Russia‘s T-90 tank has made the news recently as it has not faired very well in the war in Ukraine. However, this tank has been on several battlefields all over the world and has been exported to nations like India: Originally developed as the export version of the Russian T-90 main battle tank (MBT), which first entered production in 1992, the T-90S was also adopted by the Russian Armed Forces as the T-90A. This MBT was a further development of the Soviet Red Army’s T-72.
Manufactured by Uralvagonzavod in Nizhny Tagil, Russia, the T-90 had its origins in the Soviet-era program, which was created to develop a new MBT that could replace the T-64, T-72, and T-80 series. These tanks have often been described as a mix of old and new, relying on traditional Russian tank designs that have been standard since the Second World War, yet featuring true 21st century advances into the automatically loading cannon that reduced the size of the crew and resulted in a small and compact weapon platform.
Russian tank production had dwindled in the years before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, while the Kharkov tank plant belonged to the newly independent Ukraine. As a result, the Russian Ministry of Defense decided it would commit to a single platform, and the result was the T-90. Low-level production began in 1992 yet ceased by the late 1990s for the domestic market. Around 120 T-90 tanks had been delivered to the Russian Ground Forces before production of an upgraded version was resumed in 2004.
Though it was developed more than three decades ago, it has remained a versatile and capable tank. The original T-90’s powerplant was a V-94 12-cylinder diesel-fueled engine, which provided 840 hp. The system has been upgraded to the V-92 12-cylinder diesel series that upped the horsepower to 960; while the latest T-90s are outfitted with the V-96 12-cylinder powerplant, which provides a massively upgraded 1,250 hp. Maximum speed is 40 miles per hour and the tank has a range of 430 miles.
Upgraded Export Model
An updated version of the T-90 was developed for export, and in early 2001 the Indian military signed a contract to acquire 310 of the new T-90S models. In the end 124 were fully completed in Russia, while according to Army-Technology, they were delivered in a “knocked down” form for final assembly in India. The first batch of the modernized T-90 tanks arrived in India in January 2004, and the new model was dubbed “Bhishma.” The tanks were outfitted with the Russian-built Shtora self-protection system, along with Catherine thermal imagers from Thales of France and Peleng of Belarus. An additional 1,000 T-90S MBTs were also produced through 2020 under license in India.
Apparently, Moscow liked what it saw in the improved T-90 export version and subsequently adopted the model for its own armed forces. As of late 2007, it was estimated that the Russian Army had acquired around 200 of the T-90A versions.
Armament of the T-90S includes a 125mm 2A45M smoothbore cannon that is stabilized in two axes and fitted with a thermal sleeve. This allows the gun tube to be replaced or repaired without dismantling the inside of the turret. The main gun can fire a range of ammunition including APDS (Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot), HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank) and HE-FRAG (high-explosive fragmentation), as well as 9M119 Refleks (NATO designation AT-11 Sniper) anti-tank guided missile system. The missiles have a range of 100m to 4,000m. Additionally, the gun can fire shrapnel projectiles with time fuses.
The T-90S was equipped with a 1A4GT integrated fire control system (IFCS). Secondary weaponry includes a 7.62 PKT machine gun along with a 12.7mm air defense machine gun. The crew members were also equipped with 5.45mm AKS-74 assault rifles.
The T-90 more than lived up to the “armored vehicle” moniker as it was fitted for both conventional plating and explosive reactive armor. As with the Indian versions, the T-90 is equipped with the Shtora-1 system, which features an infrared jammer, a laser warning system with four laser warning receivers and grenade discharging system. The MBT is also outfitted with NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) protection equipment.
The T-90 has been steadily improved, and a year ago, the first deliveries of upgraded T-90M ‘Proryv’ tanks to the Guards Tank Army of the Western Military District began.
According to Russian media, those were fundamentally new combat vehicles, equipped with a new turret, and a more powerful engine. The T-90M is essentially an improved version of the T-90A. The improved turret was equipped with multiple layers of armor plating and a modified ammunition storage area that is placed outside the main fighting chamber, while the 2A46M-4 main gun is the same as that on the T-14 Armata. The gun is reported to have a longer range and is to be 15-20 percent more accurate than the standard 2A46M gun of the T-90, yet it utilizes the same 125mm ammunition as the other Russian main battle tanks.
The secondary armament of the T-90M consists of a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun, while there is also a roof-mounted remotely-controlled weapon station that is armed with a 12.7mm heavy machine gun. Both weapons are operated under armor.
The T-90M is also equipped with a new multi-channel sight, which can allow the use of its weapons at any time of the day, and it can exchange data with other vehicles in real-time. Along with the Kalina automated fire control system and proven carousel-type autoloader that holds 22 rounds, which are ready for use, and an improved fire extinguishing system the tank has increased combat capabilities as well as greater survivability for the crew. The T-90M also features a special anti-slip coating similar to that used on the latest T-14 Armata tanks.
Despite these improvements, the T-90M has not precisely fared well in Ukraine, and there have been reports that several of the Russian MBTs have been destroyed in recent weeks.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.