Find a Security Clearance Job!


T-72 Medium Tank

The T-72 medium tank is a combat tracked vehicle with high cross-country manoeuvrability. It is intended for destruction of tanks and other armoured targets, or enemy manpower. Using its 12.7mm NSV anti-aircraft machine-gun, it can destroy low flying targets. It provides protection against pressure wave and NBC weapons. Its main armament is a 125 mm smoothbore gun, stabilized in two guiding planes, with maximum effective firing range of 4,500 m and a rate of fire of up to 8 shots in a minute. Moreover, it is fitted with a coaxial 7.62mm PKT machine-gun.

The Russian T-72 Ural tank is the most widely deployed main battle tank of the current generation. Not only was it used by the armies of the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union, but it has been exported in large numbers to many of the confrontation states in the Middle East, including Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Iran. Indeed, it is the only one of the modern Russian main battle tanksT-64, T-72, T-80to have been exported in any significant numbers. The T-72 has seen combat in many conflicts, including the 1982 Lebanon war, the 1980-1988 Iran- Iraq War, the 1991 Gulf War, the Yugoslav civil war and the second Gulf War.

Curiously enough, the T-72 was produced in parallel to the T-64A tank, and later, the T-80 tank. It has long been an enigma why the USSR manufactured several main battle tanks simultaneously. As has become apparent in recent Russian writing, the answer to this question lies more in the bureaucratic and political inefficiencies of the Brezhnev years than in any dedicated defense policy.

In 1967, the Soviet army adopted the T-64 as its next new main battle tank. At the time, two other tanks were in production, the T-55 and T-62. The production of the T-55 was intended mainly for export as, until that point, the T-62 had never been exported. The year 1967 was an important one for Soviet military industrial policy. The war between Israel and its Arab neighbors and the ensuing Arab defeat led to an arms race in the region that has not entirely abated to this day. The Soviet Union played the willing role of arms merchant to the Arab side, and a significant fraction of total Soviet tank production in the ensuing 25 years would be earmarked for the Middle East. For example, from 1972 to 1983, the Soviet Union exported the equivalent of 44 percent of its tank production to the developing world, the vast majority to the Mideast.

Aside from the geostrategic implications of these sales, they also had important effects on Soviet industrial policy as weapons sales became the second largest hard currency export item (after raw materials). The Soviet tank industry began to broaden its production to accommodate these export requirements beyond its traditional role of supplying the Soviet army.

The decision to produce the T-64 did not sit well with the tank design bureau at the Vagonka (Uralvagonzavod) in Nizhni Tagil. From 1951 to 1967, Nizhni Tagil had been the primary center for the further development of Soviet medium tanks; with the demise of the heavy tanks in 1960 it had become the most significant design bureau in terms of actual product. The rival Morozov design bureau in Kharkov still held enormous prestige, having originated the T-34, T-44, and T-54 designs. Aleksandr Morozov was still held in great esteem by the Main Armored Directorate (GBTU), and it is not altogether surprising that his bureau was assigned the task of the developing the second post-war generation of Soviet medium tanks.

Nevertheless, the selection of the Kharkov T-64 design in 1967 was not greeted with universal acclaim in the Soviet army. The army had become used to the evolutionary developments of the T-54/T- 55/T-62 series. The conscript base of the Soviet army made the leadership inherently conservative in the adoption of any radical new technology. The greater the change, the greater the burden in assimiliating the new technology by the conscript force of young short-term tankers. While there was also a long tradition of pride in Soviet superiority in tank design among the tank force, the T-64 was a mixed blessing. To the average tank officer, its 115mm gun offered no more firepower than the T-62, as its higher rate of fire and greater accuracy were not particularly evident due to the stingy peacetime allotments of training ammunition.

Its armor was still so secret that the average tank officer had no appreciation for its advance over the T-62. Its mobility, while potentially superior to the T-62's, was in fact significantly inferior due to the teething problems with the new powerplant and the higher maintenance demands of the engine, tracks and suspension. It is not altogether surprising that the commander of Soviet Ground Forces, Marshal Chuikov, had favored the evolutionary Obiekt 167 over the revolutionary T-64. On the industrial side, the selection of the T-64 left the experienced Vagonka design bureau out of work. While there was still the need for the design team to continue evolutionary improvements on the T-55 and T-62 while they remained in production, this would not absorb the full attention of a bureau of this size.

