September 12, 2003
Two years ago, Russia finally found a customer for it's top of the line T-90 tank. India agreed to buy 310 of them, with 124 delivered assembled and the rest assembled in India using Russian made parts. The Indians will pay $2.1 million for each tank (half the price of the U.S. M-1). Some 20 percent of the cost is for the thermal sight, similar to the one that makes the U.S. M-1 tank so effective on the battlefield. Unfortunately, tests of the T-90 have shown that the Russian thermal sight system cannot handle the heat of Indian summers. Much of the border between India and Pakistan is desert, and T-90s undergoing field testing there this Summer has their thermal sight fail frequently. The problem is that, while the T-90 has air conditioning (something new in Russian tanks), it cannot handle the 100+ degree heat in tropical India, and there is no room inside the tank to install a more powerful cooling system. The American M-1 air conditioning has been able to handle extreme heat. It could be worse, the Ukrainian made T-80 tank, which Pakistan has bought, has encountered even more severe problems in the desert. The T-80 has a gas turbine engine, and the dust and sand in the desert has damaged the gas turbine engine, which takes enormous quantities of air when running. Russia had sent some T-90s to India in 1990 for tests, and thought they had fixed all the heat related problems. Apparently they did fix the engine (a 1000 horsepower diesel) problems, but then new problems appeared with the thermal sight and other computers installed.
The T-90 went into low level production in 1993, but was too expensive for the Russian army to buy many (perhaps 200 so far). The T-90 is based on the T-72, but has composite armor (plus reactive armor) and better electronics. The 50 ton tank uses a 125mm smooth bore gun, and can also fire the 9M119M Refleks-M missile (to 4,000 meters) at ground or air (helicopter) targets. The tank carries 43 tank shells or missiles, 22 of them in the autoloader carousel.