By 1992, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it could no longer afford to manufacture two main battle tanks in parallel. Since both the "quality" T-80U and the cheaper "quantity" T-72B were being built at different plants, and each plant was critical to the economy of its city, the government gave small orders to both. Omsk built five T-80Us and Nizhny Tagil built fifteen T-72s, and both built more in the hopes of winning large export orders. Nizhny Tagil had built a few T-72BAs, T-72Bs upgraded with a third generation add-on explosive reactive armour (ERA) called Kontakt-5, which was already in service on the T-80U.
To further improve the T-72's export prospects and its chances of being selected as Russia's sole production main battle tank, the T-80U's more sophisticated fire control system was also added to produce a vehicle designated T-72BU. The T-90 was developed by the Kartsev-Venediktov Design Bureau at the Uralvagonzavod factory in Nizhny Tagil. The production model is based on the T-72BM, with some added features from the T-80 series.
The T-90 with an 830 hp (620 kW) engine went into low-level production in 1993, based on a prototype designated T-88. It features a new generation of Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor on its hull and turret. Of conventional layout, the T-90 represents a major upgrade to every system in the T-72, including the main gun. The T-90S have been identified as export model. The references to a T-90E appear to be unsubstantiated. The T-90 is fitted with a "three-tiered" protection system: the first tier is the composite armour in the turret, second tier is third generation Kontakt-5 ERA and third tier is a Shtora-1 countermeasures suite.
T-90s were used in combat for the first time during the invasion of Dagestan in 1999.
- T-90: Original production model.
- T-90K: Command version of the T-90.
- T-90E: Export version of T-90 MBT.
- T-90A: Russian army version with welded turret, V-92S2 engine and ESSA thermal viewer. Sometimes called T-90 Vladimir.
- T-90S: Export version of T-90A. Sometimes called T-90C (Cyrillic letter es looks like a Latin c). These tanks are found with two different turret armour arrays.
- T-90SK: Command version of the T-90S. It differs in radio and navigation equipment and Ainet remote-detonation system for HEF rounds.
- T-90S "Bhishma": modified T-90S in Indian service.
- T-90M: Prototype version featuring new explosive reactive armour (ERA) Relikt, new 1,250 PS (920 kW) engine, new improved turret and composite armor, new gun, new thermal imaging Catherine-FC from Thales, an enhancedenvironmental control system supplied by Israel’s Kinetics Ltd for providing cooled air to the fighting compartment, integrated tactical system, satellite navigation and others.
- T-90MS: New modernized (M) version of the export tank T-90S, with a 1130HP engine, DSHK with IR camera, and PNM Sosna-U gunner view, 7.62mm turret UDP T05BV-1 RWS, GLONASS+inertial navigation, explosive reactive armour(ERA
- BREM-72: Armoured recovery vehicle.
- MTU-90: Bridge layer tank with MLC50 bridge.
- IMR-3: Combat engineer vehicle.
- BMR-3: Mine clearing vehicle.
Production and service history
The Russian Defence Ministry made a selection of a single main battle tank (MBT) in 1995. The T-80 was more expensive and its delicate, fuel-hungry gas turbine engine provided a questionable advantage. It was also notorious for showing how poor the older T-80BV tanks were in urban combat in the First Chechen War.
By September 1995, some 107 T-90 tanks had been produced, located in the Siberian Military District. By mid-1996 some 107 T-90s had gone into service in the Far Eastern Military District.
1999 saw the appearance of a new model of T-90, featuring the fully welded turret of the Object 187 experimental MBT instead of the original T-90's cast turret. This new model is called "Vladimir" in honour of T-90 Chief Designer Vladimir Potkin, who died in 1999. It is unknown how this design affects the protection and layout of the turret, or whether the tank's hull armour layout was changed.
The T-90A saw combat action during the 1999 Chechen invasion of Dagestan. According toMoscow Defense Brief, one T-90 was hit by seven RPG anti-tank rockets but remained in action. The journal concludes that with regular equipment T-90A seems to be the best protected Russian tank, especially if the Shtora and Arena defensive protection systems are integrated in it.
In 2007, there were about 334 T-90 tanks serving in the Russian Ground Forces' 5th Guards Tank Division, stationed in the Siberian Military District, and seven T-90 tanks in the Navy. Some 31 new T-90 tanks were expected to enter service in 2007, and 60 in 2008.
The Russian Federal Service for Defense Contracts (Rosoboronzakaz) announced in July 2008 that a new tank (which rumour has previously referred to as the T-95) was due to be introduced in 2009, but development was cancelled in May 2010.
Russia is developing a new Universal Combat Platform T-99 (also known as Armata) to be ready for use by 2015. It is expected to have a more powerful engine, improved armor, main gun and autoloader, with ammunition storage separated from the crew.