The Russian Ground Forces are reportedly slated to upgrade an unknown number of T-72 and T-90 main battle tanks (MBT) with a new automatic target tracker and fire control computer also found on the third-generation T-14 MBT, according to local media reports in December. The T-14 is Russia’s most advanced armored fighting vehicle, based on the “Armata” universal chassis system
The Russian Ministry of Defense intends to field the first upgraded T-72s and T-90s in two to three years, the Izvestia daily newspaper revealed. Russia’s operates around 300 T-72B3s, an upgraded variant of the original Soviet-era T-72 MBT, out of a total T-72 force of roughly 1,900, and around 350 advanced T-90A, and T-90SM, (other designations T-90AM or T-90MS), the latest and most modern version of the T-90, specifically designed for export. Despite the addition of the T-90 (and around 450 T-80s) , the T-72B3, next to other variants of the tank, remains the backbone of Russia’s tank force.
The latest variants of the T-72 and T-90, as well as the T-14, are all equipped with the Kalina computerized fire control systems. However, only the T-14 has so far been fitted with the latest version of Russia’s most advanced fire control system. The overhaul will have all T-72B3s and T-90SMs currently in service with the Russian Ground Forces upgraded with the latest Kalina system. The Kalina’s automatic target tracker and fire control computer are capable of automatically tracking and continuously locking the MBTs main gun on a target based on input from various sensors until the gunner decides to engage the target. The upgrade will primarily consist of a software update, according to analysts.
The Russian Ministry of Defense’s decision to upgrade older T-72 and T-90 models could be interpreted as a sign that despite earlier announcements, the T-14 will not replace the Soviet-era tanks as the mainstay of Russia’s tank force in the near future and that the Russian Ground Forces will continue to operate various MBT variants at least for the next decade. As I reported elsewhere (See: “Russia’s Military to Receive 100 New T-14 Armata Battle Tanks”), the Russian defense ministry concluded a contract with Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) for the first batch of 100 T-14 MBTs only in September 2016.
As I noted back then, Russia’s deputy defense minister announced at the time that “that the initial plan of inducting 2,300 T-14 MBTs by 2020 had to be pushed back to 2025, without offering additional details.” This timeframe, however, also appears unrealistic given the Russian military’s budgetary limitations for the foreseeable future — the T-14’s price tag will be around 250 million rubles ($3.8 million) per unit once serial production kicks off — and limited production capability.
Indeed, there has been controversy whether the T-14 has already entered serial production or not. In March 2016, a senior Russian defense industry official claimed that the T-14 has already entered serial production, whereas other sources say that it will only begin in 2018. As I noted elsewhere (See: “Is Russia’s Deadliest Tank Already in Serial Production?”):
Whether the T-14 has entered serial production is hard to verify independently. It is possible that Chemezov [the CEO of Russian Technologies State Corporation (Rostec), Russia’s largest defense industrial conglomerate] was referring to a larger number of T-14 tanks produced in 2015 and currently undergoing operational trials. Vyacheslav Khalitov, the deputy director of Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) (…) said in an interview in February 2016 that his company has produced a trial batch of over 20 T-14 MBTs.
The recent decision to upgrade older tank models might at least indicate that even if the tank has entered serial production, the output will be far below the originally announced 2,300 MBTs. A conservative estimate is that Russia currently operates 16-20 T-14s prototypes undergoing various stages of testing.