T-72 Main Battle Tank

Sources: Jane's Tank Recognition Guide, Jane's Armored Vehicles, personal inspection

The T-72 is a Soviet-designed Main Battle Tank. It began production in 1971, and was first seen by the general public in 1977. It was and is a mainstay of the Soviet and now Russian armored forces. In addition to being built in large numbers for the Soviet/Russian military, the T-72 was built in export versions as well as built abroad under license. Countries which manufactured T-72s include the former Czechoslovakia, India, Poland and the former Yugoslavia.

The T-72 is a fairly conventional MBT. It carries a crew of 3 rather than the usual 4, as the turret contains a carousel-type autoloader for the main gun, a 125-mm smoothbore. The driver reclines in a front compartment, with the turret centered on the tank and manned by the tank commander and the gunner. The engine and transmission are at the rear; a 'dozer' blade can be mounted between the treads at the front to assist in clearing obstacles, and auxiliary fuel tanks can be attached to the exterior to increase the T-72's range. These are not armored, however, and are not used in combat situations.

Key Recognition Features

The glacis plate is very sloped, with the driver's position centered at the top/back of the plate. There is a distinctive 'V-shaped' splash shield for the driver's hatch on the glacis. The turret is centered in the hull, and has the low, rounded shape characteristic of Soviet designs. The exhaust stack is on the left side of the hull just above the rearmost roadwheel. Each side has six road wheels, with a rear drive sprocket and an idler at the front. The upper panel of the track is usually covered by rubber shielding or fold-out armor panels. There is a large infra-red searchlight just to the right of the main gun; the commander's hatch is on the right side of the turret top, and has a cupola-mounted 12.7mm machine gun for anti-aircraft and antipersonnel work.

The T-72 came in many different varieties, with differing designations according to the Soviets, Russians and NATO observers. Some highlights: The original T-72 had a coincidence rangefinder (not very accurate). The T-72K was the command version of the T-72, with additional commo gear. The T-72A was an improved model with a laser rangefinder and other systems upgrades; the T-72G was the export version of this model. Later models increased turret armor thickness and added explosive reactive armor.

The T-72 is a rather capable tank. Most problems that have been observed with forces utilizing the T-72 have come from inadequate personnel training or materiel support. The Iraqi Republican Guard in the Gulf War did manage to get shots off at opposing American M1 MBTs, but were hampered by the use of softer steel in their APFSDS rounds. Ammunition quality for the 125mm gun can be spotty as well, with variances in propellant and loading causing accuracy to suffer. Early T-72s in Central Europe are said to have suffered 'Soviet Brake Degradation' - the vehicle's hydraulic systems were charged with pure ethanol. Thirsty Soviet conscript soldiers had a tendency to drink the hydraulic fluid when on extended duty, resulting in problems with brakes, transmissions and turret motors/gunlaying gear, usually at an extremely inconvenient time. In addition, there are numerous anecdotal tales of misaligned autoloaders stuffing the arm of an unfortunate gunner into the breech, breaking it usually.

One strike against the autoloader is that it reduces crew size. While this may seem to some to be the point, the problem is that a MBT is an extremely maintenance-intensive beast, and most if not all routine maintenance is generally done by a tank's crew. Reducing the crew size by 25% increases the workload on the remaining crew members, and means that a larger number of maintenance tasks will require support personnel and equipment to pull off. On the other hand, in armies manned mostly by conscripts with minimal training, the autoloader is one method of achieving relatively predictable loading performance.

Some specs:

  • Crew: 3
  • Armament: 1 x 125mm smoothbore main gun; 1 x 7.62mm MG (coaxial mount), 1 x 12.7mm MG (AA)
  • Ammunition Loadout: 45 x 125mm rounds, 2,000 x 7.62mm rounds, 300 x 12.7mm rounds.
  • Length, Gun Forward: 9.24 meters
  • Length, Hull: 6.95 meters
  • Width without skirts: 3.6m
  • Width with skirts: 4.75m
  • Ground Clearance: 0.47m
  • Weight, combat loaded: 44,500kg
  • Power-to-weight ratio: 18.9hp/metric ton
  • Ground pressure: 0.84kg/cm^2
  • Engine: V-12 Diesel, 840bhp at 2,000rpm
  • Max. road speed: 80kph
  • Max. road range: 480km (550km with external tanks)
  • Fuel load: 1,000 liters
  • Fording: 1.8m (without prep) 5m (with prep, i.e. snorkeling and engine/NBC vents closed)
  • Vertical Obstacle: 0.85m
  • Trench crossing: 2.8m
  • Glacis plate Gradient: 60%
  • Armor Type: RHA/Composite Armor front
  • NBC System: Yes
  • Night Vision: Yes (IR for gunner, cdr, driver)

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