Russia's T-72 Main Battle Tank: Why It Might Still Be the Best on Earth

T-72 Main Battle Tank Firing
May 16, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineWar In UkrainePutinRussian MilitaryT-72B3M

Russia's T-72 Main Battle Tank: Why It Might Still Be the Best on Earth

Russia's T-72 main battle tank, a Soviet-era staple, has been modernized to the T-72BM3 variant to counter Western tanks in Ukraine.

Summary: Russia's T-72 main battle tank, a Soviet-era staple, has been modernized to the T-72BM3 variant to counter Western tanks in Ukraine. Introduced in 2017, the T-72BM3 offers enhancements like the 2A46M-5-01 smoothbore cannon, advanced optical gear, and Relikt passive dynamic protection, making it cheaper yet highly effective compared to the T-90 and T-14 Armata.

T-72

Key Points 

-With over 120 units delivered to Belarus in 2020 and more being upgraded, the T-72BM3 is set to play a critical role in Russia's efforts to quickly resolve the Ukraine conflict.

-These tanks exemplify Russia's strategy of using cost-effective, easily maintainable, and mass-producible armored vehicles in warfare.

T-72 Tanks: Russia's Upgrade Strategy in Ukraine

As I have written in these pages previously, Russia’s T-72 Main Battle Tank (MBT) may be the best tank in the world. It has been in service since the Soviet era. There are multiple iterations of this vehicle. The T-72 is operated by multiple countries, making it a highly valuable commodity for the Russians. 

One such upgrade began in 2014. This upgrade was going to take the T-72s into the next half century technologically. Russia’s goal was to basically make a tank that was comparable technologically to the T-90 MBT, but at a cheaper price. 

Known as the T-72MB3, the first units of this upgraded platform were placed into the Russian Western and Southern military command districts back in 2017. Another 120 units were delivered to longtime Russia ally and neighbor, Belarus, in 2020. 

Today, as the Ukraine War rages and the Western nations of NATO keep pouring increasing numbers of armored systems—notably the German Leopard-2 and US Abrams tanks—into the conflict against Russia, the Russians have decided to take matters into their own hands. You see, the T-72s that are not the upgraded form have managed to put up a fight in Ukraine. But many of them have been destroyed. 

T-72

Meanwhile, the more advanced and expensive T-90 MBTs have had an abysmal showing in combat for the Russians. Meanwhile, the vaunted T-14 Armata is such a sensitive and expensive system, that the Russians pulled this next-generation MBT from the battlefield entirely.

To combat the increasing threat of Western tanks in Ukraine, the Russians have gone full bore with their T-72MB3 modernization drive. That’s because, even with all their upgrades, the T-72MB3 is still cheaper than either the T-90 or the T-14. At the same time, it’s more effective than the original T-72 platform. 

Thus, the T-72MB3 is mass producible, easy to maintain, highly effective in combat, and can easily swarm its enemies that will likely be deploying more complicated, fewer in number, and more difficult to replace tanks against their forces.

Cheap and easy usually wins the race—especially in warfare. The Russians have cracked that particular code. The Americans and their allies, sadly, seem to be going the other way. At some point, these poor choices will catch up to the West. Maybe they already are in Ukraine.

Last month, the Russians released an interesting video of their older T-72s coming into the factory for upgrading to the MB3 variant. The older platform’s cannon is removed and replaced by a new 2A46M-5-01 smoothbore cannon with an enhanced stabilization system. New optical gear along with a Relikt passive dynamic protection system is installed, making the newer T-72MB3 a truly fearsome force. 

T-72

An upgraded turret, protective side screens, and an 1130-horsepower V-92S2F engine are all installed. Further modifications are made to the tank’s track. This is likely an engineering response to negative experiences of T-72 tank crews enduring the terrible mud of Ukraine’s blood-soaked battlefields. 

Reports have already propagated from the frontlines that the T-72BMs have been seen prowling around in southern Ukraine. With the new Russian offensive underway, it is likely that these units will be pressed into frontline combat. The Russian government likely wants to resolve the war as quickly as possible in the next year. So, they will need every unit available to serve. 

The T-72BM is going to be seeing much action over the next several months.

Contrary to reports, Russia is neither dead nor has the ancient nation lost the Ukraine War. Just the opposite, sadly. The advent of the T-72BM is another example of how wrong those prognostications from Western elites were.

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, the Asia Times, and The-Pipeline. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. His next book, A Disaster of Our Own Making: How the West Lost Ukraine, is due October 22 from Encounter Books. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.