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modified: Nov 10, 2012
T-72 is a Soviet main battle tank designed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It is an improvement of the T-62 while incorporating some features of the T-64A.

The T-72 originated when a low-cost alternative to the T-64 was sought. The initial design, called Object 172, was created by chief engineer Leonid Kartsev of Uralvagon KB. The project was codenamed Ural, to emphasize that it was developed by the Nizhni Tagil group.

Major effort was directed to replacing the expensive and unreliable engine and transmission of the T-64 with simpler and cheaper alternatives. The V-46 diesel engine, developed by the Chelyabinsk engine design bureau was selected for Obiekt 172. The "basket" autoloader was replaced with a "cassette" autoloader. The first Obiekt 172 prototype was completed in the summer of 1968 and underwent initial factory trials.

Valeri N. Venediktov's team replaced the T-64 style suspension of the prototype with a less expensive one developed for Obiekt 167. Army trials began at Kubinka at the end of 1968. After additional refinements, trials were conducted in Central Asia in the summer of 1969. Final trials were conducted in the Transbaikal region in 1971. The design was then authorized for production.

Production of the first batch of Obiekt 172 tanks began in 1972 at Nizhni Tagil. These vehicles underwent operational trials with Soviet tank units.

The trials revealed flaws which led to an immediate improvement program designated Object 172M. The L2AG Luna-2 searchlight was moved to the right side of the main gun, the radio antenna was moved from in front of the commander's station to behind it. Two light steel external stowage boxes were mounted on the turret. The prototype was completed in 1970.

Obiekt 172M was the first version to be manufactured in large numbers. It was accepted for production in 1974 as the T-72.

The T-72 is powered by a 780hp V-12 piston V-46 air-cooled diesel engine with supercharger. The engine can run on benzine and kerosene as well as diesel. The driver has a dial to set the engine for the type of fuel available.

The T-72 is armed with the 125mm 2A46 smoothbore gun fitted with a light-alloy thermal sleeve and a bore evacuator. The gun is stabilized in both planes with the 2Eh28M system. It can fire APFSDS, HEAT-FS, and HE-FRAG rounds. A 7.62mm PKT machine gun is mounted coaxially to the right of the main gun. The commander has a roof-mounted 12.7mm NSV machine gun.

The T-72 design uses the hull and turret layout of the T-64. The engine is an improved version of that of the T-62 while the cooling system is similar to that of the T-55/T-62. The drive train is similar to that of the T-64.

The hull is of all-welded steel construction. The glacis is well sloped, transversely ribbed and has a deep V splashboard. It is of a new laminate armor 200mm thick. The turret has conventional cast armor with a maximum thickness of 280mm.

The driver seats at the front of the hull in the center. He is provided with a single-piece hatch cover that opens to the right. In front of the hatch cover is a single wide-angle TVNE-4E day observation periscope. The driver has FG 125 headlamps.

In the turret, the gunner and commander are seated to the left and right respectively. The commander has a contra-rotating cupola with a single-piece hatch cover that opens forward. It has two rear-facing TNPA day vision blocks. In the forward part of the cupola is a combined TKN-3 day/night sight with an OU-3 IR searchlight mounted over the top. To either side of the combined day/night sight, is another TNP-160 day periscope. Forward and slightly below the commander's cupola is an optical stadiametric rangefinder.

The gunner's hatch opens forward and has a circular opening for mounting a snorkel. A TNP-160 day periscope is located in front of the gunner's hatch while a TNPA-65 day vision block is fitted in the hatch cover itself. In front and to the left of the gunner's hatch is a panoramic day/night sight which is used in conjunction with the IR searchlight. The gunner has the TPD-2-49 sight and the TPN-1-49-23 night sight.

Fuel cells extend along the right side of the hull top. Stowage boxes and an oil cell are located on the left hull top. There are four internal oil tanks. An unditching beam is carried at the rear. Two external 200 liter fuel drums can be mounted at the rear of the hull.

The T-72 was first seen in public in October 1977 when Yvon Bourges, the French Minister of Defense, visited the Tamanskaya Guards Division.

T-72K, the command variant, was accepted for service in 1973.

The first export version of the T-72 was accepted in 1975. It is sometimes designated as the T-72 Model 1975. It has a different armor package over the frontal arc of the turret. It also has a different NBC protection system and amount of 125mm ammunition.

