Lion of Babylon (tank)

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"Lion of Babylon"
T-72-Fort Hood.jpg
An Asad Babil on display at Fort Hood
Type Main battle tank
Service history
Wars Persian Gulf War, Iraq War
Production history
Designer Kartsev-Venediktov
Produced 1989–1990
Number built Disputed, few completed besides prototypes[1]
100 (Russian claims)[2]
None finished (Polish claims)[3]
Specifications
Weight 41.5 tonnes (45.7 short tons)
Length 9.53 m (31 ft 3 in) gun forward
6.95 m (22 ft 10 in) hull
Width 3.59 m (11 ft 9 in)
Height 2.23 m (7 ft 4 in)
Crew 3

Armor Mild steel, 45-300mm
Main
armament
125 mm 2A46M
Secondary
armament
  • 7.62 mm PKT coax machine gun
  • 12.7 mm NSVT antiaircraft machine gun or
    12.7 mm DShK AA machine gun
Engine V-12 diesel
780 hp (582 kw)
Power/weight 18.8 hp/t
Suspension Torsion bar
Some dampers removed to suit desert conditions
Operational
range
425 km
600 km with fuel barrels
Speed 60 km/h (road)
45 km/h (off-road)

The Lion of Babylon or Asad Babil (Arabic: اسد بابل) was an Iraqi-built derivative of the Soviet T-72 main battle tank, assembled during the 1980s at a factory near Taji, Iraq.[3][4]

This project represented an attempt by Saddam Hussein's regime to develop an indigenous tank, triggered in part by the Western embargo against the sale of military vehicles to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. However, such vehicles were a combination of Soviet or Polish tank parts, assembled in Iraq, with an assortment of modifications such as electronics and armor added after production.

Production history[edit]

According to Russian sources[who?], an informal agreement between the Iraqi government and a Polish company was made in early 1982 to provide Iraq with 250 T-72M tanks.[2] The deal consisted of knock down kits sent to Iraq for final assembly, rather than true Iraqi licensed production. By September 1982, T-72 components began arriving to Iraq covertly via Poland.

In 1986 a West German company built a factory in Taji to manufacture steel for several military uses. It was enlisted to retrofit and rebuild tanks already on duty in the Iraqi Army, such as T-54/55s, T-62s, and several hundred Polish imported T-72s. In addition, new tanks were also to be assembled at the plant. A license agreement was achieved with a Polish contractor to provide essential parts, and the first locally-assembled T-72 was completed in Taji in early 1989.[5]

The United Nations imposed an arms embargo following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, which reduced the complete assembly of tanks to simple spare parts for Lions and other tanks in the Iraqi arsenal.[5] It is not known how many Lion tanks were completed during the span between early 1989 and this embargo.

The Lion of Babylon tank draws its name from the Lion of Babylon, an ancient Babylonian symbol representing ruling power.

Specifications[edit]

In most aspects, the Lion of Babylon is physically identical to the T-72M1 it is based on.[6] Lion of Babylon T-72s were upgraded with the addition of laminated armor on the front slope and rear panels as protection against HEAT projectiles.[4] A few examples featured a laser rangefinder for the 125 mm smoothbore main gun.[citation needed] American military intelligence believed some were equipped with Belgian-made thermal sights.[7] These same sources claim the tank was also provided with a better track protection against sand and mud than the Soviet T-72, by reducing the original number of shock absorbers.[8][9] Some tanks also were fitted with a type of electro-optical interference pod of Chinese origin.[10][11] As secondary armament, the tank mounted either the NSV or the DShK 12.7 mm machine gun and the coaxial 7.62 mm PKT common to all T-72 models.

Armor[edit]

Image showing the plate of laminated armor welded on a Lion front slope. Note the edges around the rectangular section of the towing eyes and driver's hatch.

The Lion's primary armor was the same as the T-72M1, without any composite armor improvement. The Lion's side armor had 60 mm protection, the turret side armor was 300 mm, and the flat rear was 45 mm thick.[12]

Despite the relative thinness, a retrofitted reinforced armor plate present both at the turret and the front upper hull seems to have been relatively effective against some shaped-charge ordnance, like the TOWs and Hellfire missiles. There are reports of Iraqi T-72s surviving near-misses from these weapons, although the reinforced armor generally did not prevent a mobility kill. However, it is also possible that the unexpected survival rate was due to the electro-optical countermeasures mounted on most of the tanks rather than the added armor.[13][14][15][16]

There is evidence of at least one Lion surviving a direct hit from an Abrams main gun in Mahmoudiyah in 2003. A 120 mm HEAT round from an Abrams impacted on the front of an Asad Babil turret at point blank range without producing a catastrophic kill.[17] Some Lion tanks may have featured explosive reactive armor, possibly obtained from Polish T-72M1 spare parts.[18]

