T-90 MK-III Tank: India Rolls Out 1st Batch Of ‘Bhishma’ MBTs Developed Under License Pact With Russia

In a significant milestone for India’s defense sector, the state-owned Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited (AVNL) has rolled out the first batch of 10 T-90 Mk-III main battle tanks (MBTs) to be delivered to the Indian Army.

The ceremonial event, hosted at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in Avadi, marked a pivotal moment in India’s ongoing efforts to modernize its military.

The rolling-out ceremony took place last month and was virtually inaugurated by Lt. Gen. Vivek Kashyap, AVSM, VSM, Director General of Armoured Corps, along with Sanjay Dwivedi, Chairman and Managing Director of AVNL.

The AVNL shared photos from the ceremony featuring the newly produced T-90 Mk-III tanks. On June 12, a senior AVNL official informed Janes that these tanks were manufactured at HVF Avadi under a licensing agreement with Russia.

The Indian Army currently operates over 1,200 T-90 Bhishma tanks, which have been a cornerstone of the nation’s armored capabilities besides the older T-72 tanks and a limited number of Arjun Mk-1 tanks.

Credits: Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited

The production of the T-90 Mk-III tanks is part of a larger contract of 464 new T-90MS tanks, signed by the Indian Army with HVF in November 2019. This delivery is a crucial step in fulfilling that contract.

This marks the first official use of the designation T-90 Mk-III by any government entity, suggesting that these tanks may feature upgrades over the earlier T-90S Bhishma variant.

Notwithstanding the photos shared on HVF, Avadi’s Twitter handle shows no visible physical changes to the tanks. Defense experts believe the T-90 Mk-III will likely incorporate several advanced features and more indigenous components.

A keen observer of Indian defense developments suggested that these upgrades are expected to address feedback from operational experiences, particularly from the challenging terrain of Ladakh.

The upgrades could also include improved measures to contain the “box-in” effect and other enhancements. These upgrades indicate India’s commitment to enhancing its self-reliance in defense manufacturing and ensuring its armed forces are equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

What Specific Enhancements Are In The New Variant?

The AVNL official, speaking to Janes, highlighted that the T-90 Mk-III is equipped with an updated automatic target tracking system, digital ballistic computer, and sighting systems.

Additionally, it features a mid-wave infrared (MWIR)-based commander sight developed jointly by India’s DRDO and BEL.

According to the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD), the sight incorporates a thermal imager capable of detecting targets at distances up to 8 km in daylight and at night, complemented by a laser rangefinder (LRF) that accurately determines ranges up to five kilometers.

T-90 MK3

This enhancement significantly improves the tank’s capability to engage targets over longer distances with heightened accuracy.

“With the corrections from ballistic software and LRF, the Commander of T-90 can detect, engage, and neutralize the targets with phenomenal accuracy. The indigenously developed sight completed extensive evaluations under field conditions successfully,” added the MoD.

Further, it has been suggested that the T-90 Bhishma Mk III is equipped with an upgraded auto-loader similar to the T-90M, enhanced armor, modified to accommodate longer armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds like the 3BM60, fired from the 2A46M gun used on the Indian T-90.

The AVNL official disclosed that the remaining fleet of 454 T-90 Mk-IIIs will be delivered to the Indian Army in phases over the next five years. Additionally, HVF is upgrading the Indian Army’s existing T-90S tanks to T-90MS standards.

India has been actively pursuing upgrades for its T-90 tanks, recognizing their critical role as the linchpin of India’s armored fleet.

An instance of this commitment is the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) ‘s approval to integrate the Automatic Target Tracker (ATT) and Digital Ballistic Computer (DBC) onto T-90 tanks in November 2023.

The ATT enhances precision by automatically tracking moving targets, reducing dependency on manual predictions by gunners, and increasing accuracy, especially in dynamic battlefield scenarios. Simultaneously, the DBC automates the calculation of round trajectories, relieving the gunner’s workload and further enhancing firing accuracy.

To enhance networking capabilities, the Indian Army ordered 400 software-defined radios (SDRs) from Alpha Design Technologies (now part of Adani Defence) to be installed on T-90 tanks in July 2023.

These SDRs will facilitate secure data-sharing between tanks, thereby improving commanders’ situational awareness. The recently unveiled T-90 Mk-III tanks could also incorporate these electronic enhancements.

Contact the author at ashishmichel(at)gmail.com