Amid fast growing deployments of T-90M ‘Breakthrough’ tanks by the Russian Army, the Deputy Chairman Russian Security Council former president Dmitry Medvedev has been the latest among officials to express a strong confidence in the performance of the vehicle. After completing testing in February 2020, T-90M joined the Russian Army in April, with ten vehicles having purchased in the 2010s which represented the only tank acquisitions the Russian Defence Ministry funded that decade. The tanks have played a growing role in the Russian-Ukrainian War after an initial absence from the theatre, and are by far the most capable in Russian service, although fom December an upgrade package for the older T-72 tanks bringing armour protection levels to a similar standard began to be seen. Commenting on the T-90M’s performance, Medvedev stated: “In my opinion, this [T-90M tank] is now the best tank in the world … It is certainly better than Leopard, Challenger, Abrams [tanks], including in terms of its tactical and technical data, even in terms of such a component as mass.” The Leopard 2, Challenger 2, M1A2 Abrams, being sent respectively from across Europe, from Britain and from the United States, represent the most capable Western built tanks in service, with the latest variants broadly considered on par with the T-90M. The Russian tank’s standing in Europe has diminished since 2022, however, due to neighbouring Poland’s acquisitions of South Korean K2 Black Panther tanks which are considered by far the most capable serving in NATO.
With Russia having surged production of the T-90M, Medvedev elaborated: “We will make 1,500 tanks alone this year. You can calculate how much our enemy will get, even according to the most optimistic calculations.” “Our enemies thought that our industry would be overwhelmed. There were endless claims: munitions are running out, tanks are running out, missiles are running out,” he added, citing the scale of tank production as evidence refuting this. Regarding the need to expand production, he stated: “Sure, we didn’t think it would be necessary sometime ago. But it became a necessity.” The tanks are all expected to be built at the Uralvagonzavod plant, which is currently the only Russian facility producing tanks down from five in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Preceding the war the T-90 and newer T-14 were the only tanks in production in Russia, although the T-14 has yet to join the Army and is speculated to have seen production cut down to focus on building more combat ready vehicles for the immediate needs of the war in Ukraine. The possibility of the T-14 becoming operational before the end of the war has widely been speculated, and the vehicles would likely replace T-90s in elite Guards units near Moscow which would free up more of the older tanks for the Ukrainian front. The tank is over half a decade behind schedule in entering service. Even if the T-14 is produced in 2022, production numbers have not risen above a few dozen meaning T-90 production would still remain at around 1500 units. It remains uncertain whether Russia still intends to fulfil any of its export contracts, which have absorbed the overwhelming majority of its tank output over the past 30 years. Where the Soviet Union consistently produced close to 4000 tanks annually, for Russia a surge to 1500 tanks would represent a major feat since the post Soviet decline of its industrial base and defence sector. It remains uncertain whether there are plans to surge numbers to even higher levels in future years. Russia’s tank output by many estimates exceeds that of the rest of the world combined – although this remains uncertain due to limited knowledge of production figures in China and North Korea which both have large tank industries.