T-64 Main Battle Tank

T-64 Main Battle Tank

T-64 Main Battle Tank

The T-64 entered production in 1966 and was first seen in public in 1970. It was a landmark in post-war Soviet tank design. It incorporated new armour (including ceramic materials), the new 125mm D-181 smoothbore gun with an autoloader enabling the crew to be reduced to three (commander, driver and gunner) and an advanced powerpack (5DTF 5 cylinder opposed piston, liquid cooled diesel developing 700hp). It also had new suspension and synchromesh hydraulically assisted transmission with a set of six road wheels with an idler at the front. The price of this innovative deign was a decrease in its reliability, ease of maintenance and availability due in part to the unreliability of the engine which tended to overheat regularly. Early pre-production versions used the same armament as the T-62 (115mm smoothbore) but the tank quickly adopted the 125mm smoothbore gun with a rotating carousel holding 24 ready to use projectiles and can be elevated to +14 degrees and depressed to -6 degrees. Later models (such as the T-64BV) have had reactive armour modules added to them to assist in defending against HEAT rounds, and a laser rangefinder as well as the ability to fire the AT-8 Songster missile (the T-64B which came into service in 1984). While the T-64 remains in service with the Russian Federation and Ukraine, its innovative design meant that it had just too many untried components in one vehicle and while over 8,000 tanks were produced, none were exported.

(T-64B) Hull length: 7.4m. Hull width: 4.64m (with skirts). Height: 2.2m. Crew: 3. Weight: 39,500kg (combat) Ground Clearance: 0.38m. Ground pressure: 0.86kg/sq.cm Max speed: 75km/h. Max range (internal fuel): 400km on road. Armament: 125mm smoothbore main gun, 1 x 7.62mm MG coaxial, 1 x 12.7mm anti-aircraft MG.

Haywood, Lyn. 'The Development of the T-64 MBT' in Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review, March 1989, pp. 119 - 122.
Scneider, Wolfgang. 'From the T-64 to the T-80' in International Defence Review, June 1987, pp. 745 - 750.
Schneider, Wolfgang. 'T-64 update' in International Defence Review, September 1989, pp. 1145 - 1146.
Zaloga, Steven. T-64 and T-80, 1992, 1st Edition, Concord Publications, Hong Kong.

T-64 Main Battle Tank - History

Initially, problems were encountered with a number of T-64 components, which resulted in the T-64 not being considered a satisfactory design.

The T-64 has an all-welded hull divided into three main compartments with the driver at the front, fighting compartment in the center, and the engine and transmission at the rear.

  • Six small evenly-spaced dual road wheels on each side with the drive sprocket at the rear, idler at the front and four return rollers. A hydraulic shock absorber is also provided at the first, second, fifth and sixth road wheel stations.
  • A sharply-sloped upper glacis with V-shaped water and debris deflector.
  • Ammunition/storage boxes on the turret sides.
  • Optional drum-type fuel tanks that can be fitted.
  • An infrared searchlight mounted on the left side of the main armament.
  • Integrated fuel cells and storage containers that give a streamlined appearance to the fenders.
  • Two snorkel types for deep fording, one fitted to the turret and the other over the engine compartment. The snorkels are carried on the top of the turret at the rear.

The tank remained secret for a lang time, the Wast eften confused wi the less-evolved T-72 tank. The T-64 wis never exportit as the technology wis , an haes seen anly leemitit combat experience—in the campaigns against Chechen separatists.

The T-64 first entered service in 1967 wi the 41st Guards Tank Diveesion in the Kiev Militar Destrict, [2] the suggestion bein that this wis prudent due tae the proximity o the diveesion tae the factory, an signeeficant teethin problems durin induction intae service that required constant presence o factory support personnel wi the diveesion durin acceptance an initial crew an service personnel trainin on the new type.

T-64s belangin tae the 59t Guards Motor Rifle Diveesion in Moldovae deployed in combat in Mey 1992, this bein the first combat deployment o the tank. [3]

The USSR deployed it wi its heich-readiness units, independent tank regiments, an diveesions based in the GDR an Hungary, an an aa in mony lawer-readiness units.

Production history

Different sources differ on the initial production date of the tank that is set between 1963 and 1967. However it is normally agreed that the T-64 formally entered service with the army in 1967 and publicly revealed in 1970. [11] [12] The T-64 was KMDB's high-technology offering, intended to replace the IS-3 and T-10 heavy tanks in independent tank battalions. Meanwhile, the T-72 was intended to supersede the T-55 and T-62 in equipping the bulk of the Soviet tank and mechanized forces, as well as for export partners and east-bloc satellite states.

It introduced a new autoloader, which is still used on all T-64s currently in service, as well as all variants of the T-80 except the Ukrainian T-84-120. The T-64 prototypes had the same 115 mm smoothbore gun as the T-62, the ones put in full-scale production had the 125 mm gun.

While the T-64 was the superior tank, it was more expensive and physically complex, and was produced in smaller numbers. The T-72 is mechanically simpler and easier to service in the field, while it is not as well protected, and its manufacturing process is correspondingly simpler. In light of Soviet doctrine, the superior T-64s were kept ready and reserved for the most important mission: a potential outbreak of a war in Europe.

In Soviet times, T-64 was mostly in service with units stationed in East Germany. No T-64s were exported. Many T-64s ended up in Russian and Ukrainian service after the breakup of the Soviet Union.


