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T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank

The T-72 is the world’s most commonly deployed main battle tank.

T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank
T-72 Photo by radkuch.13

The T-72 is a Soviet main battle tank produced by Uralvagonzavod in 1972 for the Soviet Army. With the exception of the USSR, the tank was built also in Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.

When did the T-72 come out?

T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank

During a military parade in the Soviet Union’s Red Square on November 7, 1977, the T-72 main battle tank made its first public appearance. It was made in the Soviet Union in 1967.

Why was the T-72 built?

Soviet Union’s desire to carry out large-scale armoured operations in Europe, needed to build a lot of tanks that could be used for surprise attacks. The T-72 was the best fit as it replaced the T-55 as the main Soviet armored force in the late Cold War. In addition to being used by the Soviet Army, it was also used by Poland, Czechoslovakia, and India in South Asia. By 1990, 20,000 T-72s had been made.

Are there any different variations of T-72 tanks?

T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank

The T-72 is also used by many countries to make their own tanks, like the Yugoslav M-84, the Iraqi Lion of Babylon, and the Romanian TR-125.

All of these tanks are based on the T-72.

Even though the first T-72 tank was shipped in 1973, the reliable performance and low price of the tank meant that even though the T-72 tank production line in Russia was shut down in 2006, there were still life extension programs in Russia for use by the country and for export purposes

The more powerful T-64 that lost against the T-72

T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union didn’t plan to make the T-72. Instead, they wanted to make the more powerful T-64 (Object 432 project).

After the Red Army began to use the T-64, the T-64 couldn’t be perfected enough to be used in normal service. The need for a new tank that was more reliable, cheaper, and easy to mass-produce but had the same performance as the T-64 was evident.

The new tank would be used to replace the Soviet old T-55 tanks of the Warsaw Pact allies, keeping the number of armored troops against NATO the same.

The T-64 was made too complicated, and it used a lot of new technologies that were not yet ready to be used.

After the Soviet troops were quickly equipped with the tanks, there were still a lot of problems with them. The soldiers called the mechanical technicians stationed at the T-64 factories “semi-permanent residents.”

T-64 R & D, a competitor to the Ukrainian Kharkiv Machinery Factory, was asked to help improve the T-64. The Ural Locomotive and Rolling Stock Plant in Lower Tagil, Russia, was also asked to help. To make things go according to plan, the Ural Locomotive and Rolling Stock Factory also had to switch to making the T-64A.

But making changes in a complicated situation was not easy. In order to do this, the Ural plant got six small-batch prototypes of the T-64A and asked for changes to the engine and automatic loader.

So, the Ural Locomotive and Rolling Stock Factory in Lower Tagil started making the prototype in 1967.

It was built on the design of the T-64, but the turret was replaced with cast homogeneous steel armour, an automatic loader with a clip structure and horizontally placed sub-packed ammunition, and a 700 horsepower V-12-cylinder V-45 diesel engine replaced the original 5TDF engine.

Many technologies based on the T-64’s design were not ready when the “Project 172” prototype was made.

What was Project 172 that led to T-72?

The project’s chief designer, Leonid Kartsev, realized this after he tried out the prototype. Kartsev came up with a different design idea than Alexander Morozov, who was in charge of the T-64 project and was in charge of the design.

So the Ural Design Bureau used the money it got from improving the “167 Project” prototype (the T-62 tank improved test vehicle with a new walking mechanism that was made in 1961) to make a new tank. It used the techniques learned from that project and the 125 mm smoothbore gun part. So, when they called the project the “172M Project,” they thought it was just an upgraded version of the “172 Project,” but it wasn’t.

The prototype of Project 172 weighed five tons more than the T-64, which added extra weight to the suspension system. The load-bearing capacity was replaced with the walking part from project 167, and the armoured body and transmission of the multi-layer composite structure were taken from the T-64A, and a 780-horsepower V-46 diesel engine was used instead.

