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Pakistan’s Interest in Russian Arms (Part 4): Armour

In his comments to the Russian News Agency RIA Novosti, Pakistan’s Minister of Defence (MoD) Khurram Dastgir Khan stated that Pakistan was both interested and in talks with Russia for big-ticket defence items. Quwa Premium discussed the MoD’s comments regarding the Su-35 and air defence systems in part-one and part-two, respectively, while part-three discusses the potential of Pakistani helicopter procurement from Russia. The MoD flatly told RIA Novosti that Pakistan was “interested” in the T-90 main battle tank (MBT) and that it would “not be a one-time purchase, but a long-term commitment”.[1]

The MoD’s statements regarding the T-90 come amid ongoing trials by the Pakistan Army of two off-the-shelf MBTs – i.e. the NORINCO VT4 and Malyshev Factory Oplot-M from China and Ukraine, respectively. In an interview with the Ukrainian news outlet Delovaya Stolitsa, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Ukraine Maj. Gen. (retired) Athar Abbas said Pakistan could procure approximately 100 Oplots.[2] Thus, this could be an indicator of how many tanks the Army is looking to procure off-the-shelf.

The interesting aspect of the MoD’s statements – regarding the T-90 – is that they align with an actual off-the-shelf MBT program and create reasonable expectations, i.e. the Army would look to scale overhead for a new platform with additional batch purchases. However, the uncertainty is whether Russia is actually interested in selling a conventional warfare asset and, as importantly, if Pakistan is truly willing to distance itself from the valuable ties it had built with China and Ukraine in MBT development and procurement.

Russia’s Armour Offerings: COIN/CT-Focused

Interestingly, Moscow has offered armoured solutions to Pakistan, but with a focus on fulfilling Pakistan’s counterinsurgency (COIN) and counter-terrorism (CT) requirements.

Rosonboronexport brought a portfolio comprising of BTR-80A and BTR-82A armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and the BMP-3M infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) to the 2016 International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in Karachi.[3] While it is true that such displays are not exclusively focused upon Pakistan, these events are in fact avenues to directly market and engage prospective Pakistani buyers. It would be nonsensical to market hardware and services in Pakistan that cannot be sold to Pakistan.

Though presented as COIN/CT solutions, the BTR-80A, BTR-82A and BMP-3M could be conventional assets as well if deployed in the Army’s mechanized formations. However, the Army has not opted for any of its new APC/IFV options, much less those of Russia. In 2016, IHS Jane’s had forecasted that Pakistan could spend $1.1 billion US on a new APC platform (adding to the M113-based Talha et. al) – alluding to a new wheeled APC/IFV platform.[4] However, this program has yet to come into fruition; in fact, Pakistan has yet to even select from its options (which include China, Turkey, Serbia and the Pakistani industry), much less deal with the issue of financing and, ostensibly, bringing a turnkey manufacturing site to Pakistan.

Wheeled APC/IFVs – also known as armoured fighting vehicles (AFV) – such as the BTR-80A/82A provide improved mobility on roads, enabling for rapid mobility on increasingly pervasive infrastructure. Like their tracked counterparts, AFVs can also operate off-road. In other words, Pakistan can utilize AFVs as part of its mechanized formations, including a formation integrated with mobile anti-air warfare, howitzer as well as rocket artillery, and layered (i.e. low and high-altitude) aviation coverage.

Thus, the frontal COIN/CT focus of Russia’s AFV offer should not preclude them from being of interest to the Pakistan Army, especially if it can leverage it to secure a MBT purchase to its favour (or vice-versa). In general, a selection would be contingent on affordable upfront and life-cycle costs and a secure support channel for spare parts. In terms of the latter, Pakistan would likely expect significant technology transfers to enable for a domestic turnkey manufacturing facility, at least for AFVs (which it can then procure over the long-term and gradually build a sizable inventory).

Why the T-90?

Although the T-90-series could fit in terms of the Army’s look at off-the-shelf MBTs, the entire topic of off-the-shelf MBTs is peculiar considering that Heavy Industries Taxila’s (HIT) output of al-Khalid MBTs is well below capacity. HIT can produce 50 al-Khalid MBTs per year, but the Army’s orders have left HIT at building only 18 al-Khalid MBTs per year on average.[5] Clearly, HIT is not the bottleneck to the Army’s need for new MBTs; rather, the problem stems from the lack of Army orders, which indicate either fiscal issues and/or a shift in requirements. However, it cannot be funding as an off-the-shelf MBT is being sought.

