T-72: the Russian tank built for World War III (and killed in Ukraine)

The T-72 tank has a bad reputation in Ukraine because it suffers heavy losses. And yet it was built for a different enemy – NATO in a possible Cold War WWII scenario: The Russian T-72 main battle tank, like many armored models in Moscow’s inventory, fights against Ukrainian fighters. Social media widely documented the tank’s losses. The T-72 fell off a bridge with her drowned crew. The troops sit dangerously close to ammunition storage so that anti-tank missile fire creates a massive fireball. mortar fire lands on the T-72s. The tanks are blown by mines. Drone fire air-to-surface missiles. And, of course, the Javelin, Stugna and NLAW anti-tank guided missiles complicate the life of the T-72 and its variants.

History of the T-72

The T-72 has been around since 1971 and was built for a war against NATO at the height of the Cold War. It was designed to replace the T-64 and it evolved from there.

The T-72 had a low profile that was supposed to make it tougher. The new innovation at the time was its autoloader to allow for faster firing and to relieve the crew of three soldiers so they could focus on mobility and acquiring more targets.

The number of T-72 tanks produced is impressive

The tank became a workhorse and was easy to mass produce.

The Soviets made over 17,000 T-72s, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians continued to make them until they had about 9,000, with 2,000 in service. here 2020 and the rest in stock.

The T-72 was the main tank in the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988.

The T-72 also enjoyed a huge export market over the years, as 30 countries adopted it.

The Russians continued to update the T-72

The variants you see fighting in Ukraine are probably the T-72B3 and the T-72B3M. The T-72B3, which is now considered a 3rd-generation after its introduction in 2010, is the most popular model on the current battlefield with about 1,300 in service with the Russians.

He was deployed in Ukraine before the invasion and in Syria.

The T-72B3 has been modernized

The T-72B3 has thicker armor, a better fire control system and modern sights. Then in the 1990s it got new engines and Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor. At 43 miles per hour on the roads, it’s faster and more maneuverable than the original T-72. There is a laser rangefinder and thermal sights. It can fire anti-tank and high-explosive sabot rounds from its 125mm smoothbore gun.

But the tank took a hit in Ukraine

With all these improvements, why is he struggling on the battlefield in Ukraine? First, the high number of T-72B3 means it will take the brunt of the losses.

The next problem concerns anti-tank guided munitions. Like many tanks it has a weakness at the top of its turret where the armor is thinnest and this is what the Javelin targets with deadly effect.

Easy to ambush

The T-72B3 also moves along roads where the Ukrainians can set up ambushes since the defenders know the lay of the terrain better. He may overrun his supply lines and run out of fuel and ammunition. Russian crew members sometimes simply abandoned the tank and let the Ukrainians capture it. The Ukrainians were adept at using the deadly Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 unmanned system against the T-72B3. Anti-tank mines passed through the armor of the tank.

The Russians try to adapt their techniques

Despite the losses, the Russians attempted to change tactics. They use their own reconnaissance drones and helicopters to fly past the armored columns to detect ambushes. But the Ukrainians have Stinger MANPADs and can shoot down these planes.

Image of a Russian T-72 firing.

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Russian tank T-72. Image credit: Creative Commons.

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The drilling of the Russian tank T-72. Image credit: Creative Commons.

It was going to be easy mechanized warfare

Russian generals believed that the T-72B3 could break through Ukrainian lines and run tirelessly to capture urban areas. It appeared before the invasion that the Ukrainian tanks would not be held in reserve and after the initial build-up the Russians would have a clear way. The Russians assumed there would be a tank-on-tank war and since they enjoyed such strength in numbers, the T-72B3 could overwhelm the defenders.

But the Russians had not anticipated logistical problems or susceptibility to anti-tank missiles and drones. It was a fatal mistake, and now the Russians may have to bring older T-72 tanks from storage and throw them into battle. Placing more tanks in the meat war may not be a winning recipe.

Now as 1945 Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. EastwoodPhD, is the author of Humans, Machines and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an emerging threat expert and former US Army infantry officer.

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