Armor: September 11, 2001

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For some 60 years Russia has had the most powerful tank force on the planet. It never had the best tanks, but usually had the second best, and a lot more tanks than anyone else. When the Cold War ended, Russia was faced with the problem of producing the high tech fire control (thermal imaging, computers) and protection (composite armor, fire suppression systems) innovations of Western tanks. It's 1980s T-80 was basically an improved T-72 (and 1960s design). The Gulf War demonstrated the vulnerability of the T-72, even when equipped with reactive armor. New Western guns and missiles could defeat reactive armor, and slice right through the standard steel armor. But the Russians had nothing that could penetrate Western composite armor (especially the depleted uranium stuff on the U.S. M1.) The Cold War cut off funding for more research. But in the early 1990s, the T-90 appeared. It had a Russian version of composite armor (not yet tested in combat), with reactive armor on top of that. The T-90 has a laser guided missile that can be fired from the tank gun (out to five kilometers) but still lags in things like thermal imaging and fire control. It has a gas turbine engine, but one that is a little more frugal with fuel. The T-90 can travel 500 kilometers by road on one load of fuel. Until Russia revives it's economy, there won't be any major advances in tank technology. In fact, Russia has only been able to produce a dozen or so T-90s and is hoping to sell 300 to India to get production going.

 


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