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Is The Russian T-90M Tank Unbeatable?

April 10, 2020

Via Russian media/MoD.

A video clip shared by Russia’s defense ministry on its Youtube channel last month showed a production line of Uralvagonzavod’s newest main battle tanks being readied for transport by rail. These were T-90M’s or the latest variant of the successful T-90 family that enjoys strong demand from customers around the world almost 30 years since they were first revealed. The T-90M that also goes by the name “Proryv” marks a significant departure from the Russian Army’s old tanks with many parts of it redesigned to maximize protection. This is apparent when observing its appearance and the layout of the turret, whose angular shape is covered in spaced panels and reactive armor.

The T-90M keeps the 125mm 2A46M-5 main armament and its coaxial light machine gun. Instead of the familiar 12.7mm NSV machine gun on the commander’s hatch, whose shape was also redesigned, this has been replaced by a remote controlled turret armed with another PKT machine gun that comes with its own panoramic sight located at the back of the turret. The remote controlled turret is able to mount a 12.7mm machine gun should this be required. A separate stationary day/night sight is installed in front of the gunner’s hatch. The T-90M’s countermeasures appear to combine the familiar smoke grenades and passive protection sensors on either side of the main armament; the latter uses an “air curtain” system to foil incoming anti-tank missiles.

Via Russian media/MoD.

The hull is just as well protected with the glacis, or the space below the turret, layered with explosive reactive armor (ERA) encased in a thick steel slab. The T-90M’s shown in the footage of the Russian defense ministry had no rubber sideskirts as these are likely added together with cage or slat panels before the tanks reach their end users. The extent of cage or slat armor on the T-90M is a bit surprising with the whole engine compartment covered. This is supposed to stop or at least mitigate direct hits on the power plant. The back of the turret has its own cage or slat armor and a steel mesh “curtain” wraps round the turret’s lower half. The T-90M builds on the success of the T-90MS that was first unveiled to the public in 2012 and then snapped up by India several years later. In 2017 a copy of the T-90MS was promoted by Iranian media as the “Karrar” but disavowed by Uralvagonzavod.

A minor detail of the T-90M is the addition of an auxiliary power unit found behind the engine exhaust. This means the crew can still operate the tank’s subsystems even when the engine isn’t activated. When readied for operational use the T-90M is a generational improvement over current T-series Russian tanks and poses a serious threat to current NATO MBTs such as the Leopard 2A5/2A6. Unlike its NATO rivals the T-90M’s manufacturer keeps its production line active year-on-year to fulfill both domestic and foreign orders. This efficient procurement cycle is an unstated advantage for the Russian Army.

More than 3,000 T-90S tanks have been exported since the 1990s thanks to large orders by Algeria and India while the Russian Army maintains around 500 for its own use. The new T-90M joins the army’s tank fleet later this year to complement the older T-72B/B3’s and T-80UM. So far the T-90S’ combat history is limited to a few unflattering episodes in Syria where rebels and terrorists disabled them or scared away their crews. With the much hyped T-14 still in low-rate production the T-90M and its older siblings are the next best option for keeping the army’s fighting edge over the NATO alliance. During the height of the war with Ukraine the tank-on-tank combat showed how firepower and numbers are difficult to beat; the so-called “separatists” managed to field several hundred tanks and twice as many armored combat vehicles.

The advent of the T-90M and its service alongside the T-72B/B3 should make NATO commanders think about rebuilding their own neglected tank fleets.

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