Captured modern Russian tank allows West to unlock defence systems

State-of-art T-90M moved to undisclosed location for close examination by technicians

A T-90M tank found in Kharkiv. Photo: Defence of Ukraine / Twitter
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Intelligence officials have been able to discover key weaknesses and examine secret systems on Russia’s most advanced operational tank captured by Ukraine.

Western scientists have been able to scrutinise the T-90M, including its specialist armour and targeting systems, after it was abandoned by fleeing Russian troops late last month following Ukraine's lightning offensive in the Kharkiv region.

It was found in near perfect condition with only one track missing.

Specialist teams will likely now be able to unlock the tank's sophisticated defence systems that include Nakidka stealth material that absorbs heat and radio signals, potentially cloaking it from Nato surveillance aircraft while offering protection from precision-guided missiles.

A Russian T-90M destroyed by Ukrainian armed forces is seen near the village of Staryi Saltiv in the Kharkiv region in May. Reuters

The National understands that the prize tank has been taken to an undisclosed location in western Ukraine or Poland where technicians have been able to minutely inspect its systems.

“It is in a lab being disassembled with tech reports sent back to the US and the UK for exploitation,” said a security source.

“It is a question understanding the tank and its defensive mechanisms that will help us to overcome them.”

The technical reports will include the inspection of the tank’s active protection system called Afghanit, which can intercept missiles at short range.

While the T-90M, which costs $5 million and has a crew of three, has the standard explosive reactive armour, its main metal composite protection was a secret.

Papers will also be written on the T-90M's computerised fire-control system as well and the 125mm gun’s ability to fire guided shells that have a longer range and are up to 20 per cent more accurate than Russia’s standard tank guns.

The interior of a T-90M tank found in Kharkiv. Photo: Defence of Ukraine / Twitter

The tank has the latest Russian aiming device, giving it a “hunter-killer engagement capability” where the tank commander uses a panoramic sight with thermal vision to track targets, something standard on most Nato systems.

“The T-90M has got a much more modern suite of explosive reactive armour designed around the shape of the vehicle and its turret,” said Sam Cranny-Evans of the Rusi think tank.

“This tank will undergo technical exploitation that can be highly valuable in terms of next-generation lethality.”

The vehicle also has an upgraded weapon systems with a revised auto-loader that can fit longer projectiles that have much greater penetration than the standard T-90 variant developed in the nineties.

A T-90M that was spotted in 2021 also had a telescopic mast fitted with optical sensors, which will be examined if it is on the captured vehicle.

“This will add to the information that the West has gained by its access to captured Russian equipment that include missiles that have crashed in Ukraine without exploding,” said Brig Ben Barry, a Russian military specialist.

“Like the tank, we will now be able to analyse those in detail and work out better ways to stop them.”

Brig Barry added scientists would now be able to discover the “the weaknesses of Russian armour” that would help Nato and its allies defeat Moscow’s most advanced modern tanks.

Russian T-90M tanks parade through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow in May. AFP

Fourteen years passed before the US was able to get hold of a T-72 tank when it became operational but now it has the latest T-90 only two years after it entered service.

It had been thought that the Russians were holding back their advanced T-90Ms, which only became operational in April 2020, for fear they would be needed in a wider conflict with Nato.

But their heavy tank losses, which include 380 captured intact by Ukraine, have led to Moscow deploying its most modern arms to hold back the Ukrainian offensive that, western officials disclosed on Tuesday, was penetrating further into Russian-seized territory.

While the Russians have ordered 400 of the new tanks, it is believed only 40 have been delivered to the 1st Guards Tank Army, which receives the latest equipment, as it is supposed to defend Moscow and is the most loyal to President Vladimir Putin.

The ability to examine the new turret will “provide a greater level of insight into its armour composition”, said Andrew Galer of Janes, the defence intelligence provider

Foreign militaries will be able to examine its internal mission systems as well as “their impact on crew reaction times, possible blind spots and real use statistics”, he added.

However, all tanks are still vulnerable to the “top-down” missile attack on their turrets, which potentially accounted for the first ever T-90M being knocked out in the summer.

Updated: October 07, 2022, 10:13 AM
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