Defense Expert Rob Lee and The Kyiv Independent Defense reporter Illia Ponomarenko have recently revealed that the Ukrainians have handed the Russians the first combat loss of a Russian T-90M tank in Kharkiv after just being deployed.

The destruction of the T-90Ms, specifically the T-90M Breakthrough 3 (Proryv-3), is another source of embarrassment for the Russians and will likely be another blow to Russian morale. According to Russian defense experts, this variant was the most modern Russian tank in service, which means that the most capable Russian tanks were now being destroyed by Ukrainians with their western-supplied Javelins, NLAWs, Panzerfaust 3s, and their very own Stugna-Ps, leaving their most prized tanks vulnerable to Ukrainian hit-and-run tactics. Perhaps more recently, Russian tanks have also been destroyed by these unique Ukrainian Stug-buggies (ATVs with Stugna-Ps mounted on top).

What’s worse is that Russia has a reputation for claiming that its weapons and equipment are “top-notch.” It would seem so as they previously claimed that T-90 tanks and their respective variants could withstand anti-tank missiles. In fact, its main selling point was that it had increased survivability as it was equipped with Shtora-1 active protection systems and new Kontakt-5 armor.

T-9os saw service in Syria with Assad’s forces and were not found to be invulnerable in any sense of the word.  While they faired well against RPG rounds and the ancient TOW missile system, at least 5 were destroyed by Javelins in the hands of Syrian militants.

Shtora-1 active protective system or the Shtora-1 Defensive Aids System (DAS) is an infrared jammer equipped with a laser warning device that can deploy 81mm thermal instant smoke grenades which go out to 50 to 80 meters from the tank within 1.5 to 3 seconds; this blocks visual, thermal, and laser wavebands. It can also hijack a missile’s command link by jamming it with modulated signals that can alter the missile’s original course away from the tank. The T-90 cannon was also equipped with auto-load features that can send high-explosive anti-tank rounds downrange. Its armor protects it from extreme damage and minimizes the impact of armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot rounds.

So what gives? Well, it should have been more survivable in Ukraine, but Russian tank designers still haven’t figured out that ammunition stored inside the turret is a bad idea in the face of the American-made Javelin ATGMs, which target the top of the tank specifically for this reason. Since the Javelin is an IR missile that is sighted optically by the operator it isn’t giving off anything the T-90s protection system would pick up.

The other problem may be a matter of crew training.  Russia very much believes the hype they make up about their own armed forces and send their tank crews out telling them that it can defeat any weapon used against it.  As a result, Russian tank crews would be inclined to do things and take chances that they wouldn’t if they had an accurate picture of the tanks’ true vulnerabilities.  Here in the US, M1A Abrams tank crews know the strengths and weaknesses of their tanks in detail how to fight to its strengths, and minimize its weaknesses in combat.