  • Ob'yekt 430 (1957) – Prototype with D-10T 100-mm gun, 120 mm armour, 4TPD 580 hp (427 kW) engine, 36 tonnes.
  • Ob'yekt 430U – Project, equipped with a 122-mm gun and 160 mm of armour.
  • T-64 or Ob'yekt 432 (1961) – Prototype with a D-68 115-mm gun, then initial production version with the same features, about 600 tanks produced.
  • T-64R (remontirniy, rebuilt) [13] or Ob'yekt 432R – Redesigned between 1977 and 1981 with external gear from the T-64A but still with the 115-mm gun.
  • T-64A or Ob'yekt 434 – 125-mm gun, "gill" armour skirts, a modified sight, and suspension on the fourth road wheel.
  • T-64T (1963) – Experimental version with a GTD-3TL 700 hp (515 kW) gas turbine.
  • Ob'yekt 436 – Alternative version of Ob'yekt 432 with a V-45 engine. Three built.
  • Ob'yekt 438 and Ob'yekt 439 – Ob'yekt 434 with V-45 diesel engine.
  • T-64AK or Ob'yekt 446 (1972) – Command version, with a R-130M radio and its 10 m (33 ft) telescoping antenna, a TNA-3 navigation system, without antiarcraft machine gun, carrying 38 rounds of main gun ammunition.
  • Ob'yekt 447 – Prototype of the T-64B. Basically a T-64A fitted with the 9K112 "Kobra" system and a1G21 gunsight. This is the "T-64A" displayed in the Kiev museum.
  • T-64B or Ob'yekt 447A (1976) – Fitted with redesigned armour, 1A33 fire control system, 9K112-1 "Kobra" ATGM system (NATO code "AT-8 Songster"), TPN-1-49-23 sight, 2A46-2 gun, 2E26M stabiliser and 6ETs40 loader. Later B/BV models have more modern systems 1A33-1, TPN-3-49, 2E42 and a 2A46M-1 gun. From 1985 the T-64B was fitted with stronger glacis armour older tanks were upgraded with a 16-mm armour plate. Tanks, equipped with the 1,000 hp 6DT engine are known as T-64BM.
  • T-64BV – Features "Kontakt-1" reactive armour and "Tucha" 81-mm smoke grenade launchers on the left of the turret.
  • T-64BM2 or Ob'yekt 447AM-2 – "Kontakt-5" reactive armour, rubber protection skirts, 1A43U fire control, 6ETs43 loader and able to fire the 9K119 missile (NATO code "AT-11A Sniper"), 5TDFM 850 hp (625 kW) engine.
  • T-64U, BM Bulat, or Ob'yekt 447AM-1 – Ukrainian modernisation, bringing the T-64B to the standard of the T-84. Fitted with "Nozh" reactive armour, 9K120 "Refleks" missile (NATO code "AT-11 Sniper"), 1A45 "Irtysh" fire control, TKN-4S commander's sight, PZU-7 antiaircraft machine-gun sight, TPN-4E "Buran-E" night vision, 6TDF 1,000-hp (735 kW) engine.
  • T-64B1 or Ob'yekt 437 – Same as the B without the fire control system, carrying 37 shells.
  • T-64B1M – T-64Ba equipped with the 1,000-hp 6DT engine.
  • T-64BK and T-64B1K or Ob'yekt 446B – Command versions, with an R-130M radio and its 10-m telescoping antenna, a TNA-3 navigation system and AB-1P/30 APU, without antiaircraft machine gun, carrying 28 shells.
  • Obyekt 476 – Five prototypes with the 6TDF engine, prototypes for T-80UD development.
  • BREM-64 or Ob'yekt 447T – Armoured recovery vehicle with a light 2.5-tonne crane, dozer blade, tow bars, welding equipment, etc. Only a small number was built.
  • T-55-64 – Heavily upgraded T-55 with the complete hull and chassis of the T-64, fitted with "Kontakt-1" ERA. Prototype.
  • T-80 and T-84 – further developments of the T-64.


  • 1977–1981 – brought to the T-64R standard, reorganisation of external equipment as on the T-64A.
  • 1972 redesign, fire control improvement (TPD-2-49 and TPN-1-49-23), inclusion of the NSVT machine gun on an electrical turret, R-123M radio.
  • 1975 redesign, new 2E28M stabiliser, 6ETs10M loader, multi-fuel engine, 2A46-1 gun and TNPA-65 night vision.
  • 1981 redesign, two sets of six 902A smoke grenade launchers, rubber skirts on the suspension instead of the Gill protection.
  • 1983 T-64AM,T-64AKM, some tanks were equipped with the 6TDF engine during maintenance.
  • 1981 redesign, 2 sets of four 902B2 smoke grenade launchers, 2A26M1 gun.
  • 1983 T-64BM,T-64B1M,T-64BMK and T-64B1MK: some tanks were equipped with the 6TDF engine during maintenance.
  • 1985 T-64BV,T-64BV1,T-64BVK and T-64BV1K: with "Kontakt" reactive armour, smoke grenade launchers on the left of the turret.
  • BM Bulat – T-64 modernization by the Malyshev Factory in Ukraine (see above). [9][10]


  • BMPV-64 – Heavy infantry fighting vehicle, based on the chassis of the T-64 but with a completely redesigned hull with a single entry hatch in the rear. Armament consists of a remote-controlled 30-mm gun. Combat weight is 34.5 tons. The first prototype was ready in 2005. [14]
  • BTRV-64 – Similar APC version. [14]
  • UMBP-64 – Modified version that will serve as the basis for several (planned) specialized vehicles, including a fire support vehicle, an ambulance and an air-defence vehicle.
  • BMPT-K-64 – This variant is not tracked but has a new suspension with 4 axles, similar to the Soviet BTR series. The vehicle is powered by a 5TDF-A/700 engine and has a combat weight of 17.7 tons. It is fitted with a RCWS and can transport 3+8 men. Prototype only.
  • BAT-2 – Fast combat engineering vehicle with the engine, lower hull and "small roadwheels" suspension of the T-64. [15] The 40-ton tractor sports a very large, all axis adjustable V-shaped hydraulic dozer blade at the front, a single soil ripper spike at the rear and a 2-ton crane on the top. The crew compartment holds 8 persons (driver, commander, radio operators plus a five-man sapper squad for dismounted tasks). The highly capable BAT-2 was designed to replace the old T-54/AT-T based BAT-M, but WARPAC allies received only small numbers due to its high price and the old and new vehicles served alongside during the late Cold War.
  • UMR-64 – Ukrainian development using surplus T-64s to create a Heavy APC/IFV design, which in turn is intended as the basis of a new family of combat and support vehicles. The basic conversion includes moving the engine compartment forward, and at the same time removing the turret and normal crew compartment. This allows the installation of any one of 15 different 'functional modules', weighing up to 22 tons. One resulting option is the Heavy IFV, designated BMP-64E, which combines accommodation for up to 10 troops (not including the driver) with a remote weapons system. The Heavy APC version is designated the BTR-64E, and can not only carry more troops (at the cost of the RWS) but comes with large armoured double hatches at the rear for rapid loading and disembarkation. Other options include a universal supplies carrier (UMBP-64), a 'highly secure command and staff car with a weight up to 41 tons', and a 120 mm mortar carrier. The Kharkiv Armor Repair Plant (Zavod 311) is behind the project. [16] Current status of the program is unclear as of early 2014.

T-64 Main Battle Tank - History

The T-64 was a russian MBT (the first ever tank to be officially classified as one), and pioneered many technologies. it was the first armored vehicle to use composite armor, an essencial to today's MBT. It entered service in 1964, and is in service with some armies today (however, most of those aquired them not directly from russia, for it didnt let them in the international market). In 1976, it would come to be the first tank to fire a ATGM, a task accomplished by its autoloader, also the first in service. Although it was so ahead of its time, it had many problems (and is considered a failed design by many), such as engineering complexity, which resulted in breakdowns.

