Cold War Soviet MBTs


USSR (1976)
Main Battle Tank – 5,404 built

The turbine tank

The most remarkable trait about this Soviet MBT was its turbine, used as main motricity power. It was indeed the first conventional MBT equipped with a turbine, preceding the M1 Abrams from two years in service. It could be argued that the first turbine tank was the innovative Swedish S-tank, but the latter was not a conventional MBT by any means (more an advanced tank destroyer SPG than MBT by all standards). It was more produced than the more modern T-90 MBT and largely exported in its final version T-80U. It was the first Soviet 3rd generation MBT.

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T80 in SPb
T80 in SPb
Perhaps 40 years in the making, this old concept going back to 1949 was only materialized in the 1970s and the final tank borrowed parts from the T-72 and others from the T-64. Often confounded with the latter by NATO experts at the beginning, it has the same family traits of contemporary Soviet MBTs but was by any means a specific branch of MBTs. Much costlier than the T-72, it was, like the T-64 before, considered much as a domestic “elite MBT” to be treated with special care, unlike the mass-produced, easy to manufacture and maintain T-72, it was neither intended for export. Its speed but limited range made it suitable only for “cavalry-type” armored tactics, alongside more conventional MBTs on the great plains of Eastern Europe. Never exported until the 1990s (by Ukraine) and completely overhauled as the T-80UM, it gave birth, still in Ukraine, to the T-84 Oplot.


Speed was always valued as a form of active protection, especially when guns were un-stabilized. This made a fast moving target less likely to be hit even at relatively short ranges. The Soviet military staff became enamoured with speed for tanks already in 1929, purchasing the Christie tanks in USA, which were reverse-engineered in USSR and copied as the BT series, the ancestry of the famous T-34. In the late 1940s with the advent of the
In the Jet age, turbines seemed to be a promising alternative to conventional engines.
Soviet engineers, never short of unconventional approaches, already designed (on official specs) a first blueprint of a turbine-powered tank in 1949. With the T-64 the flattest, smallest and lightest transverse engine was devised in order to give a low and short silhouette. Whereas the American tanks seemed to grow bigger at each generation, the Soviets took the exact opposite path.

Early development

The 1949 turbine tank designer was A. Ch. Starostienko, for the Leningrad Kirov Plant (LKZ). Available turbine engines then were of poor quality and the case was quickly closed. In 1955 however, two prototypes rated for 1,000 hp (746 kW) both boasting new turbine engines were built at LKZ under the guidance of G. A. Ogloblin. In 1957, a team led by Josef Kotin constructed two other prototypes (Ob’yekt 278). Both were hybrids between the roomy heavy tanks IS-7 and T-10s, to accommodate the large GTD-1 turbine engine. These weighted 53.5 tonnes, and were armed with a 130 mm tank gun. Maximum speed was an astonishing 57.3 km/h (35.6 mph) but heavy consumption reduced the range to a mere 300 km (190 mi). Development stopped there as there was no future for heavy tanks anyway after the death of Stalin.
In 1963 however, Morozov Design Bureau designed the revolutionary T-64 and T-64T tanks. Both used a GTD-3TL turbine engine rated at 700 hp (522 kW), tested until 1965. Uralvagonzavod L. N. Kartsev team later created the Ob’yekt 167T tank which used the upgraded GTD-3T turbine engine rated at 801 hp (597 kW). In 1966 the Ob’yekt 288 rocket tank was more radical, being given no less than two aerial GTD-350 turbine engines, for a combined power of 691 hp (515 kW). Trials showed that this arrangement was no better than the single one in development since 1968 at KB-3 unit, Kirov Plant and WNII Transmash.
The 1969 LKZ team turbine tank was designed by Nikolay Popov, designated Ob’yekt 219 SP1. It was renamed later T-64T, powered by a GTD-1000T multi-fuel gas turbine engine rated for 1,000 hp (746 kW). It became clear on trials that this boosted dynamic characteristics but also required a complete overall of the drivetrain and track system to absorb the record performances. The Ob’yekt 219 SP2 received in that occurrence larger drive sprockets and return rollers, and six roadwheels (instead of 5).
The turret was modified to use the standard 125 mm 2A46 tank gun fitted with an autoloader and T-64A ammunition carousel. Other equipment was common with the T-64A. This LKZ hybrid was quite successful and practical, cheap, and therefore was followed by a series of prototypes for extra testings. With no less than seven years more of upgrades and gradual modifications in many aspects, the tank was accepted for service as the T-80.


The T-80 was accepted in 1976, but production lasted until 1992, after the fall of the USSR with a grand total of 5,405 main battle tanks. They were quite a leap forward compared to the T-64 and even more to the T-72, and the among the first third generation main battle tanks to enter service worldwide. At the same time, Germany and the US were still struggling to close their over-ambitious MBT-70 design, and two years after both countries launched their own MBTs, the M1 Abrams and Leopard 2.
Therefore for two years, the Soviet Union had hundreds of the most advanced MBT worldwide at their disposal for any western offensive, light years from the M60, at that time the most widespread NATO MBT. However some analysts still saw it for years as a simple improvement of the T-72, whereas it was closely related to the T-64. As a fact T-64, T-72 and T-80 all looked superficially similar, and were armed with the same main gun. The real difference came with performances and the fact the T-64 and T-80 were small and shorter than the T-72. These were also manned by reputedly much better crews, as elite tanks.
The T-80 design not only added to T-64 design a gas turbine engine (denied for many years by western analysts) but compromised with the adoption of suspension components of the T-72. A very high power-to-weight ratio and reliability made it by far the most mobile tank in service worldwide, although still plagued by range problems. Now well known and established fact, the turbine had a high consumption, even at idle. Morozov bureau will later try to create a parallel development (T-80UD) with a commercial turbo-diesel instead.
The M1 Abrams had a much larger 1,500 hp (1,120 kW) gas turbine, but at the price of 61 tons on the balance compared to only 42.6 tons for its rival, meaning 24.5 vs 27.1 power to weight ratio, and it was also later recognized as less maneuverable than the T-80. Nothing is known however about the comparative noise produced by the T-80 turbine. Like the T-64, the T-80 was able to fire the 9K112 Kobra (AT-8 Songster) ATGM through the main gun for an extended reach beyond the 2500 m practical range of its 125 mm gun.

