Recently it has been reported that Russia has opted to purchase a small number of BMPT fire support vehicles following the combat experiences in Syria. Previously the BMPT had been rejected by the Russian Army, partly due to the T-15 version of the next-generation Armata family of combat vehicles being considered to handle the same taks while being an IFV with enough space to transport nine dismounts. The BMPT ordered by Russia is an improved model that has been described as the BMPT-2, a name that confusingly has sometimes also used in blogs and forums to describe another variant.
At the same time the Russian company UVZ and government sources have announced a number of new export contracts for the T-90 main battle tank.
The new variant of the BMPT-2 is mostly based on the existing BMPT Terminator model, but includes a number of enhancements. The guided missile launchers for the 130 mm 9M120 Ataka missiles (that are usually fitted with thermobaric warheads, but are also available with an anti-tank tandem shaped charge warhead) are fitted with a protective armor panel, which is also used on the BMPT-72. This is the main reason why some people have unintentionally mistaken it for the BMPT-72, ignoring the differences in turret and hull size and shape. The BMPT-72 uses a rather unmodified T-72 chassis with the turret proturding out by quite a bit - thus the BMPT-72 has a crew of only three: commander, driver and gunner. The other BMPT variants utilize a more heavbily modified chassis based on components of the T-72 and T-90, which has a rasied roof section to accommodate the larger crew of these vehicles; aside of the commander, the driver and the main gun operator, two further soldiers inside the BMPT are responsible of operating the hull-mounted automatic grenade launchers. The turret has a much lower-profile, due to the larger hull offering more space for the lower sections of the soldiers.
|The new BMPT is fitted with the "bagged ERA"
The BMPT is protected by composite armor and advanced types of explosive reactive armor (ERA). The frontal aspect of the tank is fitted with heavy Relikt ERA, which not only provides a considerable reduction in the penetration power of single stage shaped charge warheads and kinetic energy penetrators (KEPs) such as APFSDS ammunition, but also can reduce the penetration of tandem shaped charge warheads as used on modern anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). Compared to the original BMPT prototypes, the upper surface of this ERA is fitted with ribs in order to prevent bullets or splinters being deflected against the driver's sights.
The vehicle has been photographed in Syria while being fitted with a new type of ERA - or at least a new type of mounting existing ERA, which has been previously demonstrated on a few T-72B tanks. The armor modules are contained in cloth bags, which are strapped to the vehicle by two slings. The exact reason behind this layout has yet to be revealed, it is however believed that it allows an easier and faster replacement of damaged or detonated explosive reactive armor modules. Based on the thickness of the ERA and the fact that it is located ontop of a layer of composite armor, that also can incorporate a further reactive armor panel, this armor is believed to provide protection against at least some types of tandem shaped charge warheads.
|The new BMPT variant uses armored panels for protecting the guided missiles
The BMPT is armed an array of different weapons, most of which are mounted in an overhead weapon station above the low-profile turret. This is not a remote weapon station (RWS) and also is not an unmanned turret. The main armament consists of two 30 x 165 mm 2A42 autocannons. The choice of this armament has been questioned in the past; apparently the idea behind using two guns of the same calibre fixed at the same target is only a cheap way of increasing the rate of fire and decreasing the relative barrel wear - a more modern gun might have been able to sustain the same rate of fire with just one barrel. A bigger point of critique is however the relative small calibre of the guns, which has been considered as being too small to engage targets hidden inside of buildings and structures by some members of the Russian Army.
The BMPT-2 has a newly added system allowing to fire programmable ammunition. Unlike comparable systems from Germany and the United States, the timer for the detonation seems to be set outside of the gun using an optical system - though this is not confirmed.
|The weapons of the BMPT are arranged in an overhead mount
The new version of the fire support vehicle includes a number of improved components compared to the previous variant. The turret-independent panoramic sight for the commander is now based on the commander's optic used on the T-90MS, which includes a modern thermal imager, instead of using the previous BO7K1 optic with a simpler image intensifier. Storage boxes have been added to the rear of hull and weapon station, while the drivetrain makes use of the same tracks as the T-90, rather than using the less capable T-72 tracks. In Syria the vehicle has been showcased with a camouflage net ontop.
According to not entirely confirmed reports, three countries have requested to purchase the T-90 main battle tank (MBT), while a fourth country is supposedly thinking about ordering a number of T-90 tanks. A statement in an official report from tank manufacturer UralVagonZavod (UVZ) confirms that a costumer with the index 704 has ordered 64 T-90S and T-90SK tanks. This index number is used for Russian arms exports to Vietnam, which has bought the tanks as part of a larger military equipment order funded with a Russian credit.
Vietnam has a history of buying Soviet/Russian military equipment, following the Sino-Vietnamese War (Third Indochina War) of 1979, which is why the country rejects buying most of its equipment from the largest regional arms exporter. Currently the Vietnamese ground forces are under-equipped, the most modern tank model in the inventory is apparently the T-62 MBT or an upgraded Chinese-made T-54 copy. Due to the lackluster infrastructure of the country, a large number of light and amphibious tanks aswell as infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) form the bulk of the military vehicles. Buying the T-90 hence seems very reasonable and likely.