Given its use of composite armor, the T-64's armor goes up to 599mm in some places. It used a 125mm smoothbore gun, a calbre used in russian MBTs up to today. Its contribuition to the improvement of the concept of main battle tank was undeniable, and many of its technologies were implemented on the more modern T-80 MBT.


T-64 Edit

The development of the T-72 was a direct result of the introduction of the T-64 tank. The T-64 (Object 432) was a very ambitious project to build a competitive well-armoured tank with a weight of not more than 36 tons. Under the direction of Alexander Morozov in Kharkiv a new design emerged with the hull reduced to the minimum size possible. To do this, the crew was reduced to three soldiers, removing the loader by introducing an automated loading system. [11]

The much smaller design presented a problem when selecting a suitable engine. [12] This led to the introduction of the 700 hp 5TDF engine, which was unreliable, [13] difficult to repair, and had a guaranteed lifespan similar to World War II designs. [14]

Production of the T-64 with a 115-mm gun began in 1964. Plans for an up-gunned T-64A with a more powerful 125-mm gun had already been made in 1963. [15] Problems with the early production run were evident from the start, but a strong lobby formed around Morozov who advocated for the T-64 in Moscow, preventing rival developments and ideas from being discussed. [16] [17]

Mobilization model Edit

Because of the time-consuming construction of the 5TDF engines, which took about twice as long as the contemporary V-45, the Malyshev Factory in Kharkiv could not provide a sufficient number of 5TDF engines for all Soviet tank factories. [18] This led to efforts at Uralvagonzavod to design a version of the T-64 with the cheaper and much more reliable V-45 engine of 780 hp. This model was only to be serially produced in the event of a war, a so-called "mobilization model".

In 1967, the Uralvagonzavod formed "Section 520", which was to prepare the serial production of the T-64 for 1970. [19] The team soon found out that the more powerful V-45 engine put a lot of stress on the T-64 hull, so that after some time cracks started to materialize. A more stable solution was sought. [18]

Finally, an idea from 1960 was used, when a modification of the T-62 had been discussed: In 1961, two prototypes of "Object 167" had been built by Uralvagonzavod to test a stronger hull and running gear combination for that tank. Under influence from Kharkiv, the idea had been turned down by Moscow. [20] But this construction, with its big, rubbercoated roadwheels now formed the basis for the mobilisation model of the T-64. [21]

Additional changes were made to the automatic loading system, which also was taken from an earlier project, originally intended for a T-62 upgrade. The 125 mm ammunition, consisting of a separate projectile and a propellant charge, was now stored horizontally on two levels, not vertically on one level as in the T-64. [22] It was said to be more reliable than the T-64 autoloader. [21] In 1964, two 125-mm guns of the D-81 type had been used to evaluate their installation in to the T-62, so the Ural plant was ready to adopt the 125 mm calibre for the T-64A as well. [23]

T-72 Edit

Uralvagonzavod produced the first prototype with a 125-mm gun and V-45K engine in 1968 as "Object 172". After intensive comparative testing with the T-64A, Object 172 was re-engineered in 1970 to deal with some minor problems. [24] However, being only a mobilization model, serial production of Object 172 was not possible in peacetime. In an unclear political process [25] decree number 326-113 was issued, which allowed the production of Object 172 in the Soviet Union from 1 January 1972, and freed Uralvagonzavod from the T-64A production. [26]

The first batch was built as "Object 172M" and, after some modifications, it was tested again in 1973 and accepted into service as the "T-72" [27] under Soviet ministry directive number 554-172 dated 7 August 1973.

At least some technical documentation on the T-72 is known to have been passed to the CIA by the Polish Colonel Ryszard Kukliński between 1971 and 1982.

In 2018, the 3rd Central Research Institute in Moscow had tested a proof-of-concept demonstration for robotic tank mobility, and was planning to further develop it based on the T-72B3 and other platforms. [28]

The 1st series production of T-72 Object 172M began in July at UKBM in Nizhny Tagil. However, due to difficulties in getting the factory organised for the change in production from T-64 to T-72, only 30 completed tanks were delivered in 1973. Troubles continued in 1974 where out of a state production quota of 440 only 220 were officially declared, with the actual number of completed tanks being close to 150. As a result, substantial investment in tooling was undertaken. Only after modernisation, could the factory begin full-scale production of the T-72. Nizhny Tagil produced the tank in various modifications until 1992.

The T-72 was the most common tank used by the Warsaw Pact from the 1970s until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was also exported to other countries, such as Finland, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yugoslavia, as well as being copied elsewhere, both with and without licenses.

Licensed versions of the T-72 were made in Poland and Czechoslovakia, for Warsaw Pact consumers. These tanks had better and more consistent quality of make but with inferior armour, lacking the resin-embedded ceramics layer inside the turret front and glacis armour, [ citation needed ] replaced with all steel. The Polish-made T-72G tanks [ citation needed ] also had thinner armour compared to Soviet Army standard (410 mm for turret). Before 1990, Soviet-made T-72 export versions were similarly downgraded for non-Warsaw Pact customers (mostly the Arab countries). [ citation needed ] Many parts and tools are not interchangeable between the Soviet, Polish and Czechoslovakian versions, which caused logistical problems.

Yugoslavia developed the T-72 into the more advanced M-84, and sold hundreds of them around the world during the 1980s. The Iraqis called their T-72 copies the "Lion of Babylon" (Asad Babil). These Iraqi tanks were assembled from kits sold to them by the Soviet Union as a means of evading the UN-imposed weapons embargo. More modern derivatives include the Polish PT-91 Twardy. Several countries, including Russia and Ukraine, also offer modernization packages for older T-72s.

Various versions of the T-72 have been in production for decades, and the specifications for its armour have changed considerably. Original T-72 tanks had homogeneous cast steel armour incorporating spaced armour technology and were moderately well protected by the standards of the early 1970s. In 1979, the Soviets began building T-72 modification with composite armour similar to the T-64 composite armour, in the front of the turret and the front of the hull. Late in the 1980s, T-72 tanks in Soviet inventory (and many of those elsewhere in the world as well) were fitted with reactive armour tiles.

TPD-K1 laser rangefinder system have appeared in T-72 tanks since 1974 earlier examples were equipped with parallax optical rangefinders, which could not be used for distances under 1,000 metres (1,100 yd). Some export versions of the T-72 lacked the laser rangefinder until 1985 or sometimes only the squadron and platoon commander tanks (version K) received them. After 1985, all newly made T-72s came with reactive armour as standard, the more powerful 840 bhp (630 kW) V-84 engine and an upgraded design main gun, which can fire guided anti-tank missiles from the barrel. With these developments, the T-72 eventually became almost as powerful as the more expensive T-80 tank, but few of these late variants reached the economically ailing Warsaw Pact allies and foreign customers before the Soviet bloc fell apart in 1990.