Design of the T-80A

Layout of the “turbine tank” was very similar to the T-64. The hull was quite low, with a highly pronounced front glacis slope (laminate armor) and made of welded steel RHA, assumed with similar armour thickness than the T-64. The driver’s compartment was in the centerline, and in the two-man turret, the gunner was located on the left and commander on the right.
Apart composite armor on the turret and hull rubber flaps and sideskirts protect the sides and lower hull against RPGs. Explosive reactive armor and stronger armor was used on the T-80U and T-80UM1. Active protection include Shtora-1 and Arena APS systems, as well as Drozd APS (Only a limited number installed). The crew was protected by NBC and there were Halon type automatic fire extinguishers in the engine compartment and turret. Also smoke dischargers were used on the turret, from three to six per side, and the usual exhaust diesel dispenser was also used to create a white cloud.
The T-80 gas turbine engine developed 1,000 horsepower instead of a 750-horsepower diesel engine, although the later T-80 revert to diesel for reasons we will see soon. The gearbox had five forward and one reverse gear (and not seven forward, one reverse). Instead of the hydropneumatic suspensions of the T-64, well-proven torsion bars were used, and the tracks layed on six forged steel aluminium, rubber-clad road wheels. There were also rear sprockets and front idlers. The tracks were also slightly wider and longer than on the T-64, which gave lower ground pressure.
The turret houses the same 125 mm 2A46 smoothbore shared by the T-72. It can fire both standard ordnance of various types, from HE-frag to HEAT and APFSDS, but also anti-tank guided missiles as well. The feeding system is the Korzina automatic loader which holds up to 28 rounds (two-part) ammunition, in the carousel located under the turret floor.
Extra rounds are also stored inside the turret. This proven autoloader is effective and reliable also combat tested since the mid-1960s. The propellant charge is contained in a semi-combustible cartridge case. Only the small metal baseplate is ejected after being consummated. The loading process takes between 7.1 and 19.5 seconds depending on the initial position of the carousel.
PKT Machine gun
PKT Machine gun
Known issues
Apart the usual uncomfortable and crampy interior that would be unacceptable for NATO crews, the T-80BV used in combat in Chechnya was proven quite vulnerable and prone to catastrophic explosions. The reason given by US and Russian experts was the vulnerability of stored semi-combustible propellant charges and missiles when hit by molten metal jet from the penetrating HEAT rounds. Western tank indeed had their rounds stored in a separate stowage from the crew compartment, using with armored blast doors, ‘blow-out’ panels. The latest T-84 Oplot, the Ukrainian derived version of the T-80 has an entirely new turret with armored ammunition compartment to help prevent accidental detonation.
125 mm 9K112 Kobra gun ATGM
125 mm 9K112 Kobra gun ATGM

The T-80B (1978)

This first evolution of the basic type came quickly and was characterized by a new turret integrating new laser rangefinder, fire-control, even a new autoloader modified to operate the 9M112-1 Kobra ATGM. This one was credited for accurate 80% hits on the move. On the protection side, improved composite armor was used.
In 1980 this version received a 1,100-hp engine. In 1982 it was provided with a new gun.
In 1985, it received fittings for an improved reactivearmorr. This had an equivalent protection of 400 mm against HEAT warheads. Sighting range for the ammunitions range from 4000 m for kinetic energy ammunitions cumulative ammunition, 5000 m for HE-frag and near 10,000 when using the “side level” system. The night sight TPNZ-49 range in active mode was 1300 and 850 m in passive mode. Accuracy for the “Reflex” ATGMs system in enhanced by a laser beam allows for accurate targeting on the move at any speed.

The T-80BV/UM (1985)

In addition to the modifications seen above, the BV introduces a new ERA (Explosive Reactive Armour), and the UM is given the new Buran Thermal Imaging sight in place of the Luna IR.

