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A Bulgarian T-72 tank
|Type||Main battle tank|
|Place of origin||Soviet Union|
|In service||1971 – present|
|Designer||Leonid Kartsev-Valeri Venediktov|
|Designed||1967 – 1973|
|Unit cost||30,962,000–61,924,000 rubles (US$1–2 million) (in 2009)|
|Produced||1971 – present|
|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)|
|Armour||steel and composite armour|
|125 mm 2A46M smoothbore gun|
|7.62 mm PKT coax machine gun, 12.7 mm NSVT antiaircraft machine gun|
780 hp (582 kw)
|Transmission||Synchromesh, hydraulically assisted, with 7 forward and 1 reverse gears.|
|Ground clearance||0.49 m (19 in)|
|Fuel capacity||1,200 L (320 U.S. gal; 260 imp gal)|
|460 km (290 mi), 700 km (430 mi) with fuel drums|
|Speed||60 km/h (37 mph)|
The T-72 is a Soviet second-generation main battle tank that entered production in 1970. It was developed directly from Obyekt-172, and shares parallel features with the T-64A. The T-72 was one of the most widely produced post-World War II tanks, second only to the T-54/55 family, and the basic design has also been further developed as the T-90.
While the T-64 was perhaps the world's most advanced battle tank design when introduced, it was too expensive to equip all the Soviet tank armies, let alone Warsaw Pact (WARPAC) allies. Therefore the parallel development of a so-called "mobilization model" was ordered, while T-64 development and production continued.
An "economy" tank with the old design V-46 powerplant was developed from 1967 at the Uralvagonzavod Factory located in Nizhny Tagil. Chief engineer Leonid Kartsev created "Object 172", the initial design, but the prototype, marked "Object 172M", was refined and finished by Valeri Venediktov. Field trials lasted from 1971 to 1973 and upon acceptance the Chelyabinsk Tank factory immediately ceased T-55 and T-62 production to retool for the new T-72 tank.
Production history 
The T-72 was the most common tank used by the Warsaw Pact from the 1970s to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was also exported to other countries, as well, such as Finland, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yugoslavia, as well as being copied elsewhere, both with and without licenses.
Licenced versions of the T-72 were made in Poland and Czechoslovakia, for WARPAC 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, replaced with all steel. The Polish-made T-72G tanks 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-WARPAC customers (mostly the Arab countries). Many parts and tools are not interchangeable between the Russian, 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 "spare parts" sold to them by Russia as a means of evading the UN-imposed weapons embargo. More modern derivatives include the Polish PT-91 Twardy and Russian T-90. 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.
Laser rangefinders appear in T-72 tanks since 1978; 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 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 WARPAC 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.
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)
- Original version, armed with 125 mm smoothbore tank gun and optical coincidence rangefinder.
- T-72A (1979)
- Added laser rangefinder and electronic fire control, turret front and top being heavily reinforced with composite armour (nicknamed Dolly Parton by US intelligence), provisions for mounting reactive armor, smoke grenade launchers, flipper armour mount on front mudguards, internal changes.
- T-72 SIM1
- 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). It has also a friend-or-foe recognition system.
- Export "Monkey model" version, similar to T-72A but lacking composite armour and with downgraded weapon systems. Also built in Poland and former Czechoslovakia
- T-72B (1985)
- New main gun, stabilizer, sights, and fire control, capable of firing 9M119 Svir guided missile, additional armour including 20 mm (0.8 in) of appliqué armour in the front of hull, improved 840 hp (630 kW) engine.
- T-90 (1995)
- Modernization of the T-72, incorporating technical features of the heavier, more complex T-80. Originally to have been named T-72BU.
The T-72 design has been further developed into the following new models: Lion of Babylon tank (Iraq), M-84 (Yugoslavia), M-95 Degman (Croatia), M-2001 (Serbia), PT-91 Twardy (Poland), T-90 (Russia), Tank EX (India), and TR-125 (Romania).
Operators and variants 
The T-72 hull has been used as the basis for other heavy vehicle designs, including the following:
- BMPT – Heavy convoy and close tank support vehicle.
- TOS-1 – Thermobaric rocket launcher, with 30-tube launcher in place of the turret.
