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T-72

The T-72 is a Soviet-designed main battle tank that entered production in 1971. It is a further development of the T-62 with some features of the T-64A (to which it was a parallel design). Chronologically, and in design terms, it belongs to the same generation of tanks as the US M60 series, German Leopard 1, and British Chieftain tank, but was introduced ten years after them.

Origin Edit

The T-64 was one of the world's most advanced battle tanks when introduced, but early problems with its engine 5TDF (a diesel 'boxer', similar to the L60 of the Chieftains), the roadwheels, and inaccuracy of its main gun prompted Soviet leadership to seek a low-tech alternative with similar performance, especially after the high unit costs and labour-intensive manufacture process of T-64 became obvious. The tank was too expensive to equip all Soviet tank armies, let alone Warsaw Pact allies.

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.

At least some technical documentation on the T-72 is known to have been passed to the CIA by the Polish Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski between 1971 and 1982.

Production history Edit

The T-72 was the most common tank used by the Soviet Army from the 1970s to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was also exported to other Warsaw Pact countries, as well as Finland, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yugoslavia, as well as being copied elsewhere, both with and without licenses.

Licenced versions of 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.

The Yugoslavs upgraded the T-72 in the new and more advanced M-84, and sold hundreds of them around the world during the 1980s. The Iraqis called theirs the Lion of Babylon (Asad Babil), though the Iraqis assembled theirs from "spare parts" sold to them by the Russians as a means of evading the UN-imposed weapons embargo.

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 and extra layer of synthetic ABV shielding carpet on the outside, which also served as an anti-slipping foot restraint.

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 1000m. Some export versions of 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-72 came with reactive armour as standard, more powerful 840bhp 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 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, which compares in penetrating ability to the German DM-53.

The T-72 was also built under license in a number of countries.

Nuclear, biological, and chemical protection Edit

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.

Lion of Babylon tankEdit

The Lion of Babylon tank or Asad Babil (Arabic: اسد بابل) was an Iraqi-built version of the Soviet T-72 MBT (main battle tank), assembled in a factory established in the 1980s near Taji, north of Baghdad. This project represented the most ambitious attempt by Saddam Hussein's regime to develop an indigenous tank production, triggered in part when some Western governments imposed an embargo in order to force a negotiated end to the Iran-Iraq war.

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