The T-80, manufactured by Transmash of Omsk, appeared as production model in 1984, retaining the basic features of the T-64 series (including the 125mm smoothbore gun with autoloader). Major innovations included the first Soviet use of a gas turnine engine, providing increased speed and power, and the first use of a laser rangefinder providing major improvements in fire control. The T-80 is very similar in appearance to the T-72. It incorporates features common to both the T-64 and T-72, especially in weaponry. Easily distinguishable features of this tank as compared with the standard T-72 are the attachment of side skirts and twelve turret-mounted grenade launchers with seven on the left side and five on the right side.
The T-80 was the first Soviet operational tank to be powered by a gas-turbines, with a GTD-1000 gas-turbine engine developing 1100 hp. The road wheel spacing is not identical, with distinct gaps between the three pairs of road wheels. To extend the operational range of the T-80, additional fuel tanks can be mounted at the hull rear, which can be quickly jettisoned if required. A large circular container mounted on the turret rear carries two snorkels for deep fording operations. The larger one provides an air intake for the gas-turbine, with the other being fitted onto the radiator grill.
The T-80 was also the first production Soviet tank to incorporate a laser range finder and ballistic computer system. The original night sight is the II Buran-PA (800-1300 meters range). The 12.7-mm MG NSVT has both remote electronically operated sight PZU-5 and gun-mounted K10-T reflex sight. The night sight cannot be used to launch the ATGM. The daysight can be used at night for launching ATGMs if the target is illuminated. A variety of thermal sights is available, including the Russian Agava-2, French SAGEM-produced ALIS and Namut sight from Peleng. Thermal sights are available for installation which permit night launch of ATGMs. There are thermal sights available for installation which permit night launch of ATGMs.
The T-80 uses the same 125-mm gun and horizontal ammunition system as the T-72, though the fire control system is an improvement over that fitted to earlier Soviet tanks. 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. The more recent BK-27 HEAT round offers a triple-shaped charge warhead and 50 mm more penetration. The electronic round fuzing system for Ainet rounds is available for other tanks. This round uses technology similar to that for French Oerlikon's AHEAD rouns. The round is specially designed to defeat targets by firing fragmentation patterns forward and radially, based on computer calculated settings from the laser range-finder and other inputs. Targets are helicopters and dug in or defilade priority ground threats, such as ATGM positions. Rate of fire is 4 rd/min. 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 ATGM may be launched while moving slowly (NFI). The AT-8 can be auto-loaded with the two halves mated during ramming; but the stub charge is manually loaded.
When fitted with explosive reactive armor [ERA] the T-80 is virtually immune over its frontal arc to penetration from all current NATO ATGMs which rely on a HEAT warhead to penetrate armor. On the turret of the T-80, the panels are joined to form a shallow chevron pointing. Explosive reactive armor is also fitted to the forward part of the turret roof to provide protection against top attack weapons. The explosive reactive armor does not provide any added protection against APDS or APFSDS attack.
The challenge facing the Omsk factory was how to get its output onto the international market. Three weapons exhibitions held in Omsk produced minor results. But after participation in international displays in Adu Dabi in the Arab Emirates, Geneva, Cairo, Le Bourget in France and Farnborough in England the T-80U tank captured contracts from number of countries.
It is believed that China had ordered 200 T-80Us in late 1993.
By 1992 the Russian Defense Ministry announced that it could no longer afford to manufacture two MBTs in parallel. Since both the "quality" T-80U and the cheaper "quantity" T-72B were each being built at one plant, and each plant was critical to the economy of the city it was in, the Government gave small orders to both. Omsk built five T-80Us and Nizhni Tagil 15 T-72s, and both built more against the hope of winning large export orders.
The Russian Defense Ministry made a selection of a single MBT in 1995. The fighting in Grozny had been shown around the world and the reputation of Russian tanks was sullied. Although many casualities were due to bad tactics and many T-72s were also lost, it was the knocked-out T-80s which made an impression. More had been expected of the "quality" M-80 MBT. This is alleged to have tipped the balance against the T-80 in the selection. The T-80 was already more expensive and its delicate, fuel-hungry turbine engine was still giving problems.
The T-80B and -BV variants are often misidentified as T-80. They are visibly different and bear other distinctions, such as T-80B/-BV capability for launching AT-8/ Songster ATGM.
- T-80: The first production model of the T-80 entered production in 1978 with only a few hundred built before production switched to the T-80B.
- T-80B: Sometimes referred to Beryoza (Birch Tree), this first major redesign features a modified turret with new composite K ceramic armor providing better protection against APFSDS kinetic energy penetrators.
- T-80BK: Command version with additional communications equipment and antennae.
- T-80BV: Variant has first generation explosive reactive armor [ERA] mounted. This variant is more likely for encounter by US forces. A late production version has a new turret similar to the T-80U but fitted with the turbine engine and first generation ERA.
- T-80U: First observed in 1989 and referred to by NATO as the SMT (Soviet Medium Tank) M1989. The new turret has an improved frontal armor package with second generation explosive reactive armor. This version is equipped with the 9K120 Svir (AT-11 Sniper) laser-guided anti-tank missile in place of the older Kobra. Other improvements include a more powerful and fuel efficient gas turbine engine (GTD-1250, developing 1250 hp).
- T-80UD: Version produced in Ukraine with a 1000-hp diesel engine instead of the turbine engine, and 1st generation ERA. In August 1996 Pakistan placed an order for 320 T-80UD MBTs under a deal worth about $580 million, and the first 15 were delivered in February 1997.
- T-80UK: Command version with R-163-50K and R-163-U radios, TNA-4 land navigation system, and an electronic fuze-setting device that permits use of Ainet Shrapnel Round. The AGAVA thermal sight provides a 2,600-meter night acquisition range.
- T-80UM: Upgraded with a gunner's thermal sight with additional tank commander viewing screen. Similar to standard T-80U, but without IR searchlight and with enlarged night sight housing. Outfitted with 2nd Generation ERA.
- T-80UM1 "Bars" (Snow Leopard) : Prototype with Shtora and Arena defensive systems, though apparently without Kontakt-5 reactive armor tiles on its turret, since the Arena system with fragmentation charge launchers arranged in a semicircle around the turret front may preclude mounting reactive armor.
- T-80UM2? "Black Eagle" : Features a new turret with highly sloped front and a bustle-mounted autoloader on a standard T-80U hull. Also incoporates a redesigned ammunition storage scheme to reduce vulnerability to ammunition fires. It is unclear whether this is simply a technology testbed demonstrator vehicle, possibly intended mainly for export, or whether it may enter Russian service in stead of the new Uralvagonzavod design.
- T-84: Recent Ukrainian upgrade of T-80UD with a welded turret, a French ALIS thermal sight, a more powerful engine, optional use of ARENA active protection system (APS) and SHTORA-1 active IR ATGM jammer system. Prototypes have been demonstrated, and the tank is available for export. Ukraine's Kharkov Malyshev Plant's T-84UD main battle tank is a Ukrainian-produced version of the old Soviet T-80 design. The Ukrainian factory, that has a pedigree for tank production dating back over 50 years claimed the first major export success for the T-80/84 in 1998 when it sold 320 to Pakistan. The Ukrainian version of the tank has a different power plant to the Russian T-80UD and a number of other differences.
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