As Russia’s most advanced main battle tank, the T-90 was expected to play a heavy role in combat against Ukraine.
The Kremlin often claims this armored vehicle is superior to Western counterparts, including the American-made M1 Abrams and the UK’s Challengers. But the T-90’s performance on the battlefield in Ukraine has been lacking.
Throughout the last year and a half of warfare, countless videos have shown the obliteration of various Russian tanks, including the T-90. Up against Western anti-tank weaponry and lethal unmanned aerial vehicles, Russian tanks have suffered. Now that 31 M1A1 Abrams MBTs are expected to hit the frontlines in the next month, Moscow’s remaining tank fleet is in trouble.
Since the invasion began in February 2022, Russia’s tank fleet has at least been cut in half. According to open-source intelligence trackers like Oryx, more than 2,000 Soviet-era MBTs have been wiped out. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that Moscow’s T-80 fleet was depleted by two-thirds earlier this year, while its number of newer tanks was nearly cut in half. While advanced Western anti-tank systems like the FGM-148 Javelin and HIMARS have inflicted many of the losses, Moscow has also lost a significant number of MBTs to abandonment and capture.
Ukrainian Soldiers Capture a Russian T-90
This week, open-source intelligence group Ukraine Weapons Tracker published a photograph of a captured T-90 MBT.
The photo was reportedly taken by the Ukrainian army near Robotyne, Zaporizhzhia Oblast.
In the image, a Ukrainian soldier stands next to the advanced Russian tank, which is almost completely covered by branches and leaves.
The third-generation battle tank is rooted in a Soviet-era program tasked with creating a replacement for the T-72. The armored vehicle did not actually enter service until after the collapse of the USSR. Featuring composite armor materials, smoke grenades, reactive armor, and other sophisticated capabilities, the T-90 on paper is a powerhouse.
The MBT is equipped with a 125mm smoothbore main gun, diesel engines, and other enhancements that set it apart from its predecessors.
Specs and Capabilities
The gun fitted onto the latest iteration of the T-90 family can fire the 9M119 Refleks anti-tank guided missile system, which is “intended to engage tanks fitted with explosive reactive armor (ERA), as well as low-flying air targets, such as helicopters, at a range of up to 5km,” according to Army Technology.
“The missile system fires either the 9M119 or 9M119M missiles, which have semi-automatic laser beam-riding guidance and a hollow charge warhead. The missile weight is 23.4kg. The guns’ automatic loader can feed both ordnance and missiles.”
The Proryv also sports a countermeasures system that provides better protection for its crew members.
Despite these capabilities, the T-90 has not performed well in combat. Prior to the Ukraine war, Moscow deployed the T-90 to Chechnya.
Chechen fighters were able to disable and wipe out these tanks with rocket-propelled grenades, showcasing dire vulnerabilities. Considering the MBT’s track record, it should come as no surprise that the T-90 has not lived up to expectations in Ukraine.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, 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.