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T-72 Medium Tank

The T-72 (tank "Ural") was designed in the Soviet Union for the secondary sectors of the front, as a cheap backup in case of a major war. Curiously enough, the T-72 was produced in parallel to the T-64A tank, and later, the T-80 tank. It was long an enigma in the West why the USSR manufactured several main battle tanks simultaneously. As has become apparent in recent Russian writing, the answer to this question lay as much in the bureaucratic and political inefficiencies of the Brezhnev years than in any dedicated defense policy.

At the forefront of the war with NATO it was planned to place other more capable tanks: T-64, and then the T-80. However, the T-72 proved to be a simple, reliable and efficient machine. As a result of its improvements, equipped with a modern fire control system and guided weapons, in the 1990s the T-72B became the main tank of the Russian Army.

The Russian T-72 main battle tank was produced at the Malyshev HMB Plant, based in Kharkov, Ukraine and at UKBM Nizhny Tagil, Russian Federation. The Kharkov bureau was located in Ukraine, while Nizhni Tagil is in the Urals industrial region; the full plant name is Ural Railcar Plant. In addition to production in the USSR it has been built under license in Czechoslovakia, India, Poland and the former Yugoslavia. In the mid-1990s it was being manufactured by at least five countries, more than any other current tank.

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. The T-72 retains the low silhouette of the T-54/55/62 series, featuring a conventional layout with integrated fuel cells and stowage containers which give a streamlined appearance to the fenders. 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 Russian T-72 Ural tank is the most widely deployed main battle tank of the current generation. Not only was it used by the armies of the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union, but it has been exported in large numbers to many of the confrontation states in the Middle East, including Syria, Libya, Iraq, and Iran. Indeed, it is the only one of the modern Russian main battle tanks T-64, T-72, T-80 to have been exported in any significant numbers. The T-72 has seen combat in many conflicts, including the 1982 Lebanon war, the 1980-1988 Iran- Iraq War, the 1991 Gulf War, the Yugoslav civil war and the second Gulf War.

The T-72, which came into service in the late 1970s, was successfully met by the Israelis in Lebanon in 1982. Armed with a long-barreled, smooth-bored 125mm gun and with a three-man crew, the T-72 at 45 tons (41,000 kg) is considerably lighter than the American M60A1. Both tanks have six road wheels on a side but the T-72 with its squat hull and long-barreled gun is distinctive in silhouette from the M60, with its more massive turret.

The decision to produce the T-72 in parallel to the T-64A was a compromise between the GBTU (Main Armor Directorate), which favored the most sophisticated tank possible, and the Ground Forces, which continued to favor designs that permitted numerical superiority.

The decision was an odd one since it meant that the armed forces would be equipped with two tanks fitted with different engines, tracks and suspensions. Many spare parts were completely different. The T-72 adopted a simple pintle-mounted 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun instead of the elaborate remote control machine gun on the T-64A. The autoloaders were both completely different, and the fuel tanks were significantly different as well. In terms of supplies, the only common items were the ammunition.

The rationale for the T-72 decision was offered by Nikolai Shomin, the T-64's chief designer in an interview: "But the first series of production vehicles had a lot of problems. Think about what the world situation was at the time. The Vietnam war was continuing, Israel was carrying out its aggression against its Arab neighbors and nearly all the governments of the Mid East, we were estranged from China. And the result was that a direct military confrontation was a possibility. Combined with that situation, the Ground Forces realized that with our industrial capacity, it would take five to ten years before we would have a sufficient number of such (T-64) tanks. In the eyes of the Ground Forces, we would cause them to forfeit numerical superiority in armored vehicle equipment. It was only for that reason that they arrived at the decision to immediately begin design of a new tank that would combine the basic qualities of the T-64 with the traditional tank engine: a modification of the same diesel that had been used on the T-34. ...The T-64 embodied all of the progressive ideas that allowed it to be modernized and upgraded through its life." [S. Ptichkin, "Russian Work: an interview with Nikolai Shomin," Krasnaya Zvezda, 22 September 1990].

Production of the T-72 was initially limited to Soviet Army use. In general, the T-64A was deployed with the front-line units with Group of Soviet Forces-Germany, while the T-72 was deployed in the second echelon with the Groups of Forces in the Warsaw Pact countries, and in the western Soviet military districts.

A final batch of upgraded T-72 tanks was supplied in late 2015 to the armed forces by Russias flagship tank and fighting vehicles maker Ualvagonzavod. The souped-up version of the Soviet-designed main battle tank that entered production in 1971 is claimed to be "virtually invulnerable" now, boasting ballistic add-on armor protection against RPGs, as well as an automatic fire detection and explosion suppression system. Thermal gunner night sights are available, which allow night launches of ATGMs. The list of upgrades also includes a more powerful engine, better overall protection, a better gun and a modern multichannel ginner sight all bringing the veteran fighting machine up to par with modern-day armored combat requirements.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2016 21:11:00 ZULU