T-90 "Bhishma" MBTs during exercise in the Ladakh region close to the LAC

MOSCOW — Today, the best tank in the composition of the Russian army is the T-90M Proryv. Already as an active participant in the war in Ukraine, the tank shows its advantages over the T-72. Faster and more manoeuvrable than the T-72, the T-90 features an advanced fire control system, active protection system, and an effective armour.

It is a little-known fact that Russia almost killed its T-90 production. In fact, the leadership in Moscow over the years has destroyed more than one or two promising weapons projects. UralVagonZavod provides a brief flashback of the T-90, which shows that this tank could not have existed for long in Russia, had not India suddenly decided to intervene.

T-90 Was Born

It all started in the 1990s when UralVagonZavod invested all the experience of its engineers in the testing and military operation of the T-72. Then the engineering team was headed by Mr. Vladimir Potkin. He saw the future in the T-72 chassis, but not in the T-72 tank. So he and his team decided to invest time and knowledge in developing a new main battle tank.

The T-90 appeared on the drawing board. A period of construction and production of the tank followed. Moscow decided to introduce the new Russian T-90 tank into service in 1992. Then, for the first time, the Russian army now had a completely different tank than the T-72. The T-90 had reinforced combined armour in combination with built-in dynamic protection. The fire control system was 1A45T Irtysh, and the aiming system was completely new – PNK-4S.

Unlike the T-72, Potkin decided to increase the range of the T-90 to 5,000 meters. He achieved this by integrating the 9K119 Reflex weapon control system into the T-90. UralVagonZavod says that for the first time in the world, a tank received a complex optical-electronic suppression system which was the TSHU-1 system.

The War In Chechnya

Thus accepted into service the following year, 1993 T-90 entered into serial production. The tank has already received the highest marks from tankers and was eagerly awaited. Combat experience was not late for the T-90. Two years later, in 1995, the war in Chechnya began. Moscow sent T-90 to the front line. Tank turned out to be practically invulnerable to Chechen weapons.

Despite its incredible success in Chechnya, Russia has no intention of investing more in this tank. To this day, the motives of the “smart heads” in the Kremlin has not become clear for this sharp retreat. UralVagonZavod was quietly dying without tank orders. Neither from Russia nor from abroad. The T-90 was about to end as a project.


When it seemed that UralVagonZavod was at the bottom of the horizon, India appeared. New Delhi has been closely monitoring the performance of the T-90 in Chechnya. According to Russian sources, the Indians had a strong respect for the intelligence of the Russian engineer.

India needed a very good tank at that very time. Just by this time, Pakistan had already taken action that startled the Indians. Islamabad had just acquired 320 Ukrainian T-80UD tanks. New Delhi should have acted quickly and responsibly. The first thing they did was contact the Russians. The first tank they chose was the T-90. But they did not want the base version of the T-90, which was in service. They wanted a new T-90 tank only for the needs of the Indian Army. They wanted Potkin to be the chief designer.

Potkin had a condition – up to 24 months for the Indian design to be created, during which time three prototypes would be delivered to India for testing in the desert. The chief designer took a risk on the verge of gambling, writes UralVagonZavod. It was unthinkable for Potkin to go to the Indians without a result.

The Beginning

The beginning for Potkin is difficult. He knows what he wants to do, but he doesn’t have the resources. Moscow’s refusal to continue with purchases of the T-90 has forced a large number of suppliers in the chain to stop production of the necessary materials. Thus, during the first six months, the coordination of supplies was the most difficult of the entire Indian project. Suspended production has been restarted, and new units are being designed and tested around the clock. All this is accompanied by endless damage, defects, etc.

But that’s in the first six months. After that, everything falls into place. Potkin’s team did their best, and instead of 24 months, the tank was made in 12. On May 17, 1999, three T-90S tanks were sent to the Indian Thar desert, where they passed the most difficult tests with flying colors. Thus the T-90 Bhishma was born. This is how the Russian tank industry is being revived.

At the same time, India’s Arjun tank is behind schedule. There were problems in the hydro gas suspension system. The Indians are getting a T-90 tank are much lighter than the production Arjun. The T-90 weighed 45 tons, while Arjun, which was still being intergated had already reached 75 tons.


Like a sort of “Frankenstein” mix between the T-72 and the T-80, the T-90 has shown the Indians that it will not need an upgrade for at least a decade. Also, the time required to train the T-90 has been drastically reduced.

Potkin gave India a tank with a more powerful engine than the Russian T-90, new armour, and new equipment. The T-90 Bhishma received a jamming system and laser warning receivers. The T-90 Bhishma was armed with a 125 mm 2A46M smoothbore gun with a thermal sleeve and a muzzle detector capable of firing a full range of ammunition. This meant that the Indians would be able to fire HE, Frag, HEAT, APFSDS, and ATGM munitions through the main gun. The secondary armament consists of a roof-mounted 12.7 mm and a coaxial 7.92 mm machine gun.

T-90 Bhishma

The Russian T-90 at the time relied on a night sight with a range of up to 700 meters. The Indians wanted more, and Potkin gave them an improved night sight with a range of 1,100 meters in pitch darkness, fog, or sandstorms. Moreover, the gun and night sight was designed to be stable while the tank was moving.

Potkin gave the Indians a tank that could submerge to a depth of 5 meters. The Indians acquired a tank whose armor was constructed of hardened steel with composite inserts in the front of the turret. An additional layer of explosive armor ERA bricks was further integrated.

The T-90 Bhishma has become the flagship of the Indian Army. Moscow realized that the T-90 is a tank that has a future. So he decided to facilitate its production by giving a license to the Indian industry to manufacture it. Thus the T-90 Bhishma was born. However, it is more correct to say – this is how the new Russian tank industry was born.