The T-72 is a family of Soviet main battle tanks that first entered production in 1971.[8] About 20,000 T-72 tanks have been built, and refurbishment has enabled many to remain in service for decades.[9][10] The T-72A version introduced in 1979
is considered a second-generation main battle tank. It was widely exported and saw service in 40 countries and in numerous conflicts. The T-72B3 version introduced in 2010 is considered a third-generation main battle tank.

T-72B3 mod. 2016
Main battle tank
Place of origin
Soviet Union
Service history
In service
Used by
See Operators
Iran–Iraq War
1982 Lebanon War
1982 Ethiopian–Somali Border War
Sri Lankan Civil War
Nagorno-Karabakh War
Georgian Civil War
Civil war in Tajikistan
First Persian Gulf War
Sierra Leone Civil War
Yugoslav Wars
rian Civil War
Rwanda Civil War
First Chechen War
Second Chechen War
2003 invasion of Iraq
War in South Ossetia
Libyan Civil War
Syrian Civil War
South Sudanese Civil War
Conflict in Ukraine
Iraqi Civil War
Boko Haram insurgency
2016 Nagorno-Karabakh clashes
2020 Nagorno-Karabakh
Production history
Leonid Kartsev-Valeri Venediktov
Unit cost
US$0.5–1.2 million in 1994–1996,[1] 30,962,000–61,924,000 rubles (US$1–2 million) in 2009,[2] US $0.5 million in 2011[
Specifications (T-72A[6][7])
41.5 tonnes (45.7 short tons),
44.5 tonnes (49.1 short tons) (T-72B)[4]
9.53 m (31 ft 3 in) gun forward
6.95 m (22 ft 10 in) hull
3.59 m (11 ft 9 in)
2.23 m (7 ft 4 in)
3 (commander, gunner, driver)
Steel and composite armour with ERA
125 mm 2A46M/2A46M-5[5] smoothbore gun
7.62 mm PKT coax. machine gun
12.7 mm NSVT or DShK anti-aircraft machine gun
V-12 diesel
V-92S2F (T-72B3 & T-72B3M)
780 hp (580 kW)
1,130 hp (840 kW)
for V-92S2F
18.8 hp/tonne (14 kW/tonne)
Synchromesh, hydraulically assisted, with 7 forward and 1 reverse gears
Torsion bar
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
Maximum speed
60 km/h (37 mph)
The development of the T-72 was a direct result of the introduction of the T-64 tank. The T-64 (Object 432) was a very ambitious project to build a competitive well-armoured tank with a weight of not more than 36 tons. Under the direction of Alexander Morozov in Kharkiv
a new design emerged with the hull reduced to the minimum size possible. To do this, the crew was reduced to three soldiers, removing the loader by introducing an automated loading system.[11]
The much smaller design presented a problem when selecting a suitable engine.[12] This led to the introduction of the 700 hp 5TDF engine, which was unreliable,[13] difficult to repair, and had a guaranteed lifespan similar to World War 2 designs.[14]
Production of the T-64 with a 115-mm gun began in 1964. Plans for an up-gunned T-64A with a more powerful 125-mm gun had already been made in 1963.[15] Problems with the early production run were evident from the start, but a strong lobby formed around Morozov who advocated for t
he T-64 in Moscow, preventing rival developments and ideas from being discussed.[16][17]
Mobilization model
Because of the time-consuming construction of the 5TDF engines, which took about twice as long as the contemporary V-45, the Malyshev Factory in Kharkiv could not provide a sufficient number of 5TDF engines for all Soviet tank factories.[18] This led to
This led to efforts at Uralvagonzavod to design a version of the T-64 with the cheaper and much more reliable V-45 engine of 780 hp. This model was only to be serially produced in the event of a war, a so-called "mobilization model".
