The T-90 is considered a modern unit, with only the elite Kantemirovskaya and Tamanskaya tank divisions equipped by 2010. Derived from the T-72, the GPO Uralvagonzavod T-90 main battle tank is the most modern tank in the army arsenal. The successor to T-72BM, the T-90 uses the gun and 1G46 gunner sights from T-80U, a new engine, and thermal sights. Protective measures include Kontakt-5 ERA, laser warning receivers, and the SHTORA infrared ATGM jamming system.
The price of a T-90 main battle tank (MBT), manufactured by Russia’s Uralvagonzavod plant is $4-7 million, while the price of a T-72 model is $1-2 million. A Russian tank battalion comprises 31 tanks. In 2008 Uralvagonzavod produced a total of 165 T-90 tanks. Over half of the vehicles were exported, and the remaining tanks replaced some of the T-72s in the Russian Armed Forces.
By 1992 the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it could no longer afford to manufacture two MBTs in parallel. Since both the “quality” T-80U and the cheaper “quantity” T-72B were each being built at one plant, and each plant was critical to the economy of the city it was in, the Government gave small orders to both. Omsk built five T-80Us and Nizhni Tagil 15 T-72s, and both built more against the hope of winning large export orders. Nizhni Tagil had built a few T-72BMs, T-72Bs upgraded with a third generation add-on Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) called Kontakt-5, which was already in service on T-80U.
To further improve the T-72’s export prospects and its chances of being selected as Russia’s sole production MBT, the T-80U’s more sophisticated fire control system was also added to produce a vehicle designated T-72BU. Finally, since worldwide news coverage during Desert Storm had firmly established the image of the T-72 as a burning Iraqi tank, the new model was renamed T-90.
The Russian Defense Ministry made a selection of a single MBT in 1995. The fighting in Grozny had been shown around the world and the reputation of Russian tanks was sullied. Although many casualities were due to bad tactics and many T-72s were also lost, it was the knocked-out T-80s which made an impression. More had been expected of the “quality” M-80 MBT. This is alleged to have tipped the balance against the T-80 in the selection. The T-80 was already more expensive and its delicate, fuel-hungry turbine engine was still giving problems. In January 1996, Col.-Gen. Aleksandr Galkin, Chief of the Main Armor Directorate of the Ministry of Defense, announced that the T-90 had been selected as the sole Russian MBT.
The T-90 went into low-level production in 1993, based on a prototype designated as the T-88. The T-90 was developed by the Kartsev-Venediktov Design Bureau at the Vagonka Works in Nizhniy Tagil. Initially thought by Western observers to be an entirely new design, the production model is in fact based on the T-72BM, with some added features from the T-80 series. The T-90 features a new generation of armor on its hull and turret. Two variants, the T-90S and T-90E, have been identified as possible export models. Plans called for all earlier models to be replaced with T-90s by the end of 1997, subject to funding availability. By mid-1996 some 107 T-90s had gone into service in the Far Eastern Military District.
Of conventional layout, the T-90 represents a major upgrade to every system in the T-72, including the main gun. The T-90 is an interim solution, pending the introduction of the new Nizhny Tagil MBT which has been delayed due to lack of funding. Produced primarily mainly due to its lower cost, the T-90 it will probably remain in low-rate production to keep production lines open until newer designs become available. Several hundred of these tanks have been produced, with various estimates suggesting that between 100 and 300 are in service, primarily in the Far East.
The T-90 retains the 125-mm 2A46-series main gun of the T-72 and T-80 which is capable of firing APDS, HEAT and HE-FRAG projectiles as well as time-fuzed shrapnel projectiles.
The Refleks 9M119 AT-11 SNIPER laser-guided missile with a hollow-charge warhead is effective against both armored targets and low-flying helicopters. The missile, which can penetrate 700-mm of RHAe out to 4000 meters, gives the T-90 the ability to engage other vehicles and helicopters before they can engage the T-90. The computerised fire control system and laser range-finder, coupled with the new Agave gunner’s thermal sight, permit the T-90 to engage targets while on the move and at night. However, this first generation system is probably not as capable as current Western counterpart systems. The tank is fitted with precision laying equipment and an automatic loader to guarantee a high rate of gun fire. Secondary armament includes a coaxial 7.62mm PKT machine gun and 12.7mm machine gun mount to for air and ground targets.
