The T-64, introduced in the late 1960s, was the first of a sophisticated new family of Soviet main battle tanks developed as successors to the T-54/55/62 family. Retaining the low silhouette of the T-54/55/62 series of tanks, the T-64 featured an innovative design incorporating both an autoloader and advanced armor.
In the early 1950s the tank designers began searching for new ideas, as the Soviet Army needed a radically new tank. As had been so often the case, when radical tank design changes were required, the Tank Design Bureau of Kharkiv led the way by introducing an unconventional if not revolutionary approach to tank design. The new tank design concepts were embodied in the T-64 tank, which was designed in Kharkiv in the early 1960s under the leadership of Aleksandr A. Morozov and became the first vehicle of the new generation of Soviet-designed tanks. The T-64 was the first in the world to feature an automatic loader enabling the crew to be cut from four to three - commander, gunner and driver. Other advanced features included a sophisticated multi-layer protection, NBC protection system, new layout of the power pack compartment, etc.
The first batch of T-64 was produced in 1963. The tanks had an all-steel turret, 115 mm U-5TS gun. How many of the very first T-64s were produced is not known, but during military trials, problems with the automatic loader, engine and suspension were discovered. The armor was considered insufficient, and the 115 mm caliber was inferior to the 122 mm in terms of the power of high-explosive shells. In 1965, changes were made. They installed the D-81 gun (aka 2A26) of 125 mm caliber, modified the AZ, improved the engine, strengthened the suspension, and replaced the turret. In 1967, the tank was accepted into service with the T-64A index.
The T-64 entered production in 1966, was fielded in 1967, and was first seen in public in 1970. Numerous variants were produced during a very long production run. The T-64 tank was later on considered to have formed a landmark in the history of tank development in the Soviet Union, as every tank of the Soviet T-series entering service ever since (including T-72 and its modifications, T-80, T-80U, T-80UD, Ukrainian T-84, etc) was based on the design concepts initially introduced in the T-64 tank design, so all the above-enumerated tanks can be called 'direct descendants' of the T-64, its 'children' and 'grandchildren'.
While the T-64 is closely related to the T-72, the T-64 was produced solely for the Soviet Army and the slightly less capable T-72 was exported world-wide. Unlike the T-72, the T-64 has an infra-red searchlight on the left side of the 125mm gun, a different power pack, narrower track, a different suspension, and a slightly different turret.
- The T-64 and the T-72 medium tanks are similar in general appearance. Both retain the low silhouette of earlier T-54/55/62 tanks. Both have a live track with six evenly-spaced road wheels, drive sprocket at the rear, and idler wheel at the front. The driver's hatch is centrally located at the top of a sharply sloped upper glacis, which has four steel ribs and a V-shaped water and debris deflector. The low-rounded turret is centered on the hull. The commander's cupola is located on the right side of the turret, and the gunner's hatch is on the left side. The 125-mm main gun has a four-section removable thermal shield, with two sections in front of and two sections to the rear of the mid-tube bore evacuator. A 7.62-mm coaxial machine gun is mounted to the right of the mantlet. Integrated fuel cells and stowage containers give a streamlined appearance to the fenders. A toothed shovel/ dozer blade is located at the front of the hull, beneath the glacis, and there are attachment points beneath the blade for the KMT-6 mine clearing plow. Early models sometimes mounted four detachable track protection plates on the front half of each side, while later versions have been observed with detachable full-length standoff skirting.
- However, there are several design differences between the two tanks.
Those features peculiar to the T-64 are as follows:
- The T-64 has six small, stamped road wheels and four track return rollers. It has a 12-tooth drive sprocket and double-pin track.
- The gunner's IR searchlight is mounted to the left of the main gun. The newly-designed 12.7-mm NSVT antiaircraft machine gun on the commander's cupola has a fixed mount and can be fired buttoned up. Several large external ammunition stowage boxes normally are attached to the sides of the turret. A long snorkel is stowed on the rear edge of the turret, and a second snorkel with an elbow for attachment to the engine exhaust is stowed inside the first.
- The T-64 has a smaller engine compartment than the T-72, and the radiator grill is located near the turret.
- The T-64K command variant has an additional whip antenna and a 10-meter antenna mast which can be erected in the center of the turret using guy wires. It employs the same TNA-3 land navigation system found in the T-62K command tank and mounts no antiaircraft machine gun.
- The T-64 has greater mobility than the T-62. The 5-cyllinder, opposed-piston, diesel engine has an estimated output of 700 to 750 hp. Although the engine is smaller than that of the T-72, the lighter (38 mt) T-64 is believed to have approximately the same road speed and cruising range as the T-72. Two 200-liter auxiliary fuel drums can be fitted on the rear of the hull.
- The T-64 has better armor protection than the T-62. The hull and turret are of cast and welded steel armor incorporating both conventional steel armor and ceramic inserts, called Combination K, which provide superior protection against HEAT attack. Besides having greatly increased frontal armor protection due to the use of improved layered armor, the T-64 can also attach track protection plates or full-length skirts. Low- flash fuel storage also offers protection to the sides. The front-mounted shovel enables the tank to dig itself in within a few minutes and also increases the armor protection of the lower hull front when it is folded upwards.
