The Russian T-72 main battle tank was produced at the Malyshev HMB Plant in Kharkov, Ukraine, and at UKBM Nizhny Tagil, Russian Federation and produced under licence in a number of countries. The T-72 first entered production in 1972 and an estimated 50,000 have been built.
The T-72 has been exported to Algeria, Bulgaria, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, Hungary, India, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Syria and Yugoslavia.
Hungary donated 77 T-72 tanks to the Government of Iraq in November 2005. As of 2009, the Iraqi Government was planning to purchase 2,000 T-72 tanks along with the modernisation of the T-72S tanks and Venezuela was planning to purchase 92 Russian T-72 tanks.
The T-72A main battle tank was in production until 1985, along with export versions T-72M and T-72M1. The T-72B entered production in 1985. The export version of the T-72B, the T-72S has a new engine and suspension system and is configured for mounting explosive reactive armour (ERA).
T-72S main battle tank armament
The tank is fitted with a 125mm D-81 smoothbore gun, a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and a 12.7mm air defence machine gun mounted on the commander’s cupola. The T-72S carries 45 rounds of 125mm ammunition, 22 rounds of which are carried on an automatic loading carousel.
The gun fires separate loading armour-piercing discarding sabot rounds (APDS), high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds and high-explosive fragmentation (HE-FRAG) projectiles. Fire accuracy is attained by a laser rangefinder sight, ballistic computer and a thermal barrel sleeve. Dual-axis stabilisation ensures effective firing on the move.
The tank’s anti-armour missile system is the 9K120 Svir (Nato codename AT-11 Sniper), designed by the KBP Instrument Design Bureau, Tula.
The system is intended to engage tanks fitted with ERA as well as low-flying air targets. It has a range of 100m to 4,000m and firing requires the tank to be stationary.
The system’s 9M119 missile has semi-automatic laser beamriding guidance. The gun’s automatic loader will feed both ordnance and missiles.
The hull and turret are protected by armour plating, including combined armour arrays over the frontal arc. Since 1988, ERA has been fitted. The running gear is protected by gill-type armour panels.
A smokescreen can be laid by the 902B Tucha smoke discharging system or by an exhaust smoke-laying system.
T-72SK command tank
The T-72SK tank is intended to command and control a number of tank units and maintain communication with the brigade commander. It features an additional AB-1-P/30-Ml-U benzene powered electrical generator to supply electricity when the main powerplant is not operating.
The tank is also equipped with additional communication systems including R-713 radio, R-173P radio-receiver, HF R-134 radio set, R-174 intercom system and TNA-4-3 tank navigation aids.
T-72 main battle tank upgrades
A number of upgrade packages are available for T-72 series tanks. Kharkov Machine Building Design Bureau (KMDB) of the Ukraine is offering the T-72MP with SAGEM SAVAN sights. They are also developing a version fitted with a Nato-standard 120mm smoothbore gun and automatic loader.
Uralvagonzavod of Russia is offering a T-72M1 upgrade that includes new 1,000hp diesel engine, new smoothbore 125mm gun, new fire control system with Sosna-U stabilised day / night sights for gunner and commander and digital ballistic computer, satellite navigation system, explosive reactive armour package and the Arena countermeasures system.
The Czech Republic has upgraded 30 of its fleet of T-72M1 tanks to T-72CZ standard. The first was delivered in January 2004. The upgrade includes ERA, Galileo Avionica TURMS-T computerised fire control system and a new powerpack by NIMDA of Israel with Perkins CV12 engine rated at 1,000bhp and Allison automatic transmission. ZTS Dubnica of Slovenia offer an upgrade for T-72 Moderna tanks.
In June 2002, Polish company Obrum signed a contract with Rheinmetall Landysysteme of Germany to cooperate on the modernisation of Polish Army T-72 tanks, using Leopard 2 technology.
In January 2010, Russia signed a €1.3bn military cooperation deal with Libya to upgrade 200 T-72 tanks of the Libyan Army.
In July 2019, the Polish Ministry of Defence signed a zl1.75bn ($458.13m) agreement with PGZ consortium for the upgrade of T-72 tank fleet by 2025.In August 2020, Iran unveiled the upgraded T-72M1 battle tank which features modified turret, flat armour on the side of the turret and a simplified forward-opening hatch.
A number of companies offer systems to upgrade the fire control system of T-72 series tanks with thermal imaging capability.
These include: SATES from El-Op of Israel, MT-01 from Indra of Spain, TFCS3-72C from Fotona of Slovenia, Tiger from LIW of South Africa, Drawa-T from PCO of Poland and Sanoet-2 from SAGEM of France.
The main battle tank is equipped with a V-84 liquid-cooled four-stroke multi-fuel diesel engine which develops 618kW (840hp), providing a power-to-weight ratio of 13.8kW/t, planetary transmission with hydraulic servo-control system, running gear with RMSH track and torsion bar suspension with hydraulic shock absorbers.
The tank has a road speed of 60km/h and 35km/h on dry earth roads. The range on roads with main fuel tanks is 500km. The tank can negotiate fording depths to 1.2m without preparation and snorkels can be fitted for fording to a depth of 5m.