Russia Just Lost Its Most Advanced Operational Tank In Ukraine

The first confirmed loss of Russia’s most advanced operational tank is another blow to the Russian Army’s eroded image.

byJoseph Trevithick, Oliver Parken, Tyler Rogoway|
Andriy Tsapliyenko via Twitter. Andriy Tsapliyenko via Twitter


The war in Ukraine has had its fair share of embarrassments for the Kremlin. From the sinking of the Slava class cruiser Moskva in April to the infamous 40-mile-long Russian military convoy holdup near Kyiv seen earlier in the conflict, Moscow has had little to cheer about in terms of projecting competent military strength. The latest hit comes via visual evidence that a Russian T-90M Proryv-3 (Breakthrough-3) — a modern and rare main battle tank — has been destroyed on the battlefield by Ukrainian forces.

Shared on Twitter by The Kyiv Independent’s defense reporter Illia Ponomarenko, the image, dated May 4, shows what appears to be the remnants of a T-90M tank, still smoldering after a direct hit somewhere within Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv Oblast. Andriy Tsaplienko is seen reporting in the foreground.

News of what appears to be the first T-90M tank destroyed in Ukraine should lift the spirits of the Ukrainian forces, given its status as the most technologically advanced and capable tank within Russia’s frontline military arsenal. The initial batch of production T-90M tanks were only issued to the 2nd Guards M. I. Kalinin Taman Motor Rifle Division of the 1st Guards Tank Army in the spring of 2020, with recent estimates suggesting that only 100 or so models are currently in service in total. The much-hyped, but still not proven, T-14 Armata main battle tanks, aren't yet ready for frontline combat and are in very short supply. This is mainly due to the financial realities of producing a brand new tank and the development it takes to make it actually work as promised. So, the Uralvagonzavod-designed T-90M serves as an important update to the T-90 line of tanks, first introduced in the early 1990s as a direct outgrowth of the T-72. The T-90M follows the T-90MS Proryv-2 (Breakthrough 2), an upgrade of the export-centered T-90S variant, which was revealed in 2011.

The tank’s destruction reflects Moscow’s readiness to commit such high-end materiel in battle. This comes amid Russia’s wider concentration of its forces in the east of Ukraine, in a bid to further exert control over the eastern Donbas region. Early evidence that Russia may have committed some of its limited supply of T-90M tanks to the conflict began to surface in April. Video evidence released by the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardia) on April 25, which has since circulated on social media, revealed a crudely concealed T-90M tank in Kharkiv Oblast.

While losing any of its prized T-90M tanks is obviously a blow, the Russian Army has had to deal with other issues related to its tank arsenal during the conflict. In particular, older Soviet-era tanks, including the T-72 and T-80 models, which have been used widely in the invasion, have suffered from a much-publicized ‘jack-in-the-box’ effect due to how rounds for the tank's main gun are stored internally in the hull. This often results in the turret violently separating from the rest of the vehicle hull if an attack causes that ammunition to cook off.

Boasting an improved 2A46M-4 125mm smoothbore main gun in a modernized turret, the T-90M is encased with advanced armor-protection and countermeasures capabilities. Relikt built-in explosive reactive armor (ERA) is designed to protect against shaped charges and minimizes the impact of armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds.

Additionally, the tank features slat armor in places and can also be equipped with net armor, both of which are designed to improve its defenses against rocket-propelled grenades. Its countermeasures include smoke grenade launchers, which can further help to conceal it, including from infantry with anti-tank weaponry. Major sensor and fire control enhancements make up the heart of the T-90M upgrade, as well as an advanced remote weapon station. The tank's environmental and propulsion systems, as well as its ammo handling system, are all upgraded, as well. These upgrades don't seem to have helped the T-90M in question, which stands as the first confirmed loss of the type.

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Regardless of why T-90M tanks do not appear to have been used in the conflict until more recently, photos of Russia's most advanced operational tank, destroyed on Ukrainian soil, won't sit well with the Russian Army, the image of which as a feared combat force has degraded to a degree few would have imagined over the last two and a half months.

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