Russian Army T-90A tank on display during parade festivities in May 2013.
Type Main battle tank
Place of origin Russia
Service history
In service

1993 (T-90)

2004 (T-90A)
Used by See Current operators

1999 invasion of Dagestan,

Syrian Civil War
Production history
Designer Kartsev-Venediktov
Manufacturer Uralvagonzavod
Unit cost USD 2.5 million in 1999,[1] USD 2.77 – 4.25 million in 2011, estimated cost $5.6 million 2016 (varies by source)[2] T-90MS: USD 4.5 Million
Produced 1992–present
Number built 3,200+
Weight 46 tonnes (45 long tons; 51 short tons) (T-90)
46.5 tonnes (45.8 long tons; 51.3 short tons) (T-90A)
48 tonnes (47 long tons; 53 short tons) (T-90MS)[3]

9.63 m (31 ft 7 in)

6.86 m (22 ft 6 in) (hull)
Width 3.78 m (12 ft 5 in)
Height 2.22 m (7 ft 3 in)
Crew 3


Steel-composite-reactive blend

vs APFSDS: 550-650mm, with Kontakt-5 = 800–830mm; vs HEAT: 650-850mm with Kontakt-5 = 1,150–1,350mm[4][5][6]

2A46M 125 mm smoothbore gun with 43 rounds (T-90)

2A46M-5 125 mm smoothbore gun with 42 rounds (T-90A)
12.7mm Kord Heavy machine gun, 7.62mm PKMT
Engine V-84MS 12-cyl. diesel (T-90)
V-92S2 12-cyl. diesel (T-90A)
V-92S2F (T-90MS)
840 hp (618 kW) for V-84MS 12-cyl. diesel engine
950 hp (736 kW) for V-92S2 12-cyl. diesel engine
1130 hp (831 kW) for V-92S2F (T-90AM&T-90MS)

18.2 hp/tonne (13.3 kW/tonne) (T-90)

20.4 hp/tonne (15 kW/tonne) (T-90A)
Suspension Torsion bar
550 km (340 mi) (without fuel drums)
Speed 60 km/h (37 mph)

The T-90 is a third-generation Russian battle tank that entered service in 1993. The tank is a modern variation of the T-72B and incorporates many features found on the T-80U. Originally called the T-72BU, but later renamed to T-90, it is an advanced tank in service with Russian Ground Forces and the Naval Infantry. The T-90 uses a 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore main gun, the 1A45T fire-control system, an uprated engine, and thermal sights. Standard protective measures include a blend of steel, composite armour, smoke dischargers, Kontakt-5 explosive-reactive armour, laser warning receivers, Nakidka camouflage and the Shtora infrared ATGM jamming system. It was designed and built by Uralvagonzavod, in Nizhny Tagil, Russia. Since 2011, the Russian armed forces have ceased any further orders for the T-90, and are instead anticipating the development of the T-14 Armata that is expected to enter service in 2016.[7]


The T-90 has its origins in a Soviet-era program aimed at developing a singular replacement for the T-64, T-72 and T-80 series of main battle tanks. The T-72 platform was selected as the basis for the new generation of tank owing to its cost-effectiveness, simplicity and automotive qualities. The Kartsev-Venediktov Design Bureau from Nizhny Tagil was responsible for the design work and prepared two parallel proposals - the Object 188, which was a relatively simple upgrade of the existing T-72B tank (Object 184), and the far more advanced Object 187 - only vaguely related to the T-72 series and incorporating major improvements to the hull and turret design, armor, powerplant and armament. Development work was approved in 1986 and the first prototypes were completed by 1988. The vehicles resulting from the Object 187 program have not been declassified to this date, but it was the lower risk Object 188 upgrade that would be approved for series production as the T-72BU.[8]

Production and service history

An early series T-90 with cast turret during a military exercise in Russia, demonstrating deep fording.