It is often supposed that there was little room for initiative in the Soviet system, but this often was not the case. In 1965, after news of the Council of Ministers' resolution approving T-64 production, the Vagonka design bureau in Nizhni Tagil began to work on adapting an automatic loader to the T-62. The design bureau chief, Leonid Kartsev, was not happy with the "korzhina" autoloader, feeling that it was a mistake to cut off the loader from the rest of the crew.9 He instructed the Kovalev and Bystritskiy design bureau to develop an alternative autoloader. In the meantime, the Council of Ministers decided to shift production at Nizhni Tagil from their own T-62 tank to Kharkov's new T-64 tank. Production was slated to begin after the Morozov bureau in Khakov had adapted the T-64 to accept the new 125mm gun. Kartsev was convinced that this would take some time, so he directed his bureau to begin to adapt the 125mm gun with the new Kovalev/Bystritskiy autoloader into a T-62 chassis. To provide some cover for this unauthorized activity, the design was tied to the upcoming 50th anniversary of the October Revolution in October 1967.

In November 1967, Sergei A. Zverev, the minister for transportation machinery, visited the Nizhni Tagil plant as part of the anniversary festivities. While being given a tour of the experimental workshop, he was shown the upgunned T-62 tank. Zverev exploded and accused Kartsev of "intriguing against Kharkov again." Kartsev placated the minister by pointing out that the United States and Germany had an active program for modernizing their series production tanks. He slyly asked the minister why they were forbidden from doing so. This calmed down the argument, and Zverev was given a demonstration of the new autoloader. After having heard of the difficulties with the T-64 autoloader, Zverev was impressed with the smooth performance and speed of the Vagonka system, as well as the fact that it was already adapted to the new 125mm gun. Zverev suggested that the new system be incorporated into the Kharkov T-64. Kartsev agreed but suggested that the modification include the addition of a new diesel engine from Trashutin's team at Chelyabinsk, yet another evolutionary development of the long-serving V-2 diesel of 1939.

At a meeting with the plant manager, I. V. Okunev, on 6 November 1967, Zverev agreed to permit the Nizhni Tagil design bureau to build six prototypes of a T-64 variant with the new autoloader and new diesel. This agreement was reached without the participation of the army, or even of the GBTU tank administration. Kartsev in his biography mentions that the separation of the loader would make it difficult to assist him should the tank be damaged in combat. It is also likely that he was concerned that the korzhina loader made access to additional ammunition in the tank nearly inaccessible.

The T-72, which entered production in 1971, was first seen in public in 1977. The T-72, introduced in the early 1970s, is not a further development of the T-64, but rather a parallel design chosen as a high-production tank complementing the T-64. The T-72 retains the low silhouette of the T-54/55/62 series, featuring a conventional layout with integrated fuel cells and stowage containers which give a streamlined appearance to the fenders. While the T-64 was deployed only in forward-deployed Soviet units, the T-72 was deployed within the USSR and exported to non-Soviet Warsaw Pact armies and several other countries.

The Russian T-72 main battle tank was produced at the Malyshev HMB Plant, based in Kharkov, Ukraine and at UKBM Nizhny Tagil, Russian Federation. In addition to production in the USSR it has been built under license in Czechoslovakia, India, Poland and the former Yugoslavia.

The T-72, which came into service in the late 1970s, was successfully met by the Israelis in Lebanon in 1982. Armed with a long-barreled, smooth-bored 125mm gun and with a three-man crew, the T-72 at 45 tons (41,000 kg) is considerably lighter than the American M60A1. Both tanks have six road wheels on a side but the T-72 with its squat hull and long-barreled gun is distinctive in silhouette from the M60, with its more massive turret.

The price of a T-90 main battle tank, manufactured by Russia's Uralvagonzavod plant is $5-7 million, while the price of a T-72 model is $1-2 million. Tank-modernization costs make up for just 25 percent of the new tank's price.


  • The T-72 medium tank is similar in general appearance to the T-64.
  • The T-72 has six large, die-cast, rubber-coated road wheels and three track return rollers. It has a 14-tooth drive sprocket and a single-pin track with rubber-bushed pins.
  • The gunner's IR searchlight is mounted to the right of the main gun. The 12.7-mm NSV anti-aircraft machine gun has a rotating mount, and there is no provision for firing it from within the tank. There are normally only a few small stowage boxes on the outside of the turret, and a single short snorkel is stowed on the left side of the turret.
  • The T-72 has a larger engine compartment than the T-64, and the radiator grill is near the rear of the hull.


