||Main battle tank
|Place of origin
||Leonid Kartsev-Valeri Venediktov
||30,962,000–61,924,000 rubles (US$1–2 million) (in 2009)
||41.5 tonnes (45.7 short tons)
||9.53 m (31 ft 3 in) gun forward
6.95 m (22 ft 10 in) hull
||3.59 m (11 ft 9 in)
||2.23 m (7 ft 4 in)
||steel and composite armour
|125 mm 2A46M smoothbore gun
- 7.62 mm PKT coax machine gun
- 12.7 mm NSVT antiaircraft machine gun
780 hp (582 kw)
||Synchromesh, hydraulically assisted, with 7 forward and 1 reverse gears.
||0.49 m (19 in)
||1,200 L (320 U.S. gal; 260 imp gal)
|460 km (290 mi), 700 km (430 mi) with fuel drums
||60 km/h (37 mph)
The T-72 is a Soviet second-generation main battle tank that entered production in 1970. It was developed directly from Obyekt-172, and shares parallel features with the T-64A. The T-72 was one of the most widely produced post–World War II tanks, second only to the T-54/55 family, and the basic design has also been further developed as the T-90.
While the T-64 was perhaps the world's most advanced battle tank design when introduced, it was too expensive to issue to all the Soviet tank armies, let alone Warsaw Pact (WARPAC) allies. Therefore the parallel development of a so-called "mobilization model" was ordered, while T-64 development and production continued.
An "economy" tank with the old design V-46 powerplant was developed from 1967 at the Uralvagonzavod Factory located in Nizhny Tagil. Chief engineer Leonid Kartsev created "Object 172", the initial design, but the prototype, marked "Object 172M", was refined and finished by Valeri Venediktov. Field trials lasted from 1971 to 1973 and upon acceptance the Chelyabinsk Tank factory immediately ceased T-55 and T-62 production to retool for the new T-72 tank.
At least some technical documentation on the T-72 is known to have been passed to the CIA by the Polish Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski between 1971 and 1982.
The T-72 was the most common tank used by the Warsaw Pact from the 1970s to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was also exported to other countries, such as Finland, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yugoslavia, as well as being copied elsewhere, both with and without licenses.
Licenced versions of the T-72 were made in Poland and Czechoslovakia, for WARPAC consumers. These tanks had better and more consistent quality of make but with inferior armour, lacking the resin-embedded ceramics layer inside the turret front and glacis armour, replaced with all steel. The Polish-made T-72G tanks also had thinner armour compared to Soviet Army standard (410 mm for turret). Before 1990, Soviet-made T-72 export versions were similarly downgraded for non-WARPAC customers (mostly the Arab countries). Many parts and tools are not interchangeable between the Russian, Polish and Czechoslovakian versions, which caused logistical problems.
Yugoslavia developed the T-72 into the more advanced M-84, and sold hundreds of them around the world during the 1980s. The Iraqis called their T-72 copies the "Lion of Babylon" (Asad Babil). These Iraqi tanks were assembled from "spare parts" sold to them by Russia as a means of evading the UN-imposed weapons embargo. More modern derivatives include the Polish PT-91 Twardy and Russian T-90. Several countries, including Russia and Ukraine, also offer modernization packages for older T-72s.
Various versions of the T-72 have been in production for decades, and the specifications for its armour have changed considerably. Original T-72 tanks had homogeneous cast steel armour incorporating spaced armour technology and were moderately well protected by the standards of the early 1970s. In 1979, the Soviets began building T-72 modification with composite armour similar to the T-64 composite armour, in the front of the turret and the front of the hull. Late in the 1980s, T-72 tanks in Soviet inventory (and many of those elsewhere in the world as well) were fitted with reactive armour tiles.
Laser rangefinders appear in T-72 tanks since 1978; earlier examples were equipped with parallax optical rangefinders, which could not be used for distances under 1,000 metres (1,100 yd). Some export versions of the T-72 lacked the laser rangefinder until 1985 or only the squadron and platoon commander tanks (version K) received them. After 1985, all newly made T-72s came with reactive armour as standard, the more powerful 840 bhp (630 kW) V-84 engine and an upgraded design main gun, which can fire guided anti-tank missiles from the barrel. With these developments the T-72 eventually became almost as powerful as the more expensive T-80 tank, but few of these late variants reached the economically ailing WARPAC allies and foreign customers before the Soviet bloc fell apart in 1990.