Since 2000, export vehicles have been offered with thermal imaging night-vision gear of French manufacture as well (though it may be more likely that they might simply use the locally manufactured 'Buran-Catherine' system, which incorporates a French thermal imager). Depleted uranium armour-piercing ammunition for the 125 mm (4.9 in) gun has been manufactured in Russia in the form of the BM-32 projectile since around 1978, though it has never been deployed, and is less penetrating than the later tungsten BM-42 and the newer BM-42M.

Models Edit

Main models of the T-72, built in the Soviet Union and Russia. Command tanks have K added to their designation for komandirskiy, "command", for example T-72K is the command version of the basic T-72. Versions with reactive armour have V added, for vzryvnoy, "explosive".

T-72 Ural (1973) [29] Original version, armed with 125 mm smoothbore tank gun and optical coincidence rangefinder. [30] [31] [32]

2010) Upgrade for T-72B tanks, including Sosna-U multichannel gunner's sight, new digital VHF radio, improved autoloader, 2A46M-5 gun to accommodate new ammunition. Retains older V-84-1 840 hp (630 kW) engine and Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour, and lacks satellite navigation. [33] [34] [35] T-72B3 model 2016 or T-72B3M/T-72B4 Upgrade like the T-72B3, with Relikt explosive reactive armour, side skirts with soft-container reactive armour and slat screens, 2A46M-5 gun capable of firing 9M119M Refleks guided missile, V-92S2F 1,130 hp (840 kW) engine, automatic transmission, digital display and rear-view video. [36] [37] [38] T-72 SIM-1 Increased implementation of K-1 reactive and K-5 passive armor. New FALCON command and control system, GPS navigation system and Polish SKO-1T DRAWA-T fire control system with thermal imager and laser rangefinder (from PT-91 Twardy). [39] It has also a friend-or-foe recognition system.

The T-72 design has been further developed into the following models: Lion of Babylon tank (Iraq), M-84 (Yugoslavia), M-95 Degman (Croatia), M-2001 (Serbia), PT-91 Twardy (Poland), Tank EX (India), [40] and TR-125 (Romania).

Variants Edit

In addition, the T-72 hull has been used as the basis for other heavy vehicle designs, including the following:

  • BMPT Terminator – Heavy convoy and close tank support vehicle.
  • TOS-1 – Thermobaricmultiple rocket launcher, with 30-tube launcher in place of the turret. [32]
  • BREM-1 (Bronirovannaya Remonto-Evakuatsionnaya Mashina) – Armoured recovery vehicle with a 12-tonne crane, 25-tonne winch, dozer blade, towing equipment, and tools. [32]
  • IMR-2 (Inzhenernaya Mashina Razgrashdeniya) – Combat engineering vehicle with an 11-tonne telescoping crane and pincers, configurable dozer blade/plough, and mine-clearing system.
  • MTU-72 (Tankovyy Mostoukladchik) – Armoured bridge layer, capable of laying a 50 t (55 short tons) capacity bridge spanning 18 m (59 ft) in three minutes. [32]
  • BMR-3 Vepr (Bronirovannaja Mashina Razminirovanija) – Mine clearing vehicle.

Remote weapon stations Edit

The T-72 shares many design features with other tank designs of Soviet origin. Some of these are viewed as deficiencies in a straight comparison to NATO tanks, but most are a product of the way these tanks were envisioned to be employed, based on the Soviets' practical experiences in World War II.

Weight Edit

The T-72 is extremely lightweight, at forty-one tonnes, and very small compared to Western main battle tanks. Some of the roads and bridges in former Warsaw Pact countries were designed such that T-72s can travel along in formation, but NATO tanks could not pass at all, or just one-by-one, significantly reducing their mobility. The basic T-72 is relatively underpowered, with a 780 hp (580 kW) supercharged version of the basic 500 hp (370 kW) V-12 diesel engine originally designed for the World War II-era T-34. The 0.58 m (1 ft 11 in) wide tracks run on large-diameter road wheels, which allows for easy identification of the T-72 and descendants (the T-64 family has relatively small road wheels).

The T-72 is designed to cross rivers up to 5 m (16.4 ft) deep submerged using a small diameter snorkel assembled on-site. The crew is individually supplied with simple rebreather chest-pack apparatuses for emergency situations. If the engine stops underwater, it must be restarted within six seconds, or the T-72's engine compartment becomes flooded due to pressure loss. The snorkeling procedure is considered dangerous, but is important for maintaining operational mobility.

Nuclear, biological, and chemical protection Edit

The T-72 has a nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) protection system. The inside of both hull and turret is lined with a synthetic fabric made of boron compound, meant to reduce the penetrating radiation from neutron bomb explosions. The crew is supplied clean air via an air filter system. A slight over-pressure prevents entry of contamination via bearings and joints. Use of an autoloader for the main gun allows for more efficient forced smoke removal compared to traditional manually loaded ("pig-loader") tank guns, so NBC isolation of the fighting compartment can, in theory, be maintained indefinitely. Exported T-72s do not have the anti-radiation lining. [ citation needed ]

Interior Edit

Like all Soviet-legacy tanks, the T-72's design has traded off interior space in return for a very small silhouette and efficient use of armour, to the point of replacing the fourth crewman with a mechanical loader. The basic T-72 design has extremely small periscope viewports, even by the constrained standards of battle tanks and the driver's field of vision is significantly reduced when his hatch is closed. The steering system is a traditional dual-tiller layout instead of the easier-to-use steering wheel or steering yoke common in modern Western tanks. This set-up requires the near-constant use of both hands, which complicates employment of the seven speed manual transmission.

There is a widespread Cold War-era myth that T-72 and other Soviet tanks are so cramped that the small interior demands the use of shorter crewmen, with the maximum height set at 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) in the Soviet Army. [42] According to official regulations, however, the actual figure is 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in) [43]

