The United States and Russia, two military powerhouses, have had their fair share of arms races over the years. Although it is pretty common knowledge that the US military is superior to the Russian one, there is no doubt that both nations have impressive arsenals of weaponry. From battleships to aircraft carriers, fighter jets to attack helicopters, there is no shortage of weapon delivery systems. We thought it would be interesting to compare the US’s main battle tank, the M1A2 Abrams, to Russia’s main battle tank, the T90S, in this episode of The Infographics Show, “A Tale of Two Tanks.”
Previously nicknamed “The Beast” and “Whispering Death,” the M1A2 Abrams is the United States’ main battle tank, and features some of the best-trained tank crews in the world. The mission of the tank is described as providing “mobile and protected firepower for superiority against heavy armor forces.” Today, they are manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems Division, and are expected to remain in service until 2050. They were created with an emphasis on making visual contact with the enemy first – and less on maneuverability. The commander’s station has six periscopes which provide a full 360 degree view. Although many of the M1A2s are upgraded from older M1 models, the significant difference is in the computer core in the interior. The M1A2 Abrams features the best armor and crew protection in the world, and state-of-the-art protection against internal fires. It even guards against chemical warfare agents.
What sets the M1A2 and T-90S apart from other tanks, and makes them worthy adversaries, are their impressive protective armor and defense systems. The Russian T-90S is a versatile tank, which has been described as a “workhorse.” Much like the American facsimile, these tanks are expected to stay functional for decades to come. They are known for their reliability, simplicity, layered defenses, and for having a light footprint, as they are significantly lighter than M1A2s. Adding to their versatility is their ability to use a snorkel for deep fording into 15 feet of water with equipment that takes around 20 minutes to deploy.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the T-90s is the Shtora-1 optronic countermeasures system, which disrupt the rangefinders of incoming anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and weapons, and warns the crew when the tank is being targeted. This uses an electro-optical jammer that jams an enemy’s semi automatic command to line of sight anti-tank guided weaponry. Developers believe that a tank employing Shtora countermeasures when targeted decreases the chances of being hit by an actual anti-tank weapon by 5:1. This is a ‘soft kill’ system and is best utilized in conjunction with a ‘hard kill’ system such as the Arena which is an active defense system. Arena uses a Doppler radar used to detect incoming threats, at which point a defensive rocket is fired off in order to destroy the threat of anti-tank weapons before they hit the T-90S.
Both of these tanks can sustain a hit, and are known for their nearly impenetrable armor.
M1A2 Abrams is protected by Chobham composite armor. This is a depleted uranium mesh which is around the hull and turret. The exact makeup of this mesh has been kept secret, but it’s comprised of layers of ceramic composites inside steel armor, which are then mounted on top of a normal steel armor plate. This offers superior protection against anti-tank guided missiles, and High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) ammunition. Similar to the T-90S “Shtora,” some are equipped with countermeasure devices to detect and jam laser-guided anti-tank missiles.
The Russian tank can take one on the chin as well. It features Kontakt-5 ERA – explosive reactive armor. These are made from “bricks” of explosive that are sandwiched between two metal plates, and the bricks rapidly shift sideways as the explosive detonates. What this does is make the penetrating force go through a larger volume of armor. This offers protection against HEAT-type projectiles as well as Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS).
In order to determine what the two tanks can withstand, the armor must be examined against kinetic energy as expressed in millimeters of Rolled Homogenous Armor Equivalent (RHAe). The M1A2 Abrams’ turret can withstand 940-960mm, its Glacis can take 560-590mm, while the Lower Front Hull can take 580-650mm.
The T-90S, on the other hand, comes in a bit under with the Turret taking 750-920mm, the Glacis 670-710mm, and the Lower Front Hull only 240mm.
Moving on past the armor, let’s continue comparing these two iron gladiators and look at the full tale of the tape.
Speed: The M1A2 can reach 42 MPH, and 25 MPH off-road. The T-90S, on the other hand, can go slightly faster at 43.5 MPH, and 28 MPH off-road.
Horsepower: The Abrams has a significantly higher horsepower of 1,500 compared to the Russian tank’s 1,000 horsepower.
Weight is a major differentiating factor between these two tanks. The American MBT comes in at a whopping 68.7 tons, while the T-90S is a comparatively lithe 46.5 tons.
Comparing their size, the M1A2 Abrams is 32.25 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 8 feet high, while the Russian T-90S is 31.25 feet long, 7.4 feet high and 12.4 feet wide.
The M1A2 has a crew of four people, while the T-90S keeps it barebones with a crew of only three.
Now, we know these tanks can sustain impact from enemy fire, but what kind of heat are these beasts packing? Let’s take a look at their weaponry.
The M1A2 Abrams has a 120mm smooth bore cannon. The commander’s weapon is a 12.7mm Browning M2 machine gun, and the loader has a 7.62mm M240 machine gun. There is an additional 7.62mm M240 machine gun mounted coaxially on the right hand side of the main armament.
Not to be outdone, the T-90S has a 125mm smoothbore cannon that fires APFSDS, and 9M119M Refleks anti-tank gun missiles. It also has a 7.62mm machinegun in a coaxial mount, and a 12.7mm anti-aircraft machinegun which can fire 9M119M Refleks.
That said, it’s the unglamorous aspects of these vehicles which truly sets them apart. A major weakness for the M1A2 Abrams is its fuel consumption. Although it has a jet engine which can take any fuel, it uses 300 gallons every eight hours. While the Russian tank holds 422 gallons of fuel, it only takes T-2 or TS-1 kerosene, A-72 benzine, or diesel fuel.
Cost is another factor separating these two tanks. Most M1A2s are upgrades on previous M1 models with an upgrade costing $8.58 million. The Russian T-90S tanks are built for around $5-7 million, with an upgrade only costing about the quarter of a price of a new tank.
The M1A2 Abrams may be able to withstand more than the T-90S, but the Russians might have the advantage in creating a fleet, as it’s estimated that each of their tanks overall cost only half as much as an M1. While the Abrams has impressive advancements in protection, the T-90S has been able to improve on its old design without adding excess weight to its vehicles.
So, which tank do you think would win in a one-on-one “dogfight,” the M1A2 Abrams or the Russian T-90S, and which tank would you prefer to have your military roll out in mass? Let us know in the comments!