Another improvised armor upgrade that may have also been added at the Taji complex.[2] An additional 30 mm armor plate was welded on the front areas of the hull and turret, leaving an air gap matching the size of the armor, so that the power of a HEAT jet could be dissipated in the hollow space. This technique follows the principle of spaced armor. The Iraqi engineers tested this reinforcement against captured Iranian 120 mm Chieftain tank guns in 1989, apparently with some success.[19]

Combat performance[edit]

The Lion of Babylon saw service in the 1991 Persian Gulf War as well as the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Like other tanks in the Iraqi inventory, Lions were mainly employed as armored self-propelled artillery, rather than in maneuver warfare roles. In operations, it fared poorly against American main battle tanks and armored fighting vehicles. For example, a 120 mm depleted uranium (DU) APFSDS round from an M1 Abrams could knock out a Lion of Babylon tank well beyond 3,000 m,[20] while the effective range of the tungsten-core 125 mm shell used by Iraq was 1,800 m.[21]February 1991 Tank Fire Due to Large Shaped Charge Penetration

On the evening of February 26, 1991, a large shaped-charge weapon hit an Abrams tank (bumper number B-23) belonging to B Co., 1-37 Armor, penetrating the rear grill doors. The loader was injured when a second round (probably an antitank weapon) struck the tank while the crew was attempting to evacuate. The D Company Executive Officer’s tank picked up the crew. The fire from the penetration caused a catastrophic fire in the hull, destroying all stowed DU ammunition. The recovery team found pieces of a Hellfire missile at the site, but investigators never determined whether a Hellfire actually struck B-23. The inside of B-23’s turret had no ballistic damage. The tank was recovered on or about March 7, 1991.

Within closer ranges, the Lion of Babylon was more effective, especially while within prepared positions.[22] However, even in such conditions, the Lion of Babylon did not fare well against M1s—as proven in the Battle of Norfolk during Desert Storm,[23] although the tank also participated in the battle of Phase Line Bullet, where Bradleys IFVs from the 4th squadron of the 7th Cavalry Regiment were driven back by dug-in Iraqi armoured vehicles at heavy cost.[24]

Persian Gulf War[edit]

The bulk of Iraqi armoured units were equipped with the Type 69 and only Republican Guard divisions were equipped with Iraqi-modified T-72s, with exception of the regular army's armored Saladin division.[25] Thus, engagements between Lions of Babylon and American tanks were limited to conflicts involving such Iraqi units.

During Desert Storm, T-72s built in Taji were technologically 20 years out of date. Only one M1 Abrams was officially documented during the Persian Gulf War as having received enough damage to be towed and receive maintenance after being struck three times on the turret by a Lion.[26][27] Another six M1As were allegedly hit by Iraqi T-72 tank fire in the Gulf War official report, but the impacts were largely ineffectual.[28] According to Atkinson and Scales, Lions accounted for at least two M2 Bradley kills during Desert Storm and left several damaged, all on February 26, 1991.[24][29]

2003 Iraq War[edit]

A Lion tank abandoned after the U.S. thrust into Baghdad.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Republican Guard's Lions, most from the Medina Division, were deployed around Baghdad to attempt a last-ditch defense of the Baath regime.[30]

In April 2003, U.S. tanks engaged their counterparts from just 50 yards, killing seven Iraqi T-72s without any losses.[31] Such encounters exposed the poor marksmanship of Iraqi gunners, in part due to the shortage of modern night-vision and range-finder assets.[32] The Lions were even more technologically lacking at this time, and it is not known if any improvements to the tanks were made between the Persian Gulf War and this conflict. Nontheless, one Bradley was largely disabled by a 125 mm round from an Asad Babil tank when Iraqi armoured troops attempted to ambush their American counterparts near Baghdad airport.[33]

Fate[edit]

The last operational Lions were destroyed by the successive waves of American armored incursions on the Iraqi capital[34] or abandoned by their crews after the fall of Baghdad, several of them without firing a single shot. The derelict tanks were later scrapped by U.S. Army disposal teams or shipped to the United States for target practice.

