Ukraine just captured Russia’s most advanced operational tank

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A fully intact example of the Russian T-90M tank has been captured by Ukrainian troops, apparently the first time this high-end combat vehicle has been acquired by Kyiv forces since the start of the full invasion of the Russia. Obtaining such an advanced tank is the latest in a long line of intelligence bounties for the Ukrainians and their NATO allies. Chances are the captured T-90M – also known as Proryv-3 (Breakthrough-3) – will end up surrendering to these NATO allies for intelligence exploitation.

Several pictures exterior and interior of the T-90M have been posted on social media, including by Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, which said the tank was “found in [the] Kharkiv region in perfect condition.

It has been suggested that the T-90M’s three-man crew simply left it where it was after laying down a trail. In a view of the rear of the tank, the caterpillar is clearly absent on the left side. Video appears to show the same T-90M being towed later by a Ukrainian tank, suggesting it lost mobility.

A track is started when part of it separates from the wheels, drive sprocket, and tensioner, which can be the result of particularly difficult terrain, improper maintenance, or simply poor maintenance. driving techniques. Depending on the severity of the incident, reinstalling a track can be a complex process, and abandoning a tank is not entirely unusual in such circumstances. It is perhaps surprising that the crew appeared to make no effort to destroy the vehicle, or at least some of its more sensitive subsystems, to prevent their capture.

An M1 Abrams tank launches a track during a public demonstration:

After all, the tank in question is one of the very last in the Russian inventory and one that has been encountered only rarely in the fighting in Ukraine so far. This is certainly the most intact example noted so far, with at least one previous example having been knocked out by enemy fire, also in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast.

Prior to that, at least one T-90M had been reported in action in the same region as early as April, as Russia stepped up efforts to expand its control over Donbass territory. On this occasion, a hastily camouflaged tank appeared in a video released by the National Guard of Russia, or Rosgvardia).

As we have discussed in the past, the T-90M is the most technologically advanced and capable main battle tank to achieve full operational status with the Russian Armed Forces. The next-generation T-14 Armata is not yet used by front-line armored formations and is only available in very small numbers. So far he has not appeared in the war in Ukraine.

The first production T-90M tanks have only begun to be delivered to the 2nd Guards MI Kalinin Taman Motor Rifle Division, part of the 1st Guards Tank Army, in the Western Military District, in the spring 2020. Estimates indicate that possibly only 100 or more examples were in service by the time Russia launched its final invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Ultimately, while the as-yet-unproven T-14 aims to be a breakthrough tank design, the T-90M, from the Uralvagonzavod plant, represents what is truly an evolutionary approach, building on the T-90 series which was first introduced in the early 1990s as a further development of the Cold War era T-72. In this sense, it is more comparable to the T-80UM2, an experimental upgrade of the Cold War-era T-80, although this appears to have produced only one prototype, also lost during the war. from Ukraine.

Among the features of the T-90M is an upgraded 2A46M-4 125mm smoothbore main gun in a modernized turret. This is complemented by an advanced remote weapon station, mounted on top of the turret. Photos from inside the tank reveal interesting details about the sighting system, which is believed to be the brand new PNM-T.

The PNM-T is interesting in itself since it is the result of a larger effort to reduce the reliance of the Russian military-industrial complex on Western technology. This initiative gained momentum when sanctions were introduced after the Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and has only grown in importance since, as new measures make it even more difficult for Russia the acquisition of high-tech Western components. This is an issue we’ve reported on in the past, and it’s also one that’s affected tank production, in particular.

Introduced around 2018 or 2019, the PNM-T is therefore presented as an entirely Russian sighting system, unlike the earlier Sosna-U system, which relied, to some extent, on components from the French company Thales. This had been previously installed on the T-90M.

The T-90M is also better protected than its predecessors, with advanced armor protection and countermeasure capabilities. This includes Relikt’s Integrated Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) designed to protect against shaped charges and to minimize the impact of Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Rejection Sabot rounds (APFSDS).

A T-90M on display. Mike1979 Russia/Wikimedia Commons

At the same time, the captured example is fitted with distinctive covers made of Nakidka radar-absorbing material, or RAM. This is intended to provide another degree of defense against guided weapons, by reducing the vehicle’s infrared, thermal, and radar signatures. In addition to being used to protect vehicles, Nakidka can also be used to camouflage field fortifications, ammunition dumps and other objectives.

All in all, it looks like this T-90M could provide some very interesting data on the capabilities of this very modern tank and its subsystems.

Ukraine has made good use of captured Russian equipment in the past, including pressing service tanks taken or abandoned by invaders. However, with only one T-90M apparently captured so far in working order, it is much more likely that it will be used for intelligence analysis, rather than returning to war against the Russians.

It joins an eclectic collection of combat vehicles and other high-end equipment that have found their way into Ukrainian hands, often undamaged.

Just last week, we reported the first confirmed capture of a vehicle from Russia’s Taran-M signals intelligence system, or SIGINT, which joins previous electronic warfare equipment, including part of the mobile jamming Krasukha-4.

The PNM-T sighting system, in particular, could be of considerable interest, revealing much about the capabilities of this tank, and others similarly equipped, to engage targets in different conditions and how it performs against to various countermeasures. It will also be very useful to see how Russian industry has solved the problem of replacing Western high-tech components, with similar efforts also underway to ‘Russianize’ electro-optical systems in fighter jets, for example.

Since the evolution of armored warfare is characterized, to a large extent, by competing trends in firepower, protection and mobility, it seems that the T-90M will be of equal interest to the United States and other powers western countries than Ukraine.

It is currently unknown to what extent Ukraine shares this type of intelligence with the United States or with other partners, although at the very least there is seem to be channels established who would be seem to make it easier. It is very likely that examples of captured Russian equipment will even be passed on to the United States. There is, after all, a pre-war precedent for Ukraine to hand over Russian-origin equipment to the United States for Foreign Material Exploitation (FME).

That Russia employs a very diverse range of combat vehicles in the Ukrainian war is now unsurprising, with examples ranging from some of the latest types to enter service to early Cold War tanks that have long since been eclipsed by more advanced vehicles. designs. However, as long as vehicles continue to find their way into Ukrainian hands in as good condition as this T-90M, it seems likely that they will continue to provide important clues to the skills and wider equipment shortcomings of the Russian armed forces.

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