Indian Army T-90 Bhishma
PC : Edmund Ling

As India battles Chinese Aggression in Ladakh, the Indian Army remains on high alert while gradually increasing the number of T-90 tanks on the Chinese border. In the past three months, India has deployed several regiments of T-90 tanks to deter any aggression by Chinese PLA as China has moved around 35,000 soldiers to threaten Ladakh. Team Guarding India brings you the story of the most feared tank of the Indian Army.

Indian T-90 tanks are called T-90 Bhishma as they have the same formidable war potential as Bhishma Pitamaha – the greatest warrior of Mahabharata.

Indian Army selected Russian T-90 tanks in 2001 as by 1995 Pakistan Army had already acquired 320 Ukrainian T-84 tanks which were superior to Indian T-72M1 tanks of the 1990s.

T-90 tank was an incremental upgrade of T-72 M1 design that was already being manufactured in India at Heavy Vehicles Factory (HFV) Avadi which enabled the same production line to be adopted for manufacturing T-90 tanks which reduced cost of establishing new production line and also cut down the delivery time.

T-90 Bhishma’s main battle tanks (MBT) have enhanced the Indian Army’s ‘shock and awe’ capabilities and combat superiority along the Pakistan border.

T-90 tank is a third-generation Russian main battle tank (MBT) that was developed in the 1990s. The Indian T-90 Bhishma tanks are armed to teeth as their main armament is the 2A46M 125mm smoothbore tank gun which can fire all types of anti-tank rounds including lethal armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) and barrel launched Refleks anti-tank guided missiles.

The Refleks missile is a laser-guided missile with an effective range of 6 km which can penetrate about 950 millimetres (37 inches) of steel armour. In addition, T-90 Bhishma tanks also carry NSV 12.7mm remotely controlled anti-aircraft heavy machine gun (HMG) with a 2 km range which can be operated from within the tank.

T-90 Tanks
T-90 Bhishma MBT | PC : File Photo

All T-90 tanks have two-tier protection system with an option of an additional third tier. The first tier is made of composite armour in the turret which is basic armour shell with alternating layers of aluminium and ceramics. The second tier consists of explosive reactive armour (ERA) panels which reduce the effectiveness of APFSDS ammunition besides giving T-90 tank a distinctive angled “clamshell” appearance. The third optional tier is active self-protection system which destroys enemy anti-tank rounds before they hit the tank.

Indian Army has selected LEDS-150 Land Electronic Defence System for defending its T-90 Bhishma tanks which is far superior to the Russian Shtora active defence system used by other nations.

The T-90 tanks are also fitted with nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) protection and can fight even after nuclear blasts. All T-90 tanks have a Nakidka signature reduction suite that reduces infrared, thermal, and radar signature of T-90 Tanks making them even harder to detect. T-90 tanks have high mobility due to upgraded engines producing more than 1000 hp which ensures smooth operations in all terrains and it can easily reach speeds of 60 km/hour despite weighing massive 48 tons.

The T-90 Bhishma is considered amongst the best tanks in worlds as it has the right blend of adequate protection, high mobility, and massive firepower. At present Indian Army is estimated to have more than 1600 T-90 Bhishma tanks and these numbers will cross 2000 by the year 2022. These T-90 Tanks were ordered in different batches and consist of two versions namely T-90S and T-90MS variants.

Indian T-90S tanks are superior to Russian T-90s as they use Russian, French, and Israeli systems. In addition to standard 125 mm smoothbore gun mentioned earlier, Indian T-90 Bhishma tanks are equipped with the cutting-edge French Thales thermal Imaging sights that can see through the darkness till 5-8 km.

Indian T-90s have much advanced Israeli radios for better communication. Indian T-90 Bhishma tanks have Russian Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour (ERA) plates that can blast any incoming projectile before it contacts the main armour of T-90 Bhishma.

The second version of Indian T-90 Bhishma is T-90M which features the ‘Kaktus K-6’ explosive reactive armour (ERA) plates that offer even greater protection than Kontakt-5 ERA panels used by T-90S. Newer T-90M tanks also have enhanced Israeli environmental control systems and newer generation thermal imaging sights. Due to the use of these advanced systems, T-90MS tanks are ideal for the cold and harsh conditions of Ladakh where normal tanks are ineffective.

Russian T-90M Main Battle Tank
Russian T-90M Main Battle Tank | PC : armyrecognition

T-90S tanks have a fearsome reputation for being indestructible despite being battle-tested in almost every warzone. In 1999 Russian Army used T-90 tanks in Chechnya where one T-90S tank was hit by seven RPG anti-tank rockets but continued fighting. Russia has sold T-90A tanks to Syria that are lesser capable than Indian T-90 Bhishma. In February 2016, Syrian T-90A tanks survived a direct hit by a US TOW-2A missile that is used by Pakistan. In fact, it is estimated at present none of the anti-tank missiles held by Pakistan and China can destroy a T-90 Bhishma tank by the frontal hit.

It is the massive firepower and near the indestructible capability of T-90 Bhishma tanks that compelled the Indian Army to use them on China border where they are likely to face Chinese Type 99 main battle tanks and Type 15 light tanks. Team Guarding India is confident that Indian T-90 Bhishma tanks are most likely to emerge victorious in any conflict with Chinese tanks on icy battlefields of Ladakh. However, India still needs a light tank that will be covered in a separate story by Team Guarding India.