Russia’s most modern battle tank hit by ‘disco head’ glitch

A Russian T-90 tank pictured on a Moscow street during a parade
A Russian T-90 tank pictured on a Moscow street in 2020, during a parade - Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP

Russia’s most modern battle tank has been struck down by a “disco head” glitch that sends its turret spinning out of control.

The mysterious fault has hit the T-90 – dubbed the “best tank in the world” by Vladimir Putin – on numerous occasions after it came under fire from Ukrainian forces.

The worst example of the flaw came during a battle in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region when Ukrainian troops in two US-supplied Bradley fighting vehicles engaged one of the Russian tanks.

The Ukrainians opened fire from close range, peppering the tank’s armour with projectiles from a 25mm Bushmaster chain gun.

Footage of the clash appears to show the T-90 losing control, its turret spinning in a frenzy, before smashing into a tree.

Unable to fight back against the pair of Bradley armoured machines, its crew fled on foot and the tank was destroyed by a Ukrainian first-person view (FPV) attack drone.

A similar malfunction was captured on video when another T-90 came under attack by a strike drone company from Ukraine’s battle-hardened 47th mechanised brigade.

The tank can be seen taking several hits from above as it travels down a road, presumably in eastern Ukraine.

The second blow, which appears to strike the rear of T-90’s hull, sends the turret into a spin, with its operators seemingly unable to regain control.

In a social media post, the 47th Brigade speculated that the strike had damaged one of the tank’s guidance optics.

Unlike older, Soviet-era tanks, the T-90’s 125mm smoothbore cannon has an automatic targeting system. The electrical turret responds to laser warning sensors dotted around the tank and turns its gun towards the target.

Both the US-made Abrams and British Challenger 2 tanks have similar features, known as “hunter-killer systems”.

“It’ll likely be a combination between inexperienced crews and poor electronics,” Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British Army tank commander, said.

He added: “It’s very easy for inexperienced people to become very disoriented in a tank because a tank’s hull can move in one direction, the turret could be in another direction and the commander’s sight could be in a completely other direction, which is why we get the term ‘disco head’ because people can easily become disoriented and the tank spins out of control.

“It could also be an electronics failure. Western tanks have a quite sophisticated fire control system, and the Russians don’t appear to have got it right.

The T-90 is sunk into the ground at an acute angle, with its gun resting in the soil. One soldier climbs on it while another looks on
Ukrainian soldiers scavenging an abandoned T-90 near Kharkiv - Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP

“I cannot say definitively, but some of the electronics in a T-90 are from Western sources, so sanctions are likely to exacerbate the situation.

More and more T-90 tanks, which cost about $4.5 million, appear to be reaching the battlefields of Ukraine as Russia grapples with significant losses to older T-72 and T-80 models, built more than 40 years ago.

Russia has an even more advanced tank, the T-14 Armata, which was first displayed to the world during the 2015 Victory Day Parade in Moscow.

The Armata has made no appearance in Ukraine, prompting speculation that Moscow can ill afford to lose its flagship tank because its destruction would lead to significant reputational damage.