T-72: The Old Russian Tank That Just Keeps Getting Better
The Soviet-designed T-72 main battle tank (MBT) first entered production in 1971, and it entered service two years later. More than 20,000 of the tanks have been built—and it has seen use in numerous conflicts beginning with the Iran-Iraq War and remains in service today. The modified T-72A, which was introduced in 1979, was considered a second-generation MBT, and it was widely exported. The T-72B3 version, which was first introduced in 2010, has improved so much upon the original design that it is now considered a third-generation MBT and with these enhancements, it could remain in service for years to come.
Tass reported this month that the latest batch of upgraded T-72B3 MBTs have been deployed to Russian troops.
“Uralvagonzavod (part of the state corporation Rostec) has dispatched a batch of upgraded T-72B3 tanks to the Defense Ministry of Russia,” the press office of Uralvagonzavod defense manufacturer announced.
According to the defense contractor, the T-72B3 tanks have received a number of significant upgrades. The work was carried out under a defense procurement plan, which envisaged that the tanks from the repair stock would undergo major overhauls and upgrades.
“The combat vehicles have received a new powerful engine, an advanced fire control system, a rear view camera and the driver mechanic’s display complex,” the company added. “While developing the T-72 tank, specialists integrated substantial upgrade potential that is being actively used today. The upgrade has covered actually all the systems, improving the vehicles’ maneuverability and increasing their firepower and protection, including the armor shield.”
The newly upgraded MBTs have received an improved fire control system with an automatic target tracker. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has previously stated that the upgrades were considered following the International Army Games in August. Tank specialists proposed some technical solutions that could further boost the Cold War era tank’s efficiency and reliability. The Defense Minister has said that with these improvements the modified T-72B3M could “outshine foreign rivals.”
Even as Russia has announced plans for the T-14 Armata to enter service later this year or possibly early next year, it will upgrade all of its operational T-72 tanks, which will allow them to remain in service.
What is notable about the longevity of the T-72 is that it actually entered life as a cheaper alternative to the T-64, which, while ambitious, proved to be too overly complicated, and as a result utterly unreliable. The T-72, which was first deployed to the Soviet Red Army in 1973, was still quite advanced for the time. Its 125mm smoothbore cannon was fed by an autoloader instead of a human loader, and that enabled the crew to be reduced to three instead of the usual four in modern tanks.
The T-72B entered service in 1985 and incorporated many features from the new T-80, including a laser rangefinder and thicker armor. Now with the T-72B3M the tank that entered service when Richard Nixon was in the White House and Leonid Brezhnev was in the Kremlin is ready for twenty-first-century challenges.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.