The T-80U (1985)

The T-80U (“U” stands for uluchsheniye, meaning “improved”) was designed by SKB-2 in Leningrad for the hull, working with the Morozov Bureau for the turret and armament. The T-80U uses the Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour (see later), had an improved gunsight, and the 9K119 Refleks ATGM (from 1990).
A development of the T-80A, it was powered from 1990 by a 1,250 hp (919 kW) GTD-1250 gas turbine, for improved range. The latter was derived from the GTD-1000T and GTD-1000TF engines used by the main production T-80s. This new gas turbine was mutifuel, accepting high-octane aviation gasoline as well as diesel and low-octane gasoline. It was also very reliable, stable for a better service life. It also had a built-in automatic system of dust deposits removal but still retains a relatively high fuel consumption. The main gun was provided with the 2A46 fire control system in an improved turret. For amphibious crossings, it was given the new Brod-M deep wading equipment.
The T-80U was preceded by the Object 219AS prototype, a transitional model which used the T-80U turret, but Kontakt-1/ERA instead of the new Kontakt-5. Some of these Object 219As even shows no ERA at all.
The commander version (T-80UK)is equipped with the Shtora-1 APS and the thermal imaging night sight TO1-PO2T (about 6400/4600 meters night range). By comparison the base thermal night sight is about 1750/1500 meters.
T-80U 2002 in Kubinka
T-80U 2002 in Kubinka
In terms of protection, The T-80U featured a second generation of explosive reactive armour (ERA) Kontakt-5, well proven against APFSDS rounds, which can largely dissipate the energy from the M829A1 “Silver Bullet”. Kontakt-5 was also integrated to the hull. It gave an equivalent of 780/1320 mm RHAe against APFSDS/HEAT rounds. It has full length rubber side skirts to protect the sides, the first three being rigid, armored, and provided with lifting handles.
The commander’s machine gun is a simple pintle-mounted one. The 9M119 Refleks (AT-11 Sniper) guided missile are provided for the main gun, each having a Long-Rod penetrator (HVAPFSDS) 3BM46. For active concealment, outside the smoke projectors, a special camouflage paint distorts the tank’s appearance in the visible and IR wavebands. The 1A46 fire control system includes a laser range finder, ballistics computer, advanced 1G46 gunner’s main sights, and thermal imaging sights.
These new systems, together with the 125 mm D-81TM “Rapira-3” smooth bore gun, ensures that the T-80U can accurately hit and destroy targets at a range of up to 5 kilometers (ATGMs and HV/APFSDS). Experienced crew was able to successfully at the international exhibition missile to strike 52 targets without a miss at a distance of 5 km.
T-80UM-1 exposed at Omsk, 2009.
T-80UM-1 exposed at Omsk, 2009.

T-80 UM (1990)

The T-80U(M) of the 1990s introduced the TO1-PO2 Agava gunner’s thermal imaging sight and 9M119M Refleks-M guided missile, and later an improved 2A46M-4 version of the 125 mm gun and 1G46M gunner’s sight was used. Both the T-80 poor combat performances and high fuel consumption conducted the Russian command to standardize the T-90 tank. The Omsk Tank Plant in Siberia since with that decision was left without orders but try to sell the T-80 on the export market. South Korea and China imported it in small numbers, as well as pakistan and Cyprus. The T-80UM1 was in that perspective intended for export only, given active protection systems from the T-80UM2 Black Eagle.

T-80UD Bereza (Ukraine, from 1987)

Morozov Bureau developed a diesel-powered version called the T-80UD, powered by a 1,000-hp 6TD-1 6-cylinder multi-fuel two-stroke turbo-piston diesel engine. This allowed operational fuel temperatures up to 55 °C and to ford to 1.8 m water depth. The engine deck and smoke-mortar array, turret stowage boxes are all different from the Russian-built T-80U. The remotely controlled commander’s machine gun is also part of the package.
500 were built in the Malyshev plant in 1987-1991, a potent addition for the Ukrainian Military after the breakup of USSR. Alongside the derived T-84, this tank is today the staple of Ukrainian MBT force and will remains so in future years.

Other variants

T-84 (Ukraine 1999): Further development with a 1,200-hp diesel, new welded turret.
T-80BVD (Ukraine, 2002): KMDB’s upgrade which includes the 6TD diesel engine, remote-controlled commander’s machine gun, better optics. It remains at a demonstrator but non was sold yet.
Chonma-ho V north korean T-80U
T-80UM2/Black Eagle tank: Cancelled project. Several Russian prototypes shown at trade shows, with a longer chassis and extra pair of road wheels, and very large turret with separate ammunition compartment.


Armenia: 20 in service.
Belarus: 95 in 2000, 90 today.
Cyprus: 27 T-80Us & 14 T-80UKs ordered in 1996, 25 T-80Us and 16 T-80UKs later -Total 82
Egypt: 14 T-80UKs, 20 T-80Us acquired 1997.
South Korea: 33 T-80Us ordered in 1995, two T-80UKs in 2005, now retired.
Pakistan: 320 T-80UDs ordered 1996 from Ukraine, last delivered 2002. They integrated many technologies common to the T-84.
People’s Republic of China: 50 (200 ordered in 1993) T-80Us obtained for evaluation used for the development of the Type 96 MBT.
Russia: 3,144 active, 1,856 in storage 1995, only 271 active in 2005.
Yemen: 31 ex-Russian delivered in 2000.
Bulgaria also tested the type in the late 1980s but after comparison with the latest versions of the T-72 rejected the design. Some sources also states that Kazakhstan also purchased some, without precision. According to most trusted sources however only T-72 MBTs of various types are currently in service. Also in 1992, the UK bought a number of T-80U tanks for defence research and development through a specially created trading company intended to deliver these to Morocco, offering five million USD each.
After being evaluated on their proving grounds one was transferred to the US, tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground (and later four Ukrainian T-80UD MBTs). Weak spots and flaws were duly noted. This was officially confirmed in January 1994 by the MOD. South Korean tanks were given in order to pay Russian debts incurred during the days of the Soviet Union. Russia also attempted to sell the T-80 to Turkey and Greece. Sweden also integrated the T-80 in the competition to modernize its armoured brigades in the early 1990s alongside the Leclerc but the upgraded Leopard 2 (Strv 122) was chosen instead and Leopard 2A4s (Strv 121) kept to simplify logistics.

