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T-72 Medium Tank - Design

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. 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 T-72 medium tank is a combat tracked vehicle with high cross-country manuverability. It is intended for destruction of tanks and other armored 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 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.

The most important battle characteristics of tanks are: a) fire power; b) armored protection (special protection), and c) mobility. In comparing the T-72 with contemporary Western tanks, it is important to remember how different the tanks are in terms of size and cost. The T-72 was designed as an economical way to replace the hordes of T-54, T-55, and T-62 tanks produced in the 1950s and 1960s. The designers accepted the many compromises in human engineering, firepower, night fighting and durability in order to stay within the limited goals of the program.

The T-72 was not expected to challenge the new generation of NATO tanks; the more expensive and sophisticated T-80 was given at assignment. Forward deployed elements of the Soviet Army in Germany were equipped with the T-64B and T-80, not the T-72. By way of comparison, the T-72S has an export price of only $1.2 million; the T-80U, $2 million; the M-1A1 Abrams, $3 million.

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