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Why No Nation Wants to Fight Russia’s T-90 Tank

T-90M. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
T-90M Tank from Russia. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russia’s T-90 Tank Is a Powerhouse (A 5 Minute Explainer): The T-14 Armata, Russia’s next-generation main battle tank, has not been deployed in substantial numbers. That means the Russians will have to depend on older but quite powerful T-90 tanks as their current advanced platform for armored maneuver warfare. However, the T-90 had a mixed record up against anti-tank missiles when it was fielded in Syria. There is a question about how effective it can guard against the TOW and Javelin missiles. The next question is obvious: Is the T-90 itself outdated?

T-90: A Short History

The T-90 was designed to take over from the T-80 and T-72 tanks, which truly never occurred. Both of these tanks have seen a number of different upgrades over the years.

The T-90 came into service in 1992. Russia runs between 750 to 1,000 T-90 variants. At least seven countries also use them – from Algeria to India to Vietnam.

T-90 Armor Has Added Protection from an Automatic Countermeasures System

The armor is the standard Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor blocks that upgraded T-72s use. This is to protect against armor-piercing sabot rounds.

The T-90M has the newer Relikt explosive reactive armor, but there are only estimated to be 20 T-90Ms in service, although all T-90s are expected to be enhanced by the ‘M’ upgrade.

Protection is augmented by the Shtora-1 countermeasures system to spoof enemy anti-tank missiles. This is what sets the T-90 apart from the T-72 and T-80. The system sends out infrared signals that jam inbound missiles. If the tank is lit up by a laser, Shtora-1 automatically sends out a warning and releases smoke grenades to mask movement.

Is the Shtora-1 Outdated?

There is a question of whether some components of the Shtora-1 suite of countermeasures are obsolete. The Russians say the system was effective in Syria against militants using American TOW 2A and Chinese HJ-8 anti-tank missiles. But when the Syrian Army used 30 T-90 tanks sent by Russia in 2016 and 2017, the system seemed faulty. 1945 reported that five were taken out by rebel missiles and further analysis showed that the Shtora-1 countermeasures would not be effective against Javelin anti-tank missiles.

The latest T-90M tanks are reportedly not going to use the infrared countermeasures from the Shtora-1.

Improved Gun and Engines on the T-90M and T-90MS

Like the upgraded T-72 and T-80, the T-90 has the latest 2A46M 125 mm smoothbore gun with 22 rounds in the autoloader and AT-11 Sniper-B anti-tank guided missiles. The T-90MS export model has an improved gun with a longer range and can carry 40 rounds of ammunition.

The T-90 originally had a V-84MS diesel engine with 840 horsepower. A new engine gives it 1,000 horsepower which is less than the updated T-72, and a speed of only 37 miles per hour – slower than the upgraded T-72 and T-80. But the newer variant T-90M and T-90 MS export model has an improved speed of 44 miles per hour.

T-90: Lots of Questions

Thus, the base T-90 has questions about its power, speed, and survivability against anti-tank missiles.

To be sure, well-trained and elite tank crews can overcome these shortcomings. The updated T-90MS and T-90M mostly solve these problems with a better engine including an automatic transmission and improved fire control systems. With that said, the Russians are looking to update the base model T-90 from the early 1990s to become a T-90M or risk having outdated T-90s from 1993.

1945’s new Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.