Armour Edit

Armour protection of the T-72 was strengthened with each succeeding generation. The original T-72 "Ural" Object 172M's (from 1973) turret is made from conventional cast high hardness steel (HHS) armour with no laminate inserts. It is believed that the maximum thickness is 280 mm (11 in) and the nose is 80 mm (3.1 in). The glacis of the new laminated armour is 205 mm (8.1 in) thick, comprising 80 mm (3.1 in) HHS, 105 mm (4.1 in) double layer of laminate and 20 mm (0.79 in) RHA steel, which when inclined gives about 500–600 mm (20–24 in) thickness along the line of sight. In 1977 the armour of the T-72 Object 172M was slightly changed. The turret now featured insert filled with ceramic sand bars "kwartz" rods and the glacis plate composition was changed. It was now made up of 60 mm (2.4 in) HHA steel,105 mm (4.1 in) glass Tekstolit laminate and 50 mm (2.0 in) RHA steel. This version was often known in Soviet circles as T-72 "Ural-1". The next armour update was introduced by the T-72A (Object 176), which was designed in 1976 and replaced the original on the production lines during 1979–1985. T-72 Object 1976 is also known as T-72A. With the introduction of the T-72B (Object 184) in 1985, the composite armour was again changed. According to retired major, James M. Warford, variants developed after the T-72 base model and T-72M/T-72G MBT, featured a cast steel turret that included a cavity filled with quartz or sand in a form similar to US "fused-silica" armour. [44] Steven J. Zaloga mentions that the T-72 Model 1978 (Obiekt 172M sb-4), which entered production in 1977, featured a new turret with special armour composed of ceramic rods. [45]

The T-72A featured a new turret with thicker, nearly vertical, frontal armour. Due to its appearance, it was unofficially nicknamed "Dolly Parton" armour by the US Army. [46] This used the new ceramic-rod turret filler, incorporated improved glacis laminate armour, and mounted new anti-shaped-charge sideskirts. [47]

The T-72M was identical to the base T-72 Ural model in terms of protection, [48] retaining the monolithic steel turret. [49] The modernized T-72M1 was closer to the T-72A in terms of protection. It featured an additional 16 mm (0.63 in) of high hardness steel appliqué armour on the glacis plate, which produced an increase of 43 mm (1.7 in) in line of sight thickness. It was also the first export variant with composite armour in the turret, containing ceramic rods [50] sometimes called "sandbar armour". [45] The turret armour composition was essentially identical to the T-72 "Ural-1" whereas Soviet-only T-72As had slightly increased turret protection.

Several T-72 models featured explosive reactive armour (ERA), which increased protection primarily against HEAT type weapons. Certain late-model T-72 tanks featured Kontak-5 ERA, a form of "universal" ERA partially effective against kinetic penetrators. It was added to the T-72 as a response to testing conducted by the Soviet Union against captured Israeli Magach-4 tanks which found that the glacis of the T-72 could be penetrated by the 105mm M111 APDSFS "Hetz" ammunition. [51] [52]

Late model T-72s, such as the T-72B, featured improved turret armour, visibly bulging the turret front—nicknamed "super-Dolly Parton" armour by Western intelligence. [53] The turret armour of the T-72B was the thickest and most effective of all Soviet tank armour it was even thicker than the frontal armour of the T-80B. [53] The T-72B used a new "reflecting-plate armour" (bronya s otrazhayushchimi listami), in which the frontal cavity of the cast turret was filled with a laminate of alternating steel and non-metallic (rubber) layers. [54] The glacis was also fitted with 20 mm (0.8 in) of appliqué armour. The late production versions of the T-72B/B1 and T-72A variants also featured an anti-radiation layer on the hull roof.

Early model T-72s did not feature side skirts instead, the original base model featured gill or flipper-type armour panels on either side of the forward part of the hull. When the T-72A was introduced in 1979, it was the first model to feature the plastic side skirts covering the upper part of the suspension, with separate panels protecting the side of the fuel and stowage panniers.

After the collapse of the USSR, US and German analysts had a chance to examine Soviet-made T-72 tanks equipped with Kontakt-5 ERA, and they proved impenetrable to most Cold War US and German tank projectiles and anti-tank weapons. A U.S. Army spokesperson claimed at the show, "the myth of Soviet inferiority in this sector of arms production that has been perpetuated by the failure of downgraded T-72 export tanks in the Gulf Wars has, finally, been laid to rest. The results of these tests show that if a NATO/Warsaw Pact confrontation had erupted in Europe, the Soviets would have had parity (or perhaps even superiority) in armour". [55] KE-effective ERA, such as Kontakt-5, drove the development of M829A3 ammunition. [56]

Late 1980s, Soviet developed Object 187 (Объект 187, or T-72BI), it was a parallel project to Object 188 (the T-90 tank). It was based on the T-72B, with a heavily modified turret. The 'Object 187' used composite armour for the turret ("Super Dolly Parton" composite armor) and the hull front, and RHA for the rest of the tank. It possibly consisted of special materials including ceramic or high density uranium alloys. Maximum physical thickness of the passive armour (not counting the reactive armor – ERA) was up to 95 mm RHA. With Kontakt-5 ERA, T-72BI's frontal armour was immune to the NATO's 120 mm L/44 tank gun. [57] [58] However, after the Soviet collapse, the tank was not accepted.

Estimated protection level Edit

The following table shows the estimated protection level of different T-72 models in rolled homogeneous armour equivalency, i.e., the composite armour of the turret of a T-72B offers as much protection against an APFSDS round as a 520 mm (20 in) thick armour steel layer.

Model Turret vs APFSDS Turret vs HEAT Hull vs APFSDS Hull vs HEAT
T-72 'Ural' [59] (1973) [60] [61] [62] 380–410 mm (15–16 in) 450–500 mm (18–20 in) 335–410 mm (13.2–16.1 in) 410–450 mm (16–18 in)
T-72A (1979–1985) [63] [64] /(1988)+Kontakt 1 [61] [64] [65] 410–500 mm (16–20 in) 500–560 mm (20–22 in) 360–420 mm (14–17 in) 490–500 mm (19–20 in)
T-72M (1980) [61] 380 mm (15 in) 490 mm (19 in) 335 mm (13.2 in) 450 mm (18 in)
T-72M1 (1982) [59] 380 mm (15 in) 490 mm (19 in) 400 mm (16 in) 490 mm (19 in)
T-72B+Kontakt 1 [59] [66] (1985) 520–540 mm (20–21 in) 900–950 mm (35–37 in) [67] 480–530 mm (19–21 in) 900 mm (35 in)
T-72B+Kontakt 5 [66] [68] (1988) [69] 770–800 mm (30–31 in) 1,180 mm (46 in) 690 mm (27 in) 940 mm (37 in)

Possible easy replacement of Kontakt 5 (or 1) with Relikt. Relikt defends against tandem warheads and reduces penetration of APFSDS rounds by over 50 percent. [70] Calculation T-72B + Relikt vs APFSDS, on turret 1,000–1,050 mm, on hull 950–1,000 mm. For T-90MS Relikt is a basic set, for the T-90S basic set – Kontakt 5. [71] [72] [73] [74]

The calculation vs HEAT is more complicated. [72]

Gun Edit

The T-72 is equipped with the 125 mm (4.9 in) 2A46 series main gun, a significantly larger (20-mm larger) calibre than the standard 105 mm (4.1 in) gun found in contemporary Western MBTs, and still slightly larger than the 120 mm/L44 found in many modern Western MBTs. As is typical of Soviet tanks, the gun is capable of firing anti-tank guided missiles, as well as standard main gun ammunition, including HEAT and APFSDS rounds.