Since 2000, export vehicles have been offered with thermal imaging night-vision gear of French manufacture as well (though it may be more likely that they might simply use the locally manufactured 'Buran-Catherine' system, which incorporates a French thermal imager). Depleted uranium armour-piercing ammunition for the 125 mm (4.9 in) gun has been manufactured in Russia in the form of the BM-32 projectile since around 1978, though it has never been deployed, and is less penetrating than the later tungsten BM-42 and the newer BM-42M.
Main models of the T-72, built in the Soviet Union and Russia. Command tanks have K added to their designation for komandirskiy, ‘command’, for example T-72K is the command version of the basic T-72. Versions with reactive armour have V added, for vzryvnoy, ‘explosive’.
- T-72 Ural (1973)
- Original version, armed with 125 mm smoothbore tank gun and optical coincidence rangefinder.
- T-72A (1979)
- Added laser rangefinder and electronic fire control, turret front and top being heavily reinforced with composite armour (nicknamed Dolly Parton by US intelligence), provisions for mounting reactive armor, smoke grenade launchers, flipper armour mount on front mudguards, internal changes.
- Export "Monkey model" version, similar to T-72A but lacking composite armour and with downgraded weapon systems, such as a lack of fire-control systems. Also built in Poland and former Czechoslovakia
- T-72 SIM1
- Increased implementation of K-1 reactive and K-5 passive armor. New FALCON command and control system, GPS navigation system and Polish SKO-1T DRAWA-T fire control system with thermal imager and laser rangefinder (from PT-91 Twardy). It has also a friend-or-foe recognition system.
- T-72B (1985)
- New main gun, stabilizer, sights, and fire control, capable of firing 9M119 Svir guided missile, additional armour including 20 mm (0.8 in) of appliqué armour in the front of hull, improved 840 hp (630 kW) engine.
- T-90 (1995)
- Modernization of the T-72, incorporating technical features of the heavier, more complex T-80. Originally to have been named the T-72BU, before being referred to as the "T-90".
The T-72 design has been further developed into the following new models: Lion of Babylon tank (Iraq), M-84 (Yugoslavia), M-95 Degman (Croatia), M-2001 (Serbia), PT-91 Twardy (Poland), T-90 (Russia), Tank EX (India), and TR-125 (Romania).
T-72 on a wheeled tank transporter. The engine exhaust port is visible on the left side. This tank has additional fuel drums on rear brackets.
Operators and variants
The T-72 hull has been used as the basis for other heavy vehicle designs, including the following:
- BMPT – Heavy convoy and close tank support vehicle.
- TOS-1 – Thermobaric rocket launcher, with 30-tube launcher in place of the turret.
- BREM-1 (Bronirovannaya Remonto-Evakuatsionnaya Mashina) – Armoured recovery vehicle with a 12-tonne crane, 25-tonne winch, dozer blade, towing equipment, and tools.
- IMR-2 (Inzhenernaya Mashina Razgrashdeniya) – Combat engineering vehicle with an 11-tonne telescoping crane and pincers, configurable dozer blade/plough, and mine-clearing system.
- MTU-72 (Tankovyy Mostoukladchik) – Armoured bridge layer, capable of laying a 50 t (55 short tons) capacity bridge spanning 18 m (59 ft) in three minutes.
The T-72 shares many design features with other tank designs of Soviet origin. Some of these are viewed as deficiencies in a straight comparison to NATO tanks, but most are a product of the way these tanks were envisioned to be employed, based on the Soviets' practical experiences in World War II.
The T-72 is extremely lightweight, at forty-one tonnes, and very small compared to Western main battle tanks. Some of the roads and bridges in former Warsaw Pact countries were designed such that T-72s can travel along in formation, but NATO tanks could not pass at all, or just one-by-one, significantly reducing their mobility. The basic T-72 is relatively underpowered, with a 780 hp (580 kW) supercharged version of the basic 500 hp (370 kW) V-12 diesel engine block originally designed for the World War II-era T-34. The 0.58 m (1 ft 11 in) wide tracks run on large-diameter road wheels, which allows for easy identification of the T-72 and descendants (the T-64/80 family has relatively small road wheels).
The T-72 is designed to cross rivers up to 5 m (16.4 ft) deep submerged using a small diameter snorkel assembled on-site. The crew is individually supplied with a simple rebreather chest-pack apparatus for emergency situations. If the engine stops underwater, it must be restarted within six seconds, or the T-72's engine compartment becomes flooded due to pressure loss. The snorkeling procedure is considered dangerous but is important for maintaining operational mobility.