T-90M: The Ultimate Guide to What Might Be Russia's Best Tank

March 26, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineT-90T-90MTanksTankWar In Ukraine

T-90M: The Ultimate Guide to What Might Be Russia's Best Tank

The Russian T-90M tank, Moscow's latest main battle tank (MBT) iteration, represents a significant evolution in armor and firepower, aiming to compensate for the severe losses Russia has experienced in its ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Summary: The Russian T-90M tank, Moscow's latest main battle tank (MBT) iteration, represents a significant evolution in armor and firepower, aiming to compensate for the severe losses Russia has experienced in its ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Despite deploying a variety of tanks, including outdated and WWII-era models, to the frontlines, Russia's armored forces have been substantially diminished, with experts estimating over 3,000 tanks lost. The T-90M, with its advanced fire-control system, 125mm main gun, and Relikt explosive reactive armor, was intended as Russia's premier armored asset. However, despite its sophisticated design and improvements over older models, the T-90M has not lived up to expectations in Ukraine, suffering significant losses to Western-supplied anti-tank weapons. This has not diminished its value to Moscow, illustrating the challenges of modern armored warfare and the effectiveness of contemporary anti-tank systems.

Russia's Tank Woes: The T-90M Struggles on Ukraine's Battlefield

Moscow’s arsenal of military systems has been decimated during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For over two years, main battle tanks, airframes, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other Russian assets have suffered the wrath of Ukraine’s inventory of Western-delivered weapons. 

From the FGM-148 Javelin to the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, Kyiv has stocks of some of the best defensive systems available. While Russia has suffered serious losses to a wide range of weapons throughout the war, main battle tanks have been hit worse than most. Experts believe that more than 3,000 Russian tanks have been destroyed or captured since February 2022.

To make up for extreme tank losses, Moscow has sent in as many replacements as it can find, regardless of old age or outdated capabilities. Even World War II-era relics have made it to the frontlines, including T-45s and T-55s. 

Other Russian MBT platforms that have participated include T-62s, T-72s, T-80s, and T-90s. 

Representing the latest generation of Russian MBTs, the T-90M was initially believed to be the country’s best armored vehicle asset. The third-generation battle tank’s improvements over predecessors include a fire-control system, a 125mm 2A46 smoothbore main gun, and a Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor (ERA) system. 

Introducing the T-90

Like many of the weapons used by Russian forces today, the T-90 tank has Soviet origins. During the Cold War, the battle tank was designed as a replacement for the aging T-64, T-72, and T-80 MBTs. These three tanks possessed similar capabilities, yet they all needed different components. The cost of producing and maintaining three separate tank series led the Russian Ministry of Defense to commit to developing a single line of tanks after the collapse of the USSR. 

The T-80 was probably the biggest competitor to the T-90 program. But the T-80’s high fuel consumption and its poor combat performance during the First Chechen War contributed to the T-90’s selection as Russia’s MBT. 

The Kartsev-Venediktov Design Bureau built the initial layout of the T-90 prototype. Beginning in 1992, the T-90 was manufactured at the Uralvagonzavod factory. 

Although the T-90 is very similar to its predecessor, it has several key improvements, including a more advanced 1A45T Irtysh fire control system and an upgraded V-84MS multi-fuel engine. The T-90 is smaller than its peers, and the reduced size gives the platform a greater operational range.

The T-90M

The latest variant in the T-90 series is the T-90M (referred to as the Proryv-3 in Russia). 

First debuted during Russia’s Zapad-2017 military exercise, the T-90M sports a range of upgrades over its sister tanks, including an incorporated Relikt built-in ERA – previous T-90s were installed with the Kontakt-5. The Relikt ERA provides greater protection against tandem warheads and drastically minimizes penetration of armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot rounds. 


As detailed by Military Today, the T-90M series also offers increased protection against certain types of anti-tank weapons. A countermeasures system is also built into the T-90 tank that automatically triggers smoke grenade dischargers if the MBT is being illuminated by a laser beam.

The T-90M is better equipped to engage in combat than its Soviet-era predecessors. Each tank in this series is armed with a new 2A46M-4 gun, which provides a longer and more accurate range than the earlier variants. The tank can also launch 9M119 Refleks anti-tank guided missiles (designated by NATO as AT-11 or Sniper-B). The T-90M’s secondary armament includes a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun.

How Has the T-90M Performed in Ukraine?

Despite the T-90M’s enhancements, it has not performed as well in Ukraine as the Kremlin hoped. Dozens of T-90 and T-90M tanks have been captured by Ukrainian forces or destroyed. Videos on social media have shown T-90M tanks being destroyed by Ukraine’s sophisticated stocks of anti-tank weaponry. Regardless of the MBT’s misfortunes in Kyiv, it remains one of Moscow’s most valued armored vehicles.


About the Author 

Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin. Email the author: [email protected].