The T-80 in action

The T-80 entered service in the early 1980, very gradually due to repeated teething problems. 1,900 were registered in service in 1985, 4,000 in 1990, and 4,839 during the breakup of the USSR, since passed to successors states (Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan), stored and exported. T-80Us were never deployed in Europe. Instead T-80B and T-80BVs were stationed in East Germany between 1986 and 1987. Their speed led concerns to NATO that the whole Soviet armoured brigades could reach the sea in less than two weeks, and led to the development of new ATGMs and attack helicopters.
T-80Us at the 1991 Moskow coup attempt.
T-80Us at the 1991 Moskow coup attempt.
But instead of the great rush on the open plains of Eastern Europe, T-80s were deployed in August 1991 when communists and allied military commanders tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev. T-80UD of the 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division were launched into the streets of Moscow to no avail as the coup attempt failed as crews refused to fire on the audience and parliament (see above). After that about 460 T-80UD are retained in service with 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division and 4th Guards Kantemirowsk Motor Rifle Division. It’s still a costly tank to operate. In the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, (4 October) six T-80UD MBTs -12th Guards Tank Regiment & 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division- took positions on a bridge opposite the Russian parliament and fired on it. Also in July 1998, a single T-80 (Major Igor Belyaev) went in front of the administration building of Novosmolensk, aiming at it in protest of several months of unpaid wages.
The Chechen war: Humiliation and Controversy
The real test came with T-80B and BVs deployed (without success) for capturing rebellious cities. Massive tank losses were suffered in particular in Grozny. Crews were not trained nor prepared to face opposing veterans of the Soviet War in Afghanistan, very mobile and well armed with RPG-7V and RPG-18s. They lacked reactive armour or were not fitted with explosive inserts. It was even discovered some “boxes” were left empty. Anti-tank fire was judiciously directed at the least armoured points of the vehicles, if needed with as many hits as necessary.
In general three to six RPG hits were sufficient to disable T-80s, and it was observed that most time the autoloader was the weak spot because of penetrating hits in their side armour, blewing stored ready propellant in a vertical position. They were supposed to be protected by the road wheels from the sides, but most of the times, rebels were posted in cellars and in general dominant positions or at the contrary from basements, whereas T-80s suffered from minimal gun elevation and depression and were unable to respond.
225 tanks in all were destroyed in the first month alone (about 10% of tanks deployed for thos campaign). This led General-Lieutenant A. Galkin (head of the Armor Directorate) to convince the MOD after the war to stop any delivery or procurement of gas-turbine propelled tanks. This led to new tactical assignments, like infantry squads support from a safe distance. On the other hand, some officers argued that the T-72s deployed in urban areas performed as poorly and anyway the crews sent has not been trained properly to face these missions, nor had the right tactics.
As a result T-80s were excluded from the operations in the second Chechen war, and the war in Ukraine. It is not known what the future reserves to the T-80. New offensive actions could come from foreign deployments, since its use in Russia has dwindled down to symbolic numbers, but nothing is closed so far for the Ukrainian ones, not modernized to the latest T-84 level and still in considerable numbers.

Links and ressources

The T-80 on wikipedia
The T-80U at
The T-80 on militaryfactory
The T-80U on army-technology
The T80UD at Morozov website
The T80 on
Object 480 walkaround
T-80BV walkaround
The T-80UD on militaryfactory
More T-80 photos on wikimedia commons
An article about the Chechen losses – nationalinterest
T-80U on wikimedia commons
T-80BV on wikimedia commons
T-80B on wikimedia commons

T-80B specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 9.9m (7.4m without gun) x 3.4m x 2.2m
(32’5″ (24’3″) x 11’1″ x 7’2″
Total weight, battle ready 42.5 to 46 tons
Crew 3 (driver, cdr, gunner)
Propulsion SG-1000 gas turbine – 23.5 hp/tonne
Suspension Active hydropneumatic suspensions
Speed (road) 89 km/h (55 mph)
Range 320 km (200 mi)
Main Armament 2A46 125 mm gun
Armor 450-650mm equivalent vs APFSDS & HEAT
Total production 5404 in 1995



T80U @Engineering Technologies 2012
T80U @Engineering Technologies 2012
Yemeni T-80BVYemeni T-80BV on display
South Korean T-80U
South Korean T-80U
Pakistani T-80U
Pakistani T-80U
Egyptian T-80BV
T-80BV intended for egypt
Cypriot T-80U
Cypriot T-80U
Armenian T-80BV
Armenian T-80BV

T-80, early preseries
Soviet T-80, early preseries, 1970s
T-80, 1970s
Soviet T-80, late 1970s
T-80 early 1980s
Soviet T-80 early 1980s
Soviet T-80B, 1978
Soviet T-80B, 1980s
T-80 BV
Soviet T-80 BV, 1980s
Russian T-80BV, 1990s
T-80 BV Grozniy
Russian T-80 BV in Grozniy, 1994
T-80 BV in Transnistria
T-80 BV in Transnistria, 1996
Russian T-80BV
Russian T-80BV
T-80 BVD
T-80 UK
T-80 UK, official presentation prototype
Russian T-80 BU
T-80U Guard Kamtemirovets
Russian T-80U Guard Kamtemirovets, Moskow, 1991
Pakistati T-80U
Pakistani T-80U
Russian T-80U
Russian T-80U, 2001
Russian T-80UK
Russian T-80UM

