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Reactive Armor T-72 Tanks

The armor protection of the T-72 was further enhanced by other improvements in defensive armor technology. In the 1982 Lebanon war, the Israeli Army first used Blazer explosive reactive armor (ERA) in combat. ERA such as Blazer is designed to enhance existing tank protection against HEAT shaped charge warheads especially those from antitank rockets and antitank missiles. The Syrians captured an M-48 with Blazer that had been abandoned by an Israeli reserve tank unit following an attack by Mi-24 gunships. This was delivered to the main Soviet armor development research center, the NIIBT at Kubinka, for trials.

The Nil Stali (Scientific Research Institute for Steel) research center in Moscow had already been developing reactive armor in conjunction with NIIBT in Kubinka and VNII Transmash in Leningrad. It is called EDZ or DZ in Russian (elementy dinamcheskoi zashchity: dynamic protection elements) and explosive reactive armor (ERA) in the West.

T-72A (with Kontakt ERA)

Although the system had already been designed at the time of the 1982 Middle East war, there were no immediate plans to introduce it into service, the tank designers being unhappy that the added 1.5 metric tons of weight imposed only protected the tank against shaped charge warheads. However, they were overruled by the Soviet army, and on 15 January 1983, the "Act of the State Commission on the Adoption of Tanks with Explosive Reactive Armor" was signed. The first series manufactured armor, called Kontakt, was mounted on tanks in September 1983.

In service, the Kontakt blocks are popularly called "kosteki" (dice). The Soviet Kontakt ERA differs from the Israeli Blazer type in a number of respects. When the HEAT warhead detonates against the Kontakt ERA brick, the hypervelocity jet of metal particles from the warhead penetrates the brick and detonates a thin sheet of high explosive. This explosion propels two steel plates located on either side of the explosive sheet. The outward facing plate is blown up into the penetrating jet, eroding the metal stream by forcing more and more metal plate into the path of the jet. At the same time, the other plate is propelled back towards the tank armor by the explosion, then rebounds off the tank's armor up into the remaining stream of the warhead jet, further eroding it. In this manner, the Kontakt ERA can substantially reduce the penetration of the HEAT warhead.

Kontakt bricks were first spotted on Soviet tanks in Germany in December 1984. It was a very unpleasant surprise for NATO, which had come to rely very heavily on antitank missiles. The unexpected appearance of Kontakt ERA led to a crash program to develop tandem warheads and other technologies to defeat it.

The Kontakt ERA arrays began to be fitted on to the T-72A from 1987 to 1988 and later on the T-72B and T-72B1. The standard fit includes 227 bricks. Unlike the T-64B and T-80B tanks, which usually have the suffix "V" (vzryvnoi= explosive) added, such as T-64BV, to indicate Kontakt ERA the T-72 when fitted with Kontakt ERA, is not distinguished in this fashion.

Controversy over Kontakt ERA reached a peak in August 1989 when a US Congressional delegation visiting the 24th "Iron" Guards Motor Rifle Division in Lvov was shown a T-72B1 with three stacks of Kontakt ERA instead of the usual one layer. It appears that the multilayer Kontakt ERA was a deliberate attempt at disinformation. The triple layer of Kontakt ERA is implausible given the dynamics of this generation of reactive armor.

T-72BM (Obiekt 187?) Tank

In the late 1980s, the NII Stali in Moscow, the advanced research institute of the steel industry, continued to develop more advanced versions of explosive reactive armor. The tank design bureaus had complained that the first generation ERA protected only against HEAT warheads and was too heavy. The aim of the new program was to design applique armor that could degrade both kinetic energy penetrators and shaped charge penetrators.

This new Kontakt-5 applique armor was first mounted in 1985 on the T-80U. It increased the effective protection against APFSDS by about 200 millimeters, and against HEAT by 500 millimeters RHA equivalent. It was subsequently incorporated on an improved version of the T-72B designated Obiekt 184, and T-72BM when accepted into the Soviet army in 1989. This was the last version of the T-72 in production at the time of the Soviet Union's break-up in the early 1990s.

The T-72BM is configured the same as the basic T-72B but has the new generation armor arrays. This consists of panels having a chevron cross-section on the turret front, large panels on the glacis plate and three square panels on the hull side, as well as small panels on the roof. This version, like the T-72B, is generally fitted with the 1K13 sight and so can fire the Svir guided projectile.

The British Embassy in Kiev published a diagram of a Russian armored vehicle in November 2014 in a sneer on Twitter that is "to help the Kremlin spot its tanks" in eastern Ukraine.

"[President Vladimir] Putin still denying Russia's troops and hardware are in Ukraine. Here's a guide to help the Kremlin spot its tanks," said a Ukrainian-language tweet posted Wednesday on the British Embassy's Twitter feed. The image, titled "Proof of Russian Military Involvement in Ukraine" shows a diagram of a T-72BM tank, as well as photographs of three reported sightings of the vehicle between August and October.

While the T-72BM is operated by the Russian army, it is not known to have been exported or operated outside of Russia, according to military research analyst Joseph Dempsey. "The presence of this [tank] variant in Ukraine therefore strongly supports the contention that Russia is supplying arms to separatist forces," Dempsey wrote in an article for the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank in August.

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