The T-90S is an export model of the Russian version, sometimes also described as a monkey model, even though this might not properly reflect its true nature. Unlike the Russian variants, the T-90S usually is not fitted with the Shtora electro-optical countermeasure, a system which uses laser-warners, smoke grenade launchers and two large infrared jammers to prevent anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) from hitting the tank. Similar and often more complex systems have been made by China, Germany, Israel, the Ukraine and the United States.
When fitted with parts of the Shtora protection system, the export T-90 tank is commonly called T-90SA; the Algerian T-90SA tanks however still lack the MTShU-1-7 modulators found on Russian tanks. The T-90SK is a command variant of the T-90, fitted with a new internal navigation system (TNA-4-3), the more capable R-168-100KBE HF radio unit and a PAB-2M theodolite.
|The T-90SK is a command variant of the T-90S
The Iraqi Army has been claimed to purchase 73 T-90S and T-90SK tanks. The Iraqi ground forces have taken heavy losses in combat against the terrorists, even the American-made M1A1M Abrams tanks, an export version of the M1A1 Abrams without DU armor but fitted with a heavy conventional armor package, have proven to be vulnerable to anti-tank missiles and RPGs. The largest part of the Iraq's tank force consisted of Soviet-designed T-72M/M1 tanks, some of which were relative recently delivered by Czech manufacturer Excalibur Army. Lacking any sort of modern armor - even first generation Kontakt-1 ERA is not fitted to the tanks - these T-72 require an urgent replacement.
|The T-90MS is a much more advanced tank
Kuwait has been claimed to have ordered 146 of the much more capable T-90MS/T-90MSK tanks, which are based on the T-90AM main battle tank variant. These vehicles will most likely serve as a replacement for the old M-84, a Yugoslavian modified variant of the T-72 MBT made under licence. The M-84 has not seen any upgrades to keep it relevant, lacking essential features of a modern MBT. The T-90MS is currently the latest available version of the T-90, that was first presented in 2011. It features a vast number of enhancements, boosting it's combat performance in all important aspects: armor protection, firepower, manageability, mobility and reliability.
The T-90MS uses a new elongated turret, which is fitted with number of bustle-mounted storage boxes, of which one is used to store some of ammunition. The improved variant of the T-90 includes a new electronics package, while the fire control system allows full hunter/killer operations thanks to the independent commander's Eagly Eye sight made by the Belarussian company Peleng, which contains a video daylight camera, a laser rangefinder and a modern thermal imager. Slaved to the commander's sight is a remote weapon station with a 7.62 mm machine gun and 800 rounds of ammunition. A better powerpack with a more powerful engine increases the mobility.
While not being fitted with the full Shtora system including IR jammers, the laser warning sensors are fitted to the tank, which most likely are linked to the smoke grenade dischargers for faster reactions. The T-90MS is armed with the 125 mm smoothbore 2A46M-5 gun, that unlike earlier models has an internal chromium liner and an improved recoil system. Compared to its predecessor. the 2A46M-5 is about 100 kilograms heavier, but has a 70% higher barrel life and has on average a 15% lower dispersion.
|The T-90MS features additional armor
The armor protection is enhanced over the T-90S thanks to a larger number of modifications. The frontal arc of the tank utilizes the more advanced Relikt ERA instead of the old Kontakt-5 ERA used on the T-90, T-90A and T-90S. Furthermore the side skirts are replaced with a newer design, which contains more composite/ERA segments than the previous T-90 skirts, on which they were mostly made of steel-mesh reinforced rubber (only three segments at the frontal section of each hull side included ERA). A big downside of the T-90 turret design - the poor side armor which proved to be vulnerable to RPGs in urban combat - has been fixed by adding spaced armor modules that can be fitted with composite armor or ERA panels. Slat armor is covering the rear section of hull and turret.
According to a conversation between Vladimir Putin and an official from the Russian Army, which was "leaked" (it seems very likely to be intentional propaganda), the frontal armor is claimed to provide protection equivalent to 850 mm steel armor against APFSDS ammunition and up to 1,200 mm against shaped charge ammunition with tandem warheads.
Furthermore the removal of some of the ammunition from the crew compartment increases the survivability in case of armor penetration.
|The T-90M will be adopted by the Russian Army
Iran is indirectly copying the T-90MS in form of the Karrar tank, while India has ordered a total of 464 of the T-90MS tanks. According to Russian sources, Egypt (the biggest M1 Abrams user aside of the United States) has shown interest in acquiring the licence to produce up to 400 T-90S or T-90MS tanks locally. Kuwait also operates the M1 Abrams, the Kuwaiti tanks were recently upgraded to the M1A2 configuration, but with an export armor package, where the depleted uranium is replaced with other materials.
Russia is planning to upgrade many of it's current T-90 tanks to the new T-90M configuration as part of the Proryv-3 (breakthrough 3) program. This is very similar to the T-90MS, but includes a number of unique features such as slat armor covering the lower ERA section of the turret front, aswell as the more powerful 125 mm 2A82-1M smoothbore gun of the T-14 Armata. The weight of the T-90M supposedly will reach up to 50 metric tons compared to the 48 metric tons of the T-90MS and the only 46.5 metric tons of the T-90A.