The T-72BU was officially accepted into service on 5 October 1992 by the Russian Ministry of Defence and simultaneously renamed as the T-90 for marketing and propaganda purposes aimed at distancing the new type from existing T-72 variants.[9]

The principle upgrade in the T-90 is the incorporation of a slightly modified form of the T-80U's more sophisticated Irtysh fire control system, designated 1A45T and an upgraded V-84MS multi-fuel engine developing 830 hp (620 kW). The T-90 was manufactured at the Uralvagonzavod factory in Nizhny Tagil, with low-level production being carried out since 1993 and virtually ceasing towards the end of the 1990s for the native market. Less than 200 T-90 tanks were delivered to the Russian Ground Forces before production was resumed in 2005 of an upgraded version.

By September 1995, some 107 T-90 tanks had been produced, located in the Siberian Military District.[10]

Facing tapering domestic orders and with the permanent closure of the last turret casting line in the former USSR, owned by Azovstal in Mariupol, the designers at Uralvagonzavod together with experts from NII Stali (Scientific Research Institute of Steel) using trials data obtained from the Soviet-era, created a new, welded turret to offer further improvement and attract foreign buyers for the T-90. India signaled interest in the T-90 in response to Pakistan's acquisition of 320 Ukrainian T-84 tanks, which was an intuitive decision considering India held rights to fully manufacture the T-72M1 in Avadi, with production being easily adapted to assemble the T-90.

The first 42 complete Indian tanks were delivered in 2001 and were designated T-90S (Object 188S), still equipped with the older cast turrets of the early series (this exhausted the remaining stocks of cast turrets warehoused at Nizhny Tagil) and powered by the V-84 engine making 840 hp (618 kW). This was followed up next year with delivery of 82 vehicles, now equipped with the new welded turrets and the V-92S2 engine, generating 1000 hp (735 kW). The initial contract stipulated the following batch of 186 tanks—now officially called the Bhishma—to be completed in India from Russian-supplied kits, and then gradually replaced with domestically manufactured parts, but the low rate of domestic Indian production compelled the Indian authorities to place an additional order for 124 complete vehicles in 2007 from Uralvagonzavod.

A Russian specification T-90A. The new welded turret with its angular geometry is clearly visible.

In 2005 the Russian army resumed delivery of the T-90, requesting the "original" specification for the vehicle with a cast turret. But with the new order numbering a paltry 14 tanks, and the large capital investment required to set up production of new cast turrets, the Russian Ministry of Defence agreed on a new configuration very close to the Indian T-90S, which was expeditiously accepted into service without any trials as the Object 188A1 or T-90A.[11] That same year saw delivery of an additional 18 new tanks - enough to equip one whole battalion. These new Russian tanks were powered by the V-92S2 engine, carried a T01-K05 Buran-M gunner's sight (passive-active night-vision channel with an EPM-59G Mirage-K matrix and a maximum observation distance of 1,800 m) and were protected by the most recent Kontakt-5 reactive armor with 4S22 explosive tiles. The years 2006-2007 saw the delivery of 31 T-90A tanks each, now fitted with entirely passive ESSA main gunner's sights supplied by Peleng in Belarus and using the Catherine thermal imager from Thales, as well as improved 4S23 ERA tiles.

In 2007, there were about 334 T-90 tanks of various types serving in the Russian Ground Forces' 5th Guards Tank Division, stationed in the Siberian Military District, and seven T-90 tanks assigned to the marines.[12] Since 2008, the Russian army has received 62 tanks annually, suspending orders in 2011.

Russia is developing the new Armata Universal Combat Platform (also known as the T-14 Armata) to be ready for use by 2016. It is expected to employ a more powerful engine, improved armor, main gun and autoloader, with ammunition storage separated from the crew.[13]

An early variant of the export-oriented T-90S allegedly saw combat action during the 1999 Chechen invasion of Dagestan instead of being delivered to India. According to Moscow Defence Brief, one vehicle was hit by seven RPG anti-tank rockets but remained in action. The journal concluded that with regular equipment, the upgraded T-90 seems to be the best protected Russian tank, especially with the implementation of Shtora-1 and Arena defensive systems.[14]

The T-90A was deployed to Syria in 2015 to support the Russian involvement in the Syrian Civil War.[15] In early February 2016, Syrian Army forces began using T-90As in combat.[16] In late February, a video was leaked on the internet which showed a T-90 survive a direct frontal turret hit by a TOW-2A missile in Aleppo.[17] The first alleged footage of the targeted tank showed only minor damage to Shtora-1 jammer optics and expended ERA as the result of TOW missile hit.[18] In early May there was another TOW attack scoring a hit on a different vehicle operated by Syrian loyalist forces.

