The Indian and Russian governments have maintained close military ties for some time leading India to stock its forces with equipment largely Soviet/Russian in origin or influence. Since 1974, India has been developing what would become its first indigenous Main Battle Tank (MBT) as the "Arjun" but many delays led to alternatives being sought. About 248 of the Arjun Mk 1 model have since appeared and 118 of the improved Arjun Mk II were ordered, the latter to serve in shoring up limitations found in the original operational mark. The Indian Army also went on to invest in the Soviet-Russian T-72 MBT and purchased this product in its export form in the thousands. Faced with growing delays in the Arjun program and the rise of new Pakistani Army tanks (of Ukrainian and Chinese origin), the Indian government has also been forced to invest in the latest Russian MBT - the T-90.
With this, the T-90M "Bhishma" has emerged as a locally-developed version of the Russian T-90S, the export designation given to the original T-90A. The series supports the "Kontakt-5" Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) block kit and features a French-originated thermal sighting device. Since Indian industry held experience in dealing with the earlier T-72, the shift to the T-90 proved a limited challenge as the two vehicles shared some 60% commonality of parts leading to logistical friendliness and essentially unaltered training programs for tanker crews. The T-90M Bhishma sports a new automatic loader, Fire Control System (FCS), main gun (2A46M-5) and powerplant of 1,130 horsepower output. Atop the turret is seated an optional remote-controlled Anti-Aircraft (AA) gun. Saab of Sweden was commissioned in 2009 to supply its LEDS-150 Active Protection System (APS) for the Bhishma.
Production of the tanks is handled locally by Heavy Vehicles Factory of Avadi. The vehicles showcase dramatically increased survivability rates proven through live fire testing. It is expected that the T-90 family - the T-90S, T-90M and Bishma marks - will all form the main spearhead of the Indian Army MBT force with total force strength to reach 4,500 total units by 2020 trailing only Russia, China and the United States in global ranking. The tank will be featured alongside the existing T-72 and Arjun fleets.
Initial deliveries of Bhishma tanks came in 2009 through a ten-strong production batch.