The folks at Peto’s Travel Center and Casino in Roanoke, Louisiana see all kinds of vehicles pull up, but Tuesday night was different. What ended up in their parking lot is certainly something of a mystery, to say the least.
UPDATE: We have new information on the tank's origins and its destination. Be sure to click here after reading this post to get up to date.
Someone left a Russian T-90A tank, which open source intelligence (OSINT) trackers say was captured by Ukraine last fall, on a trailer after the truck hauling it broke down and pulled into this truck stop off U.S. Interstate 10. An employee at Peto's, and the individual who first posted the images on Reddit, shared them with The War Zone.
The T-90A is modern by Russian standards, having been introduced two decades ago, which makes its puzzling voyage from battlefield Ukraine to a truck stop in Louisiana all the more difficult to make sense of.
“I’ve been here seven years,” assistant manager Valerie Mott told The War Zone Thursday morning. “I’ve never seen [a tank] here before.”
Neither Mott nor manager Cody Sellers knew who left the tank, where it came from, or where it was heading.
“The transmission went out on the truck that was hauling this big old trailer,” said Sellers.
Whoever was hauling the tank had to go back to Houston and get a new truck and asked if they could store it at Peto’s, said Mott, adding that she is not concerned about security.
“We have guards 24 hours a day,” she said.
Images of the tank first appeared on the 'Tank Porn' Reddit channel Wednesday evening. They were posted by a user named Mutantlight who requested anonymity to share the images.
"I'm some guy in the south who happens to like tanks from playing [the computer game] War Thunder and stumbled upon this beauty," he said.
He lives near Peto’s and saw it while driving by.
The tank has damaged front and rear fenders.
It is clearly not fully kitted out, but it has at least some explosive reactive armor containers on the turret. It also has the "dazzlers" at least still fitted from the Shtora-1 self-protection system. Its various machine guns have been removed.
It also notably lacks some Western fire control systems.
While we don't know why the tank is in Louisiana or how it got there, a member of the Oryx and Warspotting.net OSINT groups that track military equipment used in the war in Ukraine, who uses the Twitter handle Naalsio, told The War Zone his assessment is that it “belonged to Russia's 27th Separate Guards Motorized Rifle Brigade, 1st Guards Tank Army... It was abandoned in Kurylivka, Kharkiv Oblast (49.660195, 37.699288) around 25 September 2022. It was captured by Ukraine's 92nd Separate Mechanized Brigade, hence the yellow 9s on the tank while in Louisiana (this is the marking the 92nd puts on their equipment).”
The U.S. military may have an interest in the tank as part of its foreign materiel exploitation, or FME, programs. FME allows the U.S. to gain information on foreign equipment via hands-on study, including gaining insights into its capabilities and vulnerabilities through reverse engineering. U.S. forces can also use these assets to train against, as they are actual threat-representative systems. They can otherwise be used by troops to just become familiar with equipment they may see on the battlefield in an up-close and personal setting.
The Ukrainians have captured many weapons systems that can provide highly useful information for FME, including various advanced electronic warfare systems and missile components. Ukraine was already a long-established top source of FME hardware for U.S. intelligence before the full-on war broke out. Sending back captured systems would be a very likely arrangement between Ukraine and U.S. intelligence sources, as we have pointed out since the war began.
As for tanks, they have captured at least 549 Russian tanks, according to Oryx, though that's just a fraction of the real number because they only report on items that can be verified via imagery.
That being said, the tank could also be intended for some sort of display, although if it was not imported by the military, exactly how it made it from Ukraine to Peto's parking lot is quite puzzling.
Despite any interest the U.S. military might have in this tank, a spokesman at Fort Polk, home of the Army's Joint Readiness Training Center, about 60 miles north of the truck stop, said it does not immediately appear the tank was headed there.
"I contacted my operations people," Deven B. King told The War Zone. "They did not immediately know anything about a Russian tank coming to Fort Polk but said they would look into it and let me know."
He added that the U.S. military might not have any connection to the tank.
"My opinion is this tank is probably owned by a private citizen or company," he said. "I spoke to the staff at Peto’s. They said a couple [of] gentlemen dropped it there Tuesday and said they had to go to Houston to get another truck to haul it. They have not returned yet. It doesn’t seem likely the military would leave something like that unattended. I’ll let you know if I hear anything else."
A spokesman at the Army's Red River Depot in New Boston, Texas, about 240 miles north of the truck stop, also said it does not appear the tank was headed there.
"This tank is more than likely not heading to Red River as we don't refurbish any of its kind here," a Red River Depot spokesman told The War Zone. "We are a remanufacturing facility for various Armed Forces vehicles and assets. Good luck in your search."
The Pentagon told us they had no information to share about the tank.
We also reached out to the Army and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to find out who brought the tank into the country, where it was headed, and why.
We will update this story with any information provided.
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