Armor: False Hope For The T-90

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April 14, 2016: Russian media is making much of a recent video showing a Russian T-90 tank surviving a hit by an American TOW anti-tank missile in Syria. This is good news because Russia only began buying the T-90 in 2010, to replace 20,000 older Cold War era tanks. Syria was the first combat use of the T-90 and the Russian reports neglected to mention that the TOWs in Syria are older models lacking the warheads designed to penetrate more modern protection (like the reactive armor on T-90s). Later model TOWs either had a dual warhead that triggered the reactive armor and then the second warhead penetrated the armor behind the reactive panels or a warhead and guidance system that enabled TOW to attack the thinner top armor.

The T-90 went into low level production in 1993, but was too expensive for the Russian army to buy more than a few of them. India eventually became the biggest user. The T-90 is based on the T-72, but has composite armor (plus reactive armor) and better electronics. The 50 ton tank uses a 125mm smooth bore gun, and can also fire the 9M119M Refleks-M missile (to 4,000 meters) at ground or air (helicopter) targets. The tank carries 43 tank shells or missiles, 22 of them in the autoloader carousel. India plans to eventually have as many as 2,000 of them, nearly all of them assembled in India using Russian made parts.

The T-90 is basically an upgraded T-72, which India already builds under license. The T-90 weighs about 15 percent more than the 41 ton T-72. The T-90 has a better fire control system, night vision that is good out to about 1,500 meters, and electronic countermeasures against anti-tank missiles. The autoloader, which often failed in the T-72, is more reliable and that makes the three man crew (commander, gunner, driver) more effective. The T-90 is not as lively as the T-72 and is actually slower on the battlefield than the U.S. M-1 (which has a horsepower to weight ratio of 24:1, compared to only 18:1 for the T-90). The 125mm gun of the T-90 is basically the same as the T-72. However, if you use better ammo, you stand a chance against top rated tanks like the M-1.

This news from Syria was sort of good news for India as well. The first customer for the T-90 was India, which began buying them in 2001 and deployed its first T-90 regiment (45 tanks) in May, 2002. The first T-90s were delivered to India in late November 2001. By 2006 India was satisfied enough to declare the T-90 would be its standard tank. In part this was because India could built the T-90 itself and equip it with a lot of non-Russian equipment. India added new electronics (navigation systems, thermal sights and fire control computers) and air conditioning. The main reason for air conditioning in the tanks is not the crew, but the electronics. Russia was asked to develop and install air conditioning but were unable to create a system that could handle the tropical Indian climate.

 


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