The problem of Russian tanks
Video shows “Jack in the box” effect
By Holger Preiss
05/13/2022 8:37 am
The video of a Chinese journalist in Mariupol, Ukraine, proves once again that the Russian battle tanks have a serious problem. There, the turret of a Russian tank, connected to a column of fire, is blown up more than 70 meters into the air like a rocket. The reason is the so-called “jack in the box” effect.
The situation in the war between Ukraine and Russia is confusing. Especially when it comes to the material losses of the individual warring parties. A video by a Chinese journalist in Mariupol once again proves that the Russian army has a glaring problem with its main battle tanks. It shows the turret and long-barreled cannon being thrown 70 meters into the air, followed by a powerful jet of fire. Experts speculate that Russia may have lost hundreds of main battle tanks in the same way since the war began.
But the specialists gleaned even more from the images of blown-off tank turrets: They assume that the Russian tanks are suffering from a fault known in technical jargon as a “jack in the box”. In German, this phrase could probably be translated as “jumping devil”. Ultimately, it means nothing other than that the additional shells for the smoothbore gun of the main battle tanks are stored in the turrets.
Even an indirect hit to the turret can cause a chain reaction to be triggered here, causing your own ammunition in the tank to explode. When that happens, a supply of up to 40 grenades will be detonated. The resulting shock wave is enough to catapult the tank’s turret to the height of a two-story house.
The tank crew is also killed
The explosion in the tank not only tears off the cockpit, but also kills the crew of three, consisting of commander, driver and gunner. “If you don’t come out of the tank in the first few seconds of the shelling here, you’ll just get roasted,” Nicholas Drummond, a defense industry analyst specializing in land warfare and a former British Army officer, told CNN.
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 members and another five soldiers. According to the specialist, the BMD-4 is also a “moving coffin” due to the storage of its ammunition in the interior.
The problem is particularly annoying for Moscow, because Western military officials had already recognized the weak point during the Gulf wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003. A large number of the T-72 main battle tanks used by the Iraqi army met the same fate. According to Drummond, Russia has failed to make appropriate modifications to the tanks to prevent them from self-destructing. Although the armor of the vehicle was again improved with the T-90, the successor to the T-72 and T-80, the internal ammunition storage was not changed, which also makes the more modern systems vulnerable.
West has learned from the mistakes
Of course, there are also reasons why the storage of ammunition in the 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 has led to western tanks being built according to a different principle, which makes it possible to store the ammunition in such a way that the crew remains unharmed 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, doesn’t protrude into the crew compartment,” explains Drummond. “So if the tower is hit and blown off, the team will not be harmed,” said the expert 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 gun for firing. The ammunition compartment closes between each shot, which guarantees that when the tank is fired on, there is only one shell in the turret at a time.
There are two problems for Russia
Be that as it may, during the course of the war it is extremely difficult to determine how many Russian tanks have actually been destroyed to date. However, based on the calculations by the British Ministry of Defense mentioned above, this would mean that a significant proportion of the crews were also killed. And they are not easy to replace. Former tanker in the Finnish Armed Forces Aleski Roinila told CNN that training a working tank crew can take up to a year.
So Russia would have the problem of having to replace not only the tanks, but also their crew members. It is hard to imagine that this is easily possible in the turbulence of war.