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The T-90 is a Russianmarker main battle tank (MBT) derived from the T-72, and is currently the most modern tank in service with the Russian Ground Forces, Naval Infantry and the Indian Army. The successor to the T-72BM, the T-90 uses the gun and 1G46 gunner sights from the T-80U, a new engine, and thermal sights. Protective measures include Kontakt-5 ERA, laser warning receivers, the EMT-7 electromagnetic pulse (EMP) creator for the destruction of magnetic mines and the Shtora infrared ATGM jamming system. It is designed and built by Uralvagonzavod, in Nizhny Tagilmarker, Russia.


By 1992, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it could no longer afford to manufacture two main battle tanks in parallel. Since both the "quality" T-80U and the cheaper "quantity" T-72B were being built at different plants, and each plant was critical to the economy of its city, the government gave small orders to both. Omsk built five T-80Us and Nizhni Tagil 15 T-72s, and both built more in the hopes of winning large export orders. Nizhni Tagil had built a few T-72BMs, T-72Bs upgraded with a third generation add-on explosive reactive armour (ERA) called Kontakt-5, which was already in service on the 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. The T-90 was developed by the Kartsev-Venediktov Design Bureau at the Uralvagonzavod factory in Nizhny Tagilmarker. The production model is based on the T-72BM, with some added features from the T-80 series.

The T-90 with an 840 hp (630 kW) engine went into low-level production in 1993, based on a prototype designated T-72BU. It features a new generation of Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor on its hull and turret. Of conventional layout, the T-90 represents a major upgrade to every system in the T-72, including the main gun.

Two variants, the T-90S and T-90E, have been identified as possible export models.


  • T-90: Original production model.
  • T-90K: Command version of the T-90.
  • T-90E: Export version of T-90.
  • T-90A: Russian army version with welded turret, V-92S2 engine and ESSA thermal viewer. Sometimes called T-90 Vladimir or T-90M.
  • T-90S: Export version of T-90A. Sometimes called T-90C (Cyrillic letter es looks like a Latin c). Tanks are found with two different turret armour arrays.
  • T-90SK: Command version of the T-90S. It differs in radio and navigation equipment and Ainet remote-detonation system for HEF rounds.
  • T-90S "Bhishma": modified T-90S in Indian service.


  • BREM-72: Armoured recovery vehicle.
  • MTU-90: Bridge layer tank with MLC50 bridge.
  • IMR-3: Combat engineer vehicle.
  • BMR-3: Mine clearing vehicle.

Production and service history

T-90 during a military exercise in Russia.

The Russian Defence Ministry made a selection of a single Main Battle Tank (MBT) in 1995. The T-80 was more expensive and its delicate, fuel-hungry gas turbine engine provided a questionable advantage. It was also notorious for the poor showing of older T-80BV tanks in Chechnya. 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. However newer and upgraded T-80s will remain in Russian service until the end of their service life. Plans called for all earlier models to be replaced with T-90s by the end of 1997, subject to funding availability.

By September 1995, some 107 T-90 tanks had been produced, located in the Siberian Military District. By mid-1996 some 107 T-90s had gone into service in the Far Eastern Military District [53310]. 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. India is buying another 330 T-90s in kit condition, for final assembly in India.

Russian Army T-90S during a training exercise.
1999 saw the appearance of a new model of T-90, featuring the fully welded turret of the Obyekt 187 experimental MBT instead of the original T-90's cast turret. This new model is called "Vladimir" in honour of T-90 Chief Designer Vladimir Potkin, who died in 1999. It is unknown how this design affects the protection and layout of the turret, or whether the tank's hull armour layout was changed.

The T-90S saw combat action during the 1999 Chechen invasion of Dagestan. According to Moscow Defense Brief, one T-90 was hit by seven RPG anti-tank rockets but remained in action. The journal concludes that with regular equipment T-90S seems to be the best protected Russian tank, especially if Shtora and Arena defensive protection systems are integrated in it.

In 2007, there were about 334 T-90 tanks serving in the Russian Ground Forces' 5th Guards Tank Division, stationed in the Siberian Military District, and seven T-90 tanks in the Navy . Some 31 new T-90 tanks were expected to enter service in 2007, and 60 in 2008.

The T-90 is an interim solution, pending the introduction of the new Russian Main Battle Tank (MBT) which is currently under development. Meanwhile, the T-90 will probably remain in low-rate production to keep production lines open until newer designs become available.