One possibility (raised in an earlier Premium article – ‘Why is Pakistan Procuring an Off-the-Shelf Tank?’) is that the off-the-shelf MBT could be of interest as an interim solution ahead of the al-Khalid II. Basically, although the current al-Khalid is more capable and sophisticated than T-59s and T-69s, it might become outdated too soon relative to its contemporaries. Thus, HIT’s emphasis should be to prepare the platform for the long-term (i.e. al-Khalid II), while the Army imports superior MBTs to the current al-Khalid design to not only replace older tanks, but to facilitate technology access for the al-Khalid II as well.

Broadly, Rosoboronexport is offering the T-90MS to prospective export customers. It is unclear if Pakistan can access this specific variant, but it is not far in terms of specifications and capabilities to the Oplot and VT4. The T-90MS weighs 48 tons (the Oplot-M/P and VT4 weigh 51 and 52 tons, respectively). The T-90MS is armed with a 125 mm main gun supported by an automated digital fire control system that can target at day and at night. It has a multi-channel sight for commander and gunner. Its supplementary weapons include a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun and a remote weapon station for a 7.62 or 12.7 mm gun.[6]

The ‘core’ – i.e. main weapons, complementary weapons and electronics – appear to be similar to those found on the VT4 and Oplot-P/M. However, Rosoboronexport is promoting the T-90MS’ hull design, self-protection suite and armour as key differentiators on the market. However, these would need to be tested in order to validate. In this respect, it is unclear how serious the Pakistani MoD’s talk of the T-90 is seeing that Army has yet to evaluate the tank in Pakistan. If the MoD’s statements reflect reality, then the T-90 is a tentative issue, at best in the early stages of discussions.


Despite the MoD’s statements, it is unlikely that the T-90 would come to fruition. Pakistan’s MBT efforts are mostly tied to China and Ukraine in terms of platform development and propulsion, respectively. The relationships that have been built in these areas guarantee willingness for cooperation – at least more so than Russia – on the al-Khalid II. In fact, pursuing the T-90 would be tantamount to negotiating through an entirely new environment (of negotiations and vendor/supplier management of spare parts) for a fairly similar MBT to what is already available to Pakistan in the VT4 and Oplot-M/P. Such a risk might be more sensible for an entirely new generation or category of tank, but the T-90MS is certainly not that option.

There could be more flexibility in terms of AFVs, but Pakistan also enjoys a wider breadth of options this area, not least from China and Turkey. Furthermore, the Pakistani industry itself has shown a propensity to – albeit with the support of external design partners/suppliers – offer respectable solutions, with the Cavalier Group Hamza AFV being an example of this effort. In China, Pakistan could also look to secure a loan or credit to back a big-ticket purchase from NORINCO. Thus, armour is an area which Russia is likely to facilitate, but the benefits on-hand are readily available to Pakistan from other sources.


The following are short-form news and analysis of ongoing Pakistani procurement efforts inferred using open-source information sources, such as the public import-export registry.

Is Pakistan Evaluating the Aselsan Ground Surveillance Radar?

On 05 March 2018 the Pakistan Army had imported “ground surveillance” equipment from the Turkish defence electronics company Aselsan. The total weight of the import is 184 kg. The Aselsan product line sharing that description appears to be the ACAR-series of ground surveillance radars (GSR) and Aselsan’s electro-optical (EO) equipment. The ACAR is a Ku-band GSR with an instrumented range of 60 km (with a pedestrian tracking range of 12 km).[7] The ACAR can be used for a diverse range of applications including, among others, border surveillance/control, artillery/mortar-fire-support and coastal defence.

[1] “Pakistan intends to purchase Russian tanks T-90”. RIA Novosti. 05 April 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 12 April 2018).

[2] Tatiana Omelchenko. Interview with Maj. Gen. (retired) Athar Abbas. Delovaya Stolitsa. 20 April 2017. URL:–19042017220000 (Last Accessed: 12 April 2018).

[3] Press Release. “Rosoboronexport to Debut at IDEAS-2016 in Pakistan”. 22 November 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 12 April 2018).

[4] “Regional Focus – Asia Pacific.” Jane’s 360. 16 June 2016. URL: (Last Accessed: 22 December 2017).

[5] “Senate Body Appreciates HIT Achievements, Projects”. Associated Press of Pakistan. 30 November 2017. URL: (Last Accessed: 12 April 2018).

[6] “Rosoboronexport Promotes T-90MS Main Battle Tank”. Russian News Agency TASS (via Defense-Aerospace). 08 February 2018. URL: (Last Accessed: 12 April 2018).

[7] Promotional Material. “ACAR: Ground Surveillance Radar”. Aselsan. URL: (Last Accessed: 12 April 2018).

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