The birth of the 172M tank

Many simple designs are used to cut down on the costs and difficulties of making them, like fire control systems and composite armor. There isn’t really a simplified version of the T-64 in the new tank. Instead, it is more like the chassis of the “167 Project” tank is based on the T-64 design, and the “172M” tank, which is the real prototype of the T-72 tank, is based on that design. From 1971 to 1973, the T-72 “Ural” tank was put to the test in Europe, Russia, China, and Siberia, as well as other places.

The reliability of the tank, as well as the tank’s performance, made it a hit with the Soviet General Armament Department.
In 1973, the first batch of T-72 tanks was made at the Ural plant, and the troops began to use them. The T-72 was first shown to a delegation from the French Ministry of Defense in October 1977. It was then unveiled at a military parade in Moscow on November 7, 1977, to mark the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution in the Soviet Union.

How many parts is the T72 tank made up of?

T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank

unit. You can see it through the “V” type wave shield on the upper armor plate in front of the ship’s hull, and it’s made of cast metal.
The body has six 750 mm wide load wheels and three 750 mm wide carrier wheels on each side. It has torsion bar suspension, and each side has three carrier wheels. People who drive cars with diesel engines put them on top of each other horizontally.
They also use planetary mechanical transmissions. Compared to the T-62, the use of an automatic loader cuts down on the space needed for the reloader to reload inside the tank.
This meant that the height of the tank was also cut down.

Is the T-72 tank similar to the T-64?

The T-72 looks a lot like the T-64, but it is very different in nature. The T-72 is simpler and more reliable than the T-64. Many people think that the T-72 isn’t as good as other tanks made in the same time period, but the T-72 has a lot more room for technological improvements.

The T-72 is also more cost-effective than the T-64 or T-80 tanks made in the same time period. With other countries that have been chosen and kept improving, such as new fire control systems and thermal imagers, the improvement of automatic loaders, and even a great change in the turret configuration, armor configuration, and automatic loader design, if the T-72 is given enough advanced technical upgrades, it can reach somewhere near the T-90 capabilities.

t-64
Object 167 By Vitaly V. Kuzmin – CC BY-SA 3.0

The smoothbore gun of the 2A26 and 2A46 series of the T-72s

The main weapon on the T-72 was the 125 mm smoothbore gun of the 2A26 and 2A46 series, which was also used on other Soviet tanks like the T-64 and T-80. This gun could fire shell-piercing shells, armor-piercing shells, and armor-piercing shells. They are fragmented grenades (HE-Frag) that have anti-tank missiles in them.

There is only one model of the T-72 that can launch anti-tank missiles. The previous model, the T-72, did not have the guidance kit needed to launch the missiles.

The 2A26/2A46 series of smoothbore guns use a unique ammunition design for the dispensable combustible cartridge: the grenade and the armor-breaking shell are made up of projectiles and combustible cartridges, and the tail-stabilized shellless armor-piercing shells are made up of a core and a combustible cartridge.

This makes the shells compatible with automatic loaders. By the 2000s, the Ural plant was upgrading and renovating the T-72. The 2A46M automatic loader could handle shells with longer cores, like the 3BM59 and 60.

Can the T-72 tanks fire while moving?

T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank

Because the main gun had a hydraulic biaxial stabilizer, the T-72 could theoretically aim and fire while moving. Because of this, the long-range hit rate of the early T-72 wasn’t great.

In the process of loading the shell, the main gun will move the elevation angle to a certain angle. At this time, because the sight has an independent vertical axis of stability, the shooter can keep aiming at the target while the shell is being loaded.

To achieve vertical automatic adjustment, after the shell is loaded, the main gun elevation angle will move to the same angle as the sight.

When the T-72 first came out, it had a sight that had a camera-mounted optical rangefinder. It had a built-in laser rangefinder in 1975, and it was put in the gun mirror. During the 1980s, the T-72A began to have a fire control system called the 1A40-1.