The Russian Federal Service for Defense Contracts (Rosoboronzakaz) announced in July 2008 that a new tank, (which rumour has previously referred to as the T-95), is planned to enter service after 2010. The T-90 is expected to remain in service until 2025, while older T-72 and T-80 tanks are being phased out around the same time in 2025.



In 2001, India bought 310 T-90S tanks from Russia, of which 120 were delivered complete, 90 in semi-knocked down kits, and 100 in completely-knocked down kits. The T-90 was selected because it is a direct development of the T-72 which India already employs, simplifying training and maintenance. India bought the T-90 after the delay in production of the domestically developed Arjun main battle tank, and to counter Pakistani deployment of the Ukrainian T-80UD in 1995–97. These tanks were made by Uralvagonzavod and the uprated 1,000-hp engines were delivered by Chelyabinsk Tractor Plantmarker. These tanks however did not feature the Shtora active protection system though there are reports that a separate contract for shipment of a modernized version of this suite is being discussed.

A follow-on contract, worth $800 million, was signed on October 26, 2006, for another 330 T-90M MBTs that were to be built with locally-sourced raw materials.

The T-90S Bhishma is a customized, improved version of the T-90S which India developed with assistance from Russia and Francemarker. Bhishma was a warrior from ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharata.The tanks are equipped with the French-designed thermal sights and utilizes India's Kanchan explosive reactive armored plates. In April 2008, the Indian Army sent request for proposals to Rafael, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Rosoboronexport, Saab, and Germany’s IBD Deisenroth Engineering for an active protection system for the T-90S Bhishma. The contract is expected to be worth US$270 million.

A third contract, worth $1.23 billion, was signed in December 2007 for 347 upgraded T-90Ms, the bulk of which will be licence-assembled by HVF. The Army hopes to field a force of over 21 regiments of T-90 tanks and 40 regiments of modified T-72s. The Indian Army would begin receiving its first T-90M main battle tank (MBT) in completely knocked-down condition from Russia’s Nizhny Tagil-based Uralvagonzavod JSC by the end of 2009.

The T-90M features the ‘Kaktus’ embedded explosive reactive armour (ERA) package on its frontal hull and turret-top (the T-90S has ‘Kontakt-5’ ERA), is fitted with an enhanced environmental control system supplied by Israel’s Kinetics Ltd for providing cooled air to the fighting compartment, has additional internal volume for housing the cryogenic cooling systems for new-generation thermal imagers like the THALES-built Catherine-FC thermal imager (operating in the 8-12 micron bandwidth. In all, India plans to have 310 T-90S and 1,330 T-90M tanks in service by 2020.

The first batch of 10 license built T-90 Bhishma was inducted into the Indian army on 24 August 2009. These vehicles were built at the Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, Tamil Nadu.

Other potential foreign sales

The Cyprus House Defense Committee approved funds in January 2009 for the purchase of 41 Russian-built T-90 tanks. The money is included as part of the 2009 defense budget. Cyprus already operates the Russian-made T-80 tank.

Anonymous Venezuelan defense sources say that president Hugo Chavez “wants to replace his army's obsolescent AMX-30 main battle tanks with between 50 and 100 Russian-built T-90 main battle tanks,” according to an October 2008 article by analyst Jack Sweeney. In September, 2009 a deal was announced for 92 T-72s only. Given the increased reliance on Russian arms by Venezuela, the potential for a future order cannot be entirely ruled out, though there have been no additional discussions since the T-72 purchase.

Algeria was said in June 2006 to be negotiating a large arms contract which would include some type of Russian tanks. Saudi Arabia was reported, in July 2008, by Russian daily Kommersant to be in negotiations to buy 150 T-90. Lebanese Defence Minister Elias El Murr met with Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in December 2008, when they discussed the possibility of a transfer of military equipment including T-90 tanks.


The T-90's main armament is the 2A46M 125 mm smoothbore gun. This is a highly modified version of the Sprut anti-tank gun, and is the same gun used as the main armament on the T-80-series tanks. It can be replaced without dismantling the inner turret and is capable of firing armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS), high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT-FS), and high explosive fragmentation (HE-FRAG) ammunition, as well as 9M119M Refleks anti-tank guided missiles. The Refleks missile has semi-automatic laser beam-riding guidance and a tandem hollow-charge HEAT warhead. It has an effective range of 100 m to 6 km, and takes 17.5 seconds to reach maximum range. Refleks can penetrate ~950 mm of steel armour and can also engage low-flying air targets such as helicopters.