n 1967, the Uralvagonzavod formed "Section 520", which was to prepare the serial production of the T-64 for 1970.[19] The team soon found out that the more powerful V-45 engine put a lot of stress on the T-64 hull, so that after some time cracks started to materialize. A more sta
ble solution was sought.[18]
Finally, an idea from 1960 was used, when a modification of the T-62 had been discussed: In 1961, two prototypes of "Object 167" had been built by Uralvagonzavod to test a stronger hull and running gear combination for that tank. Under influence from Kharkiv, the idea had been tu
rned down by Moscow.[20] But this construction, with its big, rubbercoated roadwheels now formed the basis for the mobilisation model of the T-64.[21]
Additional changes were made to the automatic loading system, which also was taken from an earlier project, originally intended for a T-62 upgrade. The 125 mm ammunition, consisting of a separate projectile and a propellant charge, was now stored horizontally on two levels, not v
ertically on one level as in the T-64.[22] It was said to be more reliable than the T-64 autoloader.[21] In 1964, two 125-mm guns of the D-81 type had been used to evaluate their installation in to the T-62, so the Ural plant was ready to adopt the 125 mm calibre for the T-64A as
<img alt="" src="//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/01/Object_172_%28T-72_prototype_on_the_basis_of_T-64%29.jpg/220px-Object_172_%28T-72_prototype_on_the_basis_of_T-64%29.jpg" decoding="async" width="220" height="147" class="thumbimage" data-file-width="38
88" data-file-height="2592">
Object 172 at the Kubinka Tank Museum
Uralvagonzavod produced the first prototype with a 125-mm gun and V-45K engine in 1968 as "Object 172". After intensive comparative testing with the T-64A, Object 172 wa
s re-engineered in 1970 to deal with some minor problems.[24] However, being only a mobilization model, serial production of Object 172 was not possible in peacetime. In an unclear political process[25] decree number 326-113 was issued, which allowed the production of Object 172
in the Soviet Union from 1 January 1972, and freed Uralvagonzavod from the T-64A production.[26]
The first batch was built as "Object 172M" and, after some modifications, it was tested again in 1973 and accepted into service as the "T-72"[27] under Soviet ministry directive number 554-172 dated 7 August 1973.
At least some technical documentation on the T-72 is known to have been passed to the CIA by the Polish Colonel Ryszard Kukliński between 1971 and 1982.
In 2018, the 3rd Central Research Institute in Moscow had tested a proof-of-concept demonstration for robotic tank mobility, and was planning to further develop it based on the T-72B3 and other platforms.[28]
The 1st series production of T-72 Object 172M began in July at UKBM in Nizhny Tagil. However, due to difficulties in getting the factory organised for the change in production from T-64 to T-72, only 30 completed tanks were delivered in 1973. Troubles continued in 1974 where out
of a state production quota of 440 only 220 were officially declared, with the actual number of completed tanks being close to 150. As a result, substantial investment in tooling was undertaken. Only after modernisation, could the factory begin full-scale production of the T-72.
Nizhny Tagil produced the tank in various modifications until 1992.
The T-72 was the most common tank used by the Warsaw Pact from the 1970s until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was also exported to other countries, such as Finland, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yugoslavia, as well as being copied elsewhere, both with and without lic
Licensed versions of the T-72 were made in Poland and Czechoslovakia, for Warsaw Pact 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,[citation need
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-Warsaw Pact customers (mostly the Arab countries)
.[citation needed] Many parts and tools are not interchangeable between the Soviet, 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 kits sold to them by the Soviet Union as a means o
f evading the UN-imposed weapons embargo. More modern derivatives include the Polish PT-91 Twardy. 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 t
he 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 w
ell) were fitted with reactive armour tiles.
TPD-K1 laser rangefinder system have appeared in T-72 tanks since 1974; 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 sometimes 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 f
rom 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 Warsaw Pact 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 ur
anium 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 article: T-72 operators and variants
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 arm
our have V added, for vzryvnoy, "explosive".
