T-90M tank in real combat – this is how it fights in Ukraine

Last year at this time, tanks, planes, and artillery were engaged in the war in Ukraine that had already begun. Russian tanks were advancing towards Kyiv, and the West had already made its first arms deliveries to Ukraine. A Ukrainian counterattack was imminent, which would push the Russian army back into eastern Ukraine.

Russian T-90M tanks crews train to destroy NATO tanks in Ukraine
Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov

Today the battle is different. Russia conducts air-to-air missile strikes using cruise and ballistic missiles as well as drones. Land offensive operations are severely limited, and only Bakhmut, before it fell and was taken over by the private military company Wagner, was more in the focus of the international community.

Ukraine is preparing for a counter-offensive, gathering weapons and manpower. Russia is doing the same, but preparing to defend the temporarily occupied territories that are already under their control. Tanks remain the focus of the war, but today their role is severely limited. How exactly does the most modern Russian tank T-90M look on the battlefield and what tasks does it perform – let’s see.

T-90M today in Ukraine

A video released by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation shows what interests us. It looks like the video was taken at the beginning of the year – it could have been January, February, or March. Snow is still prevalent on the battlefield. However, it looks deserted, at least from the tank’s perspective.

New 200 T-90M tanks sent to the eastern Ukrainian front line
Photo credit: comp-pro.ru

The video was shot from the driver’s point of view. A tank moves into a firing position. Most likely, the position is pre-selected. The environment matters because the T-90M crew chooses to position themselves hidden among bushes and trees.

The tank starts firing. The next shot shows us the destruction of a Ukrainian position somewhere ahead in the distance. The tank’s shots are above the tree line, meaning the target is possibly at least a kilometer away. Drones recorded hits on Ukrainian targets.

The weather is cold. You can tell by the clothing of the crew of the T-90M. Inside, the operator briefly demonstrated the cannon’s automatic loading system. After the mission is accomplished, the tank makes a U-turn and goes back from where it came. Yes, that’s exactly what tanks are doing today, in 2023, when things don’t seem as dynamic as they used to be.

T-90M and drones

Russia lost a unique T-90M Proryv tank hit head-on by an AT-4
Video screenshot

The video reveals not only the tank’s involvement in a mission but also the involvement of drones in the same mission. The war in Ukraine revealed perhaps the most important role of drones – supporting artillery.

Because the reconnaissance mission of a drone reveals the location of the enemy’s position in a perfect way. Having once passed the data to the tank commander, accurate shooting is guaranteed. I.e. drones began to navigate ground military equipment. This is noticeable not only among the Russian army but also among the Ukrainian army.

The war in Ukraine is shaping the tanks of the future. They will be systemically compatible with other weapon platforms. Of course, today there are such tanks as well, but their number will grow, and the drones in Ukraine proved their necessity. In the future, information will be even more definitely needed than today. The T-90M takes advantage of this information today transmitted by its “eyes in the air”.

Did the T-90M disappoint in Ukraine?

Our short answer is yes – the T-90M disappoints. But there are several reasons, and a large part of them do not depend on the crew. Of course, the tank crew is very decisive, but the war in Ukraine revealed other problems.

Captured Russian-origin T-90А tank spotted in the US for research
Photo credit: YouTube

The present tense is one of them. The T-90M is based on the T-72. In no small part, the T-90M carries the shortcomings of the T-72. I.e. in Ukraine, old technology collides with new technology. This is good because in this way Russian engineers in the coming years will develop systems based on the war in Ukraine. This is how they will improve the T-90M.

For example, the T-90M can be hit “from top to bottom”. There are many such videos on the net. Active defense Shtora-1 cannot counter such an attack. It is perfect and highly effective when the anti-tank projectile flies in a straight line. But these are antiquated ATGMs and that is why the system developed 30 years ago is effective against them. But not the new anti-tank missiles. Also, Shtora-1 in T-90M shows that the system cannot provide 360-degree protection.

The T-90M is facing a new generation of threats that it cannot handle. For example Switchblade and Lancet. The two kamikaze drones are simply highly effective against those ground systems that cannot handle them. T-90M too.

US confirmed: 5,000 ATGMs Javelin arrive in Ukraine on May 6
Image: US Army/Sgt. 1st Class Ben Houtkooper

The terrain also has an influence. Here, crew training is of utmost importance because they make the decision on how to use the equipment relative to the terrain. And the war in Ukraine is not fought in an empty field, but in urban and semi-urban regions. I.e. here tanks are used to shell positions at short range.

T-90M losses

All these facts mentioned above lead to our conclusion that the tank disappoints. Because the T-90M losses depending on the delivered quantity are proportional. I.e. percentages are proportional to the losses of the T-72 relative to the amount delivered, etc.

Russia has lost 61 T-90 tanks according to open sources. 18 of them were the T-90M model. There are reports that just after the war in Ukraine began, the Russian army had only 100 T-90M tanks. This means that the Russian army has lost 18% of the T-90M inventory with which it entered the war.

Russia is stockpiling a huge amount T-90M and T-72 tanks in Ukraine
Video screenshot

Unlike Ukraine, however, Russia does not stop producing tanks. The last delivery of the T-90M was in December 2022. Since then, there is no public information about T-90M tanks produced and delivered to the Russian army in Ukraine. But, this does not mean that production has stopped. Russia may have stopped informing about such supplies as it used to do.


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