Today we have the brief but ‘stranger than fiction’ account of how a Russian T-90A tank named ‘Maestro’ ended up briefly ‘abandoned’ at a gas station in Louisiana several weeks ago, after the truck towing it to a U.S. army testing site “broke down”. The tank was left sitting overnight with no security in the parking lot of Peto’s Travel Center and Casino, on I-10 near Roanoke, Lousiana.
On April 14th, a lone battle-scarred, T-90A “Vladimir” obr. 2004 loaded on a truckbed was spotted at a truckstop on the Interstate 10 (I-10) near Roanoke, Louisiana. Pictures immediately surfaced on Reddit’s /TankPorn/:
This report will pull from the wonderful thread by Twitter user @T_90_M (https://twitter.com/T_90_M/status/1648594266162176001), who is a tank expert that did a deepdive on this happenstance. In fact, the only reason I even chose to cover it rather than simply posting his exhaustive thread is for the sake of having this very strange piece of history saved here for posterity incase the Twitter user gets banned in the future, since it seems Twitter accounts are so capriciously disposable, even under Musk’s tenure.
The tank in question was said to be captured by the AFU’s 92nd Separate Mechanized Brigade from the Russian 27th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade, under the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, near Kurylovka, Kupyansk region. The tank was said to be captured in October, seen here:
The tank is a T-90A, which is an older variant not to be confused with the modern Russian upgrade known as T-90M. The clearest way to distinguish that is by the Shtora dazzler the ‘A’ version still has. Shtora are the famous ‘glowing eyes’ of the T-90s which were meant to confuse and overload the laser guidance systems of ATGMs, as seen here:
These dazzlers were later deemed obsolete and taken out for the T-90M versions, which still include a ‘Shtora’ suite which detects laser guidance but instead warns the crew, automatically disperses smoke, and also can automatically turn the turret and ‘lock onto’ the target which is ‘painting’ the tank.
@T_90_M here identifies the precise model of the tank:
The T-90A has been in production from 2004 to at least 2010, and four major modifications can be IDed from externally visible differences to the sights and APS’s dazzlers (the famous T-90’s “red eyes of death”): obr. 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2010.
Second hint is the cooling grid, which on obr. 2006 models was altered in order to better dissipate heat. Since these factory modifications are rarely retrofitted to already delivered MBTs, it means that the T-90A in Louisiana is either an obr. 2004 or obr. 2005.
Luckily, T_90_M appears to conclude that the tank is in fact the oldest obr. 2004 version of the T-90A.
The reason this difference is critical is because obr. 2005 introduced a brand new gun:
According to Vasiliy Fofanov the improved 2A46M-5 gun was put into service only in 2005, while the older T-90A obr. 2004 still sports a similar, but less capable 2A46M-2 gun.
And this is important because only the obr. 2005 gun (2A46M-5 variant) can shoot the latest Russian rounds 3BM59 Svinets-1, 3BM60 Svinets-2:
If captured, these rounds also used by Russia’s latest T-90M would give the US a better understanding on Russian APFSDS actual performances. According to various estimates, Svinets-2 rounds penetrate anything from 600 to 830 mm of steel at 2 km.
However, T_90_m may have missed the fact that this very tank appears to have been video reviewed by this well-known Ukrainian tank expert’s youtube channel, which does reviews on captured tanks. This was posted back in November, shortly after it was captured. You can see the ‘Maestro’ written on the side of the tank.
He explains right in the opening that the barrel is in fact a 2A46M-4, rather than the -2 or -5 models previously discussed, and how to distinguish between them. It’s unclear whether that makes the -4 compatible with the previously described latest ammunition, as I couldn’t find that specific information on it. However, other expert commenters under the video do appear to confirm the tank as an ob. 2004 model of the T-90A.
One writes the following:
Absolutely right. Hull rev.184 (T-72B but rev.1989), turret from rev.187 (he did not go into production). The place of the driver without NVD or TPV and escape through the lower hatch is not realistic. Transporter under the commander’s and gunner’s place. In 1997, I received the first information about him. Interested at first. But as information was received (until 2004), I established that this was essentially a T-72B with a change in components from ob.219-T-80U. The first cast turret T-90s were just the T-72B with K5 and Shtora. Since the 2000s, they went with a turret from ob.187. They are 90A. I finally got acquainted personally with the 90A in August of this year. And all conclusions remained fixed.
