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Foreign T-72 Development

ChinaType 85
Czech RepublicT-72M2
IndiaT-72M1 Ajeya
PolandPT-91 Twardy
SlovakiaT-72M2 Moderns (Antares)
A secondary objective of the T-72 program was to develop a tank that would prove suitable for manufacture in the Warsaw Pact countries to replace the ubiquitous T-54A and T-55 tanks. In the mid-1970s, negotiations began with Poland and Czechoslovakia for production of the T-72. Both countries purchased small quantities of T-72 tanks, delivered in 1977, and concluded agreements to begin license manufacture of the T-72 in 1978.

It was not unusual for the Warsaw Pact countries to purchase their tanks from more than one source. In the case of Germany, the first 133 came from the USSR, while 156 came from Poland and 260 from Czechoslovakia.

Polish & Czechoslovak T-72 Production

The T-72M variant manufactured in Poland and Czechoslovakia had no direct equivalent in the Soviet Army. The T-72M turret was fitted with the new TPD-K1 laser rangefinder characteristic of the T-72A, but the turret armor was the thinner initial type of the basic T-72. Most T-72M used the "gill" flip-out side armor. Like the basic Soviet T-72, it is code-named Obiekt 172M in its T-72M (Polish/Czechoslovak) manuals. Although this variant was designated T-72M in Poland and Czechoslovakia, it is also sometimes called T-72G in its Middle East export form for reasons that are not clear.

Production in Poland was undertaken at the Bumar-Labedy plant in Gliwice which formerly produced the T-54A and T-55, while Czechoslovak production was undertaken at the ZTS (Czech = Zavod Turcanske Strojarne, Slovak = Zavody Tazkeho Strojastva) plant in Martin, Slovakia which previously manufactured the T-54A, T-55 and T-62.

T-72M1 (Polish/Czechoslovak)

During the late 1980s, many Polish and Czechoslovak T-72Ms, as well as those of their clients, underwent a gradual modernization program. Improvements from the Soviet T-72A program were gradually phased in including the substitution of full skirts for the gill armor, fitting the System 902B Tucha smoke grenade launchers and the addition of the 17 millimeters applique armor panel on the glacis to boost protection up to T-72A standards.

In the mid-1980s, both plants converted to production of an equivalent of the Soviet T-72 A (Obiekt 172M-1), designated T-72M1. (Soviet T-72A tanks that are exported are also called T-72M1.) This version had the improved turret armor and other improvements of the full T-72A/Obiekt 174 design. By 1991, Czechoslovakia had 897 T-72, T-72M and T-72M1 in service and Poland had 757, nearly all locally produced. Poland produced 1,610 T-72s of all models through April 1993, of which about 900 were exported.

Poland and Czechoslovakia sold T-72M and T-72M1 to most of the other Warsaw Pact armies so that by 1991 they had the following totals of T-72M and T-72M1: East Germany (549); Hungary (138), and Bulgaria (334). Czechoslovakia and Poland produced about 1,700 T-72 for export to the developing world in the 1980s, with major clients including Syria, Libya, India, Iran and Iraq. For example, Iraq was a major client for Polish T-72M and T-72M1, tanks and many of the tanks encountered in Operation Desert Storm were of Polish manufacture. Czechoslovak T-72M1 tanks were also apparently provided to the USSR.

Iraqi T-72M Assad Babil

Following the period from 1980 to 1988 war with Iran, Iraq decided to begin license manufacture of the T-72M1 as the Assad Babil (Lion of Babylon). The first effort was directed towards manufacturing the 125mm gun tube. The service life of the tube is only 120 rounds, after which performance drops markedly. The Iraqis frequently used tanks as mobile artillery, and barrel wear became a significant tactical problem. The Iraqis claimed to have assembled their first T-72Mls in 1989 from knock-down kits, but there is little evidence that any substantial number of vehicles were actually completed beyond prototypes.

The Iraqis also began a modernization program. An electro-optical dazzler was provided by a foreign supplier, possibly China. This xenon strobe emits a beam that confuses the tracker of standard Western antitank missiles such as the TOW, Milan and HOT. The tracker steers the missile by monitoring a flare at the rear of the missile; the dazzler mimics the flare and causes the missile to fly off course. Most of the T-72s and T-72Mls in Iraqi service were retrofitted with this device from 1990 to 1991.

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