Defense analysts believe Russian Forces have lost at least 2,000 armored vehicles throughout its invasion of Ukraine, more than half of its operational tank fleet. While Ukraine has destroyed a considerable number of these tanks, many were actually left behind by Russian Forces. Last month, footage depicting Russia’s top-of-the-line T-90M battle tank destroyed by a Ukrainian AT4 AT strike was widely circulated.
This latest instance does not bode well for Moscow’s already largely diminished MBT fleet. Due to Western sanctions, the Kremlin is struggling to resupply its dwindling stockpile of ammunition and equipment.
This issue will only become more magnified now that the U.S. and other European countries prepare to ship over advanced MBTs to Ukraine. Under these considerations, Russia Forces will be forced to rely even more on the few remaining T-90M tanks in its possession.
The T-90’s origin story
The T-90 main battle tank is a third-generation armored vehicle that came to fruition during the Soviet era. Hoping to replace the aging T-64, the T-72 platform was selected to provide Russia’s armored corps with an inexpensive and effective main battle tank. By the late 1990’s, the T-90 became Moscow’s standard tank, incorporating a more advanced fire control system and engine than its predecessors.
According to reports, the MBT was named “T-90” due to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s desire to announce the creation of the “first Russian tank” following the dissolution of the USSR. Sporting a smaller frame, the T-90 is more easily navigated in rough terrain including forests and mountains.
The tank’s lighter frame also gives it greater operational range compared to its near-pears of up to 550 km. Ammunition wise, the T-90 can fire a 2A46 125 mm/L48 smoothbore cannon, in addition to a 12.7 mm machine gun.
What makes the T-90M variant special?
The newest and reportedly most sophisticated model of the T-90 tank is the “Proryv-3” T-90M variant.
First revealed in 2017, the T-90M hosts several key upgrades; namely, newer armor protection, a countermeasures system, and stronger gun-power. The T-90M is equipped with a 2A46M-4 gun, which has a longer range and more precise targeting abilities than the T-90 variant’s fitted gun.
Rubber skirts and built-in armor plates add enhanced protection to the T-90M model.
Additionally, the inclusion of an Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) provides a safer interior for crew as it protects from tandem warheads and other ammunition.
While the T-90M MBT is theoretically Moscow’s most advanced MBT, production issues and money problems have stalled their success in Ukraine. To make matters worse, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed that one of Moscow’s most elite tank regiments has only 10 tanks remaining.
As Jack Buckby details in a 19FortyFive article, Russian tank battalions are usually comprised of 40 MBTs. If Russia’s elite regiment is really only functioning with 10 MBTs, that means it is operating at a mere 25%.
This quantity issue is only compounded by the tank assistance Ukraine will receive in the upcoming months. In February, U.S. President Joe Biden revealed that Ukraine would receive 31 American-made M1A2 Abrams tanks to aid its defense efforts against Russian Forces.
This announcement followed the UK’s decision to send over 14 of its own Challenger tanks to Ukraine, in addition to other equipment. Russia’s dwindling T-90 fleet will face some tough competitors on the battlefield in the near future.
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.