So now that we likely know what it is, the question is: where is it headed and what does the U.S. intend to do with it?
A photo from the barrel of the tank taken at the Louisana rest stop shows the tank is being transited to Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland:
Which is a proving ground for the U.S. Army’s armor and vehicles:
The Churchville Test Area is a United States Army facility of the Aberdeen Proving Ground, located northeast of Bel Air, Maryland (in Harford County, Maryland, U.S.).
The Churchville Test Area (39.596°N 76.253°WCoordinates: 39.596°N 76.253°W) is a hilly set of cross-country road test tracks providing a variety of steep natural grades and tight turns designed to stress engines, drivetrains and suspension systems for Army vehicles, such as the M1 Abrams tanks, M2 Bradley fighting vehicle and the Humvee.
According to its website, ATC’s mission is to:
- Provide test, and test support, services for authorized customers within and outside of DoD, including Government and non-Government organizations, domestic, and foreign.
- Perform comprehensive test and training, both real and simulated.
- Exploit emerging technologies.
- Develop leading-edge instrumentation and test methodologies.
It’s interesting by the way, that the U.S. army could not ship the tank directly to Maryland, but apparently had to ship it to a port Beaumont, Texas:
Its port of destination was Beaumont, Texas, about 90 miles west of where the tank wound up. The “ultimate consignee” on the label is Building 358, 6850 Lanyard Rd., Aberdeen Proving Ground. That’s the home of the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center (ATC).
Then truck it across the country to Maryland with a Dayton, Ohio based AAA Trucking service. It’s unclear why they did that, but is an insight into American military ‘logistics’ inefficiencies.
As @T_90_M explains:
But even if the US got the older T-90A obr. 2004, they can still learn a couple of things from it: I’m mainly referring to its automated target tracking and laser warning capabilities, as well as testing their weapons against its composite and reactive armor.
I’ve already talked about Shtora’s ability to detect, calculate and then locate the source of a laser beam with quite good accuracy. The US will indeed be very curious to put Shtora APS to scrutiny, if they haven’t done that already.
They will also be able to test the tank’s automated target tracking, which the latest Abrams still lacks: this system has the thermal sight locking on heat signatures – even men’s heat – and automatically laying the gun on them. The gunner only has to fire the gun.
So, as @T_90_M explains, even the oldest T-90A still has an automated tracking system that the latest Abrams does not have, which the U.S. would be enthused to put through its paces.
More from TheDrive:
So while we have some answers about where the tank appears to be headed, many more questions remain unanswered. Whether this vehicle will be used for destructive testing — such as testing weaponry against it — or to familiarize troops with foreign equipment, or some other sort of foreign materiel exploitation (FME) use, we just can’t say at this time.
Some Ukrainian supporters rabidly ridiculed the ‘interior condition’ of the tank:
Until they were politely informed that the tank was captured in September-October and operated under the AFU for nearly 6 months. In fact, the AFU was even said to have made some modifications to it. So on whom does its condition really fall?
Apparently it’s such ‘junk’ that the U.S. went out of their way shipping it to their latest proving grounds to study and scrutinize it. With that said it is the absolute oldest, most obsolete copy of the T-90A, which Russia hardly uses anymore and is upgrading all of them to the T-90M standard anyway. The T-90M remains far superior and more advanced. Plus, TheDrive’s article claimed that the tank may have been more stripped than it looks. Not only did they mention that it wasn’t “fully kitted out” and was stripped of its machine guns, but they even said:
It also notably lacks some Western fire control components, which some T-90As have been equipped with in the past.
And in fact, at 2:45 of the youtube video you can even see the confirmation (with autotranslate) that the most advanced thermal sensors were removed.
With the recent news that U.S. is now said to be urgently ‘expediting’ Abrams deliveries to Ukraine, don’t be surprised to see an article just like this one in the near future, highlighting a captured Abrams’ journey to a Russian military test center.
We’ll end it with a few last photos of ‘Maestro’:
And if you’re a tank fan, make sure to follow @T_90_M on Twitter for a lot of detailed SMO tank deep-dives.
If you enjoyed the read, I would greatly appreciate if you subscribed to a monthly/yearly pledge to support my work, so that I may continue providing you with detailed, incisive reports like this one.