Tank showed high resistance to any threat during the years of operation in a real war. There was no any damage. With numerous shelling was captured battle-worthy tank 1, directly in the form of losses in battle tanks destroyed there. The tanks were actively used in the most difficult areas.[19]



Indian Army T-90 Bhishma tanks take part in a military training exercise in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan. The tanks have two different turret armor arrays.

In 2001, India purchased 310 T-90S tanks from Russia, of which 124 were delivered complete (42 featured the early cast turrets seen on Russian tanks) and 186 were to be assembled from kits delivered in various stages of completion with an emphasis on shifting production to domestic means. The T-90 was selected because it is a direct development of the T-72 that India already manufactures with 60% parts commonality with T-90, simplifying training and maintenance. India opted to acquire the T-90 in response to numerous delays in the production of its own domestically developed Arjun main battle tank, and to counter Pakistani deployment of the Ukrainian-made T-80 tanks in 1995–97.

These T-90S tanks were made by Uralvagonzavod and the engines were delivered by Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant. The Indian tanks however omit the Shtora-1 passive electronic countermeasure system which was deemed obsolete.

A follow-on contract, worth $800 million, was signed on October 26, 2006, for another 330 T-90M "Bhishma" MBTs that were to be manufactured in India by Heavy Vehicles Factory at Avadi, Tamil Nadu.

The T-90M Bhishma (named for the guardian warrior in the Mahabharata) is a vehicle tailored for Indian service, improving upon the T-90S, and developed with assistance from Russia and France. The tanks are equipped with the French Thales-built Catherine-FC thermal sights,[20] and utilises Russian Kontakt-5 K-5 explosive reactive armoured plates.[21] and Kontakt-5 ERA in addition to the primary armor which consists of laminated plates and ceramic layers with high tensile properties. The new welded turrets first developed for the Indian T-90S Bhishma have more advanced armour protection than the early cast turrets. In several tests conducted in front of an Indian delegation, the latest foreign M829A2/KEW-A2 APFSDS munitions were fired from 250 m against a T-90S stripped of the Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor. The turret proved completely impenetrable, which proved to be a crucial selling point for the T-90S Bhishma.[22]

In April 2008, the Indian Army sent a request for proposal to Rafael, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Rosoboronexport, Saab, and IBD Deisenroth Engineering for an active protection system for the T-90S Bhishma.[23] The contract is expected to be worth US$270 million. Saab's LEDS-150 won the contract in January 2009.[24]

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 in completely knocked-down condition from Russia’s Nizhny Tagil-based Uralvagonzavod JSC by the end of 2009.[25][26]

The T-90M features the 'Kaktus K-6' bolted 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 micrometre bandwidth).[25] In all, India plans to have 1,640 T-90 tanks in service by 2018–2020.[27]

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

A 10,000 crore (US$1.5 billion) purchase of 354 new T-90MS tanks for six tank regiments for the China border has been approved[28] which would take the total number of T-90 tanks in the Indian Army's inventory to 2011 and with a total of nearly 4500 tanks (T-90 and variants, T-72 and Arjun MBT) in active service, the world's third largest operator of tanks.

India plans to have 21 tank regiments of T-90s by 2020, with 45 combat tanks and 17 training and replacement tanks per regiment, for 62 total each.[29]

On 17 September 2013, India's Defence Ministry approved the production of 235 T-90 tanks under Russian licence for $1 billion.[30][31]


In 2005, deliveries began for an initial order of 185 tanks for Algeria. These are known as the T-90SA ("A" is an acronym for Algeria).

