The Battle of T-90 vs M1 Abrams: Who Comes Out on Top?

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The US made M1 Abrams and T-90 will eventually face off in Ukraine and you will be wondering who wins in the M1 Abrams vs T-90 battle. Let us first dive into how and why they turned out the way they are.

Origins of the T-90

For more info about the T-90MS, click HERE

T-72B and T-80U, Soviet Mainstays


After collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian Federation inherited most of the tanks operated by the Soviet forces, the economic condition of the country wasnt good. They couldn’t continue with a variety of tanks in their inventories and thus the Russian army requested for a singly type of tank, designated standard tank to be developed until a proper replacement for the Soviet era tanks was developed. T-80 and T-72 were pitted against each other as they were the primary new generation of tanks being produced, they had their advantages and disadvantages. Lets have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both the tanks.

Advantages of T-72

  1. Higher reliability,
  2. Was powered by a diesel engine,
  3. Cheaper production and maintenance,
  4. Its design bureau was inside the Russian territory ie in Nizhny Tagil,
  5. Large numbers were in service, hence no spare issues,
  6. Production facility for the tank was well maintained due to international orders.

Disadvantages of T-72

  1. Inferior FCS (Fire Control System),
  2. Inferior sights,
  3. Inferior armor.

Advantages of T-80

  1. The turbine engine provided better mobility,
  2. Better FCS,
  3. Superior sights,
  4. Superior armor.

Disadvantages of T-80

  1. Only the turbine powered variant ie T-80U was produced in the newly formed Russia,
  2. Turbine engine had reliability issues,
  3. The engine was gas guzzling,
  4. Omsk production unit could only do minor design changes, as it was designed by the bureau in Kharkov and hence major upgrades were not possible,
  5. Omsk plant was about to shut down production due to lack of orders.
t-84 (2)

The above points, tipped the decision in T-72’s favor, but a major redesign was ordered to improve protection and performance of the new variant before it entered production. Ukraine on the other hand continued developing the T-80UD (diesel engine powered variant), their latest variant being the T-84M.

Interestingly T-72’s parent design bureau was testing a new variant under the company name of Object 187 just before the cold war ended. It sported T-80U’s sights and FCS along with a modified hull. The new hull had a flatter profile with a steeper frontal edge, similar to western MBTs incorporated to improve frontal hull protection. They developed 6 prototypes incorporating various power packs, a different main gun and armor configurations to test their feasibility.  Four prototypes were extensively tested near the end of Cold War. After tests, all of the findings were incorporated in the 5th and 6th prototypes off which the 6th was said to be ready for mass production, as a new variant of the T-72. It sported the new hull, new power pack and a more powerful gun (2A66 instead of 2A46M) along with the latest Kontakt 5 armor. The USSR collapsed and budget cuts meant that this programme was scuttled. However the findings didnt go waste as they were used on the follow on Object 188.

Pic 1: 3rd Object 187 prototype showcasing the modified front section of the hull.

Pic 2: 6th Object 187 prototype underway, the shape of the hull and the gun are clearly different from standard T-72B and T-90.

Pic 3: Another picture of 3rd Object 187 prototype, showcasing one of the new armor configurations tested, along with the turbine engine.

When a variation of T-72 was selected as the standard MBT for the Russian army, it was developed under the company name Object 188. Due to lack of funds, hull and powerpack was kept the same as existing T-72B whereas the turret was taken from the Object 187. Hence the new tank became a low cost variant of the Object 187. Since the turret was taken from the Object 187, Shtora 1 dazzlers, configuration of Kontakt 5 armor, FCS and sights were the same, but the designers stuck with the old 2A46 main gun. This tank was ordered into production in early 1990s, under the original name of T-72BU but was later renamed as the T-90. It was the perfect combination of T-72’s reliability and T-80’s advanced technology. There are several international operators for this tank, some who have ordered more tanks than the Russians themselves along with local production. The entire T-72 family is supposed to be replaced by the MBT being developed as part of the Armata unified chassis platform. This new MBT will be unveiled on 70th anniversary of Russia’s victory in what they call as the Great Patriotic war, more commonly known as World War 2.

Object 188

Here is the T-90 mod 1992, one can clearly see the similarities of its turret and that of 6th prototype of Object 187, however the hull is the same as T-72B.

Origins of M1 Abrams

Screenshot (389)

Basic layout of a M1 Abrams
(Pic taken from M1 vs T-72 by Steven Zaloga)

M1 was developed as a result of the XM1 competition held between Chrysler and General Motors to produce a next generation tank to replace M60 and M48 tanks which were descendants of the mid 1940s era M26 Pershings. Americans couldnt match the production potential of the Soviet tank industry as over 100,000 T-54/55, over 22,000 T-62s and 12,000 T-64s had been produced till the late 1970s. Off this massive number around 60,000 T-54/55, close to 13,000 T-62 along with thousands of T-64 were standing against only 12,000 M60s and few thousand M48s with tanks of other allied nations. The Americans thus decided to counter numbers with technology and develop a next generation MBT to counter the Soviet threat. Interestingly this was a move away from the policy of developing a reliable, user friendly, maintainable tank developed during the 2nd World War which defeated the superior tech presented by the Germans with numbers.

The US and Germany tried to develop the next big thing with their MBT-70 program where they tried to cram so much new tech onto the tank they it became a white elephant made of steel. Its unique features include.

  1. You had a crew of three in the turret with the driver cupola rotating to point them in the right direction.
  2. A 152mm gun capable of firing both rounds and missiles which was awesome for its time.
  3. A ~1,500 bhp engine to go along with the heavy tank
  4. A new auto-loader
  5. A 20mm AA cannon

The mid to late 1960s brought in a realization that this is not going to work. Half a billion dollars later, the US and Germany which had been doing some tank studies on the side decided to dump the MBT-70 and go on their own path, but not without a little reconciliation.

Pic 1: Here is what GM submitted for the XM1 competition
Pic 2: And the design submitted by Chrysler

The two parties got together again for the Leopard 2AV program which you can read about below. There were two American designs as well which are above this paragraph. The German design was found to be superior to the US prototypes but was rejected on the basis of cost. The design submitted by Chrysler was selected by the US army as the turbine engine was better than the comparable diesel, albeit was a bit more maintenance intensive. Americans from the onset designed this tank with the capability of using either of 105mm or 120mm guns. Thus when the intelligence came in that Soviets were churning out new 125mm gun equipped MBTs, the Americans quickly adopted a variant of  German 120mm gun and upgunned the Abrams. Thanks to its superb stabilization system, FCS and sights, Abrams is an excellent gun platform and one of the best MBTs in service today.

Pic 1: M1 Abrams with a 105mm gun

Pic 2: And the present day beast with its 120mm gun

Head to Head

Ideally, the M1 is a better protected tank which guarantees crew survivability versus a T-90 whose ammo storage tends to blow when you hit it with anything big. The best variant of the T-90 i.e. the T-90M has additional side and rear protection which is still being updated, an independent commander RWS and so on. It is no slouch of a tank. The M1A2 SEP v3 goes one step further with deployment of Trophy APS which I feel is critical for a tank’s survival in the ATGM saturated era of today. The M1A2 SEP v3 comes out on top due to better passive and active protection versus all T-90s, even the T-90M.




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