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Russia's T-90M Tank - Cost Has a Quality All Its Own

“In my opinion, this [T-90M tank] is now the best tank in the world. … It is certainly better than Leopard, Challenger, Abrams [tanks], including in terms of its tactical and technical data, even in terms of such a component as mass,” Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, reportedly said.

Boasts are one thing, but just how good is the T-90M Proryv-3? And how important is the T-90 tank as a main battle tank on the world stage?

On the issue of importance, there are a number of factors that strongly suggest that the T-90 and its variants are, and will continue to be, some of the most influential tanks on the world stage for many years to come. Firstly, and most immediately, hundreds of T-90M tanks are playing, and will continue to play, a major role in the Ukraine–Russia war. Secondly, Russia has reportedly announced that it will be producing 1,500 T-90Ms per year going forward—making it the most produced tank in the world. And thirdly, since 2000, Russia has sold over 1,500 T-90 variants to other countries, making it the biggest selling tank of the 21st century.

Acquisition Cost

So, as is the case with the T-72, the T-90M is and will continue to be a highly relevant battle tank for decades to come. But back to the original question—how good is it? The high-level answer is that it’s very good, especially when you consider the price. Indeed, export versions of the T-90 can be purchased for $2.5 million to $3.5 million. And even the most advanced, capable version of the T-90, the T-90M, comes in at only about $4.5 million. This makes the T-90M far more affordable than Tier 1 Western main battle tanks, such as the M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams at well over $10 million, the Challenger 2 at roughly $8.6 million or more, and Leopard 2A6/2A7 tanks at $11 million to $15 million each.

Fuel, Operating, and Support Costs

What kind of mileage a tank gets will vary wildly by terrain and how it’s being used. Also, it’s important to note that the commonly published figures cited for a tank’s range are typically best-case scenarios. And in the case of Western tanks, such as the M1A2 Abrams, they are often out of date as they don’t take into account the large growth in weight they have experienced since they first went into service.

When analyzing fuel usage, we’ll break down tanks by the two main power plants in use today, diesel and gas turbine. To compare the diesel-powered T-90 to the diesel-powered Challenger and Leopard, we will assume that Russian and Western tanks’ designs are roughly comparable in optimizing the fuel efficiency of their diesel-powered tanks. This allows us to estimate relative fuel usage based on weight, i.e., fuel use will be proportional to the weight of the tanks. Using this simplified approach, we expect that the 48-ton T-90M real-world battlefield fuel use to be roughly 64 percent of that of a 75-ton Challenger 2 and about 70 percent of that of a 70-ton Leopard 2.

When comparing the diesel-powered T-90M fuel use to that of the gas turbine M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams, we will use data provided by POGO for the older lighter, less thirsty M1 Abrams that found that the M1 Abrams was averaging 7.1 gallons per mile. Other data from the 1993 Swedish trials of the M1 Abrams and the Leopard found that the Abrams required twice the fuel of the Leopard 2. This, plus the analysis in the preceding paragraph, allows us to estimate the T-90’s fuel usage as being about 35 percent that of the M1A2 Abrams. Though these back-of-the-napkin fuel estimates are rough, the fact remains that, all other things being equal, a lighter, smaller tank is going to burn less fuel and that diesel-powered tanks are far more fuel efficient than gas-turbine-powered tanks.

When it comes to other operating and support costs, no hard data is specifically available for the T-90M, but the T-72 platform on which it’s based has a long history of having a low cost of operation and ease of maintenance. In contrast, Western tanks, especially the M1A2 Abrams, have a long history of being costly to operate and maintain (pdf) and require many skilled maintainers to keep operational when deployed.

So, when looking at fuel and other operating and support costs when deployed into a battlefield, a T-90M will conservatively be 30 to 70 percent less costly to operate than their extremely heavy and complex Western counterparts. More specifically, the T-90M’s operating and support costs could be as little as a third that of the 73.2 ton, gas-turbine-powered, gas-guzzling, maintenance-intensive M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams.

This adds all add up to Russia being able to acquire, field, and support two to three tanks for the same cost the United States and its allies pay to field a single Tier 1 “Western” tank.

Lethality Plus Relatively Low Profile Equals Big Bang for the Buck

So, the T-90M has a huge cost advantage over the Tier 1 Western tanks that can translate into an advantage in numbers, but if it’s mere cannon fodder for those same tanks, the cost advantage becomes largely moot. However, the T-90M is a highly advanced tank featuring excellent armor, advanced stabilized fire control, a 125 mm smoothbore gun comparable in power to the guns of its Western counterparts, and it can fire laser-guided anti-tank missiles from its main gun at ranges exceeding those of the other tanks’ guns. Consequently, while the T-90M is far from being invulnerable, it’s also far from being cannon fodder.

Following in the tradition of the legendary T-34, the T-90M’s smaller, lower profile makes it harder to spot and be targeted, allowing it to take better advantage of terrain than larger tanks. It’s also lighter on its feet, allowing it more mobility where tank tread ground pressure is important. Hence, in a one-on-one engagement, a properly supported T-90M with a skilled crew can certainly defeat any of the aforementioned Western tanks, but it could also lose to any of those same tanks. How often the T-90M would prevail or lose would be contingent on the exact scenario, the terrain, engagement range, tank shell type, crew skill, and any number of other factors, including chance.

Army Recognition summarizes how the T-90M would stack up against a Leopard 2A6.....

For the conclusion of this article go to Epoch Times:

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