T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank
Night vision view of U.S. Army Soldiers (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

Does the T-72 have night vision?

Besides the main sight, the T-72 has an active night vision sight that needs an infrared searchlight mounted next to the main gun as a source of light, with an effective range of fewer than 800 meters.

T-72B3 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank
Photo by 270862

How thick is the T-72 armor?

The T-72’s main defense is composite armor, which is sandwiched between two types of steel and has a relatively complete structure for such a low cost. But it isn’t as strong and upgradeable as the modular armor used in Western tanks (large armor blocks that can be replaced with screw bolts on welded turrets).

The original T-72 turret was made of only homogeneous cast steel, with the thickest front of the turret and a layer of fiberglass sandwiched between homogeneous rolled steel plates on the hull. To make it more durable, the T-72A’s turret and the front of its hull were made from composite armor filled with laminated 205 mm fiberglass.

As time went on and German Rheinmetall 120mm smoothbore guns became more common, the sandwich in turret cavities was replaced by an expansion layer made of steel, rubber, elastic elements, and alloy plates that overlapped.

This layer is called non-explosive reactive armor in the West and to make the T-72B’s turret more effective, it had to be made thicker.

This is similar to how the Western Chobham armor worked.

Also, the front of the body was added to the higher-strength BTK-1Sh (code name Sh for electric slag remelting) armored steel, making it even more durable and strong.

After the Lebanese War in 1982, the Soviet Union tried out the M111/DM23 armor-piercing shells from the captured Imperial 105 mm L7 rifled gun.

They found that the bodies of the T-72 and T-80 tanks made in 1978 and 1979 could be penetrated by them, so they added a layer of extra armor that was 16 mm thick to these tanks.

As long as you were far away from it, the front of Iraqi T-72M1 tanks could stand up to the tail-stabilized shell-piercing shells from the 105 mm L7 gun.

In the 1980s, the Soviet Union started making explosive-reactive armor based on the experience of countries in the Middle East that were fighting Israel at the time.

These countries used similar armor to fight Israel.

During the Cold War, Soviet tanks had a lot of “reactive armor” like tiles on them, which made them stand against attacks.

When you first use reactive armor like the Kontakt-1, it has an asymmetrical layer of explosives that protects you from warhead weapons that have been formed.

However, the outer layer of the Contact 1 can be easily detonated by small-caliber weapons, and each piece of reactive armor can only be used once.

During the First Chechen War, a lot of Russian tanks attacked Grozny in the winter of 1994.

T-72 | The History of the most commonly deployed main battle tank
Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev – Mikhail Evstafiev, CC BY-SA 3.0

Many tanks lost their role as defensive anti-tank weapons because of the reactive armor caused by small arms fire. There are a lot of changes in the newer Kontakt-5. The outermost steel plate isn’t blown apart by the detonation of the inner layer of explosives, and the thicker steel makes it more resistant to small-caliber weapons because it is more durable.

It has many layers of steel plates and explosives. When it is hit by a wing-stabilized shell-piercing shell or an anti-tank high-explosive shell, the steel plates and explosives will be inflated by the explosion of the explosives underneath, which will take some of the energy away from the tank armor.

This is in addition to the T-72’s composite and reactive armor.

The T-72 had four-gill side skirts on the side fins of the early T-72 vehicles. These side skirts were often removed, and the T-72A had a more durable rubber side skirt coated with steel to protect the body from anti-armor weapons.

The Type 902 “Tucha” smoke bomb launcher has been on the T-72 tank since the T-72A, and it can fire smoke bombs to hide the tank’s location.

The new smoke bomb can also block infrared or laser light, making it harder for the enemy to see with a thermal imager or fire laser-guided missiles at the tank.

In 2006, Russia showed off the T-72BM with the Nakidka camouflage kit, which can reduce the thermal signal the tank emits and the reflection of radar waves, making the tank less likely to be seen by thermal imagers or radars.

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