Cold War Soviet MBTs


Soviet Union (1972) Main battle tank – approx. 25,000 built

Soviet 2nd generation MBT

Both the T-62 and T-64 were innovative in their own ways, but not successful in the long run because of their cost, complicated features, rushed production, or primitive FCS. The T-54/55 had been a highly successful export for the Soviet Union, but so far nothing replaced it in this area. Due to their age and the never-ending competition between ammo and armor with the west, a new MBT with a large gun was needed. This model had to incorporate some innovations but had to be mature enough to exploit them fully and be fast enough to catch up with other vehicles. Overall, WARPAC quickly needed a replacement for its aging fleet of T-54/55s (the T-62 was only adopted by Bulgaria and the T-64 was even denied to the Warsaw Pact allies). So a “mobilization” model was called up, even though the T-64 was still in development.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

By 1973, the T-72 was accepted for service and over 25,000 units were built, but the production lines never really shut down. The T-72, in its modernized form, now represents the bulk of the Russian armored forces, and was adopted by the best armored units in all Eastern Europe forces. It was widely exported despite its price -double of that of a T-55- because it represented a good compromise, not complicated to operate and maintain, with many commonalities with previous models. It was a real upgrade in firepower, protection, speed and even fire accuracy compared to previous models, and even contemporary western MBTs. Unlike the T-62, the T-72 became an instant hit, was well-modernized over decades and is still frontline today, in thirty-six armies.
Iraqi T-72


The Uralvagonzavod Factory, located in Nizhny Tagil, came up with an “economic” design, which was initially chosen. It was based around the V-64 engine and drawn by chief engineer Leonid Kartsev (Objekt 172), and later refined by Valeri Venediktov as a prototype built for testing (Objekt 172M). It began its trial session in 1971, and proceed until 1973. When it was accepted the same year, the Chelyabinsk Tank Factory (which had built the T-55) ceased production and prepared for retooling. Soon after this, all other plants dedicated to producing the T-62 and T-55s shifted their production towards the T-72, which was delivered yearly until the fall of the Soviet Union, and is replaced now by the T-90 (1991).


Although in its general shape the T-72 superficially resembled previous designs, and especially the T-62 (small turret, low hull, very long gun), there were many differences in the drivetrain, turret design, engine, main gun and equipment. Compared to western standards, its specifics were seen as drawbacks. Too small, it was seen as cramped and uncomfortable. It was believed in the west the crewmen had to be of small stature (1.60 m or 5ft 3in) but after the fall of the iron curtain, it appeared to have been officially 1.75 m (5ft 9in). For its designers and commanders, the vehicle was in line with the experience of the Soviet armored forces during the “Great Patriotic War”. The USSR modeled its tanks along a specific tactical use. Tanks were generally low, nimble and fast, being difficult to hit, contrary to western tanks which were, comparatively, at least 50 cm (1ft 8in) taller.
Crew comfort was seen as unnecessary, due to the survivability rates on the battlefield. The same law applied to a relatively non-refined interior and the simple, rugged, but efficient firing equipment, which was designed for production ease and easy maintenance. Any fragile and/or non-standard piece of equipment was therefore eliminated before production. This explained not only the production scale itself -much bigger than their western counterparts- but also their export success. Such manufacturing principles allowed costs to be kept very low, and at the same time produced a rugged piece of equipment which was durable, with part standardization (interchangeability) and relatively low-tech, which was an advantage in many pre-industrial countries, both for maintenance and upgrades.


The T-72 is small by western standards, and particularly low (about 60 cm/2 ft lower than its counterparts). This was a requirement which also helped to keep the total weight largely under the NATO practice. This allowed a great deal of mobility despite an aged V-12 diesel. For example, two T-72 could cross a bridge instead of waiting in line to cross it one at a time. This low profile was a problem when fording rivers more than 5 meters (16 ft) deep and a comprehensive sealing procedure, a snorkel and tightly waterproof interior were needed.
These fittings also helped NBC protection, rendered possible by a synthetic fabric made of boron compound lining which reduced (but did not) radiations. There was also an extensive air filter system with safety valves and constant over-pressure. This helped eliminate any poisonous contamination as well as residual fumes, that could leak out from the autoloader. Overall vision was not outstanding, with a set of extremely small periscope viewports. The hull construction called for an RHA (rolled homogenous armor) hull made of cast steel.


The hull’s basic RHA construction was augmented by spaced armor, which was upgraded to the T-64 standard composite armor in 1979. In the early 1980s, T-72s received additional add-on armor along with rubber side skirts, and, in the late 1980s, full ERA made of active protective tiles was generalized. At the origin, the basic cast armor was about 280 mm (11 in) at the thickest, with the nose up to 80 mm (3.1 in) and the glacis made of a 200 mm (7.9 in) thick laminated armor, well inclined. This gave a virtual equivalent of 500–600 mm (20–24 in) thickness against direct fire.
Romanian T72M

