V-12 diesel engine block originally designed for the WWII T-34. The tracks run on large-diameter road wheels, which allows for easy identification of T-72 and descendants (the T-64/80 family has relatively small road wheels). Ride comfort is reported as poor compared to Western tanks equipped with hydrodynamic suspension.Fact|date=May 2008

The T-72 is designed to cross rivers up to convert|5|m|ft|abbr=on deep submerged using a small diameter snorkel assembled on-site. Because the hull is not water-tight, the crew is individually supplied with a simplistic rebreather chest-pack apparatus for survival. 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 snorkelling 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 a complicated 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 smaller complement increases the crew's mental and physical exhaustionFact|date=May 2008 (although in service, the tank crew is supplemented by a mechanic who travels with the military support organization). The small interior also demands the use of shorter crewmen, with the maximum height set at 1.6 m (5 ft 4 in) in the Soviet Army (similar height restrictions exist in other Soviet-era armored vehicles). [] 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.


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 in) and the glacis of the new laminated armour is 200 mm (8 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-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 convert|32|mm|in|1|abbr=on 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 "Dolly Parton" armour by Western intelligence. The glacis was also fitted with convert|20|mm|in|1|abbr=on 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-72 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.

In contrast to recent Western tanks, the T-72 stores ammunition in the crew compartment, including in the turret. This means if the main compartment is penetrated, ammunition cook-off can occur, which is likely to kill the crew and blast the turret high into the air.Fact|date=May 2008 American tank crews who faced Iraqi T-72s during the two Persian Gulf Wars referred to the tank as the "jack-in-the-box".

The July 1997 issue of Jane's International Defence Review confirmed that after the collapse of 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 Heavy Reactive Armour, including Relikt and Kaktus.


The T-72 is equipped with the 125 mm 2A46 series main gun, which was significantly larger than the standard 105 mm gun found in contemporary Western MBTs, and still slightly larger than the 120 mm/L44 found in many modern Western MBTs. 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 APFDS rounds.

The main gun of the T-72 has a mean error of one metre (39 in) at a range of convert|1800|m|yd|abbr=on, which is considered substandard today.Fact|date=May 2008 Its maximum firing distance is convert|9100|m|yd|abbr=on, due to limited positive elevation. The limit of aimed fire is convert|4000|m|yd|abbr=on (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 millimetre gun barrel is certified strong enough to ram the tank through forty centimetres 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 and automatic loader.


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). These systems are fast but prone to malfunctions if not maintained properly.Fact|date=May 2008 Even if properly maintained they can be relatively unreliable.Fact|date=May 2008 It takes between 6.5 and 15 seconds to load a new shell into the main gun, depending on the current position of the autoloader carousel.Fact|date=May 2008 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. Refilling the autoloader with new shells is a real maintenance burdenFact|date=May 2008 and requires great attention to maintain the specified sequence, but it should be noted that the average rate of fire for this type of carousel automatic loader is quoted to be 8 rounds per minute. Trained T-72 crews don't find reloading much worse than loading other tank types; the separated cartridges are easier to handle.


A significant characteristic of all Soviet and Russian tanks since the Second World War is their relatively limited range of main gun elevation and depression. The T-72's low profile requires a correspondingly low turret roof, which blocks upward travel of the gun breech. As a consequence, the main gun can be depressed only a few degrees, making it difficult to employ the T-72 stop in a well-protected hull-down position, with the bulk of the tank parked just behind the crest of a ridge, leaving only the gun visible.Fact|date=May 2008

Western tanks have considerably more elevation range. However, the T-72 is fitted with an integral hydraulic bulldozer blade on the underside of the frontal glacis plate, which enables the T-72 to excavate and construct a defensive position that minimizes the need for gun depression.

Recent CIS export designs, intended to compete with Western tanks on the open market, have placed more emphasis on defence and crew survivability. The Ukrainian T-84 Oplot, T-84-120 Yatagan, and Russian Black Eagle appear to have armoured blow-out ammunition compartments.