- Besides the PAZ radiation detection system and an antiradiation liner, the T-64 also has a collective NBC filtration and overpressure system.
- The T-64 has the same integral smoke generating capability as earlier T-54/55/62 tanks, and variants have the same type of turret-mounted smoke grenade projectors as have been observed on the T-72 and T-80.
- The main armament comprises a 125mm smooth bore gun which power-elevates from -6º to +14º in a powered turret capable of traversing throughout 360º. The 125-mm smoothbore main gun fires a hypervelocity, armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, discarding-sabot (HVAPFSDS) round believed to have a muzzle velocity of over 1,750 meters per second and an effective range of at least 2,000 meters. The 40-round basic load would typically include 12 HVAPFSDS rounds, 6 HEAT rounds, and 22 HE rounds. The cartridges are semi-combustible with stub-cases. An automatic loader allows the crew to be reduced to three (commander, gunner, and driver), and an automatic spent-cartridge ejection system similar to that of the T-62 is employed.
- The 125-mm gun also fires the AT-8 Songster ATGM, and normally carries six AT-8 Songsters plus 36 rounds (projectile and charge) of 125-mm ammunition.
- It has an automatic loader, similar to that installed in the T-72, which delivers eight rounds a minute. The incorporation of this innovative automatic loader allowed for a three-man crew.
- The commander is capable of operating all weapons in the tank from his position. The T-64 has an improved, integrated fire control system. It probably has an onboard computer, and some variants may have a laser rangefinder.
- The use of an automatic loader allowed the Soviets to reduce not only the number of crewmen, but also the size of the turret. Therefore, the space available in the turret is not significantly increased. The ability to depress the main gun (-5°) is still limited. When using the mast antenna, the command variant is immobile, since the mast must be anchored in the ground.
There were a number of objective reasons for the end of production of the T-64. One of the main ones is age. The T-64 began to become obsolete in the 80s. Not as fast as now, but still. The main "Achilles' heel" is the suspension. She was counted on a vehicle weighing no more than 40-45 tons, and the T-64A weighed about 40-42 tons. During development, they tried to reduce the mass of the tank as much as possible, which led to negative consequences after 15 years. The T-64B had problems with the rollers - they deformed and fell into disrepair faster than that of the more massive T-72 and the recently adopted T-80. "Sixty-fourth" was initially deprived of the lion's share of the modernization potential.
Another aspect of the suspension is top speed. The T-80 was developed on the basis of the T-64 and it was they who wanted to equip it with a gas turbine engine, but on rough terrain, at high speeds, small rollers were deformed and could not be restored. Replacement only. As a result, the tank's suspension, turret and final drives were redesigned along with the tank's control system.
And last but not least, no need for further production. The tank did not have a significant reserve for modernization due to the thrust-to-weight ratio, a powerful engine could be installed, but for this it was necessary to change the suspension. All this at a higher cost compared to the T-72, which was in no way inferior. Numerous changes did not make sense, since there was already a modified T-80 - the ideological successor of the T-64 and in many ways similar to it inside the fighting compartment. Between the T-80UD and T-64B, then the difference in them is not as big as with the T-80U.
- T-64R -- initial production model armed with 115-mm D-68 smoothbore gun. It is believed that 600 were built, but none remain in service.
- T-64 -- initial production version with the 125-mm smoothbore gun, with most subsequently rebuilt to the T-64A configuration.
- T-64K -- command version of the T-64.
- T-64A -- improvements include a modified sight for the gunner and smoke grenade launchers. This was a further development of the T-64 tank by means of fitting it with a 125mm smoothbore gun, improvement of the engine systems and running gear.
- T-64AK -- Manufactured on the basis of the T-64A tank was a commander's model of the T-64A.
- T-64A (rebuild) -- rebuilt T-64 or T-64A incorporating the new improvements found on the later T-64 models.
- T-64B -- In 1971, the FCS and guns were changed from 2A26 to 2A46. She improved the barrel, chamber and bolt. By 1976, the T-64B appeared. In his armor, the proportions of steel and fiberglass in the hull were changed, the turret and its filling were changed. Instead of aluminum, they began to use ultra-porcelain (corundum) balls. This major redesign incorporating new hull and turret armor that was less bulky than the first generation Combination K armor on the T-64A while offering better protection. The T-64B also has a laser rangefinder. This was a further development of the T-64A tank by means of installing a more advanced fire control system and armament stabiliser, guided missile system, improving the protection level etc. The following versions of the tank were produced: T-64BK commander tank, T-64B1 tank without the guided missile system, and T-64BV tank fitted with add-on explosive reactive armour array. By 1984, tanks began to be equipped with Kontakt-1 reactive armor, and in 1987, the production of the tank was completely abandoned. The T-80UD was installed on the Kharkov conveyor.
- T-64BV --- T-64B fitted with explosive reactive armor.
- T-64B1 -- T-64As improved to the T-64B standard.