Drivetrain & powerplant

The V12 which was basically derived from the WW2 era 500 hp T-34 engine. Rugged and well-tested, it was also shared with the T-54/55 and T-62 families, meaning a lot of parts were interchangeable. It was capable of 780 hp (582 kW), which made the T-72 look undepowered compared to western tanks of the time, but its performances were kept high due to the lightweight hull. It was also much faster and nimbler than the T-62 and even the T-55. This engine was coupled to a synchromesh, hydraulically assisted, seven forward/one reverse gears transmission. The steering system is a traditional dual-tiller layout, rather than the steering wheel/yoke familiar in the west, imposing constant two-hands handling. By the 1980s, the powerplant upgraded to the new 840 bhp (630 kW) V-84 diesel.
The suspension set was a moderately new one, combining traditional torsion bars and shock dampers on the last and two first roadwheel sets. There were six evenly spaced sets of rubberized roadwheels per side. These roadwheels were completely redesigned and partly hollow, like the T-64 roadwheels, but made of steel rather than aluminum, due to costs and durability. They were also smaller and much lighter than the traditional “starfish” model, imposing four sets of return rollers to support the upper tracks. The tracks themselves were similar to the previous models, but not advanced like those of the T-64.
Polish T72M1M


The turret was small in comparison to the T-62 and even the T-55, due to the elimination of the loader and its replacement by an auto-loader. The latter picked-up its rounds directly from a horizontal storage area (horizontally auto-fed), contrary to the faster and much more complex vertical actuators of the T-64 main gun automatic loader. The commander cupola was situated to the right rear, with four vision blocks, one periscope (later equipped with infrared sight), and a standard night illuminator. The gunner’s hatch was situated on the right-hand side and slightly angled down to the turret side.
He had one main periscope at his disposal and two additional vision block sights, plus the standard targeting sight with magnification. Target acquisition was manual under 1000 m (1,100 yds) but helped by parallax optical rangefinders above this distance. On later versions, this system was complemented by a laser rangefinder. It was seen as an expensive piece of equipment and in export version, only commander tanks (K) received one. Night vision imagery devices were generalized on Russian models in the 2000s, partly based on French technology (like the local Buran-Catherine system). These also are omitted from export versions.
The armor thickness was dictated by the shape, with was almost flat at the base, and the vertical section comprised a hollow space filled with sand (kvartz). It was called “Dolly Parton” by US intelligence. This thickness was believed to be about 200-250 mm (7.87-9.84 in). After further tests against various kind of ammunition, it was estimated to be the equivalent, at 1000 m, to 380 mm (15 in) for the T-72, 770/800 mm (30.3-31.5 in) on the T-72B with Kontakt 5 ERA vs. APFSDS rounds, and even 490 to 990 mm (19.3-39 in) vs. HEAT rounds. The late T-72B had the best level of protection among the Soviet-era tanks, even superior to the early T-90.
Polish T72M1M


Surprisingly for its small size and weight, the T-72 main gun had a killer punch, well above the standard rifled L7 105 mm (4.13 in) and even superior to the 120 mm/L44 (4.72 in) NATO smoothbore tank guns (at least on paper). This 125 mm (4.9 in) 2A46 gun series was capable of firing HEAT and APFSDS “sabot” rounds, as well as ATGMs with folded winglets. Its ideal range was 1,800 m (1,970 yds) where it had a mean error of 1 m (39.4 in). The maximal range was limited by the turret shape, as customary with Soviet designs, with poor elevation that only allowed a range of 9000 m (9,952 yds). Depression was also very limited according to western standards. Maximum aimed fire range was about 4,000 m (4,375 yds) with ATGMs. The gun barrel had an integral pressure reserve drum for rapid smoke evacuation from the bore, and it was certified for ramming a 40 cm iron-reinforced brick wall. It received, early on, a thermal sleeve. However, the stabilizers were of average precision and it was usual to stop the tank in order to fire more accurately. It was assisted by the traditional “Luna” infrared illuminator. The autoloader had to crank up the breech-block three degrees above the horizontal in order to line it up with the new shell, compensated by the vertically independent gunner’s sight to keep the aim. Spent cartridges were ejected through a rear turret port. The normal rate of fire was about 8 rounds per minute.
Secondary armament comprised the usual coaxial 7.62 mm (0.3 in) PKT machine gun, fed with some 2500 cartridges, and the 12.7 mm (0.5 in) NSVT anti-aircraft machine gun, an enhanced, faster version of the old “Dushka”. It was strange to find such pieces of weaponry, intended for AA protection, at a time most attack jets were capable of strafing passes at Mach 1 and more, but they were aimed against attack helicopters. These became a real threat with the adoption of TOW and HOT missiles, as shown in the later part of the Vietnam war. Besides, this mid-size firepower was still an asset in ground engagements with softskin or lightly-armored targets.
Polish T72M firing

Production and variants

Only 600 of the early T-72 were built in 1973-79. The same year the T-72A was introduced, followed by the T-72B in 1985. The T-72 was also produced by the Czech, Romanian, Serbian, and Polish industries, by 10-12 other countries under (or without) license, and was declined in as many variants and derivatives as the T-54/55 family.

