‘Blown Away’ By UAV & ATGM Attacks, Russia To Arm Its T-90M Tanks With Arena-M Active Protection System

In the face of significant tank losses in Ukraine, Russia is ramping up efforts to strengthen the protection of its main battle tanks. 

Moscow is set to enhance the defensive capabilities of its T-90M and T-80BVM tanks by equipping them with Arena-M active protection systems (APS), reported Nia Rovosti. 

The Arena-M APS is designed to shoot down missiles and shells by triggering specialized ammunition detonation. 

The Arena-M complex has an onboard computer, a radar station with improved noise immunity, and special ammunition fitted in the mines around the tank turret’s perimeter. 

When a projectile, anti-tank missile, or enemy grenade is detected heading toward a battle tank, the radar determines its route and fires a defensive projectile that hits the target to eliminate it in flight.

The Arena-M system can be installed on any armored vehicle, but modifications would have to be made to account for the specific features of each vehicle, as noted by its manufacturer. 

The Russian defense ministry has reportedly demonstrated a keen desire to rapidly equip Russian tanks with the Arena-M Active Protection System (APS) developed by “High Precision Systems” (part of the Russian state-owned Rostec).

Furthermore, Russian-state media claimed that foreign customers have also expressed interest in the Arena-M system.

However, the company’s primary focus is currently to meet the requirements of the Russian army for APS and establish mass production.

The Mechanical Engineering Design Bureau, a division of High-Precision Complexes, developed the Arena-M APS. According to the reports, the final stages of discussion regarding installing this system on the T-72B3 and T-72B3M tanks are also underway.

Tower tank with units KAZ “Arena.” A radar block is raised above the tower; launchers are located along the dome’s perimeter. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation

Despite the strict sanctions the US and its allies imposed on Russia’s defense industries, efforts to modernize various Russian tanks continue. Reports indicate that Russia can produce several dozen tanks daily, demonstrating its sustained production potential.

During a visit to a tank factory on February 9, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated that Moscow would increase its production of tanks in response to the Western countries supplying arms to Ukraine. 

He remarked that Ukraine has been requesting foreign aid for planes, missiles, and tanks, and as a response, it is natural for Russia to enhance its production of various weapon systems, including modern tanks. 

T-90M Russia

Russia’s Tank Losses In Ukraine 

In 2017, the Mechanical Engineering Design Bureau, which created the Arena series of active protection systems, announced that these systems would be installed on the T-72 and T-90 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) in the future.

However, despite the announcement, there were no further reports of installing APS on the T-72 and T-90 MBTs. The latest development suggests that Moscow prioritizes safety in response to the substantial tank losses witnessed in Ukraine. 

In February, the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) suggested that the Russian army lost about 40% of its pre-war tank fleet, prompting Russia to draw older tanks from its Cold War-era stockpiles.

The think tank’s statistics are mostly based on publicly available photographs taken by drones, satellites, and soldiers on the front lines from the beginning of the conflict through the end of November. Considering the nature of combat, approximation of loss is only possible.

Experts believe that Russian overoptimism resulted in significant tank losses early in the conflict, particularly during the failed offensive on Kyiv, when a huge number of tanks and armored vehicles were obliterated en route to the North of the city.

T-72B3 with KAZ “Arena-M” (launchers are marked in red) at the test site, 2019

On the other hand, Ukraine is believed to have augmented its tank fleet through the captured Russian tanks and the acquisition of modern tanks from its Western allies.  

According to John Chipman, the IISS chair, the conflict was “a political and military failure for Russia,” exposing leadership issues and weapons shortages despite Kremlin’s modernization efforts. 

A recent intelligence update from the UK defense ministry also stated that Russia’s 10th Tank Regiment, part of the newly formed 3rd Army Corps, is believed to have suffered significant tank losses while attempting to encircle Avdiivka from the South. 

Although the announcement demonstrates Russia’s commitment to enhancing the protection of its main battle tanks, it remains to be seen how long it will take to install the new protection system on all of its tanks.