- BREM-1 (Bronirovannaya Remonto-Evakuatsionnaya Mashina) – Armoured recovery vehicle with a 12-tonne crane, 25-tonne winch, dozer blade, towing equipment, and tools.
- 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.
Design characteristics 
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. Although it depends less on electricity than some Western main battle tanks, it nonetheless still needs electrical power for operation and movement.
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 block originally designed for the World War II-era T-34. The tracks run on large-diameter road wheels, which allows for easy identification of the T-72 and descendants (the T-64/80 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 a simple rebreather chest-pack apparatus 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 
The T-72 has a comprehensive 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 extensive 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 internal lining that is standard on Russian T-72s, which consists of a layer of synthetic material, containing lead, that provides some degree of protection against the effects of neutron radiation and electromagnetic pulses.
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 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 gearbox.
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. According to official regulations, however, the actual figure is 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
|The cavity in the cast turret|
|Laminated turret matrix of the T-72B|
Armour protection of the T-72 was strengthened with each succeeding generation. The original T-72 turret is made from conventional cast armour. It is believed the maximum thickness is 280 mm (11 in), the nose is about 80 mm (3.1 in) and the glacis of the new laminated armour is 200 mm (7.9 in) thick, which when inclined gives about 500–600 mm (20–24 in) thickness along the line of sight. Late model T-72s feature composite armour protection.
The T-72A featured a new turret with thicker but nearly vertical frontal armour. Due to its appearance, it was unofficially nicknamed "Dolly Parton" armour by the US Army. The cast steel turret included a cavity filled with kvartz or sand.
The T-72M (export version of the Soviet T-72A) featured a different armour protection compared to the T-72A: it had a different composite insert in the turret cavity which granted it less protection against HEAT and armour-piercing (AP) munitions. The modernised T-72M1 featured an additional 16 mm (0.63 in) of armour on the glacis plate, which produced an increase of 32 mm (1.3 in) horizontally against both HEAT and AP. It also featured a newer composite armour in the turret with pelletised filler agent.
Several T-72 models featured explosive reactive armour (ERA), which increased protection primarily against HEAT type weapons. Certain late-model T-72 tanks featured heavy ERA to help defeat modern HEAT and AP against which they were insufficiently protected.
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. The turret armour of the T-72B was the thickest and most effective of all Soviet tanks; it was even thicker than the frontal armour of the T-80B. The T-72B used a new "reflecting-plate armor" (bronya sotrazhayushchimi listami), in which the frontal cavity of the cast turret was filled with a laminate of alternating steel and non-metallic (rubber) layers. 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.
The July 1997 issue of Jane's International Defence Review confirmed that 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 modern US and German tank projectiles; this sparked the development of more modern Western tank ammunition, such as the M829A2 and M829A3. Russian tank designers responded with newer types of reactive armour, including Relikt and Kaktus.
Estimated protection level 
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 millimetres (20 in) thick armour steel layer.
|Model||Turret vs APFSDS||Turret vs HEAT||Hull vs APFSDS||Hull vs HEAT|
|T-72 'Ural'||380 mm (15 in)||490 mm (19 in)||335 mm (13.2 in)||450 mm (18 in)|
|T-72A||500 mm (20 in)||560 mm (22 in)||420 mm (17 in)||490 mm (19 in)|
|T-72M||380 mm (15 in)||490 mm (19 in)||335 mm (13.2 in)||450 mm (18 in)|
|T-72M1||420 mm (17 in)||490 mm (19 in)||400 mm (16 in)||490 mm (19 in)|
|T-72B||520 mm (20 in)||950 mm (37 in)||530 mm (21 in)||900 mm (35 in)|
The T-72 is equipped with the 125 mm (4.9 in) 2A46 series main gun, a significantly 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. However, its armour penetration is not as great. 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 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). Its maximum firing distance is 9,100 m (9,951.9 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 the former USSR). 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.
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' IR illuminator. Thermal imaging sights are extremely expensive, and the new Russian FLIR system, the 'Buran-Catherine Thermal Imaging Suite' was only introduced recently on the T-80UM tank. Most T-72s found outside the former Soviet Union do not have laser rangefinders. T-72 built for export have a downgraded fire-control system.
