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Why Russia’s Feared T-90 Tank Keeps Getting Killed in Ukraine

T-90 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russia’s T-90 Tank Touted as Best In Class Is Fizzling Out in Ukraine – What happened to Russia’s vaunted T-90 tanks? You already know that Russian tanks have taken a major whipping on the battlefields of Ukraine. The Russian tank fleet was supposed to have been modernized for a 21st Century decisive conflict to roll into Kyiv and take the capital. Instead, anti-tank guided missiles have taken their toll on Russian armor and the Ukrainians have probably come up with innovative tactics with the Javelin anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) to overwhelm Russian armor. The T-90 was supposed to shine a light on the fog of war. So what exactly happened?

T-90s Having Major Difficulty

Russian soldiers are sometimes abandoning the tank. This video from March 26, which has garnered 2.8 million views on YouTube, shows two T-90s captured by the Ukrainians. Javelin and NLAW anti-tank weapons have taught Vladimir Putin’s tank battalions a hard-earned lesson with many burned-out hulls of T-90 tanks littering the battlefield.

What’s Going on With the T-90?

This T-90 carnage is a mystery.

The T-90 and its variants are supposed to have a system that would foil anti-tank missiles. Known as the Shtora-1 active protective system, the countermeasures were designed to confuse the guidance system of incoming enemy missiles. It’s an infrared jammer with a laser warning device. After picking up a threat alert, the system can put out smoke to block the incoming “thermal and laser wave bands.” Finally, a pair of electro-optical jammers keep the ATGM from homing in on the tank.

Survivability Was a Selling Point

The T-90 cannon has an auto-load feature that is supposed to send high-explosive anti-tank rounds quickly downrange. This eliminates the need for a human loader and reduces the crew size down to three. The armor was also believed to be a strength. And some evidence revealed that at least in Syria the newfangled Kontakt-5 armor (explosive reactive) kept TOW missiles from destroying a base-model T-90.

It’s the Weakness Against Javelins

With those two features – protection from ATGMs and improved armor – the T-90 should be more survivable in Ukraine. It must have a weakness along the top of the turret which is less fortified. American Javelin ATGMs can streak upward and then dive down to blast the top of the turret. But the Shtora should defend against that.

Shtora Protection System Can Be Defeated

Research from the Modern War Institute at West Point, if heeded, may have turned the tide of combat when it comes to Javelin’s tactics against the T-90.

“Shtora has no effect on Javelins or recoilless rifles. When targeting a vehicle with Shtora, gunners using the ITAS (improved target acquisition system) should never directly laser the tank with the range finder, instead of targeting a patch of ground three vehicle lengths away. This will allow the gunner to avoid being detected by Shtora.”

The Defenders Are Learning Faster Than the Occupiers

The Ukrainians may have figured that out on their own in combat. Or It’s advice that American trainers have probably communicated to Ukrainian soldiers. Either way, the Javelin is teaching the Russians that tanks, no matter what their modernization and improvements are, can fail.

Adapt Or Die

Now what?

It appears the Russian tankers are getting out-smarted by the Javelin-wielding fighters. No wonder the Ukrainians call for Javelins over anti-tank weapons such as the older and less sophisticated LAW, the TOW, and the AT4.

Until the Russians figure this out – how to keep the ATGMs from destroying their tanks – Putin’s forces may have to use tanks for defense instead of offense. The Ukrainian soldiers know their territory, whether it is woods where they can set up ambushes or hiding in the rubble of cities to fire at tanks. This is another reason that the main battle tank may come to be obsolete.

Now serving as 1945’s 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. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

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.



  1. James McCarl

    March 31, 2022 at 9:30 pm

    I see little evidence Russian infantry is dismounting and moving out to protect the tanks.

  2. Edward Thomas

    April 1, 2022 at 7:11 am

    Don’t tell the Russians what they were doing wrong until after the war helped to Ukrainians defeat these bastards by not telling them how to defend their selves. Don’t be crazy stupid!

  3. JMiller

    April 1, 2022 at 7:40 am

    I think it’s more a combined arms failure that is driving tank losses than a technical issue. Even the most modern tanks are vulnerable if not supported properly by infantry and airforce, that is no news. Atrocious Russian tactics are the key factor here.

  4. David

    April 1, 2022 at 8:45 am

    Javelin in particular also has two warheads. A smaller warhead is there solely to detonate the reactive armor. The second, larger warhead is made to penetrate the tank itself. Even in a direct-fire mode, Javelin would have better results than a traditional ATW or RPG which only fires a single-stage shaped charge

  5. Alex

    April 1, 2022 at 8:48 am

    Some authors promised that Russia had already run out of T-90s. It’s time to stop this, write that there are no more tanks and mock-ups remain, but the Ukrainians are destroying them “bravely” 🙂

  6. Andrew Winter

    April 1, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Reactive Armor is hugely over rated. It is fairly simple to defeat and it only works once.

    Reactive Armor is a layer of explosives. It goes off in a sympathetic explosion with a “shaped charge” anti tank warhead goes off.

    In 1987 I witnessed a field exercise as a “referee”. There was an armored company commander screaming over the radio that the impossible had happened. We were using the MILES system.

