M1 Abrams On Way Out? More T-90 Main Battle Tanks for Iraq

The Iraqi Army announced last month that the forth shipment of Russian-made T-90 main battle tanks (MBTs) had been delivered to Iraq’s 9th Armored Division. Previous shipments of T-90s have seen service with the 9th Division’s 34th and 35th Brigades, replacing US-provided M1A1M Abrams MBTs. After the use of a number of Iraqi M1A1Ms by Iranian-backed militias, the US has been increasingly cautious in providing further tanks to the Iraqis.

The T-90, based on the workhorse T-72, was procured both as a cost-effective measure to replace damaged or destroyed M1A1s and as a means of bypassing US restrictions placed on the deployment of the Abrams. M1A1Ms will remain in service with some Iraqi tank units for the foreseeable future. Training on the T-90 has been provided by Russian personnel in Iraq and are considered far less maintenance-intensive than the American tank.

Indian Army T-90S variant (Courtesy Indian Ministry of Defence)

The Iraqi T-90s are believed to include both the export standard T-90S and the T-90SK command variant. Both feature a the well-regarded smoothbore 2A46M 125mm main gun which is capable of launching the 9M119M Refleks anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) or firing a range of 125mm ammunition. It also mounts a co-axial 7.62x54mm PKMT medium machine gun and a roof mounted 12.7x108mm NSV heavy machine gun which is operated remotely from within the turret.

The T-90 is protected by composite armour enhanced with the Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor (ERA) which guards against both missiles and cannon by detonating and destroying the threat before the enemy projectile actually strikes the skin of the tank. Additionally, a variant of the Shtora-1 active protection system (APS) provides a warning to crews if they have been ‘painted’ by a laser rangefinder or designator. It does not feature the full Shtora-1 system which includes infra-red ‘dazzlers’ to disrupt ATGMs, a feature typically only seen on Russian Army T-90A variants and on a small number of T-90As provided to Syrian regime forces.