Talk surrounding Ukraine’s highly anticipated counteroffensive against Russian forces has picked up, especially after U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would support plans to provide F-16 fighter jets to Kyiv.
Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky purported said his country’s counteroffensive might begin later than originally believed, due to the country’s lack of certain advanced weapons.
Now that the F-16s’ delivery and training appear to be in the works, the Ukrainian president may be more inclined to bring his battle plans to life.
In light of this recent development, the Kremlin is also gearing up for escalation.
Russian state-media outlets circulated footage depicting T-90M main battle tanks operating alongside Wagner Group militants. The private military contractor has been supporting the Kremlin’s offensive was efforts in Ukraine and has largely manned the front lines in many battle spaces in the country.
As the latest generation of Russian MBTs, the T-90M is Moscow’s best shot at countering the Western tanks set to hit Ukraine’s front lines.
An Overview of the T-90 MBT
The development of the T-90 tank is linked to a Soviet-era program designed to create a singular platform to replace several of the USSR’s tanks. During the Cold War, the Soviet military relied on competing firms to design and produce rival tank designs including the T-64, T-72 and T-80. I
n the years leading up to the dissolution of the USSR, tank production dwindled across the country. In the first years of the new Russian Federation, the Ministry of Defense opted to produce one tank instead of multiple.
The T-90 featured a more reliable engine than its T-80 competitor, making it the MBT of choice for Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Additionally, the T-80 performed very poorly in the Chechnya conflict, making the platform quite the embarrassment for the Kremlin.
Specs & Capabilities
In addition to its more advanced V-84MS multi-fuel engine, the T-90 included several improvements over its predecessors. The T-80’s fire control system was incorporated into the platform, which is smaller in size and has a greater operational range that some of its counterparts.
The Proryv-3 T-90M is the latest iteration of the tank. Perhaps the most important improvement this variant possesses is its Relikt built-in Explosive Reactive Armor, which shields the vehicle from tandem warheads and other projectiles.
According to Frontier India, “The T-90’s secondary armament consists of a 12.7 mm or 7.62 mm machine gun. The main gun is the 2A46 125 mm/L48 smoothbore cannon used by numerous Russian, Ukrainian, and Chinese tanks. The primary cannon and its variations are estimated to be superior to the Rh-120 L/44 120 mm smoothbore installed on the German Leopard 2 because they can shoot projectiles up to 4,000 metres, i.e., 500 metres further than the German gun.”
How Has the T-90M Performed in Ukraine?
Since the onset of the invasion, Moscow is estimated to have lost at least half of its tank fleet. Many of Russia’s MBTs have been destroyed by enemy fire, captured by Ukrainian troops, or simply left behind by ill-equipped soldiers.
The Kremlin has turned to its storage of antiquated Soviet-era tanks to fulfill its armored vehicle needs on the front lines. The T-90M has not been spared by Ukraine’s stocks of advanced anti-tank weaponry. Earlier this year, a video circulated on social media showing the destruction of a T-90M tank following a Ukrainian AT4 AT strike.
According to Ukraine Weapons Tracker, a popular outlet that tracks the trajectory of the Ukraine invasion, that strike occurred near Novoselivske, in Luhansk Oblast. Other reports have suggested that fleeing Russian troops have left behind heavy weapons, including T-90 MBTs that the Kremlin considers to be “top-of-the-line.” Ukrainian officials have even mocked the “generosity” of the Russian Federation by posting imagery of their newly acquired T-90 MBTs on social media.
Regardless of the T-90M’s track record in Ukraine so far, the Kremlin is counting on its most advanced battle tank to counter Ukraine’s own fleet effectively. NATO member-states have pledged a variety of modern tanks to Ukraine in recent months, including M1 Abrams, Challenger and Leopard 2 tanks. Once Western MBTs arrive in Kyiv, Moscow’s armored corps will be in trouble.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.
May 23, 2023 at 7:40 pm
Western tanks are not the game changers people are assuming. They are still logistical nightmares with short range dumb weapons, and useless armor that doesn’t protect them from the dozens of different smart weapons designed to defeat it.