Combat history

* 1979–1989 Soviet war in Afghanistan (employed by the Soviet Union)Fact|date=August 2008
* 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq War (Iraq)
* 1982 Lebanon (Syria)
* 1983– Sri Lankan Civil War (India)
* 1988–1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War (Armenia and Azerbaijan)
* 1988–1993 Georgian Civil War
** 1991–1992 War in South Ossetia
** 1992–1993 War in Abkhazia
* 1990–1991 First Persian Gulf War (Iraq)
* 1991–2001 Yugoslav Wars (Yugoslavia)
** 1991 Ten-Day War (Yugoslavia)
** 1991–1995 Croatian War of Independence (Yugoslavia, Krajina Serbs, Croatia and Republika Srpska)
** 1996–1999 Kosovo War (Yugoslavia)
** 1999–2001 Insurgency in the Preševo Valley (Yugoslavia)
** 2001 Macedonia (Macedonia)
* 1994–1996 First Chechen War (Russia)
* 1999– Second Chechen War (Russia)
* 2003 Invasion of Iraq (Iraq)
* 2003– Second Gulf War (Iraq)
* 2008 War in South Ossetia (Russia, South Ossetia, and Georgia)

In September 2008 the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying a cargo of 33 T-72 tanks bound for Kenya or Southern Sudan, was seized by Somali pirates. [cite web | title=Somali Pirates Seize Ukraine Ship|url=http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/27/world/africa/27pirates.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss|accessdate=September 26| accessyear=2008] [http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080929/ap_on_re_af/af_somalia_piracy]

The T-72 worldwide

The T-72 has been used by over 40 countries worldwide. It has been built under licence and further developed in several countries, including the following:
* Lion of Babylon tank, Iraq
* M-84, Yugoslavia
* M-95 Degman, Croatia
* M-2001, Serbia
* PT-91 Twardy, Poland
* Tank EX, India
* TR-125, Romania

See also

* Comparable AFVs: Chieftain tank, Leopard 1, M60 Patton
* Related lists: List of tanks, List of Soviet tanks
* 125mm Smoothbore Rounds




* Sewell, Stephen ‘Cookie’ (1998). cite web |url=http://www.knox.army.mil/center/ocoa/ArmorMag/ja98/4sewell98.pdf |title= “Why Three Tanks?” |archiveurl=http://web.archive.org/web/20070628085626/http://www.knox.army.mil/center/ocoa/ArmorMag/ja98/4sewell98.pdf |archivedate=2007-06-28 in "Armor" vol. 108, no. 4, p. 21. Fort Knox, KY: US Army Armor Center. ISSN 0004-2420. (PDF format)
* Foss, Christopher F. Jane's Armour and Artillery 2005-2006. ISBN 978-0-7106-2686-8.
* Leizin, Uri (2004) [http://www.waronline.org/IDF/Articles/t72-myth/index.html "Two myths of one battle: Syrian T-72's in 1982 Lebanon war"] (in Russian)
* Zaloga, Steven J (1993) T-72 Main Battle Tank 1974-93, Osprey Publishing ISBN 1-85532-338-9.
* Ustyantsev, Sergej Viktorovich; Kolmakov Dmitrij Gennadevich "Boyeviye mashiny Uralvagonzavoda. Tank T-72"
* Karpenko, A.V. (1996) "Obozreniye Bronetankovoj Tekhniki (1905-1995 gg.)" Nevskij Bastion

External links

* [http://www.uvz.ru/eng/ Uralvagonzavod] , manufacturer's English-language home page ( [http://www.uvz.ru/rus/index_1024.htm Russian] )
* [http://armor.kiev.ua/fofanov/ Vasiliy Fofanov's Modern Russian Armour Page]
* [http://www.t-72.de/html/varianten_des_t-72.html T-72 variants] de icon
* [http://www.niistali.ru/index_en.php NiiStali website]
* [http://www.kampfpanzer.de/t-72 Detailed description of the T-72/90 at www.kampfpanzer.de] en icon de icon
* "Kalejdoskop" (Russian language)

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