Russia’s Army has received another shipment of modernized T-90M “Proryv” main battle tanks (MBT’s). Russian state news outlet TASS reported that a new batch of T-90M tanks was shipped to an unspecified division of Russia’s Armed Forces by the manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod (a subsidiary of Russian defense giant Rostec), earlier this week. The first T-90M shipment took place in April 2020, when the MBT entered service in the Guards Tank Army of Russia’s Western Military District.
The T-90M is a modernization of the early 1990’s T-90 MBT, bringing a slew of performance improvements and design tweaks. The turret has been significantly updated, offering the new “Kalina” fire control system with an integrated targeting suite. It also brings the new 2A46M-5, the latest iteration of the Soviet-era 2A46 line of 125 mm smoothbore guns. A versatile main armament, it can fire several different types of munitions—including high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT-FS), and high explosive fragmentation (HE-FRAG), and armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds—as well as guided anti-tank missiles. The new tank’s engine has seen a notable performance boost, swapping out the original T-90’s 840 hp V-84MS for the 1,130 hp V-92S2F with a more favorable power/weight ratio.
The T-90M abandons the Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor (ERA) of its predecessor, bringing instead the newer and more capable Relikt ERA system. The third generation of Russian ERA technology, Relikt offers up to 50% enhanced protection against certain types of projectiles, including anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and shaped charges. In short, the T-90M is markedly faster, deadlier, and more survivable than its predecessors.
The T-90M is being produced for domestic use. The T-90 platform has nevertheless spawned several export versions, including the cost-effective T-90S and more advanced T-90MS. The former became an export hit across the third and developing world, while the latter has been purchased by India and is on the cusp of being adopted in large numbers by Egypt and Kuwait.
The original T-90 can be refitted to comport with the new T-90M standard. Russia’s Armed Forces have reportedly committed to upgrading their existing fleet of aging T-90 and T-90A units with the T-90M package by the mid 2020s, while also building an unspecified number of models from scratch. There are just under 500 T-90 and T-90A’s in Russia’s Ground Forces roster—Deputy Defense Minister Aleksey Krivoruchko previously said that as many as 400 of these can be upgraded. Refitting hundreds of older MBT’s will be a costly and logistically demanding undertaking. It remains to be seen if Russia’s Ground Forces can sustain a modernization effort on that scale, as their armored vehicles roster continues to struggle with the lowest modernization rates of any branch in Russia’s Armed Forces.
Russia’s T-90 modernization drive comes against the backdrop of an even more ambitious project: the T-14 Armata, a next-generation MBT platform that has been bedeviled by delays, cost overruns, and overeager production estimates.
Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.