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Deathmatch: Russia’s New T-90M Tank Vs. Javelin and NLAW Missiles: Who Wins?

T-90M in Ukraine
T-90M. Image Credit: Russian State Media.

It was seemingly big news in Ukraine when the presence of Russian T-90M “Proryv” battle tanks was reported in Kharkiv Oblast on April 25. An upgraded version of the T-90, the tank was supposed to have virtually indestructible armor—putting the effectiveness of Ukraine’s Javelin anti-tank rockets and British NLAWs that had been knocking out older Russian tanks in jeopardy.

Yet it wasn’t long before more news emerged of a charred T-90M reportedly laid to waste by the very same Javelin anti-tank rocket system it was said to be invulnerable against.

The T-90M

To be sure, the T-90M is a far cry from the T-72s and T-80s that the Ukrainian military’s anti-tank capabilities have been ripping through since February 24. The “modernized” third generation tank first rolled out in 2017 with significant improvements over its T-90 predecessor: substantially improved, multilayered ERA (explosive-reactive armor), a new 2A46M-4 125mm smoothbore main gun in a modernized turret (with longer range and reported improvements in accuracy of 15-20 percent), and the ability to fire anti-tank guided missiles up to four or five kilometers away.

In addition, this upgraded T-90 features a diesel engine capable of running at somewhere between 1,000 and 1,130 horsepower, an auxiliary power unit and a self-entrenching blade to dig itself in should the mission require it.

In short, the T-90M was supposed to be the Ukrainian military’s worst fear: a bête noire meant to overcome the difficulties of Russia’s less capable and less sophisticated tanks.

And yet despite predictions the T-90M would survive Javelins, it seems it is in fact vulnerable to them after all. How has the Russian military’s most advanced operational battlefield tank run into such problems?

The T-90M Isn’t Perfect or Invincible 

The truth of the matter is that it was never clear the T-90M would survive the Ukrainian battlefield. In Syria, for example, five T-90s were destroyed by Syrian militants with standard anti-tank weaponry. Though not T-90Ms, such weakness would certainly leave one wondering if the upgraded T-90M would live up to the hype.

Perhaps the tank’s greatest weakness is that its ammunition is stored inside its turret—a perfect target for the Javelin. Indeed, those training Ukrainians on the rocket system are taught to target the top of the tank specifically for this reason. The Javelin is an infrared homing missile utilizing optical sights. Since the T-90’s protection system is designed to pick up lasers, this allows the rocket to evade the tank’s defenses.

Of additional importance is reporting of over overly optimistic estimates of tank capabilities within the Russian military, where it is said training is poor and troops led to believe their vehicles are largely indestructible. For comparison, American troops trained on the Abrams M1 are often acutely aware of both its strengths and vulnerabilities.

One thing for sure is that such vulnerability as the T-90M has now displayed will likely only further dampen morale within the Russian armed forces. This tank was marketed as a beast capable of easily rolling over Ukrainian forces. However, it has now shown itself to be part and parcel to the wild optimism surrounding the Kremlin’s “special military operation.”

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

Written By

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. John mangine

    May 24, 2022 at 5:58 pm

    Still no armata tanks , but from what I’m seeing the age of main battle tanks is coming to an end ,the training of russian armour formations must be at all time low , unfortunately large loss of life and material mean nothing to putin

  2. Robert Peavey

    May 24, 2022 at 6:58 pm

    Until the Russians learn about crew comfort, crew protection, and rely on an auto-loader system, Russian tanks will continue to burn. The T-14 is unlike previous Russian designs in that the turret is higher and very angular. One has to wonder why the added height if the crew is all up front. But the biggest failure of the turret design is at the base of the turret itself. The Russians have actually built a “bullet trap” around the tank. You don’t design a feature that draws rounds into the tank itself. No western tank would do such a thing. The inward “V” created around the turret will suck in a round that might have been a ricochet, or “trap the bullet” inwards to the turret ring.
    The most important weapon on a tank, believe it or not, is the co-ax machinegun. The T-14’s are fired by remote control, meaning you can’t re-load them in the fight. Very dumb move and one of the limits due to a 3-man crew. There are other weaknesses.

  3. AC

    May 24, 2022 at 11:09 pm

    No Matter What Nato Is doing In Ukraina,DNR,LNRand The Russian Will Defeat The Nazis of Europa. Is Just A Matter Of Time. Is A Military Operation, so Casualities Will Happen,but Liberating Forces Will Prevail.

    • Daniel J Martineau

      May 25, 2022 at 10:52 pm

      Lol. Russian bot or poorly informed fool?

  4. Carl Gustav

    May 25, 2022 at 5:30 am

    The Ukrainian MOD actually claimed it was destroyed by a Carl Gustav rocket launcher and thanked Sweden, who make them. No Javelin. Another explanation I saw was that the T-90M was destroyed/scuttled by another Russian tank which you can see in the drone video.

    • Bill Wooginowski

      May 25, 2022 at 6:55 pm

      Most likely was disabled by a Carl-G, forcing the Russians to then scuttle the tank themselves, since they could not recover it.

  5. Putin Putin

    May 25, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    Take Putin Out of power,,,World Peace has Spoken.

  6. John E. Osman 3

    May 26, 2022 at 9:37 am

    To the other commenters here, … AC, you are delirious, … and more than likely a Russian bot, … and to those who are advocating the things that Russia needs to do, in order to secure their equipment, … it is of concern that I say this, … “Loose Lips, Sinks ships, … in other words, bro, Please do not help the aggressors, & instigators of this inhumane invasion, by trying to verbally repair the failures of Russian technology, … because then they might actually make some serious corrective changes to upgrade the issues with their equipment, … the less said the better when it comes to describing how to disable/destroy the invading army’s equipment of inhospitable equipment, … just figure out ways to disable/destroy such, …

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