    With that system when your computer registers a laser hit it records the coded “blinks”. Those blinks are a data stream. That stream contains the ID of the owner of the laser, (if its a vehicle), they type of ammo being fired at you, and whether or not that hit killed you. If your vehicle is “killed” your smoke generators go off and your ignition is cut off. If the weapon shooting you does not kill you it records a “near miss”, and will even read in accumulated damage from near misses.

    The armor on this occasion was simulating Russian tanks with reactive armor, supposedly impervious to the TOW-1 missile system, which was still predominant in our forces on the border.

    He was killed by a TOW-1 missile, and he was downright HOSTILE about it. Gawd bless the control operator on the radio net. That young man calmly asked the captain to read out the computer log of the engagement.

    That captain of armor, still angry began to read out the log over the radio. Gradually slowly he got more and more calm and finally realized the truth.

    Some Bradley gunner had figured out that weak point of reactive armor. It ablates. It only works once. Against all training that Bradley gunner engaged that captains tank, the pennant tank, with his 25mm chain gun. But he did NOT use Armor Piercing. In an act of pure genius he used his HE ammo.

    The near misses of all those HE hits were duly recorded. And unbeknownst to anyone who use the MILES system, that system was recording the ablation of the reactive armor. Suddenly there was that “bang your dead” moment when the Bradley gunner nailed nailed the reactive armor equipped tank with his old school TOW-1 missile.

    Watch some of the combat videos. See how many times a pair of special forces guys use TWO shoulder fired AT missiles to kill a tank.

    The first missile ablates the reactive armor. The second missile kills that tank. Easy Peezy Lemon Squeezy.

  7. Turan YILMAZ

    April 4, 2022 at 8:28 am

    It was obvious that, the Russian Tanks had NO Infantry support especially at crowded city roads and urban areas. Well trained infantry units should have been deployed in the front 1st then Tanks would be allowed to enter.
    Tanks were very vulnarable due to heavy vehicle traffic in or outskirts of the towns.
    To me the main reason of the failure of Russian Tanks have been generated by lack of foresight or undermining the existence of sophisticated ATGMs supplied by NATO countries. Great lesson for Putin!
    Ukranian Tank hunters did their job successfully and hunted 8-10 Russian Tanks simultaneously at a time! What a pitty!
    Cost of any modern Tank today is around USD10M or more. But a good quality ATGM is much much cheaper and cost effective.
    This war in Ukraine seems to change the concept of Tank usage in Urban areas for the wise commanders.

  8. Alex

    April 4, 2022 at 11:29 am

    I wonder what kind of failures we are talking about if 5-6 times more Ukrainian tanks were destroyed.

  9. Lee

    April 25, 2022 at 12:05 pm

    Alex, STFU, you’re still on here spreading your Russian troll bot lies. Go back to sucking on PuPu heads shriveled schlong and Dmitry Pi$$ants teat. Hopefully you’ll die you POS along with PUPU head and somebody puts a bullet right between you’re lying sack of Sh$t eyes! Russia’s estimated miltary losses are $20 Billion a day we are almost in month 3 that’s over a trillion dollars where’s the the so called hypersonic missles just a bunch of hot air threats again!!! Destroying civilian infrastructure is cowardice like somebody too much of a big pu$$y to fight face to face exactly like a typical orc non-human pos russian!

  10. Alex

    April 26, 2022 at 2:31 am

    While the juvenile Bandera Nazi was again taken to the imaginary world by cheap drugs, we will talk about the real world.

    Why is Russia with the people’s militia of Donbass taking new territories of Ukraine every day? Let’s figure it out:

    The West failed to turn much of the world against Russia after the military operation in Ukraine began, columnist Howard French wrote in an article for Foreign Policy magazine.
    According to him, many states did not support sanctions against Moscow, including such large countries as India and China.

    “In fact, when counting the population of these countries, it becomes clear that the states representing the majority of humanity have not taken a position in this conflict, seeing in it the familiar echoes of the former rivalry between East and West,” said French .
    According to the observer, the international political system that took shape at the beginning of the twentieth century from the very beginning gave the countries of the “third world” the status of second-class states. As an example, he cited the colonization of Africa by European countries.

    “It was the work of the work and cotton in the people of sugar unpaid smelted and all made of American colonies profitable Europe, and the so- rich for “Old the World” new and millions did ,” the author emphasized.

    French urged not to ignore the heightened sense of justice among the former colonized peoples.

    “The whole world” with Ukraine 🙂

  11. Matti

    April 28, 2022 at 1:22 am

    According to the Oryx website, Russian have lost some 550 MBTs in Ukraine, only 20 being T90s. So, what’s going on?

  12. Alex

    April 29, 2022 at 11:00 am

    It’s wonderful to watch how a young Bandera Nazi is turned inside out. Soon you will meet your Bandera in the same boiling pot, bastards 🙂

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

    Lend-lease is a commodity loan, and not cheap: for all the ammunition, equipment and food supplied by the United States, many future generations of Ukrainian citizens will pay. Zelensky is driving the country into a debt hole.

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