Fierce competition began between Soviet tank manufacturers immediately after the end of the Great Patriotic War. The situation was akin to an internal cold war. In the late 1980s, the management of UralVagonZavod, with significant effort, managed to secure the permission to perform a deep modernization of the T-72 tank. This was the start of the T-90.
The T-72, Soviet Union's most numerous tank, was what is called a "mobilization vehicle" designed for participation in the second echelon and combat against forces other than the enemy's best. Its crews would be tankers with second rate training, therefore controls of these vehicles were simplified. The main drawback of the design was the fire control system, which was far from perfect. The new vehicle from the Urals was supposed to get rid of this deficiency.
The prototype indexed Object 188 was presented to the government for trials in January of 1989. The vehicle showed itself well. It was reliable in all conditions, including long term operation under pressure. The Object 188 travelled 14,000 km without serious breakdowns during trials. This was the range before major repairs required of it by its designers.
In 1991, the Ministry of Defense of the USSR approved the tank for adoption by the Soviet Army. Due to the difficult political situation in the country that ended with its dissolution, the final decision was not made until October of 1992. Object 188 was supposed to receive the index T-72B, but B.N. Yeltsin, Russia's president at the time, personally ordered that it should be indexed T-90. This was the Russian Federation's first tank.
The most important feature of the T-90 is the Irtish fire control system. This system was sorely needed in the T-72. The system includes an automatic fire control feature, night and day aiming devices, a ballistic computer, a gun stabilizer, and many other components. Due to this system, the T-90 can effectively hit vehicles at long distances. During a demonstration for foreign delegates, a T-90 driving at a speed of 25 kph destroyed 7 targets at ranges of 1.5-2.5 kilometers in less than a minute.
Irtish does more than just seek, locate, and identify the target. It calculates many factors that can influence a hit. The speed of the target, the speed of the tank, corrections for wind, atmospheric pressure, wear and tear of the barrel, these are only a few parameters that are used in the calculations.
The T-90 is equipped with a system of optical-electrical protection from anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). This system tracks the launch of a missile and jams its control signal. If necessary, grenades are deployed that create an aerosol cloud around the tank, weakening and deflecting laser designator beams that are used to guide modern ATGMs.
Like all Soviet tanks made after 1954, the T-90's crew is protected from weapons of mass destruction. A special polymer liner with additions of lithium, boron, and lead protects the crew from radiation. Filters protect the air inside the tank from poisonous gases and radioactive dust.
The T-90's shield, sword, and heart
Following Soviet design traditions, the T-90 is small and densely packed. This is both a blessing and a curse. Due to the small silhouette, it is hard to aim at. However, a penetrating shell is bound to hit a module or a crewman.
The tank's designers aimed to protect it well. Aside from traditional composite armour, the tank received built in reactive armour. At first, reactive armour helped only against HEAT shells. Modern reactive armour also protects against subcaliber armour piercing shells, but not as well. If the penetration of a HEAT shell is reduced by over 50%, then APFSDS penetration is reduced by only 20%. The T-90 even has reactive armour on the roof.
The main weapon of the tank is a smooth barrelled 125 mm gun with a two piece round. Due to the automatic loading mechanism, it can reach a rate of fire of 8 RPM. The gun can fire subcaliber, HEAT, and HE ammunition. Recently, a new ammunition type was added: HE-shrapnel with an air burst fuse. This shell is very effective at fighting unprotected infantry and helicopters.
As well as traditional shells, the T-90's gun can also fire ATGMs. The ATGM guarantees a hit at 5000 meters. When the T-90 was adopted for service, it was a worldwide record.
The tank engine is a multifuel diesel. This means that it will run not only on diesel, but on gasoline and kerosene. Trials showed that only gasoline slightly reduces the engine's power.
The T-90 is equipped with underwater driving equipment that can be installed in as little as 15 minutes, and a self-entrenching system, with which it can dig itself a trench in warm ground in less than half an hour.
Over 20 years that passed since the tank entered production, but not very many have been produced. About 2000 units were made to this day, and about half of them were exported, mainly to India. The tank has yet to see battle.
Article author: Vladimir Pinayev
Original article available here.