The T-72 “Ural” (1973)

This base version, derived from the Ob’yekt 172M, had the original 125 mm (4.92 in) D-81TM and searchlight mounted on the left, and the TPD-2-49 coincidence optical rangefinder sight. It was declined into the command version T-72K, fitted with more powerful sets for radio transmission. For the platoon leader (NATO K-1), R-130M radio, for company (NATO K-2) two R-123M/R-173 additional radios and 10 m (33 ft) telescopic mast, and for the battalion/regiment command versions (NATO K-3) wR-123M/R-173 additional radios and the R-130M. The Ob’yekt 172M-E, Ob’yekt 172M-E1, were tailored export versions, simplified, but with 44 rounds (Irak, Syria, and built in Poland as the “Bumar-Łabędy”).
There were three modernization phases, one in 1975-76 with the Ob’yekt 172-2M “Buffalo” (metal side skirts, more sloped glacis, 830 hp engine, turret add-on armor, smoke grenade launchers, reworked suspension, 45 rounds of ammo), and the T-72 “Ural-1” in 1976, with 2A46 main gun and reworked turret armor. Non-officially, T-72s later upgraded with ERA Kontakt-1 were named T-72V – “V” for vzryvnoi (explosive). The third phase (1980s) called for a relocated searchlight (right), modified TPD-2-49 coincidence optical rangefinder and fitting of rubber skirts.
at Aberdeen


Although it is derived from the T-72, protection was much improved (1979). This also included a relocated searchlight, TPD-K1 laser rangefinder and improved electronic FCS, MB smoke grenade launchers, two-level rubber panels protecting the upper part of the suspension and upper hull, “Dolly Parton” composite armor on the turret front and top, flipper armor on the front mudguards, and many internal changes. It was slightly heavier (42 short tons).
The AK-1/2/3 were the command equivalents (as above). In late 1979, a 17 mm (0.67 in) high resistance steel appliqué armor was added to the glacis. By 1984, a better anti-radiation lining was applied and, in the fall of the 1980s, ERA “Kontakt-1” was generalized with the T-72AV.

T-72 AM

Contrary to standard Soviet nomenclature, this was not a modernized version, but the export one, modified indeed. NATO codename was “Monkey”. These were generally downgraded versions, less costly and complex, with thinner armor. These were also built for export by Czechoslovakia and Poland. The T-72MK was the equivalent command versions (as above) NATO MK-1/2/3. The T-72M1 was the export equivalent to the upgraded T-72A/1979g with extra smoke grenade dischargers on turret front. It was produced by USSR, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The M1K-1/2/3 were the command variants, the M1V the ERA variant and the M1M the export version upgraded to the T-72B standard.
Iraqi T-72

T-72B (1985)

A much-improved version, far better protected (the best of the whole series), with a composite-reinforced turret front and top known in the west as “Dolly Parton”. There was also an extra 20 mm (0.79 in) of appliqué armor on the glacis. It had a new 1A40-1 fire control system coupled with a 9K120 laser RF system to fire the ATGM 9M119 “Svir” (NATO AT-11 “Sniper”) laser-guided missile. There was also the new 2A46M main gun coupled with a 1K13-49 sight, new improved stabilization system, and a new V-84-1 engine (840 hp or 626 kW). The early models could be distinguished by the placement of their smoke dischargers mounted on the turret front and later grouped on the turret’s left side to make room for the ERA frontal protection.


The ERA version fitted with 227 “Kontakt-1” reactive armor blocks on the turret front and mid-sides, glacis, and with sideskirts.


The commander version, recognizable by the extra radio antenna and a radio mast stowage under the rear turret bin.

T-72S “Shilden”

The “downgraded” export version, with fewer ERA bricks, simplified NBC and no anti-radiation lining for the known features. The T-72B1 was a downgraded version without the ATGM capability, with the older T-72A optics, and modified ERA armor. The B1K was the command export version.

T-72B obr.1989g

The model 1989 had an improved Kontakt-5 ERA armor, and a “Dolly Parton” composite armor extended on the turret sides.

T-72B obr.1990g

Upgraded version with a new FCS coupled with a cross-wind sensor and the V-92S2 engine (not systematic). it also had an improved commander cupola sight. The T-72BU was developed from this version, giving birth to the T-90.

T-72BM “Rogatka” obr.2006g

Developed from the Object 184M, A Russian home defense and export version of the T-72B, modernized with a new gunner’s thermal sight, the “Nakidka” camouflage kit, a new 125 mm (4.92 in) 2A46M-5 main gun (muzzle reference system), propelled by the V-92S2 diesel engine (rated 1000 hp) and protected by the “Relikt” 3rd generation ERA.

T-72B3 (2013)

The ultimate, latest version, with an upgraded FCS and much improved ballistic computer, as well as a much improved thermal sight for day/night all-weather combat capabilities. It was first delivered to the 20th Armored Guards Brigade in October 2014, with a total delivery of 150 tanks of this type.
Iraqi T-72
Price tag is an estimated 30,962,000 to 61,924,000 rubles (US$ 1–2 million) as of 2009, according to the Russian-Venezuelian deal.


  • BMO-T transport version (APC), for the RPO flamethrower squads.
  • BMPT, heavy convoy protection IFV armed with a twin 30 mm (1.18 in) 2A42 autocannons, 9M133 Kornet ATGM, AGS-17/30 30 mm (1.18 in) grenade launchers and a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) PKT and optional armament, protected by “Relikt” ERA and “Kaktus” modular armor.
  • TOS-1 turretless variant equipped with a multiple barrel rocker launcher (30 tubes), assisted by the TZMT supply variant.
  • BREM-1, the standard ARV version with a 12-ton capacity front crane, a 25-100 ton winch, auxiliary winch, hydraulic dozer blade, extra tooling and equipment. The BREM-1M was the modernized version.
  • IMR-2, the CIV version (genie), with a 11 ton cap. telescoping crane arm, V and T-shaped dozer blades, mine-clearing system and ground-raising system. Declined into the IMR-2M1 (better mine clearing system), IMR-2M2 (improved for contaminated areas), and IMR-2MA with an armed bigger operator’s cabin (12.7 mm/0.5 in NSV HMG).
  • MTU-72, the bridgelayer version. The 6.4 ton bridge has a 20 m oa span x 3.3 m (21.9×3.6 yd) wide, max. 50 ton cap., could be deployed in 3 minutes.
  • RKhM-7 “Berloga-1”, an NBC proof turretless version (replaced by a superstructure) reconnaissance vehicle.

