Soviet Tanks - Cold War Developments
After World War II the Soviets increased their armor strength while America was conducting its postwar demobilization in both men and machines. The Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies built their armies around mechanized combined arms teams. The tanks in these forces consist of T-54, T-55, T-62, and T-72 models. A new tank, called the T-8O, was under development in the 1980s. The T-62 was the principal battle tank found in Soviet tank and motorized rifle divisions. It is an accurate, highly-lethal, weapon system generally comparable to the US M6O series tank.
After the famous IS-3 and IS-4 the development of the Soviet heavy tanks did not stop at the experimental IS-5 and IS-6. With the experience gained at war and during the development of the earlier models, Cheliabinsk designers attained a new task, the creation of the new and mighty IS-7 tank of 1946. With its 68-ton weight the tank was, indeed, heavy. The front armor of the turret was 210-mm thick. The testing proved that even its own 130-mm gun could not take out IS-7 at combat distances. the tank never reached the production lines and further work was halted in 1948. Thereafter, the Soviets concentrated on medium tanks rather than heavy tanks.
In 1946 the prototype of the T-54 was first produced. Three years later, it entered operational service. A successor, the T-55, was built on many of the same components, and reached the prototype stage in 1957. It was made operational in 1958. A much more advanced tank, the T-62, also reached the prototype stage in 1957, but it did not enter service until 1961-62. In 1962, the T-64 tank reached the prototype stage, entering operational service in 1966.41 Due to its complexity and cost, a lower-price alternative, the T-72, was developed from 1967,42 entering service in 1971. The T-80, the T-72's successor, was actually developed from the T-64. Its prototype was built in 1976, and 2 years later, production tanks were entering service units.
Since then there was a substantial pause, and the latest in-service Russian / Soviet tank, the T-90, was first conceptualized in 1988, entering service in 1993. Since then, while there have been prototypes, variants, and concept vehicles, there has been no new in-service tank. The gap between generations of tanks reaching the prototype stage has steadily increased, bar the anomaly of the T-54 and T-55. The gap between the T-62 and T-64 prototypes was 5 years; between the T-64 and T-72, 5 years; between the T-72 and T-80, 9 years; and between the T-80 and T-90, 12 years. The years since have not seen a single new Russian tank.
Technologically, development slowed. The first generation T-54 and T-55 had 100mm rifled guns, which were superceded by much more powerful smoothbore technology in the T-62. All Soviet tanks since that time have used smoothbore cannons in 115mm or 125mm calibers, and although ballistic performance has improved, the same basic concept has remained. Range has not greatly improved: the T-54 was capable of 450km on internal fuel, the T-72 of 500km, and the T-90 supposedly capable of 600km. Armor protection evolved rapidly during the early part of the period, from sloped steel armor on the first three (T-54, T-55, and T-62) through to first generation composites on the T-64 and more advanced materials from the T-72 onwards, including reactive armor and active defense systems.
Explosive reactive armor (ERA) was first developed by the Israelis and was operational by 1982. Within a few years, Russian tanks were carrying first-generation ERA as well, and heavy types were developed by the early 1990s. The first Russian gun-tube-launched anti-tank missile was mounted in the T-64B of 1976, though an American system called Shillelagh had come into service in the 1960s. Active defense systems were first installed on the T-55 in 1983, and more sophisticated systems were in service by the early 1990s.
Soviet tank development was a clear indication of incrementalism. The basics of their turret shape, armament, and complex armor package have changed only in degree, rather than kind, since the T-64. There have been constant improvements, but no quantum leaps, bar concepts such as the Black Eagle experimental tank. It might be said that for the past 40 years or so, all Russian tanks have been merely "children and grandchildren" of the T-64, which is hardly a sign of technological innovation. Such incrementalism is a traditional Russian practice: rather than producing an entirely new design, Russian designers often modify an existing system. This leads to an alphabet soup of variants, exemplified by the following types of T-72, which is not even an exhaustive list: T-72A, T-72B, T-72BK, T-72BM, T-72M, T-72M1, T-72S, T-72BV, and T-72SUO.
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