The original T-72 Object 172M (1973) used 2A26M2 model gun first mounted on T-64. The barrel had a length of 6350mm or 50.8 calibers and had maximum rated chamber pressure of 450 MPa. The cannon had an electroplated chrome lining but lacked a thermal sleeve. The cannon was capable of firing 3VBM-3 round with 3BM-9 steel projectile sabot and 3VBM-6 round with 3BM-12 Tungsten sabot APFSDS projectile. Allowing respectively 245 mm (9.6 in) and 280 mm (11 in) penetration of RHA steel at 2000m at 0 degree angle. In addition to APFSDS rounds T-72 Object 172M could also fire 3VBK-7 round incorporating 3BK-12 HEAT warhead and 3VBK-10 round incorporating 3BK-14 HEAT warhead. HEAT rounds allowed respectively 420 mm (17 in) and 450 mm (18 in) penetration of RHA steel at 0 degree angle. The High Explosive rounds provided included 3WOF-22 with 3OF-19 warhead or 3WOF-36 with the 3OF-26 warhead. For all rounds, the Zh40 propellant was used. Complementing the original gun setup was 2E28M "Siren" two-plane electrohydraulic stabilizer allowing automatic stabilization with speeds from 0.05 to 6 degrees per second.

Even as the T-72 Object 172M (1973) was entering production new ammunition was developed to offset armor developments in the West. Beginning in 1972, two new APFSDS rounds were introduced, the 3VBM-7 round with 3BM-15 Tungsten sabot projectile and the "cheaper" 3VBM-8 round with 3BM-17 sabot but without the tungsten carbide plug. These allowed penetration of respectively 310 mm (12 in) and 290 mm (11 in) RHA steel at 2000m at 0 degree angle. At the same time, a universal Zh52 propellant charge was introduced. The 3VBM-7 was the most common APFSDS round found in T-72 Object 172M tanks during the 70s.

The stated barrel life expectancy of the 2A26M2 model gun was 600 rounds of HE/HEAT equivalent to 600 EFC (Effective Full Charge) or 150 rounds of APFSDS.

The main gun of the T-72 has a mean error of 1 m (39.4 in) at a range of 1,800 m (1,968.5 yd), considered substandard today. Its maximum firing distance is 3,000 m (3,280.8 yd), due to limited positive elevation. The limit of aimed fire is 4,000 m (4,374.5 yd) (with the gun-launched anti-tank guided missile, which is rarely used outside of former Soviet states). The T-72's main gun is fitted with an integral pressure reserve drum, which assists in rapid smoke evacuation from the bore after firing. The 125 millimeter gun barrel is certified strong enough to ram the tank through forty centimeters of iron-reinforced brick wall, though doing so will negatively affect the gun's accuracy when subsequently fired. Rumours in NATO armies of the late Cold War claimed that the tremendous recoil of the huge 125 mm gun could damage the fully mechanical transmission of the T-72. The tank commander reputedly had to order firing by repeating his command, when the T-72 is on the move: "Fire! Fire!" The first shout supposedly allowed the driver to disengage the clutch to prevent wrecking the transmission when the gunner fired the cannon on the second order. In reality, this still-common tactic substantively improves the tank's firing accuracy and has nothing to do with recoil or mechanical damage to anything. This might have to do with the lower quality (compared to Western tanks) of the T-72's stabilizers.

The vast majority of T-72s do not have FLIR thermal imaging sights, though all T-72s (even those exported to the Third World) possess the characteristic (and inferior) 'Luna' Infrared illuminator. Thermal imaging sights are extremely expensive, and the new Russian FLIR system, the 'Buran-Catherine Thermal Imaging Suite' was introduced only recently on the T-80UM tank. Most T-72s found outside the former Soviet Union do not have laser rangefinders. T-72s built for export have a downgraded fire-control system. [ citation needed ]

Autoloader Edit

Like the earlier domestic-use-only T-64, the T-72 is equipped with an automatic loading system, eliminating the need for a dedicated crewmember, decreasing the size and weight of the tank.

However, the autoloader is of a noticeably different design. Both the T-64 and T-72 carry their two-section 125 mm ammunition (shell and full propellant charge, or missile and reduced propellant charge) in separate loading trays positioned on top of each other but firstly, in T-64, 28 of these were arranged vertically as a ring under the turret ring proper, and were rotated to put the correct tray into position under the hoist system in the turret rear. This had the disadvantage of cutting the turret off from the rest of the tank, most notably, the driver. Accessing the hull required partial removal of the trays. The T-72 uses a design that has lower width requirements and does not isolate the turret compartment: the trays are arranged in a circle at the very bottom of the fighting compartment the trade-off is the reduction of the number of trays to 22. The second difference is that in the T-64 the trays were hinged together and were flipped open as they were brought into position, allowing both the shell/missile and propellant charge to be rammed into the breech in one motion in the T-72 the tray is brought to the breech as-is, with the shell in the lower slot and the charge in the upper one, and the mechanical rammer sequentially loads each of them, resulting in a longer reloading cycle. [75]

The autoloader has a minimum cycle of 6.5 seconds (ATGM 8 seconds) and a maximum cycle of 15 seconds for reload, in later versions the sequence mode allows to reload in less than 5 seconds, allowing to reach 3 shots in 13 seconds.

The autoloader system also includes an automated casing removal mechanism that ejects the propellant case through an opening port in the back of the turret during the following reload cycle.

The autoloader disconnects the gun from the vertical stabilizer and cranks it up three degrees above the horizontal in order to depress the breech end of the gun and line it up with the loading tray and rammer. While loading, the gunner can still aim because he has a vertically independent sight. With a laser rangefinder and ballistic computer, final aiming takes at least another three to five seconds, but it is pipelined into the last steps of auto-loading and proceeds concurrently.

In addition to the 22 auto-loaded rounds, the T-72 carries 17 [76] rounds conventionally in the hull, which can be loaded into the emptied autoloader trays or directly into the gun.

T-80 (MBT)

The T-80 of the Russian Army was born in the era of the Soviet Empire during the Cold War. The type was a further evolution of the T-64 line with elements of the successful T-72 added for promising measure. The end result, the first production tank to utilize a gas turbine engine, proved a limited success with numbers never reaching those of its predecessor nor the overtly popular T-72. While still in active service today (2012), the days of the T-80 as a frontline battlefield solution are coming to an end as its available numbers are continually reduced with each passing year. The T-90 (based on the T-72) maintains the primary position in the modern Russian Army, leaving the T-80 as something of an interim solution at best, a measure serving to bridge the gap between the expired Soviet-era T-64 and modern Russian Federation T-90.

