The Vietnamese Army has been looking for new tanks for a while, and the Russian T-90 has been talked about several times as a potential candidate. It now looks like it’s going to win the contest; earlier this month the tank’s manufacturer, Uralwagonzavod, told the media that Vietnam is negotiating a purchase of up to 100 of the vehicles. That’s not a big order, probably because Vietnam can’t afford a larger fleet, so it looks like the plan is to modernize some of their existing tanks to support a modest force of T-90s.
Vietnam has a long history of using eastern tank designs; the bulk of their existing fleet is ancient Russian T-54/55 models and the Chinese Type 59 clone, plus a couple of battalions of slightly more modern T-62s and an assortment of Soviet and Chinese light tanks. Vietnam has hung on to light tanks longer than almost any other army, for sound tactical reasons. Much of the country is either mountainous, jungle or paddy fields, and full-size MBTs have very restricted mobility. Something like the Chinese Type 62 is a fairly limited tank, with an old 85mm gun and armor that would struggle to keep out a Bradley’s 25mm cannon, but it only weighs 21 tons and it’s still a serious threat for light vehicles and dismounted infantry. A small, weak tank that can get to the fight is a lot more useful than a more powerful one that can’t.
And that’s probably why Vietnam wants to buy another Russian MBT. Officially they’re saying it’s more modern than its western rivals, but that isn’t really true. The base design is the T-72; in fact the T-90 was originally designated the T-72BU, but the name was changed for marketing reasons. As a basic platform it’s a lot older than the M1, Challenger or Leopard 2. In practice it’s a completely different tank, with several times the armor of the original T-72 and radically upgraded sensors, weaponry and engine, but it’s a bit dubious to say it’s more modern than western designs.
What’s undeniable is that it’s a lot lighter than western designs. Fully equipped, it’s slightly under 51 short tons; a Challenger 2 with the full armor package is 83 tons, and an M1A2 is 72 tons. The T-90 saves weight by being small, which is made possible by its three-man crew and autoloader; the level of armor is comparable with NATO tanks.
There are well known drawbacks to a three-man tank crew, at least in theory – the main ones are higher workload than a conventional four-man crew. With one less body to play with, tasks like track bashing or providing security during halts are more difficult. On the other hand, while a T-90 can’t cross as much of Vietnam’s complex terrain as the little Type 62 can, it’s still a lot more mobile than any of its western rivals. It also has a smaller, but still significant, weight advantage over the latest generation of Chinese tanks, and those are its most likely opponents. For Vietnam, buying another small Russian tank is probably a sensible decision.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.