The T-90 (Ob.188) MBT is the most modern tank currently in service with the Russian Army. It is a direct descendant of the T-72 MBT (in fact, a renaming of T-72BU) although every single system including the main gun has received a major upgrade.
The T-90 tank retains the basic national tank design concept, i.e. the classical layout, where the main armament is arranged within a rotating turret, the power plant and transmission are located in the hull's rear, and the crew members are seated separately: the commander and the gunner sit in the fighting compartment, and the driver in the driver's compartment.
In addition to the basic model, the T-90K command variant is fielded, and differs in radio and navigational equipment, as well as the Ainet remote-fusing system for HEF rounds.
The T-90 MBT, though the best armored and equipped of all Russian tanks, was only meant to be a stop-gap measure in conditions where the acceptance of a brand-new Nizhny Tagil MBT was delayed due to lack of funding. It looks increasingly likely however that, different upgrades notwithstanding, it will remain the most modern Russian tank for at least another decade.
The year 1999 saw the appearance of a new model T-90A (obiekt 188A), that features a fully welded turret derived from Obiekt 187 experimental MBT instead of a cast one carried by the original T-90, as well as advanced Essa sight that uses the excellent Catherine thermal camera manufactured by Thales (France). This new model was called "Vladimir" in honour of T-90 Chief Designer Vladimir Potkin, who died in 1999. By now the cast-turret version is no longer in production and the welded version is often referred to as just T-90.
Due to financial woes the T-90 MBT is only present in the Russian Ground Forces in very modest numbers. Until 1996 one tank regiment of 21st MRD (94 vehicles) as well as one tank battalion of 5th TD (31 vehicles) were equipped with T-90. After 1996 the procurement stopped for several years, with the estimated total number of T-90s in service below 150. 2004 saw the revival of state orders, with 14 upgraded T-90A MBTs ordered in 2004, 17 in 2005, equipping one tank battalion in 2nd Tamanskaja MRD (according to an interview to the daily of the Russian Military "Red Star" by Ground Forces Chief Col.-Gen. A.Maslov this battalion became operational in May 2006); a full battalion of 31 vehicles is purchased in FY2006 (becoming operational in August 2007), another - in FY2007, and two more - in FY2008, with another two battalions planned each year after that until 2011. The cost of each T-90 for the Russian budget was estimated to be around 35mln RUB (USD1.3mln at the time) in 2005 and is quickly growing (ostensibly mostly due to the big increases in the costs of raw materials). In 2006 the price was 42mln RUB (USD1.6mln at the time) and in 2007 - already 58mln RUB (USD2.3mln at the time)
In the recent years the T-90 MBT, the export variant of which is called T-90S, has secured important export victories making it one of the most successful export MBTs of the last decade.
The first large contract was with India, for delivery of 310 MBTs (124 complete MBTs and 186 kits assembled by Indian enterprises); worth USD 700mln, it has been signed in February 2001 and concluded in 2004. The majority of supplied tanks has the welded turret, and they are equipped with the new 1000hp V-92S2 Chelyabinsk diesel and Essa night sight. They are not, however, equipped with the Shtora EOCMDAS, though there are reports that a separate contract for shipment of a modernized version of this suite is being discussed. According to the Indian newspapers, India plans to produce another 1000 T-90S MBTs (called "Bhishma" in Indian service) by 2020, which will require shipment of more components from Russia. In addition to this license arrangement, in December 2007 a follow-on contract has been concluded, worth USD 1.2bln, that will see another 347 full T-90S kits delivered to India.
A new deal has recently been concluded with Algeria. It is reported to be worth USD 1bln and involves shipment between 2007 and 2011 of 180 MBTs together with assorted ammunition, training means and support equipment. The tanks intended for Algeria (designated T-90SA) are mostly similar to the Indian ones, except that the kit includes laser sensors and anti-FLIR smoke grenades of Shtora EOCMDAS, an air conditioner, a KMT-8 mine sweep, and "Nakidka" thermal/radar/optical camouflage shroud. In 2007, according to Russian reports to UN controllers, 102 MBTs have been shipped as part of this deal.
There are reports that more deals are in the works. Target countries include Lybia and Morocco. Recently a contract is also in the works with Saudi Arabia for 150 T-90's. If this deal goes through, this will be the first time T-90's will be serving alongside M1A2 Abrams tanks.
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