Visually Differentiating between T-72 and T-90 Main Battle Tanks

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The T-72 and T-90 are two of the most popular main battle tanks in the world. Both tanks are heavily armored and armed with powerful cannons, making them formidable opponents on the battlefield. However, there are a few key differences between the two tanks that can be used to visually differentiate them.

Lets do a short T-90 vs T-72 visual differences article. T-90 is an evolution of the T-72 & was originally supposed to be called T-72U or T-72BU. Also, remember that early T-90S exported were actually T-72 turrets on T-90 hull. The cover pic is a T-90A. The structure is Para 1 – Pic 1, Para 2 – Pic 2, so ever pic is preceded by its explanation.


But first, how do you know it is a T-90 or T-72 in the first place? Look at the wheels, it should have 6 road wheels with these spoke & cavity type design. If there are 6 cavities (pic 1), it is a newer T-72, if there are 8 (pic 2) older T-72. If there are 8, then confirmed T-72.

T-90M’s wheel cavities (also called indentations on all T-72 and T-90) extend till the rim edge instead of just short on older T-90A, T-90S and all T-72
Pic 1: T-90M without skirts, identations till wheel rim edge
Pic 2: T-72B3, identations just short of wheel rim edge.

But what if no wheels visible. This is a T-90A, distinctions to remember.

  • Shtora dazzlers – Orange, either side of the gun
  • Commander’s sight+manual RWS – Red
  • Smoke grenade launchers 2+2+2 config so 6 a side – Green
  • Laser sensors – Blue

Very easy to see distinction from side, look at the exhaust port over the 6th road wheel

  • Long: T-72 – Red
  • Short: T-90 – Green

But remember, exhaust port is only on the left/port side of the tank.

Now the most difficult distinction Part 1
Pic 1: T-90A with green highlighting 3 ERA wedges no 1-2-3. They are flush and equidistant with each other so its a T-90
Pic 2: T-72 coz the red highlighted ERA wedges 1-2-3 are not flush and uneven
This arrangement is mirrored on sides

Part 2
Where the last ERA wedge ends (last ERA wedge marked by green) on the base armor, the base armor has straight lines marked in RED. This is because base armor on T-90 is welded turret plates.
On T-72 the area is smooth and curvy, marked in BLUE

Back to easy ones, if it has no wedges but bricks like below, it is not a T-90 for sure! If you can confirm other aspects then its a T-72 for sure. Now some oddballs after this.

Oddly, 2 are from India and used by Indian army
Exhibit A

T-90 commander RWS but uneven ERA wedges. These are actually early Indian Army T-90 Bhishma which had casted turrets. They are essentially/almost T-72B3 spec.

Exhibit B: Here is India’s T-72M1 Ajeya with T-90 turret as part of testbed for fleet upgrade. CC:@Kunal_Biswas707

Just like India, even Russia had its fair share of early T-90A with T-72 turrets which were casted. Here

  • Shtora Dazzlers- Pink
  • IR sensor – Blue
  • Commander shield – Green
  • Red highlights turret curve just above turret ring, on a T-90 it is straight, its a curve here, look closely.

Showing straight turret base lines of a T-90A captured in Ukraine marked by red in pic 1. Also, all T-90M have a smooth appearance as seen in pic 2 with a RWS panoramic sight. Pic 3 shows that T-90M has a longer turret, another distinction to keep a note of

Early #T90 mod 1992s had the wide exhaust V-84 engine like #T72 unlike the narrow exhaust V-92 engines seen on #T90A onwards. So If you see the….

  • Old cast turret with snug ERA wedges
  • Shtora dazzlers
  • Commander RWS
  • Wide exhaust

Still a T-90, specifically T-90 obr 1992! Credits: On the pic

Because the turret is what makes a T-90 a T-90, Indian T-90S are unique enough to need a new designation.

  1. T-90SB1: T-90S Bhishma with cast turret with 1-2-3 smoke grenade config and T-72B3 style ERA but V-92 engines. Pic 1
  2. T-90SB2: T-90S Bhishma with welded turret and 1-2-3 smoke grenade config. Pic 2
  3. T-90SB2M1: T-72M1 hull fitted with a T-90SB2 turret. Pic 3-4



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