Obiekt 174 was a 1970s program by Uralvagon KB to improve the T-72. The expensive and inaccurate TPD-2 coincidence rangefinder was replaced with the new TPD-K1 laser rangefinder. This led to the removal of the optical port on the right side of the turret. A new version of laminate turret armor called K-combination was introduced. The turret's steel armor had a cavity with laminate ceramic/steel armor which improved protection against APFSDS rounds and HEAT shaped-charges.

The T-72 used 'gill armor' flip out panels (Bortovie shchitki) on the hull side to prematurely detonate shaped-charge projectiles, rockets, and missiles. These were replaced on the T-72A with skirts made of metal reinforced plastic fabric. It had napalm protection system, turn signals, and TVNE-4B driver night observation device. It had an upgraded torsion bar suspension for improved off-road mobility and a V-46-6 diesel engine. Improvements were also made to the engine, communications equipment, night vision, and ammunition stowage.

Obiekt 174 entered production in 1978 as the T-72A. It was accepted for service in June 1979. Before mass production of the T-72A, the final batch of T-72s were built with some of the T-72A features incorporated.

Due to the thickened appearance of the turret frontal armor, the T-72A was unofficially called 'Dolly Parton' in the US Army.

Further modification of the T-72A included addition of 12 System 902A smoke grenade dischargers on the turret front and tubular containers for OU-2 fire extinguishers.

The final 1981 T-72A production variant (NATO: SMT 1981/3) had a modified turret with a layer of anti-radiation cladding on the roof and an additional stowage box.

T-72AK, the command variant, was accepted for service in 1975.

T-72AV is a T-72A variant fitted with explosive reactive armor consisting of 227 bricks. It was accepted for service in 1985.

T-72M is an export version of the T-72A. It has a different armor protection level and NBC protection system. There are four evenly spaced ribs on the upper glacis plate. It was accepted in 1980.

T-72M1 refers to a modernized T-72M and has an additional layer of 16mm armor plate on the glacis and combination armor in the turret with pelletized filler agent. There are two ribs on the upper glacis plate. It was accepted in 1982.

The T-72M1 weighs about 43 tonnes and is powered by a 780hp V-46-6 diesel engine. It has a top road speed of 60km/h.

Upgraded T-72M1
It was revealed in 2001 that Uralvagonzavod had completed the prototype of an upgraded version of the T-72M1 for the export market. The design work for the upgrade was carried out by the Ural Design Office of Transport Mechanical Engineering. As of 2005, two prototypes have been built.

The upgrade package is modular so that customers are able to select specific packages to suit their own requirements.

The upgraded T-72M1 has a weight of 45 tonnes. It can be powered either by a 1,000hp V-92S2 diesel engine or an 840hp V-84MS diesel engine.

The roadwheels have an increased carrying capacity. The torsion bars have been strengthened. New hydraulic shock-absorbers have been fitted for improved off-road performance. New longer-lasting tracks have been fitted with rubber bushes and can be fitted with rubber pads for road travel.

The 2A46 gun has been replaced by the newer 2A46M which has a built-in boresighting device. An improved fire-control system allows the use of 9M119 series laser-guided missiles. First-round hit probability is increased by the installation of the French Thales Optronique Catherine thermal imager.

The gunner has two axis stabilized sight that combines day/thermal and laser guidance channels. He also has a backup TPD-K1 laser sight. The tank commander has a PNK-4S day/night sight that is stabilized only in the vertical plane. Both the gunner and commander have screens on which the target is displayed. The commander is able to take over, aim and fire the main gun.

The PNK-4S sighting system includes the TKN-4S sight, electronic module and a gyrostabilizer, gun position indicator sensor and the 1EhTs29 ZPU fire-control system. The 2Eh42-4 stabilizer is installed.

In addition to a TKN-3 day/night sight, the upgraded T-72M1 is fitted with an automatic target tracking device.

The frontal arc of the turret, hull front and side skirts of the upgraded T-72M1 is fitted with an advanced ERA. It is claimed to protect against APFSDS and tandem HEAT attack.

The tank is fitted with the Arena active protection system, and the SPZ laser jamming part of the TShU1-7 Shtora active jamming system. The rest of the jamming system can be included upon request.

The GPK-59 navigation system has been replaced by GPS. The R-123 radio system has been replaced by the R-163-50U (or the P-168-25 series) radio set and R-163UP receiver.

The tank can also be fitted with an electromagnetic protection system to detonate anti-tank mines.

Obiekt 174M was a program by Uralvagon KB to improve the T-72 armor protection to match that of the T-80B. A new laminate armor was added to the turret front. The glacis plate is provided with 20mm appliqué armor. The V-84 diesel engine was used to compensate for the additional weight of the armor. The road wheels were changed from those with eight indentations to ones with six indentations. This version was accepted and entered production in 1985 as the T-72B and T-72B1.

