Diesel Engines Outperform Gas Turbines on the Battlefield

The Russian T-14 Armata tank outpaces the American M1A2 in speed and range, despite less horsepower.

On Fridays I often do a little science and technology segment with the folks at Newsmax TV. This week, host John Bachman asked me a question about a new Russian tank.

That tank is called the T-14 Armata and it’s an interesting piece of technology. It’s a main battle tank, 48 tons in weight, powered by a diesel piston engine. This is contrary to the current American practice with the Abrams M1A2, which uses a Honeywell gas turbine.

The Armata’s diesel engine is good for about 1,200 hp, whereas the Honeywell gas turbine in the Abrams clocks in at 1,500 hp.

But let’s look at the speed difference. The Armata will go 50 to 56 mph on a good surface – the Abrams, 42 mph.

The diesel piston engine also holds a range advantage. The diesel powered Armata has a range of 310 miles. The maximum range of the Abrams using a gas turbine engine is about 240 miles.

Weight is also a factor. The Abrams weighs in at 62 tons, able to carry a crew of 4. This is significantly heavier than the 48 tons of the Armata, with a crew capacity of 3 thanks to an unmanned turret.

It’s interesting that for a high technology piece of equipment like a new main battle tank, the Russians have gone with piston engine technology. When they go diesel, they’ll lose the multi-fuel  capability of the turbine.

They may also lose the quick-change capability that the gas turbine offers the M1A2 Abrams.

It is interesting that in a world in which we associate gas turbines with the height of thermal efficiency, diesel engines are finding applications in military vehicles. At this rate the diesel piston engine may be the future, so what’s old may be new again.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for ENGINEERING.com. Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.