T-72 Ural (1973)[29]
Original version, armed with 125 mm smoothbore tank gun and optical coincidence rangefinder.[30][31][32]
<img alt="" src="//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/12/ParkPatriot2015part2-21.jpg/220px-ParkPatriot2015part2-21.jpg" decoding="async" width
="220" height="143" class="thumbimage" data-file-width="2250" data-file-height="1458">
The upgraded T-72A which appeared in 1979. This vehicle is the basis for the most numerous export version – the T-72M and T-72M1.
T-72A (1979)[29]
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 mu
dguards, internal changes.[6][29][31][32]
Export version, similar to T-72A but with simple steel armour. 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.[29]
T-72B3 model 2011 (~2010)
Upgrade for T-72B tanks, including Sosna-U multichannel gunner's sight, new digital VHF radio, improved autoloader, 2A46M-5 gun to accommodate new ammunition. Retains older V-84-1 840 hp (630 kW) engine and Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour, and lack
s satellite navigation.[33][34][35]
T-72B3 model 2016 or T-72B3M/T-72B4
Upgrade like the T-72B3, with Relikt explosive reactive armour, side skirts with soft-container reactive armour and slat screens, 2A46M-5 gun capable of firing 9M119M Refleks guided missile, V-92S2F 1,130 hp (840 kW) engine, automatic transmiss
ion, digital display and rear-view video.[36][37][38]
T-72 SIM-1
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).[39] It has also a friend-or-foe re
cognition system.
The T-72 design has been further developed into the following models: Lion of Babylon tank (Iraq), M-84 (Yugoslavia), M-95 Degman (Croatia), M-2001 (Serbia), PT-91 Twardy (Poland), Tank EX (India),[40] and TR-125 (Romania).
Main article: T-72 operators and variants
In addition, the T-72 hull has been used as the basis for other heavy vehicle designs, including the following:
•BMPT Terminator – Heavy convoy and close tank support vehicle.
•TOS-1 – Thermobaric multiple rocket launcher, with 30-tube launcher in place of the turret.[32]
•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.[32]
Remote weapon stations
•Odin 57 RCWS is a remote weapon station using Bofors 57 mm gun developed by Valhalla.[41]
Design characteristics
<img alt="" src="//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/33/T72monumentTagil.jpg/220px-T72monumentTagil.jpg" decoding="async" width="220" height="165" class="thumbimage" data-file-width="2560" data-file-height="1920">
T-72 monument in its pr
oduction place, Nizhny Tagil.
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.
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 originally designed for the World War II-era T-34. The 0.58 m (1 ft 11 in) wide tracks run on large-diameter road wheels, which allows for
easy identification of the T-72 and descendants (the T-64 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 simple rebreather chest-pack apparatuses 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
<img alt="" src="//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ef/Tank_memorial_Stepanakert.jpg/220px-Tank_memorial_Stepanakert.jpg" decoding="async" width="220" height="165" class="thumbimage" data-file-width="1280" data-file-height="960">
Memorial of a T-72 with ERA
in Askeran, Republic of Artsakh or Azerbaijan. The tank was advancing on Azerbaijani positions in Askeran when it hit a mine and its Armenian crew was killed in the resulting explosion. The tank was restored after the war.
The T-72 has a 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 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 anti-radiation lining.[citation needed]
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 easier-to-use steering wheel or steering yoke common i
n modern Western tanks. This set-up requires the near-constant use of both hands, which complicates employment of the seven speed manual transmission.
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.[42] According to official regulations, however, the actual figu
e is 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)[43]
T-72A top view. This model sports thick "Dolly Parton" composite armour on the turret front.
Indian T-72 Ajeya with ERA
Armour protection of the T-72 was strengthened with each succeeding generation. The original T-72 "Ural" Object 172M's (from 1973) turret is made
rom conventional cast HHS steel armour with no laminate inserts. It is believed that the maximum thickness is 280 mm (11 in) and the nose is 80 mm (3.1 in). The glacis of the new laminated armour is
205 mm (8.1 in) thick, comprising 80 mm (3.1 in) HHS steel, 105 mm (4.1 in) double layer of laminate and 20 mm (0.79 in) RHA steel, which when inclined gives about 500–600 mm (20–24 in) thickness along the line of sight. In 1977 the armour of the T-72 Object 172M was slightly cha
nged. The turret now featured insert filled with ceramic sand bars "kwartz" rods and the glacis place composition was changed. It was now made up of 60 mm (2.4 in) HHA steel,105 mm (4.1 in) glass Tekstolit laminate
often known in Soviet circles as T-72 "Ural-1". The next armour update was introduced by the T-72A (Object 176), which was designed in 1976 and replaced the original on the production lines during 1979–1985. T-72 Object 1976 is also known as T-72A.
With the introduction of the T-72B (Object 184) in 1985, the composite armour was again changed. According to retired major, James M. Warford, variants developed after the T-72 base model and T-72M/T-72G MBT, featured a cast steel turret that
included a cavity filled with quartz or sand in a form similar to US "fused-silica" armour.[44] Steven J. Zaloga mentions that the T-72 Model 1978 (Obiekt 172M sb-4), which entered production in 1977,
featured a new turret with special armour composed of ceramic rods.[45]
The T-72A featured a new turret with thicker, nearly vertical, frontal armour. Due to its appearance, it was unofficially nicknamed "Dolly Parton" armour by the US Army.[46] This used the new ceramic-rod turret filler, incorporated improved glacis laminate armour,
and mounted new anti-shaped-charge sideskirts.[47]
The T-72M was identical to the base T-72 Ural model in terms of protection,[48] retaining the monolithic steel turret.[49] The modernized T-72M1 was closer to the T-72A in terms of protection. It featured an additional 16 mm (0.63 in) of high
hardness steel appliqué armour on the glacis plate, which produced an increase of 43 mm (1.7 in) in line of sight thickness. It was also the first export variant with composite armour in the turret, containing
ceramic rods[50] sometimes called "sandbar armour".[45] The turret armour composition was essentially identical to the T-72 "Ural-1" whereas Soviet-only T-72As had slightly increased turret protection.
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.[51] The turret armour of the T-72B was the thickest and most effective of
all Soviet tank armour; it was even thicker than the frontal armour of the T-80B.[51] The T-72B used a new "reflecting-plate armour" (bronya s
otrazhayushchimi listami), in which the frontal cavity of the cast turret was filled with a laminate of alternating steel and non-metallic (rubber) layers.[52]
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.
A U.S. Army spokesperson claim
ed at the show, "the myth of Soviet inferiority in this sector of arms production that has been perpetuated by the failure of downgraded T-72 export tanks in the Gulf Wars has, finally, been laid to rest.
The results of these tests show that if a NATO/Warsaw Pact confrontation had erupted in Europe, the Soviets would have had parity (or perhaps even superiority) in armour".[53] KE-effective ERA, such as Kontakt-5, drove the development of M829A3 ammunition.[54]
Late 1980s, Soviet developed Object 187 (Объект 187, or T-72BI), it was a parallel project to Object 188 (the T-90 tank). It was based on the T-72B, with a heavily modified turret. The 'Object 187' used composite armour for the turret ("Super Dolly Parton" composite armor) and th
e hull front, and RHA for the rest of the tank. It possibly consisted of special materials including ceramic or high density uranium alloys. Maximum physical thickness of the
passive armour (not counting the reactive armor – ERA) was up to 95 mm RHA. With Kontakt-5 ERA, T-72BI's frontal armour was immune to the NATO's 120 mm L/44 tank gun.[55][56] However, after the Soviet collapse, the tank was not accepted.
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 mm (20 in) th
ick armour steel layer.
Turret vs APFSDS
Turret vs HEAT
Hull vs APFSDS
Hull vs HEAT
T-72 'Ural'[57] (1973)[58][59][60]
380–410 mm (15–16 in)
450–500 mm (18–20 in)
335–410 mm (13.2–16.1 in)
410–450 mm (16–18 in)
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