The reorganization and re-equipping of the Russian army's tank force has become a high-priority military issue.
Reductions in tank forces, the gradual expansion of T-90 tank production, the modernization of existing tanks and the development of the next generation T-95 tank - this gives much food for thought.
RIA Novosti learned more about it during an exclusive interview with Oleg Siyenko, CEO of Uralvagonzavod, a Russian engineering company located in Nizhny Tagil, the Urals Federal District. Uralvagonzavod is the world's largest main battle tank manufacturer and the only tank manufacturer in Russia.
The T-90 has undergone continuous upgrades since it was first developed in the early 1990s on the basis of the latest modifications to the T-72/T-72B. It is the only mass-produced main battle tank in Russia.
Under the current state rearmament program, the Russian army is expected to receive about 1,500 tanks of this model. At present, the Russian Armed Forces have 500 T-90 tanks and receive 60 to 100 new tanks of this model each year.
This month, General Alexander Postnikov, Commander of Land Forces, caused a sensation when he announced the order for 261 T-90 tanks in 2010. Although all news outlets reported a steep rise in T-90 procurement, Siyenko could not confirm the story.
"There is no contract for such an order at present. Unfortunately, contracts between the Ministry of Defense and our company call for much fewer tanks. But I can say that we would be happy to receive such an order, as it would ensure the stability of our company and help it to expand," Siyenko said.
The T-90 is currently the most commercially successful tank on the global market. The number of exported tanks, including tank-assembly kits, will soon reach 1,000, and more and more countries are beginning to import them.
India is the largest buyer of T-90 tanks, but they can also be found in the Algerian military according to media reports. Contracts have been signed with Turkmenistan, while preliminary agreements have been concluded with Cyprus, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
In addition to the production of T-90 tanks, T-72 tanks continue to be modernized for the Russian Armed Forces. The T-72BA is currently the main modified version. Modernization programs streamline the fire-control system, enhance hull-bottom mine resistance by installing an additional armor plate near the driver's seat, standardize the platform and engine with the T-90 tank and improve the tank's armor.
An upgraded T-72 tank has considerably greater potential and meets modern tank requirements, while at the same time being far cheaper to produce than a new T-90 tank.
Nevertheless, the army is hoping for a next generation tank to replace older models and reinforce the current fleet of T-90. Known as "Item 195" and the T-95, this new model has been under development for many years. Details remain classified.
During our exclusive interview, Siyenko commented on reports on the T-95, which was developed at Uralvagonzavod, where it will also be mass-produced:
"We've been working on this project for many years. Unfortunately, we are having problems with our parts suppliers, who are falling behind both in terms of product quality and quantity. We are working to solve this problem on our own. Our engineers are developing new units and systems for this entirely new tank and for intermediate versions. With the approval of the government, the first tanks could be displayed this summer at the Russian Defense Expo 2010 in Nizhny Tagil.
Although I can't reveal the tank's specifications, I would like to point out that we have met the technical requirements of the proposal in full as well as the requirements of the military.
Let's wait until summer, when you will most likely be able to see the new tank for yourself."
If the summer expo of the T-95 in Nizhny Tagil happens, Russia will become the first country to unveil a fifth-generation tank. This tank is expected to surpass all of its predecessors and rivals.
Despite the secrecy surrounding the T-95, some information has been leaked. It appears that the new tank will weigh about 55 metric tons and that it will have a remote-controlled turret with a 152-mm cannon capable of firing conventional rounds and guided missiles.
Tank design and performance, in addition to crew training, are becoming increasingly important at a time when Moscow has decided to reduce Russia's tank force from over 20,000 operational and reserve vehicles to 2,000 operational and 5,000-6,000 in reserve.
It becomes even more important when you consider the vastness of Russia's borderland as well as a hypothetical land conflict with a superior enemy. Consequently, the success of army reforms in Russia will largely depend on the success of the T-95 R&D program and subsequent tests.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik)