Will Iran try to produce its own tank?

A T-90 tank participates in the specialized military equipment show during the Engineering Technologies 2014 international forum in Zhukovsky near Moscow.

A T-90 tank participates in the specialized military equipment show during the Engineering Technologies 2014 international forum in Zhukovsky near Moscow.

Ramil Sitdikov/RIA Novosti
Following Iran’s announcement that it no longer plans to purchase T-90 tanks from Russia, two Russian analysts look at what options Tehran has to bolster its tank arsenal and ask whether Iran is capable of developing its own vehicle comparable to the T-90.

Commander of Iran's ground forces Ahmad Reza Pourdastan said on Feb. 2 that his desire to purchase a shipment of T-90 tanks from Russia has not found support among the country's military leaders.

"We informed the General Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces that the T-90s are in our interests. However, considering Iran's possibilities, the issue of buying the T-90 tanks was taken off the agenda. We intend to produce our own tanks," RIA Novosti cites Pourdastan as saying, with reference to the Mehr News Agency.

Back in December Pourdastan said that ties between the Iranian military and Russia's military supply sphere "had been established and that Iran plans to buy the T-90 tanks."

The T-90 is Russia's principal military tank. Between 2001 and 2010 it was the best-selling tank on world markets, thanks in particular to supplies to India.

A new tank based on a Soviet model

According to open sources, Iran's ground forces have up to 1,500 tanks of various modifications. The most modern tanks are the Soviet T-72s, of which Iran has 480 models, as well as the Iranian Zulfikar (based on the T-72), of which there are 150 models in the country's armed forces.

In the view of Igor Korotchenko, director of the Moscow-based Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade, Iran can autonomously reproduce only old models, but it cannot create contemporary machinery.

"Without the Uralvagonzavod plant Iran cannot produce a T-90 type tank. Perhaps they'll make something based on the T-72," he said. "No one will give them armored technology. They will make their own tanks but we don't know how successful they'll be."

"Decades are required to create your own school," said Korotchenko. "Iran doesn't have these possibilities. Many countries have tried producing tanks – India, for example. In any case the T-90C is without competition, which is why they buy it and produce it serially. The same thing in this case."

Chinese technologies for Iran

"Sanctions against a country have a strange effect," said Director of the Russian Center for Political Research Vadim Kozyulin. "Many countries that did not have a military industry have created one as a result of sanctions. This is what happened with Iran.

Tank construction is not a simple field, said Kozyulin, pointing to the fact that India “still has not produced a decent domestic tank.”

“Neither do we know anything about a good Iranian tank. We only know what kind of technologies they have there. I suppose they have been able to form an engineering team that they are proud of. Perhaps even by having attracted foreign specialists,” he said.

"Maybe someone is helping them, providing them with technologies," continued Kozyulin. "Maybe they'll buy some technologies from China. China believes that today it is in the condition to produce the best tank in the world. If you listen to representatives of the Chinese military leadership, you get the feeling they think that their tanks are better, according to their parameters, than all foreign equivalents."

"But the Iranians can amaze us in the most diverse areas of military production. Perhaps this is another Iranian surprise," said Kozyulin, adding, however, that this was very unlikely. "Iran doesn't have a school. That is why the secret behind their choice is foreign technology mixed with Iranian money."

First published in Russian in VZGLYAD.

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