An "invincible" Russian tank equipped with exploding armour and a smokescreen to defend against laser-guided missiles has been destroyed by Ukrainian forces, British intelligence has confirmed.
The war in Ukraine is the first time that Russia has deployed the T-90M tank "Breakthrough-3" in combat but analysts said that its debut had been underwhelming.
"At least one T-90M, Russia's most advanced tank, has been destroyed in fighting," the Ministry of Defence said. "The system’s upgraded armour, designed to counter anti-tank weaponry, remains vulnerable if unsupported by other force elements."
Russia has already suffered enormous losses on the battlefield, with many estimating the army has lost about 460 tanks alone.
The loss of a T-90M heaps further embarrassment on the Kremlin, not least because each unit is reported to cost about £4 million.
With Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine stalling, the Kremlin has tried to inject more urgency and fight by deploying its most feared units and kit, including the T-90M which is considered to be the most technologically-advanced tank in the Russian army.
Analysts said that it had been held back until the end of April and had only been deployed in the Kremlin's push to capture the Donbas region.
Exploding armour and smokescreen to defend against laser-guided missiles
The T-90M is an updated version of the T-90 and is kitted out with the latest Russian military equipment. Ukrainian soldiers have destroyed hundreds of Russian tanks with shoulder-mounted missiles, including NLAWs supplied by Britain, but the T-90M was supposed to be impregnable because of its exploding armour.
It also carries a self-deploying smokescreen that triggers if it detects that a laser beam has been fired at it, a net across its turret to deflect missiles and "slat armour" on its rear to defend against grenades.
The T-90M has a crew of three — a commander, a driver and a gunner — and is armed with a two machineguns and a main canon that can fire shells against enemy tanks and helicopters up to three miles away. It carries 43 shells and is designed to attack in a "hunter-killer" style.
Conflict taking 'heavy toll on some of Russia’s most capable units'
"Approximately 100 T-90M tanks are currently in service amongst Russia's best equipped units, including those fighting in Ukraine," the Ministry of Defence said. "The conflict in Ukraine is taking a heavy toll on some of Russia’s most capable units and most advanced capabilities. It will take considerable time and expense for Russia to reconstitute its armed forces following this conflict."
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) May 7, 2022
Ukrainian media had reported that the T-90M tank had been destroyed on May 4 in a village in the Kharkiv region of northern Ukraine but the battlefield success had not been confirmed by Western intelligence until now.
In a video posted on the Telegram social media channel, a man inspects the burnt-out shell of a tank which appears to be the T-90M. It is unclear, though, how the tank was destroyed.
Ukraine has scored some major battlefield success since the war began on Feb. 24. Not only has it destroyed hundreds of Russian tanks, mainly deployed without infantry to defend their flanks, but last month it also hit the flagship of Russia's Black Sea fleet with its new Neptune surface-to-sea missiles. The Moskva was the largest battleship to sink in battle since the Second World War.