In 1963, the Red Army began use of the T-64 Main Battle Tank which formed the spearhead of Soviet armor strength during the critical years of the Cold War. The T-64 incorporated an automatic loader coupled to a 125mm smoothbore main gun capable of firing guided anti-tank missiles. Its arrival certainly forced the West to take notice as it represented the most modern Red Army tank of the time. The T-72 was then developed in short order as a simpler, economical counterpart to the T-64, though it ended up surpassing the T-64 in both numbers and world popularity (some 25,000 T-72 tanks were produced to the 13,000 T-64s). Soviet tank doctrine called for both tank types to serve concurrently and allowed for financial flexibility in the long term. As the T-64 was considered something of a "state secret" in terms of its technology and capabilities, it was not openly exported as the T-72 was.

As such, the T-64 remained the principle high-tech Soviet Main Battle Tank to lead the Red Army onto victory in the event of total war across Europe. In the late 1960s, thought was already being given to a new design built upon the inherent strengths of the T-64. Many developmental tank designs had been in play since the close of World War 2 (1939-1945) for the Soviets and many of these went on to lay the foundation of Soviet tank technologies to come. Such developments began to refine a gas turbine engine that would one day be used in powering an armored vehicle though tank engineers would have to wait for technology to catch up with the desire.

Object 288 was a tank testbed fitted with 2 x GTD-350 series aircraft turbine engines outputting at 690 horsepower. A second design, Object 219 SP1, utilized a single GTD-1000T multi-fuel gas turbine installation and this was able to output at 1,000 horsepower. After extensive testing of various chassis configurations, the Object 219 SP1 was modified into the refined Object 219 SP2 and it was this prototype that formed the basis of the "T-80". Design of the T-80 would span from 1967 until 1975 to which then serial production was ordered and the vehicle entered service in 1976 following the requisite army trials. Production of T-80s would last until 1992 to which 5,404 units would be delivered from LKZ and Omsk Transmash in Russia and Malyshev in the Ukraine. The gas turbine powerplant allowed for greater power over that of traditional diesel-fueled types at the expense of fuel consumption, general reliability and overall cost.

In keeping with Soviet tank design traditions, the T-80 managed a very low profile, exceptional inherent maneuverability and fielded a smoothbore main gun. The use of an autoloader in the turret reduced the traditional operating crew from four to three personnel to be made up of the driver (in the hull) and the commander and gunner (in the turret). The autoloader also allowed for a dimensionally shallower turret design and lighter overall weight. The tank's overall configuration was conventional with the engine at rear, the turret at center and the driver in front. The running gear of the T-80 consisted of six double-tired road wheels to a track side with the drive sprocket at the rear and the track idler at front. The upper track regions were protected over in side skirt armor. General armor protection is steel and composite which can be enhanced through add-on reactive armor blocks. Portions of the T-72's torsion bar suspension system was carried over into the T-80 which allowed for excellent inherent mobility for a vehicle of this weight class.

The T-80's primary armament was the 125mm 2A46-2 smoothbore main gun (same as on the T-72) residing in the front-center portion of the turret. The earlier T-80 marks had internal storage space for up to 36 x 125mm projectiles while newer variants housed up to 45. This could be made up of a mix of munitions to include HE-FRAG(FS), HEAT-FS and APFSDS-T projectiles as well as 9M112 or 9M119 laser-guided anti-tank missiles. Secondary armament was a 7.62mm PKT machine gun in a coaxial position. A 12.7mm NSVT or PKT series heavy machine gun took up the anti-aircraft role at the commander's cupola on the turret roof. The number of smoke grenade dischargers proved variable depending on the production model in question though at least eight were generally fitted (two banks of four launchers to each frontal turret facing.

The base SG-1000 gas turbine engine outputted at 1,000 horsepower. This was coupled to a transmission system featuring five forward and 1 reverse speed which allowed for an inherent operational range of 208 miles to be reached in theory. External tanks mounted along the rear of the hull could extent this to 270 miles under ideal conditions. Maximum road speed was 43 miles per hour while speeds of 30 miles per hour cross-country were attainable though largely based on the operating environment and driving habits.

Initial T-80 production models of 1976 were designation simply as "T-80" and fielded with a standard laser rangefinder but lacked support for Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) blocks and firing of anti-tank missiles from the main gun. The first major upgrade in the line became the T-80B of 1982 and this version supported firing of anti-tank missiles 9K112 "Kobra" (NATO: AT-8 "Songster") and introduced an all-new stabilized fire control system in a revised turret shell. The T-80B was then revised in 1980 with a newer, more powerful engine outputting at 1,100 horsepower. In 1982, a new main gun was added to the production lines and, in 1985, provisions to support ERA blocks was added (this produced the T-80BVmark). The command tank version of the T-80B was the T-80BK. Also in 1982, the now-standardized T-80A form was introduced with a new turret and an improved fire control system. This was followed by the heavier T-80U which allowed for use of the 9K119 "Refleks" (NATO: AT-11 "Sniper") laser-guided, anti-tank missile fired from the main gun. Additionally, the T-80U was given additional armor protection through the use of "Kontakt-5" ("K5") ERA blocks while its fire control system was again improved. 1990 saw the T-80U gifted with a new engine of 1,250 horsepower output. The T-80UM1 "Bars" ("Snow Leopard") incorporated much improved anti-missile facilities ("Shtora-1" countermeasures). The T-80UM2 has been given a new cast turret design.

The T-80UD "Bereza" of 1987 was a further evolution of the T-80 handled by Ukraine and incorporated an indigenous 6TD series diesel engine as well as a remote-controlled anti-aircraft machine gun station. The latter allowed for firing of the weapon by the crew from within the turret. The Ukrainian T-80UD was then itself evolved to become the "T-84" of 1999, the standard (and present) Ukrainian Army Main Battle Tank as of this writing (2012).

The Soviet T-80 never saw combat through the envisioned large-scale ground war in Europe. The Soviet Union fell in 1991 and its T-80s were used in a failed coup attempt by communist and allied military leaders thereafter. At the time of the Soviet collapse, T-80 strength had reached close to 5,000 units and, in the years following, stocks of these tanks were passed onto successor states such as Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. Over time, Russian Army T-80 numbers began to dwindle by the hundreds, many being placed in reserve and then headed to storage. While available in numbers at the time, the T-80 was not deployed operationally with the Soviet Army during the Soviet-Aghan War (1979-1989).