The Cyprus House Defence Committee approved funds in January 2009 for the purchase of 41 Russian-built T-90 tanks. The money was included as part of the 2009 defence budget. Cyprus already operates the Russian-made T-80 tank.[32] In March 2010 it was reported that Cyprus had opted for 41 additional T-80s instead of purchasing T-90s.[33]

Anonymous Venezuelan defence sources said that president Hugo Chavez "wants to replace his army's obsolete 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.[34] In September, 2009 a deal was announced for 92 T-72s only.[35] Saudi Arabia was reported, in July 2008, by Russian daily Kommersant to be in negotiations to buy 150 T-90 tanks.[36] Lebanese Defence Minister Elias El Murr met with Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in December 2008, when they discussed the possibility of a transfer of military equipment including T-90 tanks.[37][38]

In February 2010, an arms deal was signed between Libya and Russia. Details of the sale were not immediately released, but a Russian diplomat stated that Libya had wanted 20 fighter planes, air defence systems, and may also be interested in purchasing "several dozen" T-90s, and modernising a further 140 T-72s. However, after Libya's crackdown on anti-government protesters in early 2011, the United Nations enacted an international arms embargo on Libya resulting in the cancellation of Russian arms deals.[39][40]

In April 2013, Rosoboronexport requested for the entry of the T-90S in an upcoming tender by the Peruvian Army for main battle tanks.[41] Peru sought to acquire between 120 and 170 tanks to replace its aging T-55 tanks. The T-90 was tested against the M1A1 Abrams from the United States, the Leopard 2A4 offered from the Spanish Army, Leopard 2A6s formerly operated by the Dutch Army, and T-64s and T-84s offered by Ukraine. By September 2013, only the T-90S, the Russian T-80, the Ukrainian T-84, and American M1A1 were still competing.[42] On 19 September 2013, a T-90S was demonstrated to the Commander-in-Chief of the Peruvian Land Forces and 300 officers. During the day, the tank's combat and running capabilities were shown. At night, the accuracy of all weapons at different ranges while stationary and on the move were shown under limited visibility and mountainous terrain conditions. A Peruvian T-55 driver was briefed for 5 minutes about the controls, then was able to move and operate the T-90S, demonstrating the commonality of the two vehicles.[43] Russia pushed for the sale of 110 T-90S tanks.[44]

The People's Army of Vietnam is reportedly interested in buying the T-90 to keep its military capability in step with its neighbours.[45]

In December 2015, the commander of the Iranian Army Ground Forces said that Iran planned to buy Russian-developed T-90 tanks, given that UN sanctions that had targeted the Iranian military were lifted.[46] However, two months later Iran announced it was no longer interested in buying the T-90 from Russia, instead deciding to develop a similar model domestically called the "Karrar". In July 2016 Iranian media showed a short clip referring to new domestically produced tank called "Karrar" that had a similar appearance to T-90MS.[47]



A T-90A tank firing its main gun at Engineering Technologies 2012.
The T-90 tank's main tank gun, the 2A46M 125 mm smoothbore tank gun.

The T-90's main armament is the 2A46M 125 mm smoothbore tank 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-stabilised 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 about 950 millimetres (37 in) of steel armour and can also engage low-flying air targets such as helicopters.[48]

The NSV 12.7mm (12.7×108) remotely controlled anti-aircraft heavy 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 700–800 rounds per minute with 300 rounds available (the NSV was replaced by the Kord heavy machine gun in the late 1990s). The PKMT 7.62mm (7.62×54mmR) coaxial machine gun weighs about 10.5 kg while the ammunition box carries 250 rounds (7,000 rounds carried) and weighs an additional 9.5 kg.[48]

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 5–8 seconds.[48] 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. HEAT rounds that can be fired from the 2A46M includes the 3BK21B (with a depleted uranium liner), 3BK29 (with a credited penetration of 800 mm RHA equivalency), and the 3BK29M (with a Triple-tandem charge warhead). Additionally the T-90 features the Ainet fuse setting system which allows the tank to detonate 3OF26 HE-FRAG rounds at a specific distance from the tank as determined by the gunners laser rangefinder, improving its performance against helicopters and infantry.[49] Accurate firing range of the HE-Frag-FS 10 km, APFSDS 4 km.[50]

Fire-control system of the T-90 showed the following features of combat shooting during state testing. Heavily armoured targets at ranges of up to 5 km were hit by tank T-90 on the move (up to 30 km/h) with a high probability of hit with the first shot. During state testing made 24 launches of missiles at ranges of 4–5 km and they all hit the target (all missile launches were made by inexperienced professionals), an experienced gunner at speeds of 25 km/h hit 7 real armoured targets located at ranges of 1,500–2,500 m and 54sec.[51][52]

Fire-control system 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 metres 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 5,000–8,000 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 5 to 8 kilometres (3.1 to 5.0 mi). The driver uses a TVN-5 day and night sight.[48] In 2010, Russia started licensed production of Thales-developed Catherine FC thermal imaging cameras for T-90M tanks, a Russian daily said.[53] These thermal imagers are also present on T-90M "Bhishma" built in India under licence.[25]


T-90's diesel engine.