The T-72's autoloader design is not based on the faster, but more complicated autoloader in the USSR's domestic-use-only T-64 tank series (the T-72's is horizontally auto-fed, the T-64's uses vertical actuators). The autoloader must crank the gun up three degrees above the horizontal in order to depress the breech end of the gun and line it up with the new shell. While autoloading, the gunner can still aim because he has a vertically independent sight. With a laser rangefinder and a ballistic computer, final aiming takes at least another three to five seconds, but aiming is pipelined into the last steps of auto-loading so it proceeds concurrently. The average rate of fire for this type of carousel automatic loader is quoted to be 8 rounds per minute. The use of the autoloader allows the elimination of the extra loader crewmember, decreasing the size of the tank.
The T-72 was never used in the Afghanistan war. The 40th Soviet army that was deployed there had only T-55 and T-62 tanks.
The Russian Federation has over 5,000 T-72 tanks in use, including around 2,000 in active service and 3,000 in reserves. The T-72 has been used by the Russian army in the fighting during the Chechen Wars and the Russo-Georgian War. The T-72 has been used by over 40 countries worldwide.
In the 1982 Lebanon War, Syrian T-72s and T-55s engaged Israeli M60A1 and Merkava tanks in the south of Lebanon. After the war, Syrian president Hafez Al Assad called the T-72 "the best tank in the world." Syrian and Russian sources claim that the T-72 had success against the latest Israeli Merkava I tanks and that no T-72s were lost. Others claim that the two tanks never met in combat and that 12 T-72s were lost mostly due to anti-tank ambushes and the usage of TOW missiles. The IDF claimed that the Syrian forces lost 400 vehicles (12 of them were T-72s), while Israeli forces lost 160 tanks.
On the two occasions when users of the downgraded export versions of the T-72s have met Western armies that possessed modern main battle tanks — Iraq in 1991 (against the U.S. M1 Abrams, M60A1s and the British Challenger 1), and again Iraq in 2003 — the T-72 showed little to no success due to use of old and outdated ammunition. In both the Gulf War and the Iraq War, the Iraqi tank units were heavily defeated, although this might have more to do with poor Iraqi crew training and full Allied air supremacy than with any deficiencies of the T-72 itself. Furthermore, while facing the most modern Western tanks, the versions the Iraqi army fielded were out of date at the time. The Iraqi T-72s were less-capable export versions that had not been significantly upgraded, and were firing inferior ammunition, often with old, cheap steel penetrators and half-charges of propellant..
In January 2009, it was reported that the Iraqi government is negotiating a deal to purchase up to 2,000 T-72 tanks. The T-72s are to be rebuilt and modernized.
Xu Bin-shi, a high ranking Chinese military engineer, revealed during an interview that China obtained a T-72 from Romania in the 1980s, in exchange for plasma spray technology.
Combat history 
||This section needs additional citations for verification. (February 2010)|
- 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq War (Iraq) (Iran)
- 1982 Lebanon (Syria)
- 1983–2009 Sri Lankan Civil War (India)
- 1986-1989 South African Border War (Cuba)
- 1988–1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War (Armenia and Azerbaijan)
- 1988–1993 Georgian Civil War
- 1990–1991 First Persian Gulf War (Iraq, Kuwait)
- 1990–2002 Sierra Leone Civil War (Executive Outcomes) 
- 1991–2001 Yugoslav Wars (Yugoslavia)
- 1994 Rwanda Civil War (Uganda)
- 1994–1996 First Chechen War (Russia, Chechnya (limited))
- 1999–2009 Second Chechen War (Russia)
- 2003 Invasion of Iraq (Iraq)
- 2008 War in South Ossetia (Russia and Georgia)
- 2011 2011 Libyan civil war (Gaddafi Government and Anti-Gaddafi forces)
- 2012 Syrian civil war - Government forces using T-72 tanks, Limited use of captured tanks by rebel forces
See also 
- Comparable AFVs: Chieftain tank, Leopard 1, M60 main battle tank
- Related lists: List of tanks, List of Soviet tanks
- 125mm Smoothbore Rounds
- AT-8 Songster
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- "War Technology"
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: T-72 tanks|
- T-72S Main Battle Tank, Russian Federation
- Vasiliy Fofanov's Modern Russian Armour Page
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- "??????". Retrieved 2008-06-15. "Kalejdoskop" (Russian language)