Ukraine’s Latest Tank: Russia’s T-90? The upgraded T-90M MBT is now considered among the best Russian tanks in service today – and while T-90s were widely exported in recent years, one country that never purchased any was Ukraine. However, around a dozen T-90s are now in service with the Ukrainian military, having been captured by fleeing Russian forces.
How Did Ukraine Get T-90 Tanks?
“Thanks to the generosity of the russian federation, the first batch of new T-90A tanks entered into service with #UAarmy. Particularly generous because at the same time the ruscists are launching a program to restore 60-year-old T-62 tanks for their own armed forces,” the official social media account of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense (DefenceU) announced via a tweet on Thursday.
Though it entered service with the Russian military after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the T-90 third-generation main battle tank (MBT) had its origins in the former Soviet Union, where it was developed as a replacement for the T-62, T-72, and T-80 series of tanks. 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.
Thanks, Moscow, for the T-90
Even as Ukraine has announced that it is now deploying its captured T-90s to the frontlines, Russia has continued to face numerous setbacks. According to the open-source intelligence analysis by Oryx, Russia has lost more than 7,000 vehicles and other forms of heavy weaponry – including artillery and missile systems – since the Kremlin launched its unprovoked invasion in late February. That includes Russian equipment that’s been destroyed, damaged, captured, or abandoned.
To date, Russia has lost more than 1,320 tanks – including some 500 that were captured/abandoned, while Ukrainian forces have captured nearly 30 T-90A and T-90M MBTs.
It is unlikely those tanks will make the difference between victory and defeat, yet, it is worth noting that Russia’s losses have been so great that Moscow has continued to employ far older vehicles.
Send in the T-62
As previously reported, Russia is now modifying 800 T-62 MBTs for the war in Ukraine, and it speaks of the desperate situation the Kremlin finds itself in, as it increasingly relies on such antiquated hardware.
The T-62 was developed as an improved variant of the T-55 series and was first introduced in 1961. It may have been a capable tank for the Cold War, and many of its design features became standardized in subsequent Soviet and Russian mass-produced tanks – yet, the vehicles are likely older than many of the crews, and possibly even their parents. Moscow certainly has significant numbers of the T-62 – as more than 22,000 were produced between 1962 and 1975. While not modern, as it is running low on more modern vehicles, desperate times do call for desperate measures.
Valuable Insight from T-90?
Beyond the fact that a few dozen tanks could aid Ukraine’s war efforts, the captured tanks could even provide Western analysts with crucial details of Russia’s military technology. As The Economist had reported, seizing such a weapon in wartime can provide valuable insight into the state of an enemy’s capabilities.
It is also a sign of how the times have changed.
During the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) offered $5,000 to any Afghan fighter who could provide a captured AK-74 assault rifle, while far greater efforts were taken to inspect a Soviet T-72. However, it wasn’t until 1987 that a rogue Romanian arms dealer sold one to American agents under the guise that it was scrap metal that the west was able to see that MBT up close – by which time it was already being replaced by more modern vehicles.
Now, the CIA doesn’t need to employ such efforts – it just needed a few Russian crews to abandon their tanks!
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.