The prime mover is the B-92C (V-92S) diesel engine, built in the ChTZ. Different models of the T-90 tank are powered by various motors in its initial models, like the V-84MS 618 kW (840 hp) four-stroke V-12 piston engine, uprated 1,000 hp (750 kW) engines and 1,250 hp (930 kW) engines made by Uralvagonzavod and are delivered by Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant. The Т-90S with 1,000 hp (750 kW) engine can attain a top speed of 60 km/h on the road and up to 45 km/h on rough terrain. T-90 tank has typical drivetrain arrangement, with rear placed engine and transmission. The 1,000 hp (750 kW) engines are V-92 four stroke, 12 cylinder, multi-fuel diesel while 1,250 hp (930 kW) engine is V-96. The T-90 export version i.e. modified T-90S is fitted with increased power multi-fuel 1,000-h.p. diesel engine with turbochargers. The tank is also fitted with an air conditioning system for work in high temperature zones .[25]


T-90A fitted with third generation Kontakt-5 ERA.
T-90S Bhishma of Indian Army is fitted only with a "two-tiered" protection system: the first tier is the composite armour in the turret, second tier is third generation Kontakt-5 ERA.

The T-90 is fitted with a "three-tiered" protection system. 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.[48]

The second tier is third generation Kontakt-5 ERA (explosive reactive armour) which significantly degrades the penetrating power of kinetic-energy APFSDS ammunition; 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 of Russian composite armour sandwiched between upper and lower steel plates. The composite armour results in a lower weight and improved protection when compared with steel-only armour.[48]

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 electro-optical/IR "dazzlers" (i.e. active infrared jammer) on the front of the turret (which gives the distinctive "Red Eyes"), four laser warning receivers, two 3D6 'smoke' grenade discharging systems and a computerised 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 used by some anti-tank guided missiles. The smoke grenades are automatically launched after Shtora detects that it has been painted. The smoke grenades are 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.[48] They will be equipped with the LEDS-150 Land Electronic Defence System.

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 suppression system.[48] The EMT-7 electromagnetic-counter mine system can also be installed on the T-90.[54] EMT-7 emits an electromagnetic pulse to disable magnetic mines and disrupt electronics before the tank reaches them. The Nakidka signature reduction suite is also available for the T-90. Nakidka is designed to reduce the probabilities of an object to be detected by Infrared, Thermal, Radar-Thermal, and Radar bands.[55]

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 by any of the APFSDS or ATGM used during the trial and outperformed a T-80U which also took part.[56][57] During combat operations in Dagestan, there were witness accounts of one T-90 sustaining seven hits from RPGs, and remaining in action.[58]

T-90MS mounts the more advanced "Relikt" ERA.[59][60] Relikt defends against tandem warheads and reduces penetration of APFSDS rounds by over 50 percent.[61] Relict can be installed instead of Kontakt-1/Kontakt-5.[62]

Estimated protection level comparison

T-72M None 335–380 450–490
T-72M1 None 380–400 490
T-72A Kontakt-1 360–500 490–560
T-72B Kontakt-1 480–540 900–950
T-72B (produced after[63] 1988)[64][65][66] Kontakt-5 690–800 940–1180
T-90A/T-90S Kontakt-5 800–830 1150–1350
T-90AM/T-90MS Relikt 1100–1300[lower-alpha 1] 1350+


T-90A Main Battle Tank competing in the 2013 Tank Biathlon.
T-90S "Bhisma" of the Indian Army
T-90MS Main Battle Tank at the 2013 Russian Arms Expo.

Current operators

Map of T-90 operators in blue
T-90SA and T-72UMG. Celebrating the 20th year of independence in Turkmenistan.

See also

Tanks of comparable role, performance and era


  1. Base Armor multiplied by 2, since Relict reduces the effectiveness of APFSDS shells by more than 50%
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