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T-90M ”Breakthrough” the Armata Russia has to live with

Despite the evidence, all claims that the T-90M engine is related to the aircraft carrier Kuznetsov have been denied. (Photo V.Kuzmin)

The T-14 Armata was supposedly going to be the next main combat vehicle platform that would replace the dozen or so main battle tank versions currently in the Russian service. The development and testing process of the T-14 has been difficult and the manufacturer Uralvagonzavod will deliver the first five pre-production vehicles in the first half of 2020. It’s quite a far cry from the originally planned production run of 2300 Armata’s by the end of 2020.

First newly-built T-90M tanks with redesigned turrets and engines will be delivered for state tests alongside the initial batch of T-14’s. The T-90M, that shouldn’t be confused with the export version upgrade package T-90MS, is actually very capable package with significantly less complicated problems than the more radical T-14.

T-90M

The T-90M offers the same firepower and mobility with most likely slightly superior optics and situational awareness compared to the Armata. With the conventional layout, many of the camera, display and stabilization issues of the T-14 Armata are completely avoided. 

The 2A82-1M cannon from the Armata isn't installed as a stock option to the T-90M, but the 2A46-5 is a serious threat to all other main battle tanks around. The new turret configuration might allow the use of the latest Armata specific ammunition types in the T-90M as well.

Both T-90M and T-14 both have the latest Russian communication and command suite. The system enables digital communications and real-time situational awareness. Similar updates have been rolled to most C3I specific vehicles and some IFVs.

T-14 Armata prototype somewhere in Russia

Russia will upgrade its existing fleet of T-90A tanks into the T-90M standard and it’s looking highly likely that the production capability originally reserved for the Armata will be shifted towards manufacturing the T-90 and T-72 based vehicles. During the development of the Armata and T-90M the Russia’s main tank factory at Nizhny Tagil has been building new T-72B3 tanks and refurbishing existing T-72A, B and B1 tanks into T-72B3 standards.

The T-72B3 itself is a formidable and continuously evolving tank, it lacks behind the T-90M mostly in protection and fire power. While the latest versions of both tanks sport similar optics and Arena-M active protection systems, it would make sense to mount the T-90M style turret into the simpler and cheaper T-72 chassis for mass production of new vehicles.

In addition to the T-90M T-73B3 programs, the Russian army is refurbishing a large number of older T-80 series tanks into T-80BVM spec. This upgrade makes them roughly equal to T-72B3. These tanks have been deployed to the Naval Infantry units in the Pacific and Northern Fleets, with some of them stationed close to the Finnish and Norwegian borders.

Additionally, Russia has dug out a large quantity, over a thousand, T-62M and T-62MV tanks from the deep storage depots in Siberia. They will refurbish and possibly upgrade these obsolete tanks to either use with the reserve formations or ship out as a military aid to foreign factions on friendly terms with Moscow.

The armor gap between Russia and the Western Europe isn’t going close anytime soon.

How can you identify the T-90M? 

The T-90M lacks the distinctive rectangular Shtora-jammer boxes found on both sides of the T-90A's main gun barrel. It also has two rows of ERA bricks on the turret front and vertical ERA on the sides of the elongated turret. There are also a remote weapon station and a distinctively cylindrical commanders sight on top of the turret. The ERA on hull front is more integrated instead of looking like brickwork of the older versions. 

Areas to look when identifying a T-90M

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