  • The T-72 has greater mobility than the T-62. The V-12 diesel engine has an output of 780 hp. This engine appears to be remarkably smoke-free and smooth-running, having eliminated the excessive vibration which was said to cause high crew fatigue in the T-62. Although the engine is larger than that of the T-64, the heavier (41 mt) T-72 is believed to have approximately the same road speed as the T-64. The T-72B1 is powered by a multi-fuel V-12 piston air-cooled 840 hp engine that will run on three fuels: Diesel, Benzene or Kerosene. Two 200-liter auxiliary fuel drums can be fitted on the rear of the hull.
  • The T-72 can be fitted with a snorkel for deep fording, and takes about 20 minutes to prepare for amphibious use.
  • The T-72 has better armor protection than the T-62, due to the use of layered armor and other features of the T-64. The advanced passive armor package of the T-72M and T-72M1 can sustain direct hits from the 105mm gun equipped M1 Abrams at up to 2,000 meter range. The later T-72Ms and T-72M1s are equipped with laser rangefinders ensuring high hit probabilities at ranges of 2,000 meters and below. The turret has conventional cast armor with a maximum thickness of 280-mm, the nose is about 80-mm thick and the glacis is 200-mm thick laminate armor. Besides the PAZ radiation detection system, the T-72 has an antiradiation liner (except on export models) and a collective NBC filtration and overpressure system.
  • The T-72 has the same integral smoke generating capability as earlier T-54/55/62, tanks, and variants have been observed with smoke grenade projectors mounted on the front of the turret.
  • The T-72 employs the same armament, ammunition, and integrated fire control as the T-64. The low, rounded turret mounts a 125mm smooth bore gun with a carousel automatic loader mounted on the floor and rear wall of the turret. The 125mm gun common to all the T-72 models is capable of penetrating the M1 Abrams armour at a range of up to 1,000 meters. The more recent BK-27 HEAT round offers a triple-shaped charge warhead and increased penetration against conventional armors and ERA. The BK-29 round, with a hard penetrator in the nose is designed for use against reactive armor, and as an MP round has fragmentation effects. If the BK-29 HEAT-MP is used, it may substitute for Frag-HE (as with NATO countries) or complement Frag-HE. With three round natures (APFSDS-T, HEAT-MP, ATGMs) in the autoloader vs four, more antitank rounds would available for the higher rate of fire.
  • The infra-red searchlight on the T-72 is mounted on the right side of the main armament, versus on the left on the earlier T-64. The 1K13-49 sight is both night sight and ATGM launch sight. However, it cannot be used for both functions simultaneously. A variety of thermal sights is available. They include the Russian Agava-2, French SAGEM-produced ALIS and Namut sight from Peleng. Thermal gunner night sights are available which permit night launch of ATGMs.


  • T-72: Original Russian tank from which T-72 variants were derived.
  • T-72A: The Russian variant differs from T-72 with the TPDK-1 LRF, added sideskirts, additional armor on the turret front and top, smoke grenade launchers, internal changes, and a slight weight increase.
  • T-72B : has the thickened frontal turret armor and is commonly known in the United States as the Dolly Parton.
  • T-72B1: a much improved version of the T-72 main battle tank, featuring a new engine and main gun, additional armor protection and advanced fire control system among other improvements, which makes its characteristics comparable to those of a more modern T-90 tank. The main gun, an upgraded 125-mm smoothbore 2A46M, has improved performance characteristics and uses ammunition with increased armor-penetrating capability. More than 50 of these modernized T-72 main battle tanks will be put in service with mechanized infantry brigades of the 35th Army, deployed in Russias Far East, by the end of 2013, a spokesman for the Eastern Military District said 06 November 2013. The army will receive over 50 new T-72B1 tanks by the end of the year, Lt. Col. Alexander Gordeyev said. He said the first shipment of new tanks will be delivered directly from tank-manufacturing plants in November.
  • T-72BK: Commander's variant with additional radios
  • T-72BM: Version with 2nd Generation Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor similar to that on the T-90. This system is being fielded and is available for export.
  • T-72M: Original Polish and former-Czechoslovakian T-72-series tank from which Polish/Czechoslovakian T-72M1 was derived. T-72M differs from T-72 in replacing the right-side coincident rangefinder with a centerline-mounted TPDK-1 LRF.
  • T-72M1: Russian export version and Polish/Czechoslovakian counterparts. Versions with Kontact ERA are known as T-72AV /T-72 M1V. Some countries have inventories of T-72, T-72M and T-72M1, with different versions of each variant. Also, many variants were upgraded or modified. Some T-72M1s do not have smoke grenade launchers or track skirts. Some T-72s/T-72Ms have smoke grenade launchers. More reliable discriminators are armor and rangefinder/FCS.
  • T-72S/Shilden: Russian export T-72A upgraded to be comparable to the T-72BM standard. Although similar to the T-72BM, it may have less turret front protection. The early T-72S tank has Kontakt ERA.
  • T-72BV: with explosive reaction armor packages fitted to the hull and turret. The glacis plate is covered with a layer of single ERA blocks while the turret is covered by one, two or three layers with one being the more usual.
  • T-72SUO: Ukrainian modernization aimed at updating combat ant technical features early produces T-72s by mounting sophisticated fire control system, dynamic protection, power unit with significantly enhanced engine. It enables to level the tanks features with those of sophisticated examples, while the cost will be radically diminished.

Join the mailing list