The first true notable combat experience concerning T-80 tanks was in the First Chechen War (1994-1996). Russian military budget cuts led to ill-trained Russian tankers fighting across urban environments they were not entirely prepared for. This seemingly played to the strengths of the Chechen guerillas who developed viable defensive and offensive tactics that showcased their prowess in lethal fashion through surprise attacks with anti-tank measures, exacerbating weaknesses in both the T-80 design and modern Russian Army doctrine (the tanks lacked any infantry or armored vehicle support through the operations). Russian Army T-80s in Chechnya proved highly susceptible to anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades and, thusly, forced a program to improve the tank's anti-missile defenses. The attack on the city of Grozny alone cost the Russian Army over 200 tanks lost to action in a single month. Actions in the theater also proved the T-80's inherent range as quite limited (approximately 200 miles without external fuel stores being fitted), making her something of a tactical liability to Russian generals requiring more.

While the T-80 was not allowed to be sold on the export market under Soviet rule, the collapse of the Soviet Empire and, with it, the "old way of doing things", the Russian government opened the T-80 to sale. The vehicle subsequently entered the inventories of Cyprus, Egypt, South Korea, and Yemen while joining existing operators in Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The Chinese government purchased at least 50 T-80 tanks for trials though they elected not to proceed with large-scale procurement. Similarly, the T-80 failed to secure contracts with Turkey and Greece. Ukrainian-made T-80s found their way to Pakistan while Ukraine also delivered four examples to the United States for evaluation, these joining a single T-80U donated from Britain.

As it stands, the T-80 maintains an active though position in the Russian Army numbering some 1,400 available units with many remaining in key reserve storage facilities - perhaps as many as 3,000 have met this fate. The T-90, a modernization of the T-72 system, is the primary Russian Army Main Battle Tank and numbers 1,670 strong as of 2012. The T-90 incorporates key qualities of the successful T-72 system before it as well as developments refined through operational use of the T-80.

The T-80 chassis has been branched out to fulfill various other battlefield roles including that of engineering, recovery, bridge carrier/layer and mine clearance vehicle.

November 2016 - A new upgrade is available for the T-80BV MBT series. The modernization is intended to bring the T-80BV inline with upgraded T-72B3 tanks. Part of the upgrade includes the PNM Sosna-U gunner's sighting device and broader support for munition types fired from the main gun - including armor-defeating missiles. The onboard laser rangefinder will range out to 7,500 meters. Crew survivability will also be addressed through a dynamic, 3rd-generation protection system.


Cold War

Medium tanks were the earliest MBTs. MBTs started replacing medium tanks when guns on medium tanks became powerful enough to win against heavy tanks. ΐ] Heavy tanks could not carry armor strong enough to win against medium tanks.

The nuclear weapon threat and other anti-tank weapons in the Cold War made countries add more protection to survive in all types of combat. Weapon designers made powerful cannons to defeat the armor. Α]

The British Centurion is generally considered to have been the world’s first main battle tank, although the term was not popularised until long after it entered service. The British followed this up with the Chieftain main battle tank, which entered service in 1966. The first Soviet main battle tank was the T-64 Β] and the first American MBT was the M60 Patton. Γ] By the late 1970s, MBT's were manufactured by France, West Germany, Britain, India, Japan, the USSR, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States. Δ]

The Soviet Union made MBTs very quickly because it needed them for their type of war. Ε] The Soviet Union improved the cannon by replacing the loader crewman with an automatic autoloader. This made the turret smaller which also makes the tank harder to see or hit Α] The Soviet Union made missiles that could be shot much farther than other ammunition. Α]

Gulf War

After the Cold War, American tanks quickly defeated Iraqi tanks in the Gulf War. The American MBTs were still not as good as attack helicopters at destroying Iraqi tanks. Ζ] Some said that the MBTs could not stop an enemy force from attacking. Η]


The T-64’s second trend-setting innovation was the introduction of composite armor, which layered ceramics and steel together to provide superior resistance compared to only steel. Armor protection ranged up to 450mm in thickness. In spite of being armed and armored like a heavy tank, the T-64 weighed only 38 tonnes.

Further, the T-64 had lightweight, small diameter all-steel road wheels in contrast to the large, rubber rimmed ones on the T-55 and T-62. These features made the T-64 expensive to build, significantly higher than previous generations of Soviet tanks. This was especially true of the power pack, which was time-consuming to build and cost twice as much as more conventional designs.

Back to the Drawing Board: the T-64 Tank

By the early 1960s, Soviet T-54/55 tanks were finding themselves outclassed by the British 105mm gun that was fitted to most new NATO main battle tanks. The T-62 was entering service, but would do little more than achieve parity with the 105mm-armed Centurion and M60.

Soviet military intelligence was also becoming increasingly concerned about the development of the British Chieftain, whose thick armour and 120mm gun threatened to make the T-62 obsolescent.

It was clear that an entirely new type was needed to match the new generation of Western tanks, and the Soviets decided to back the futuristic design proposed by Alexander Morozov, who had been responsible for the development of the T-34/85 and the T-54/55.

Although its ‘high-tech’ features, such as an auto-loader for the main armament and its ultra-compact multi-fuel engine, were superficially impressive, they proved to be complex to maintain and were highly unreliable.

One Soviet engineer assessed the tank’s controls as being more complex than those of a jet fighter. But whereas jets were piloted by officers who underwent several years of training, the T-64 was usually commanded by a poorly educated conscript NCO who would only serve for two years

A step too far

The Soviet defector Viktor Suvorov, whose regiment was one of the first to be issued with the T-64 in 1967, recalled that ‘the engine itself was not only bad, it was disgusting. Several teams of workers and engineers, and a gang of designers, were sent along simply to maintain our one tank regiment. But they could not hope to solve problems arising from the engine’s design, try as they might.’

The prototypes’ engines had a life of barely 90 hours’ running time, and even when the tank entered service they had a 35% failure rate. Few lasted much more than 200 hours. One of the main culprits was the air-cleaner system, which had to be repeatedly redesigned.

Suvorov was equally scathing in his assessment of the sighting system for the smooth-bore main armament (initially a 115mm gun, soon replaced by a 125mm version). He called it ‘an all-powerful gun, which always missed its target.’

However, probably the worst aspect of the armament was the auto-loader, which gave a theoretical rate of fire of one round every 13 seconds. In practice, it too broke down with monotonous regularity, forcing the gunner to awkwardly reach around it to manually load the gun, reducing the rate of fire to barely one round per minute.

Even when it did work as intended, early models posed a significant risk to the turret crew, as there were no safety features and it was all too easy for clothing or equipment to be caught in the mechanism, jamming the auto-loader and seriously injuring the victim.

The fundamental problem was that the tank was ‘a step too far’ for the Soviet technology of the 1960s. It took years of work before the design was finally transformed into a reliable combat vehicle.

This article was published in the April 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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