Two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the new Iraqi Government acquired dozens of refitted T-72M1s from Hungary, in order to equip an armored brigade. The headquarters of this new Iraqi Army unit is located in Taji, so there may still remain some maintenance facilities from the production of Lions. Some surviving T-72s are used for training, and the experience of Iraqi Army officers and crews with the Lion was one of the reasons behind the choice Hungarian T-72M1s.[35]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Steven J. Zaloga & Peter Sarson (1993), p. 38
  2. ^ a b c ТАНКИ ИРАКСКОЙ АРМИИ [Iraqi Army Tanks]. otvaga2004.narod.ru (in Russian). Dec 29, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Steven J. Zaloga & Peter Sarson (1993), p. 24
  4. ^ a b "Baath Ground Forces Equipment", globalsecurity.org, The Russian T-72M1 Main Battle Tank (MBT) was modified with additional armor in the front and rear to protect against HEAT projectiles. This "Lion of Babylon" tank was produced locally, and the technology was Iraqi. However, the soviets made all the parts and it was assembled in Iraq. 
  5. ^ a b Timmerman, Kenneth R, "Chapter 16: The Gang's All Here", The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, ISBN 978-0-395-59305-9 
  6. ^ Zaloga & Sarson (1993) p. 38
  7. ^ Atkinson, p.443
  8. ^ John Pike. "GlobalSecurity.org". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 2013-02-03. 
  9. ^ JED website (available by free subscription)[self-published source?]
  10. ^ Zaloga & Sarson, T-72... p.22
  11. ^ "T72 Tank". fas.org. Federation of American Scientists. Image showing the cylindrical interference pod on top of the tank turret 
  12. ^ Data retrieved from Isby, Weapons and tactics...
  13. ^ Gollaher, Capt. Michael (May–June 1991), "Two Scouts Under Fire Helped Injured Buddies During Night Battle", Armor magazine: 21 
  14. ^ Atkinson, p. 444, cites another case of a TOW bouncing off a T-72 and hitting the turret of another tank
  15. ^ Brig. Gen. Scales hints that some Iraqi T-72s survived Hellfire strikes before the 1-37TF assault (p.268).
  16. ^ Dispatches From Iraq; "To ensure complete catastrophic destruction of the second tank, Private First Class Davis fired a second Javelin, causing even more explosions on the second tank. At this point the third T-72 began frantically trying to determine the source and direction of incoming fire. Private First Class Jiminez engaged the now moving third tank. His round missed but impacted close enough to damage the tank."
  17. ^ Conroy & Martz, p. 9
  18. ^ By Baumgardner, Neil; 654 words. "''Infantry'' magazine, September 1, 2004". Highbeam.com. Retrieved 2013-02-03. 
  19. ^ "ТАНКИ ИРАКСКОЙ АРМИИ" [Iraqi Army Tanks]. otvaga2004.narod.ru (in Russian). Dec 29, 2009. В 1988-89 гг. эти танки прошли модернизацию по усилению защищенности верхних лобовых деталей корпуса танка. Это достигалось путем приварки дополнительного броневого листа толщиной 30 мм с воздушной прослойкой, такого же размера. Эта мера была предпринята иракцами после изучения возможностей защиты танков от поражения различными боеприпасами 120-мм английской нарезной танковой пушки L 11А5, установленной на иранских танках "Чифтен", захваченных Ираком в ходе войны.
    "In 1988-89. These tanks had been upgraded to enhance the protection of the upper front of the tank hull. This was achieved by welding additional 30 mm armored plating with stand-offs producing an air gap of the same size. This measure was taken by the Iraqis after experimenting with protecting tanks from defeat by various 120 mm ammunition from the British L11A5 rifled tank gun installed on Iran's Chieftain tanks, seized by Iraq during the war.
     
  20. ^ Scales, page 298: "The Iraqi plan was to kill the American tanks on the ridge with dug-in T-72s and then drive the survivors back into the wadi and finish them off with artillery. The Iraqis, however, had no idea they could be detected and destroyed at a range of nearly 2 miles."
  21. ^ Scales, page 261
  22. ^ Scales, page 269: "As TF 1-37th Armor crossed over the ridge into the heart of the Iraqi defensive zone, the Iraqi commander's carefully disposed rear-slope defense stripped Dyer's tanks of their range advantage. Within 1,000 meters, a row of dug-in T-72s and BMPs suddenly appeared below the crest. All were hull-down in prepared positions behind thick dirt walls. Now the Americans were well within Iraqi killing range, and although the Soviet-made night sights were markedly inferior, things could still get very dicey."
  23. ^ Scales, page 270: "After the war they (TF 1-37th) returned to count the burned-out hulks of 76 T-72s, 84 BMPs, 3 air defense artillery pieces, 8 howitzers, 6 command vehicles, 2 engineer vehicles, and myriad of trucks."
  24. ^ a b Atkinson, pp. 428-433
  25. ^ Zaloga & Sarson, T-72... p.38
  26. ^ However, the tank endured a US Army's Armament Munitions and Chemical Command test.
  27. ^ AMCCT test
  28. ^ Fahey, Dan: Collateral Damage...During the ground war, only seven M1A1's were hit by rounds fired from the Iraqi's T-72 tanks, with none being seriously damaged. See also: George F. Hofmann & Donn A. Starry, pag.9
  29. ^ Scales, p. 273
  30. ^ Zucchino, page 3
  31. ^ Conroy & Mars, p. 158
  32. ^ Scales, page 268: "The Iraqi gunners were poor marksmen and their green tracer sabots hit nothing."
  33. ^ Fontenot, Degen and Thon, p. 306
  34. ^ John Pike (2003-04-05). "GlobalSecurity.org". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 2013-02-03. 
  35. ^ Jewell, Sgt. Lorie (November 2005). "Iraqi Army Takes Delivery of Tanks, Vehicles". defendamerica.mil (Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq). Many of the division's soldiers drove T-72 tanks in the old Iraqi Army, so they are familiar with operating and maintaining them, leaders said. A handful of the tanks remain at Taji and are used for training purposes. 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]