The turret armor on the T-72B was the thickest and most effective ever mounted on a Soviet tank. This led to the US Army unofficial nickname of 'Super Dolly Parton.' The first production batches had the System 902A smoke dischargers mounted on the turret front. However, they were moved to the turret sides on subsequent batches.

A new fan cooling system has been installed leading to a redesign of the rear of the vehicle. Late production vehicles have an anti-radiation layer on the hull roof.

The fire-control system consists of the 1A40-1 sight complex. Firing at night is achieved with the 1K13-49 sight. The main gun is stabilized by the 2Eh42-2 system with hydroelectric drive in the vertical plane and electric drive in the horizontal plane.

In the late 1980s, an effort was made to allow the T-72 to fire tube-launched anti-tank guided projectiles. Instead of the normal sight, a 1K13 laser designator sight was mounted over the gunner's station. The 9K120 Svir system consists of a two-piece round stowed in a similar fashion to other types of ammunition. The missile has a 4.2kg shaped charge warhead. It is fitted with a small optical port which monitors the laser beam projected by the 1K13 and makes adjustments to remain in the center of the beam.

The T-72B and T-72B1 are identical except that the T-72B1 lacks the Svir missile system.

The ERA package consists of 227 bricks 118 of which are located on the chassis.

T-72BK is the command version accepted in 1985.

In 1987/88, EDZ tiles began to be fitted to the T-72A and later to the T-72B and T-72B1. The standard fit consisted of 151 tiles.

The T-72BM was a variant with the Shtora 1 electro-optical jammer which was designed to confuse the trackers on NATO wire-guided anti-tank missile launchers. It was accepted for service in 1992. In addition, the T-72BM had Kontakt-5 reactive armor arrays and was fitted with a fire control system identical to that of the T-80U.

T-72S Shilden is the export version of the T-72B. It was originally designated T-72M1M. It has an ERA package with 155 bricks. The hull and turret are identical to those of the T-72M1. It was accepted in 1987. It is manufactured under license in Iran.

T-72S1, also accepted in 1987, is the T-72S without the Svir missile system.

Command variants
Battalion and regimental command tanks were produced in parallel to the normal versions. They were given the 'K' suffix (Kommandniy). They carried a 10m telescopic radio antenna in a small tube under the rear turret stowage bin. This antenna can be mounted only when the tank is stationary. The tanks were fitted with the R-130M radio. The additional radio and navigation equipment as well as electrical generator required the command variants to carry less main gun and machine gun ammunition.

Company command tanks were given the 'K1' suffix. They carried two R-123M or R-173M radios, and TNA-3 and GPK-59 navigation systems. They did not have the 10m antenna of the battalion and regimental command tanks.

Command tanks can not be fitted with mineclearing equipment at the front of the hull.

Other variants
A heavy infantry fighting vehicle prototype has been developed. It has a modified T-72 chassis with a modified BMP-3 turret. It is armed with a 100mm gun, 30mm coaxial machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun.

Other variants include the MTU-72 AVLB, BREM-1 ARV, BMPT tank support vehicle, and TOS-1 rocket system.

The T-72 has been exported to Warsaw Pact and other countries such as India and Yugoslavia. Poland and Czechoslovakia were the main suppliers for the Warsaw Pact. A small quantity of T-72s purchased by both countries were delivered in 1977. License agreements to locally build the tank were reached in 1978.

The T-72M is the T-72 variant built in Poland and Czechoslovakia. It was also designated T-72G in its Middle East export form. In the mid 1980's, both countries switched to an equivalent of the T-72A, designated T-72M1.

T-72 designation equivalents
T-72 T-72A T-72 T-72
T-72 T-72B T-72 T-72
T-72A T-72G T-72M SMT M1980, SMT M1980/1
T-72A T-72M1 T-72M1 SMT M1981/3, SMT M1984
T-72B T-72M1M - SMT M1988
T-72B1 T-72S, T-72S1 - FST-1, SMT M1986
? - - SMT M1990

Romania purchased thirty T-72 tanks from the Soviet Union in 1979. Plans to license build the tank in Romania under the designation TR-125 did not go beyond the prototype stage.

Yugoslavia sold its upgraded version called M-84 to many countries around the world. The Iraqi named it the Lion of Babylon. The first country outside of Europe to produce the T-72 was India.

Recent variants of the T-72 are the Polish PT-91 Twardy and the Russian T-90.

References: JAA5, JTCV, MSCT, TaT, TMBT
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