increased use of combat UAVs (Turkish made TB2) and loitering munition systems (Israeli IAI Harop and Harpy) by Azerbaijani forces, which targeted Armenian defensive positions, anti-air defenses, and supply lines. When it came to targeting Armenian armor, Azeri forces relied heavily upon Israeli weaponry, such as the loitering munitions just named and Spike NLOS ATGMs. Azerbaijan claims that it destroyed over 360 Armenian tanks, which is roughly 70% of their total fleet. Armenia’s armor capabilities consisted primarily of T-72 main battle tanks, which faced unrelenting top-down attacks by drones and ATGMs since its turret roof is only 30mm thick (just over 1 inch).
— ELINT News (@ELINTNews) October 10, 2020
Russia appeared to have taken note of the vulnerability and began constructing steel canopies for their T-72s and similar tank platforms to act as slat armor that sits over the turret, which in theory would prevent direct detonation on the vehicle. These canopies were seen on various Russian military tanks during training and field testing across the Southern Military District and Crimea. Eventually, they became a common sight in staging areas in Russia before they eventually made their way into Ukraine where we see them to this day. Looking back at what is currently a Russian invasion of Ukraine, the outfitting of the canopies was a pretty clear indicator of what was to come to be completely honest.
I thought these canopies would be a good idea, something cheap and seemingly effective to disrupt loitering munition and ATGM attacks. Problem is there hasn’t been any loitering munition deployment in the conflict and these canopies have seemingly done nothing to stop NLAW and Javelin strikes, as well as TB2 drone strikes. This was somewhat expected, as back in December 2021 Ukrainian forces along the Donbas frontline began combat drills using Javelins, where they would test out the systems on old tanks with steel canopies on them, which again appeared to do nothing in stopping the missiles.
The Armed Forces of Ukraine fired a Javelin ATGM at a test-target configured with the jerry-rigged protective grille now affixed to tanks of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian test showed the Russian counter-measure is useless. #RussiaInvadedUkraine pic.twitter.com/oDfrmsiMPQ
— Michael MacKay (@mhmck) December 23, 2021
The use case for the canopies is very specific: that one off chance of a top down strike. With that in mind, their addition does nothing for direct attacks by NLAW and Javelin systems, which have been seen regularly in combat footage coming from the conflict. Overall, Russia was onto something with the idea and taking what they had learned from Armenia, however, in reality, the canopies appear to be a dud. I haven’t seen any instances yet of the canopies effectively countering any top down strikes, but then again we haven’t seen how they would fair up against loitering munitions.