The T-90 features the low silhouette of the earlier Russian tanks, with a low rounded turret centered on the hull, and is fitted with combined passive and active defenses which make the T-90 one of the best protected main battle tanks in the world. The glacis is covered by second generation explosive reactive armor [ERA] bricks, as is the turret. This ERA gives the turret an angled appearance, with the ERA bricks forming a “clam shell” appearance. ERA bricks on the turret roof provide protection from top-attack weapons.
The T-90 is equipped with the TShU-1-7 Shtora-1 optronic counter measures system which is designed to disrupt the laser target designation and rangefinders of incoming ATGM. The T-90 is also equipped with a laser warning package that warns the tank crew when it is being lased. Shtora-1 is an electro-optical jammer that jams the enemy’s semiautomatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) antitank guided missiles, laser rangefinders and target designators. Shtora-1 is actually a soft kill, or countermeasures system. It is most effective when used in tandem with a hard kill system such as the Arena.
During the International Defense Exposition (IDEX) held in Abu Dhabi in 1995, the system was shown fitted to a Russian MBT. The first known application of the system is the Russian T-90 MBT that entered service in the Russian Army in 1993. Shtora-1 is currently installed on the T-80UK, T-80U, T-84 and T-90 MBTs.
The Shtora-1 system comprises four key components, the electro-optical interface station, which includes a jammer, modulator, and control panel; a bank of forward-firing grenade dischargers mounted on either side of the turret that are capable of firing grenades dispensing an aerosol screen; a laser warning system with precision and coarse heads; and a control system comprising control panel, microprocessor, and manual screen-laying panel. This processes the information from the sensors and activates the aerosol screen-laying system. Two infrared lights, one on each side of the main gun, continuously emit coded pulsed infrared jamming when an incoming ATGM has been detected. Shtora-1 has a field of view of 360-degrees horizontally and -5 to +25-degrees in elevation. It contains 12 aerosol screen launchers and weighs 400kg. The screening aerosol takes less than 3 seconds to form and lasts about 20 seconds. The screen laying range is between 50-70 meters.
The T-90 is powered by the V-84MS 618 kW (840 hp) four-stroke V-12 piston multi-fuel diesel engine, which can also run on T-2, TS-1 kerosene and A-72 benzine. This engine results in a power to weight ratio of only 18.06 hp/ton, considerably less than that of the T-80. The tank crew can prepare fording equipment within 20 minutes to negotiate 5 meter deep water obstacles. The tank is also fitted with the NBC protection system and mounted mineclearing equipment.
T-90 – The first production version.
T-90K – Commander’s version of the T-90, with additional communication (station R-163-50K) and navigation equipment (TNA-4-3).
T-90E – Export version of T-90 MBT.
T-90A – Russian army version with welded turret, V-92S2 engine and ESSA thermal viewer. Sometimes called T-90 Vladimir.
T-90S – Export version of the T-90A. These tanks were made by Uralvagonzavod and were updated with 1,000 hp (750 kW) engines made by Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant. These tanks however do not feature the Shtora-1 passive/active protection system. Sometimes called T-90C (Cyrillic letter es looks like a Latin c). These tanks are found with two different turret armour arrays.
T-90SK – Commander’s version of the T-90S, with additional communication and navigation equipment. It differs in radio and navigation equipment and Ainet remote-detonation system for HEF rounds.
T-90S “Bhishma” – modified T-90S in Indian service.
T-90AM – Latest version of the T-90A. The main features include the modernization of the old turret design, which is equipped with a new advanced fire control system “Kalina” (with integrated combat information and control systems), a new automatic loader and a new upgraded gun 2A46M-5, as well as a remote-controlled anti-aircraft gun “UDP T05BV-1″. The new version also includes the Relikt active protection system instead of the Kontakt-5 active protection system. Other improvements include a new 1,250 PS (920 kW) engine, an enhanced environmental control system and satellite navigation systems.
T-90SM – New modernized (M) version of the export tank T-90S, with a 1130HP engine, a PNM Sosna-U gunner view, a 7.62mm turret UDP T05BV-1 RWS, GLONASS, inertial navigation systems and explosive reactive armour (ERA).