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T-90 Struggles To Find An Audience
by James Dunnigan
March 26, 2012

Russia has found two more export customers for its T-90 tank. Algeria has bought another 120 and Turkmenistan 30. The biggest customers for the T-90 have been India and Russia, each having about 700 of them. India is manufacturing a thousand T-90s under license. Other export customers are Azerbaijan (quantity not revealed), Cyprus (41), and Venezuela (92). Libya was in the process of buying several dozen T-90s when its government was overthrown. It's unclear if the new government will honor the T-90 deal.

Currently, the most modern tank Russia has is the T-90, which entered service in the early 1990s. This tank is a highly evolved T-72. Originally, the T-90 was created as a fallback design. The T-80 was supposed to be the successor to the T-72. But like the T-62 and T-64 before it, the T-80 didn't quite work out as planned. So the T-72, with a much improved turret and all manner of gadgets, was trotted out as the T-90. Weighing 47 tons the T-90 is still the same dimensions as the T-72. Same package, better contents. And with well-trained crews it could be deadly.

The stock T-72 is a 41 ton vehicle that is 7.4 meters (23 feet) long, 3.6 meters (11 feet) wide, and 2.45 meters (7.5 feet) high. In contrast, an American M-1 is 62 tons, 10 meters (32 feet) long, 3.7 meters (12 feet) wide, and 2.6 meters (eight feet) high. The extra weight is mostly armor and from the front the M-1 is still very difficult to kill. To survive a T-72 not only needs to accessorize but requires a skilled crew. Most nations using T-72s don't like to invest in crew training. But that's what makes the most difference in combat. Russia and India now train their T-90 crews more intensively because that makes more of a difference than any additional gadgets.

Most of the 20,000 tanks (72 percent of them in storage) in the Russian army are T-72s and T-80s. Both are mainly target practice for Western tanks (M-1, Leopard, Challenger, Leclerc). The T-90 is a bit better. Russia planned to replace most of those T-72s and T-80s with T-90s and a new design, the T-95, by 2025. After that, the new T-95 super-tank would start replacing the T-90. Or something like that. The Russians hoped to have the T-95 in action by 2020. Now, the plan is to have at least a few thousand T-90s in the next decade. That won't come easy, as T-90s cost over $3 million each.

Two years ago Russia officially halted development on their new T-95 tank. This decision is not sudden because for the previous two years the military has been getting more money for replacing the Cold War equipment. The T-95 was talked about as a symbol of rejuvenation. This was badly needed, as the Russian Army shrank over 80 percent in the 1990s, and for fifteen years practically no new equipment was purchased.

When more money did come in, the generals sought to revive the T-95 project. Work on this new tank began in 1995, but didn't get far because the military budget could barely cover food and fuel costs. But some work continued and a prototype was completed in 2000. Few details were released. But four years ago Russian media (mostly state controlled these days) began running stories about a new "super-tank" being developed. No real details given, just lots of superlatives. Mentioned was the Uralvagonzavod tank factory, which was known to be developing a "T-95" tank (again, no details). All that is being written about the super-tank is that it could move at a top speed of 60 kilometers an hour, had facilities that enable the crew to stay in the tank for 24 hours at a time, and possessed the ability to destroy any existing tank, while itself having unique protection (this apparently meant "active defense" in the form of small missiles that intercept incoming anti-tank missiles, as well as explosive reactive armor). Even after the cancellation there are still no details and the T-95's manufacturer apparently will preserve prototypes and other materials, just in case. Apparently Russian tank developers plan to build a new design in the future, incorporating some of the T-95 technology.

Meanwhile, used American M-1 and German Leopard 2 tanks dominate the export markets. Over 10,000 of these tanks are still around, but a brand new T-95 is still cheaper than a refurbished M-1 or Leopard 2, so the Russians will still have a market, even if it's not a dominant share.

 


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