TOW Missile Hits a T-90 Tank with ‘Soft-Kill’ (SHTORA) APS and Reactive Armor

Rebel TOW team destroys a Syrian T-72 tank equipped with SHTORA APS. Photo: Via FSA Video.

An anti-tank team of the Free Syrian Army (western supported rebels) has successfully used a TOW anti-tank missile (Raytheon BGM-71) missile to hit a Russian T-90 tank equipped with a SHTORA ‘soft-kill’ active defense system. The close-range engagement was recorded on video at Sheikh Aqil, in Syria. The Shtora is an electro-optical active-protection system designed to disrupt the missile tracking using EO disruptor.

Russian T-90 tanks fitted with SHTORA were spotted in recent months in Syria, operated by Russian tank crews. The video report from Sheikh Aqil, northwest of Aleppo.

An active SHTORA soft kill APS (countermeasures) operating on a T-90 tank.
An active SHTORA soft kill APS (countermeasures) operating on a T-90 tank.

Once a missile attack is detected, the system uses EO countermeasures and launches instant smoke screens against incoming missiles. None of these measures are observed on the video, alluding to the possibility that the countermeasures were not engaged or did not detect the threat. Although the missile seems to hit its target, the explosion effect could be caused by the reactive armor designed to defeat such threats. While a crew member is seen escaping, the tank seems intact, without catastrophic fire erupting as would be the case in frontal attack penetration of such weapon. The SHTORA APS is mounted on the Russian T-80 and T-90 series tanks, as well as the Ukrainian T-84 the Serbian M-84AS and BMP-3.

Commenting on the incident, deputy director of Uralvagonzavod which manufactures the T-90, Vyacheslav Khalitov, noted that the video is too blurry so that it’s difficult to determine what vehicle it is, admits it “closely resembles the T-90.” According to Khalitov. “Shtora is part of T-90s multi-layer protection. It is a subsystem designed to protect the vehicle against flare-tracked ATGMs,” Khalitov told Vzglyad.

He also suggests the SHTORA was switched off, but added, “the reactive armor suite was activated which prevented the tank from suffering serious damage and the crew was able to leave it… If that missile penetrated the armor, nobody inside the tank would have survived. Shtora is part of T-90s multi-layer protection which includes the ballistic protection and Kontact 5 reactive armor.

[ismember]If the tank survived, why the loader escapes the tank? J-Hawk offers an explanation: The crewmember, likely a Syrian army tanker who still has memories of operating early-model T-72s with thinner armor protection and often no reactive armor, likely instinctively jumped out of the tank fearing that the missile hit had scored a lethal hit which would soon result in a fire. The video also shows the Syrian tank crew in question is lacking in training–no matter how survivable the tank is, it is generally a bad idea to sit still in an exposed firing location for such a long period of time, because no tank completely invulnerable.[/ismember]