In 2016 Moscow announced that it would upgrade its aging fleet of T-72 main battle tanks (MBT). A total of 248 older T-72B models have been upgraded to the T-72B3M standard to date. An undisclosed number of those modernized tanks are now stationed at the Russian Army’s 201st Military Base in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Originally raised twice in World War II as a base for the Soviet Red Army, the military base is now under the command of the Central Military District of the Russian Ground Forces and is home to the 201st Motor Rifle Division.
It is Russia’s largest military facility outside of its national borders, and it comprises motor rifle, armored, artillery and reconnaissance units, air defense forces, radiation, chemical and biological protection and signal troops. Under an agreement signed in October 2012, Russia's military base in Tajikistan will remain operational until at least 2042.
Upgraded Tanks Arrived
This week troops stationed in Tajikistan held an official ceremony for the handing over of the newly delivered T-72B3M tanks to crews of the historic unit. Those recently upgraded tanks will next take part in forty diverse drills, according to the press office of Russia's Central Military District.
The Central Military District also reported earlier this week that a batch of advanced T-72B3M main battle tanks with improved combat properties had been deployed to the base.
“In the winter training period, the Russian tank crews will be retrained to operate new combat hardware and hold driving and firing classes,” the press office said in a statement, as reported by TASS. “The new tanks are also scheduled to participate in at least 40 diverse drills, in particular, with other units of the military facility.”
Central Military District Commander Colonel-General Alexander Lapin had previously said that three motor rifle battalions of the 201st military base had been rearmed with new combat hardware.
The T-72B3M Upgraded Yet Outdated
The overall layout of the T-72B3M is essentially identical to that of the standard T-72, and that includes a driver’s cab at forward hull, the fighting compartment in the center and the tank’s power-pack at the rear. The modernized MBT is manned by a crew of three, which includes a driver, a commander and a gunner—with the driver located in the middle section, and the other two crew members in the turret.
The T-72B3M features an advanced fire control system along with a new thermal sight, while the mobility and combat characteristics of the Russian MBT have also been improved. It is equipped with radio systems for encrypted digital voice and data transfer, snorkels for deep fording, and a built-in blade for self-entrenching.
The Russian tank is armed with a 2A46M5 125-millimeter smoothbore gun, an advanced version of the 2A46M cannon. That main gun can fire a range of ammunition, including armor-piercing discarding sabot (APDS), high-explosive fragmentation (HEF) and high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT), as well as 9M119 Refleks (NATO codename: AT-11 Sniper) guided anti-tank missiles. The MBT can utilize the Russian-made AT-11 Sniper missile, which has a maximum range of four thousand meters and can engage tanks fitted with explosive reactive armor. As with other late-Soviet-era tanks, the T-72 was designed with an autoloader.
The secondary armament of the T-72B3M includes a co-axial 7.62-millimeter PKTM machine gun and a roof-mounted 12.7-millimeter NSV heavy machine gun, while the turret is equipped with a bank of eight smoke grenade dischargers.
The original 840 horsepower engine has been replaced with a V-92S2F diesel engine, which provides 1,130 horsepower—making it faster than its processor, while its tracks have also been replaced. The upgraded tank has been equipped with Relikt explosive reactive armor (ERA), which replaced the previous Kontakt-5 second-generation ERA. The new armor reportedly offers superior protection against shaped charges, tandem warheads, APFSDS rounds, anti-tank guided missiles, as well as low-velocity and high-velocity missiles. The tank is further equipped with a built-in blade for self-entrenching and reportedly can prepare a defensive entrenchment ranging from twelve to forty minutes depending on the ground type.
Yet, despite all of the improvements, most analysts would agree that the Russian T-72B3M is certainly outmatched by more modern tanks. The biggest advantage Russia may have is that it still operates a lot of these tanks—and strength in numbers has been proven to be an advantage time and time again in tank warfare.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.