One of Putin’s “breakthrough” tanks was destroyed near Luhansk. The pride of the Russian defense industry was struck by a better bazooka.
Russia has been bolstering its invasion forces with the T90M Provy for some time. This is the most modern and powerful variant of the T90 tank. In principle, the T90M Provy can be considered the best serial tank in the world. The NATO countries consider their tanks to be superior because they often have higher firepower and better protection. But compared to the western tanks, the T90 is much smaller and more agile. The current T90M Provy variant has also been modernized more extensively than almost any western tank – and has already been built in significant numbers.
In Ukraine, Russia is said to have lost about ten tanks of the type so far. Some were left behind due to technical failures and were then destroyed either by the Ukrainians or by the Russians themselves. On January 15th, one of the super tanks was shot down while still operational, and probably with a very simple defensive weapon – a Swedish AT4.
Alone in the field
The fight can be seen on a drone video. First, two Provy go into battle between the towns of Novoselivske and Kuzemivka in the Luhansk region. Risky operational planning is typical of Russian warfare. The main battle tanks drive unaccompanied along a kind of dirt road, although it is immediately adjacent to a wooded area. This leaves them vulnerable to ambush attacks, since the crew of the tanks cannot see a small squad of Ukrainian soldiers hiding in ambush.
This form of deployment is often criticized as incompetent. But if the tanks were accompanied by dismounted gunners, the speed would drop to that of foot soldiers in ankle-deep mud. Accordingly long the group would be a target for drones and artillery. And even accompanying infantry cannot secure the space that results from the range of modern anti-tank weapons of several kilometers.
According to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the T90M was not hit at a distance by a guided missile like the TOW, but was knocked out by a better bazooka. The AT4 is an 84mm caliber recoilless grenade launcher. The unofficial nickname is “Eighty-Four” – reminiscent of the German “Acht-Eight”. The tube is placed on the shoulder and aimed at the target. The 440 gram warhead has no rocket propulsion and is fired unguided. The effective range against hard targets is only 300 meters. In general, the AT4 – like all similar models – is not very effective against main battle tanks. An AT4 cannot penetrate composite frontal armor. The HEAT head is also sensitive to reactive armor. The AT4 can be used well against lighter armored vehicles and fortifications.
Still, the gun is said to have knocked out a state-of-the-art T90M Provy. The video shows one T90M driving in front of another. Then the hit hits, the tank rolls even further until there is an explosion inside. Proof that the hit penetrated the armor. Then the T90M stops. The video does not show how severe the damage is. As soon as the video surfaced, there was speculation as to how the T90M was hit. Conceivable possibilities would be the weak points directly between the turret and the hull and where the tube merges into the turret with a shield. The uploader of the video has since shared information that the driver’s vision devices were hit. A brave and lucky shot straight ahead.
The hit is surprising, because the T90M is at least partially equipped with the Arena active protection system. Such systems are intended to intercept attacking missiles with a kind of hail of shotgun fire. Only very few tanks from Western Europe are equipped with it so far. It is known that these systems have problems with attackers who attack the tank vertically from above. But they should be able to shoot down a better bazooka. The T90M’s Schtora passive defense system, on the other hand, interferes with the seeker head of guided missiles and is ineffective against a “dumb” weapon like the AT4.
It is unclear whether the arena system failed or was not switched on. The fact remains that a tank said to cost over 4 million euros was knocked out by a weapon that costs less than 2000 euros. If the driver’s vision system was actually hit with the AT4 launcher, that was a lucky hit. It commemorates one of the first operations of the Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko in World War II, who was able to penetrate the armored sight glass of the driver with two hits in a row in an attacking German tank.
State of the art tank
The T90 is still descended from the T72. The Provy models received modern new armor and a new turret. The main weapon corresponds to the cannon from the T-14. The 2A46M-4 uses the 125mm caliber, but is said to have longer range and accuracy than the older Russian armored car guns. At the same time, in the interior, the ammunition was separated from the crew compartment. A modern fire extinguishing system was also installed. Protecting one’s own crew was not a priority in the USSR. In addition to a 7.62 mm light machine gun installed in parallel with the main gun, the tank has a remote-controlled weapon station on the turret roof with a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun. At the same time, the electronics and target acquisition systems were replaced. The biggest news is the ability to exchange target data with other vehicles in real time. A more powerful engine accelerates the tank to 70 km/h.
The Bundeswehr wants to equip 17 Leopard 2 with the active defense system Trophy from Israel by 2025. As of now, hardly any Bundeswehr tank has such a system. By the way, because of Israel’s restrictive policy, Trophy-equipped tanks are not allowed to be delivered to Ukraine. Even though weapons like the Panzerfaust 3 or the AT4 launcher are outclassed by modern guided missiles, they can take out a main battle tank at close range. Precisely through the targeted bombardment of weak points. Hits on the track and running gear also usually immobilize the tank and make it an easy target.