Russia’s ‘turtle tanks’ aim to evade Ukrainian drone strikes

While seeming rudimentary, the concept of spaced armor dates back to World War, to defeat shaped-charge warheads like those carried by bazookas and rocket-propelled grenades.

Russia has begun encasing some of its tanks in thick metal sheeting, earning them the nickname “turtle tanks” on the battlefield.

The crude but effective tactic sees additional metal plating welded over the turrets and exposed portions of the vehicles, creating makeshift spaced armour aimed at disrupting the explosive jets from incoming munitions before they can penetrate the tanks’ main protective layers.

While seeming rudimentary, the concept of spaced armour dates back to World War I naval applications and was employed on tanks during World War II to defeat shaped-charge warheads like those carried by bazookas and rocket-propelled grenades. The principle is that an initial layer of spaced material pre-laminates and throws off the directional coherence of the metal jet produced by the explosive charge, significantly degrading its armour-piercing capabilities before it reaches the inner hull.

Russia had previously attempted a similar strategy, welding metal cages around some tank turrets beginning in late 2021 in what Western analysts derisively termed “emotional support armour.” However, those efforts proved inadequate against Ukraine’s increasingly precise weaponry.

The new total enclosure approach, while impairing visibility and hampering operations, offers improved protective qualities. It could help insulate Russia’s tank fleet from some of the drone-dropped munitions and missile strikes that have wreaked havoc on their armoured forces throughout the invasion.

While unlikely to render the vehicles immune to Ukraine’s precision weaponry, the “turtle tank” spaced armour represents another improvised countermeasure employed by Russia in the face of immense materiel losses. Its effectiveness could prove critical on both sides of the battlefield in the year ahead.