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May - 2013 ISSUE

Force Magazine
Armoured Might - October 2011
A new twist to the T-90 saga
 
By Prasun K. Sengupta

‘Der aye, durust aye’ (better late than never) will probably be the best way to welcome the emergence of the 49-tonne T-90AM — the latest member of the T-90 family of main battle tanks (MBT) — which was formally unveiled at the Russian Arms expo last month in Nizhny Tagil. In a nutshell, the T-90AM appears to have overcome all the previous design/performance deficiencies associated with the earlier T-90 variants (the T-90S and T-90M), and also with the T-72, from whose design the T-90’s design has evolved. Interestingly, India has had a huge, though as yet unacknowledged, role to play with the T-90AM’s R&D process.

By the late Nineties, when it came to the planned procurement of 1,657 T-90s (to replace the 1,781 T-55 and T-72M MBTs in a phased manner), it was decided to adopt a product block developmental approach similar to what, by then, was being planned for the Indian Air Force’s Su-30MKI procurement exercise. Consequently, in February 2001, India bought its first batch of 310 47.5-tonne 47.5-tonne T-90S MBTs worth USD 795 million, of which 124 were delivered off-the-shelf, 86 in semi-knocked down kits for licenced-assembly by the MoD-owned Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in Avadi, and 100 in completely-knocked down kits (all these MBTs were retrofitted with Saab’s IDAS radar/laser warning system and LEDS-150 active protection system, or APS, worth Rs 25 billion between 2009 and 2011). This was followed by a follow-on contract, worth USD 800 million (or Rs175 million per unit), being inked on 26 October 2006, for another 330 T-90M MBTs that were to be built with locally-sourced raw materials and also come fitted with LEDS-150 APS. The third contract, worth USD 1.23 billion (which was inclusive of the R&D funds required for designing a customised version of the T-90 — the 50-tonne T-90AM), was inked in December 2007 for 347 upgraded T-90Ms, which are now being licence-built by HVF. These T-90Ms, each come with a THALES-built Catherine-FC thermal imager (operating in the 8-12 micron bandwidth and housed within the Peleng-built 1G-46 gunner’s sight), the commander’s panoramic sight, an automatic gearbox, an electro-hydraulic turret-drive-cum stabilisation system, and most importantly, has a 2A46M-5 Rapira smoothbore main gun barrel that also comes fitted with a muzzle reference system.

While all the enhancements featured on the T-90M will also be found on the T-90AM, the latter, among other things, incorporates a totally new redesigned turret that will now house a remote-controlled weapon station, a new-design ‘Kalina’ hunter-killer digital fire-control system, an independent commander’s panoramic sight and gunner’s sight, a rear-mounted ammunition stowage bustle, and a new-design armoured carousel autoloader on the turret’s floor and enabling the stowage of 22 single-unit FSAPDS rounds containing long-rod kinetic energy penetrators, which the T-90S and T-90M cannot fire at the moment, and redesigned modular armour tiles. The hull-section, housing the driver’s and gunner’s compartments, will be equipped with a battlespace management terminal, fibre-optic gyro-based land navigation system, software-defined radio suite, health-and-usage management systems for on-board diagnosis of the MBT’s vectronics and automotive elements — all these being selected and furnished by the customer (in India’s case) to Uralvagonzavod for on-board fitment-cum-integration.

Also to be furnished by India for integration is the active protection suite (APS), for which the LEDS-150 is competing with the Israel Military Industries-built Iron First APS (already installed on board the Arjun Mk2 MBT) from Israel Military Industries. Powerplant for the T-90AM will comprise a Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant-built 1,130hp V-92S2 diesel engine (offering a specific power output of 24bhp/tonne) coupled to with an automatic transmission, while a 1kW AB-1-P28 auxiliary power unit will provide back-up electric power when the engine is idling. The T-90AM exerts ground pressure of no more than 0.98kg/square cm. By today calculations, 670 T-99AMs could well be delivered to the Indian Army between 2013 and 2019, while the Army’s existing T-90S would also be upgraded to the ‘AM’ standard in successive tranches.

This finally brings us to the issue of whether or not to upgrade the remaining 1,664 T-72s in successive tranches. Already, 692 T-72Ms have been upgraded thus far into the T-72 ‘Combat-Improved Ajeya’ standards, while a follow-on tranche of 700 T-72M1s (whose per unit procurement cost is Rs 90 million) is due to be upgraded at a cost of Rs 50 million per unit, for which there is an on-going competition between Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corp, ELBIT Systems of Israel, and the Raytheon/Larsen & Toubro combine, with work scheduled for completion by 2018).

One interesting view prevailing within the Army HQ’s Directorate of Mechanised Forces calls for scrapping the planned T-72 upgrades altogether and instead procuring up to 900 T-90AMs and up to 400 Arjun Mk2s (each costing Rs 380 million or USD 8.2 million) before 2020. This view also calls for re-engineering the hulls of the existing 1,100 T-72Ms and 1,318 T-72M-1982s to accommodate a family of turrets housing not only missile-launchers of the Akash E-SHORADS and their Rajendra L-band PESA target engagement radars and battery command-and-control centres (62 T-72M hulls have already been re-engineered for this purpose), but also air-defence artillery guns and their fire-control systems like the Skyranger from Rheinmetall Defence, a turret containing anti-armour guided-missiles like up to eight Kornet-EM in ready-to-fire configuration along with a 30mm rapid-fire cannon and 30mm automatic grenade launchers — all remotely-operated, MLC-70 bridge layers (like the BLT-72), equipment required by armoured recovery vehicles for the T-90 family of MBTs, and counter-mine flails.

 
 


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