With assistance from Russia, one of Iraq’s armored brigades has ditched and swapped out its American-made M1 Abrams tanks for new T-90’s.
The change comes after the United States complained about M1s ending up in the hands of Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias and could be another sign that the Kremlin is looking to lure Iraqi authorities into its sphere of influence.
Iraq’s Ministry of Defense announced the change on its official, Arabic-only website on June 8, 2018. According to a translation of the information by Jane’s 360, the 9th Division’s 35th Brigade took delivery of 39 T-90S tanks.
The unit’s remaining Abrams went to the 34th Brigade, another one of the 9th Division’s units, which has operated M1’s, as well as older Soviet-era types.
Iraqi officials added that Russian specialists had retrained the 35th Brigade’s officers and crews to operate the new tanks.
They did not say whether these individuals were members of Russia’s military, employees of the manufacturer UralVagonZavod (UVZ), or private contractors.
The T-90S types that Iraq has received are among the most recent iterations of the design, itself an outgrowth of the Soviet-era T-72, and appear to share some features with Russia’s newest T-90SM variants.
The vehicle remains largely unchanged in terms of its basic configuration and has a modernized version of the 125mm main gun found on the original type.
The new design does have a significantly more powerful engine, giving the vehicle a top speed of nearly 40 miles an hour on roads and a range of approximately 340 miles on a single tank of gas.
The tanks also have a blend of steel and composite armor that offers improved protection over the old T-72, as well as improved fire control systems, night vision optics, and communications equipment.
It’s worth noting that Iraq’s past experience with the T-72-series is, at best checkered. Those tanks were notably poor performers during both the first Gulf War in 1991 and the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003, but for various reasons.
The T-90SK is a variant for unit commanders, which differs only from the standard type in that it has additional radios and navigation equipment. We don’t know how many S versus SK types are in Iraq’s total order.
The War Zone / ABC Flash Point News 2020.