The NSV 12.7 mm (12.7x108) anti-aircraft machine gun can be operated from within the tank by the commander and has a range of 2 km and a cyclic rate of fire of 650-750 rounds per minute with 300 rounds available. The PKT 7.62 mm (7.62x54mm R) coaxial machine gun weighs about 10.5 kg while the ammunition box carries 250 rounds (7000 rounds carried) and weighs an additional 9.5 kg.

Like other modern Russian tanks the 2A46M in the T-90 is fed by an automatic loader which removes the need for a manual loader in the tank and reduces the crew to 3 (commander, gunner and driver). The autoloader can carry 22 ready-to-fire rounds in its carousel and can load a round in 4–5 seconds. It has been suggested that the automatic loaders on modern T-90 tanks have been modified to take advantage of newer ammunition such as the 3BM-44M APFSDS, which like the US M829A3 penetrates armour better than the previous shorter rounds. Additionally the T-90 features the Ainet fuse setting system which allows the tank to detonate HE-FRAG rounds at a specific distance from the tank as determined by the gunners laser range finder, improving performance against helicopters and infantry.

Fire control on the T-90 includes the PNK-4S/SR AGAT day and night sighting system mounted at the commanders station which allows for night time detection of a tank sized target at ranges between 700 and 1100 meters depending on the version of the sight. Early models of the T-90 were equipped with the TO1-KO1 BURAN sight but later models (T-90S) were upgraded to use the ESSA thermal imaging sight, which allows for accurate firing to a range of 5000-8000 m using the CATHERINE-FC thermal camera produced by Thales Optronique. The gunner is also provided with the 1G46 day sighting system which includes a laser range finder, missile guidance channel and allows tank-sized targets to be detected and engaged at a range from 5000 m to 8000 m. The driver users a TVN-5 day and night sight.


T-90S Bhishma of the Indian Army on display
The T-90 is fitted with a "three-tiered" protection systems: the first tier is the composite armour in the turret; consisting of basic armour shell with an insert of alternating layers of aluminum and plastics and a controlled deformation section.

The second tier is third generation Kontakt-5 ERA explosive reactive armor which significantly degrade the penetrating power of kinetic-energy APFSDS ammunition and also these ERA blocks give the turret its distinctive angled "clam shell" appearance. ERA bricks are also located on the turret roof and provide protection from top-attack weapons. The turret's forward armour package in addition to the ERA and steel plating contains a composite filler sandwiched of Russian composite armour between upper and lower steel plates, the composite armour results in a lower weight and improved protection when compared with steel-only armour.

The third tier is a Shtora-1 (Russian: Штора-1 or "curtain" in English) countermeasures suite, produced by Elektromashina of Russia. This system includes two infrared jammers on the front of the turret, four laser warning receivers, two 3D6 aerosol grenade discharging systems and a computerized control system. The Shtora-1 warns the tank's crew when the tank has been 'painted' by a weapon-guidance laser and allows the crew to slew the turret to face the threat. The infrared jammer, the TShU1-7 EOCMDAS, jams the semiautomatic command to line of sight (SACLOS) guidance system of some anti-tank guided missiles. The aerosol grenades can be used to mask the tank from laser rangefinders and designators as well as the optics of other weapons systems. Indian T-90S tanks are not equipped with the Shtora-1 countermeasures suite.

Also in addition to the passive and active protection systems the T-90 is also fitted with nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection equipment, KMT mine sweeps and an automatic fire fighting system.

During a reported test conducted by the Russian military in 1999 the T-90 was exposed to a variety of RPG, ATGM and APFSDS munitions. When equipped with Kontakt-5 ERA the T-90 could not be penetrated with any of the APFSDS or ATGM used during the trial and outperformed a T-80U which also took part.


 - Russia operates around 1,200 T-90 tanks in 2009 (varies according to source), with new production to equip up to 2 battalions per year until 2011, and 31 tanks per battalion. 

 - India operates around 300 T-90S tanks and 1000 to be manufactured localy under license from Russia, with 91 being built from knock-down kits to enter service soon. India is expected to operate over 1,300 T-90S tanks by 2020.

 - Algeria purchased 180 T-90s. 102 of the 180 were in service by 2007/2008, and the remainder are to be delivered by 2011.

 - Saudi Arabia is to buy 150 T-90S main battle tanks (MBTs) and helicopters in a $2 billion weapons deal.

See also



  • Mallika, Joseph (2004) “ Issue Brief No. 19: T-90S ‘Bhishma’”. Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. URL accessed 2006-07-24.
  • Zaloga, Steven and David Markov (2000), Russia's T-80U Main Battle Tank, Hong Kong: Concord, ISBN 962-361-656-2.

External links

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