Details Emerge: Indian T-90 Bhishma Mk III Tank Features Domestic Upgrades

India began delivery of its new Bhishma Mk III tanks, a domestic upgrade of the T-90 featuring Indian-made sights, ballistic computers, and potentially improved armor.

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

On May 13, 2024, at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in Avadi, Chennai, a ceremony was held to roll out and hand over the first ten T-90 Mk III (Bhishma Mk III) tanks to the Indian Army. These tanks represent a modernized version of the T-90S/SK tanks produced by HVF under a Russian license (Indian designation Bhishma Mk I/II). Details of this event were published only a month after the ceremony.

On November 6, 2019, the Indian Ministry of Defence awarded a contract worth approximately 200 billion rupees (about USD 2.7 billion) to the then-state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), which included the HVF tank factory in Avadi. This contract was for the production of 464 modified T-90 Mk III tanks as a continuation of the licensed production of T-90S/SK tanks under the India-Russia intergovernmental agreement for the licensed manufacture of 1000 T-90S/SK tanks at HVF. In 2021, the contract was transferred to the newly formed Armored Vehicles Nigam Limited (AVNL), which was spun off from OFB to focus on tank and armored vehicle production.

From the signing to the delivery of the first units, it took three years and nine months. The remaining 454 tanks will be delivered to India over the next five years. The production rate should be ten tanks per month to meet the deadlines.

Upgrades in the T-90 Mk III

The T-90 Mk III differentiates itself from the T-90S by integrating numerous advanced Indian-made systems. These include the Advanced Commander Thermal Imaging Sight, developed and manufactured by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). This system is equipped with a new laser rangefinder and a mid-wave infrared (MWIR) thermal imager with an extended range. Furthermore, the tank is outfitted with digital radios manufactured by Alpha Design Technologies (a subsidiary of Adani Defence), an autonomous target-tracking system, and a new ballistic computer.

Ten T-90 Bhishma Mk III Tanks during delivery
Ten T-90 Bhishma Mk III Tanks during delivery

Specialized Military Magazine Jane reports that the commander’s sight is claimed to have a detection range of up to 8 km. Nevertheless, the laser rangefinder’s detection range is limited to a maximum of 5 km.

Additional enhancements have been implemented, including armor modifications and enhanced mine protection. The T-90 Mk III may also be equipped with an upgraded autoloader, similar to the one used in the T-90M/T-90MS, that is capable of accommodating lengthier armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds, such as the 3BM60.

No T-90MS Tanks for India

In April 2019, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approved the procurement of 464 T-90MS tanks for the Indian Army for 134.48 billion rupees (about USD 1.93 billion), with delivery expected between 2022 and 2026. These tanks were to be assembled at HVF from kits supplied by Russia’s Uralvagonzavod (UVZ).

A modernized variant of the T-90 family, the T-90MS tank, was initially introduced in the Army-2022 forum. The turret of this tank has been entirely redesigned, and the propulsion and transmission systems have been upgraded. Additionally, the chassis has been improved. Furthermore, it boasts enhanced armor protection.

In 2021, Alexander Mikheev, CEO of Rosoboronexport, informed RIA Novosti that the T-90MS is the most advanced serially produced Russian main battle tank that is presently in production. It is equipped with a new dynamic protection system that includes side projection, an enhanced engine, increased accuracy and reliability of the main armament, and a remotely controlled weapon station with machine gun armament on the turret roof. Additionally, it can operate in “hunter-killer” mode and features an updated digital fire control system with thermal imaging devices.

Nevertheless, the Indian Ministry of Defence did not sign the contract with Rosoboronexport for the T-90MS tanks. As a result, India resolved to continue the licensed production of T-90S/SK tanks in a modernized version, designated T-90 Mk III, by the end of 2019. The acquisition of T-90MS tanks was the subject of negotiations for an extended period; however, the events in 2022 concluded this matter.

Russia-India Licensing Agreement

In 2006, the Russia-India licensing agreement for the production of 1000 T-90S/SK (Bhishma) tanks at HVF was inked, with UVZ providing support. The agreement is valued at $2.5 billion. The Indian Army received the first ten licensed T-90S tanks produced by HVF in August 2009. The first stage of the production of 536 tanks in the basic configuration was finalized in 2022. The production of the remaining 464 tanks in the T-90 Mk III configuration commenced in the second phase. Delivery to the Indian Army was anticipated to occur within the next five years.

Previously, the Avadi plant effectively assembled 409 T-90S/SK tanks from kits supplied by UVZ under contracts from 2001 and 2007. Additionally, 248 ready-made T-90S/SK tanks were delivered to India from UVZ.


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