For all the videos coming out of the Syrian civil war, a one minute, 31-second clip of a U.S.-made TOW missile slamming into a T-90 tank got more attention than most. In the video uploaded in February, Russia’s most advanced operational battle tank met one of the United States’ main tank killers on the battlefield.
The T-90 was Russian made, but likely crewed by Syrian troops. The missile was supplied by the United States — most likely via Saudi Arabia or the CIA — to the Hawks Mountain Brigade fighting near Aleppo.
For the participants, the whole experience might have been terrifiying. For most of the rest of the world, it was a chance to see what happens when state-of-the-art hardware from two major world powers violently collide in the Middle East.
The only good news is that nobody appeared to get killed. What happened to the tank … well, no one who watched the video was exactly sure.
We saw the wire-guided missile bob toward the T-90, which was parked on a crest between two low-slung buildings. Then the missile hit the tank’s turret with a tremendous flash which sent up a cloud of smoke. One of the crew members bailed and the video ended.
There was no fire and the tank didn’t “brew up,” meaning the fuel tank didn’t ignite and burn the crew to death. (The Syrian army has lost thousands of tanks since the war began in 2011.) This one, it seemed, survived.
A recent photograph circulated on Russian military forums shows what the tank looked like after impact. Sure enough, the T-90’s Kontakt-5 reactive armor appeared to save it. Reactive armor explodes outwards and stops incoming missiles from penetrating into the tank and killing the crew.