Local versions

Bulgarian T-72M2

An improved T-72M1 with IR/thermal sights, 650 mm (25.6 in) equivalent armor, anti-radiation lining, and rubber side skirts, treated with C4I and IR suppression coating.

Croatian M-95 Degman

3rd generation MBT based on the ex-Yugoslav M-91 Vihor prototype, itself based on the T-72 prior to the war. The M-85D is upgraded to the same standard.

Czech T-72M

Local-built version built under licence by ZTS Martin in the late 1970s. The T-72G is the Middle East export version. By the 1980s, the export versions were modernized to the T-72A standard with side skirts and 902B “Tucha” smoke grenade launchers. The T-72M1 was the export version of the T-72A, and the VT-72 or BRAM-72, the standard Czech ARV.

Czech T-72M4 CZ

Local production version derived from the rejected M3, with a custom design gunner and commander thermal image sights. The gunner’s one is a two part doors sight and the commander’s is a tall cylindrical one (as for the Leclerc MBT).
It has additional ERA protection and improved turret armor, MB smoke grenade dischargers, Galileo Avionica TURMS-T computerized FCS, Perkins CV12-1000 740 kW/1,000 hp diesel engine coupled with an Allison XTG-411-6 automatic transmission and completely reworked NIMDA suspension. 30 were upgraded recently this way.

East German versions

T-72M (1986) upgrade by RWM with rubber side skirts, “Tucha” smoke grenade launchers and the 16 mm add-on armour on the glacis plate. 23 T 72M “Übergangsversion” were Polish-built vehicles from 1986. T 72(K)/(K1) were the command versions. Also the T 72TK ARV (3), BLP 72 bridgelayer and FAB 172M or FAP 172U driver training version.

Georgian T-72 SIM-1

This version was upgraded with the K-5 “Kontakt” ERA, and received components from the Polish PT-91 Twardy, with a FALCON C&C system, GPS, SKO-1T DRAWA-T FCS with thermal sight, laser rangefinder and IFF.

Ajeya II

Indian Ajeya Mk.1/Mk.2

India procurement for a main battle tank led to testing several western designs like the AMX-40, the Chieftain and the Vijayanta. But after 1991, policy change led to an agreement with the Russian Rosoboronexport for the T-72M and T-72-1982 to be built under license. The T-72M had been thoroughly tested in 1981.
The T-72-1982 had a power-to-weight ratio of 18.8 hp/tonne thanks to its V-84MS multi-fuel 840hp diesel. The procurement was about 2418 T-72 of both models, one only 37 tons heavy.
The Ajeya MK1 is an Indian version of the M1, built at Avadi. The Mk.2 received the full ERA protection and 12 smoke grenade launchers.
Due to the Arjun project very long maturation and development, the Ajeya fleet is in the process of being upgraded with some polish PT-91 Twardy components (SKO-1T DRAWA-T FCS & PZL-Wola S-1000 engine), NES Marconi electronics, improved NBC, improved DRDO ERA, Tamam navigation, German RDI and local laser RF.

Iraqi Saddam/Asad Babil

Due to a ban on weapons deliveries after the Iran-Iraq war (where Iraq lost some 60 T-72Ms), a covert agreement was found to pass Czech-built M1 parts for a local assembly which was done as the “Asad Babil” or “Lion of Babylon”. There were armed with downgraded FCS and LRF, and a poor-quality glacis plate armor. Like the “Saddam”, a local adaptation of the M1 (downgraded for desert warfare), some suspensions’ shock absorbers were removed and a local-built searchlight was added on the right-hand-side. Saddams and Asad Babils were seen in action by 1991 and again in 2001 gulf war.

Polish versions

Poland was the second-largest producer of T-72s outside USSR. Notably the T-72M/M1 (“Monkey”) for export and the late version “Wilk” and “Twardy”.

The Polish T-72M/M1

Built by “Bumar-Łabędy” plant in Gwilice. Fitted with the initial “Gill armour”, then rubber side skirts and “Tucha” smoke dischargers. The M1 is the local version of the T-72A, upgraded with a 16 mm additional glacis plate but with less KMT mounts.

The T-72 “Wilk”

This local upgrade (1986) was equipped with a Czech-built Kladivo FCS or Polish Merida, as well as a Radomka illumination-free night vision sight, LIS-Varta night sight, Obra laser illumination warning system, Tellur anti-laser smoke dischargers and local-built ERA protection Erawa-1/2.

The PT-91 “Twardy” (1995)

A modern, 100% Polish MBT designed by OBRUM and based on the “Wilk” but with many new features. Currently in production by Bumarcombine with a PZL-Wola S-12U diesel (850 hp), Erawa-2 ERA (394 m2 bricks surface), steel side anti-cumulative screens, metal anti-HEAT screens, Drawa FCS plus TES, PCO SSC-1 Obra-1 laser illumination warning system, and US-DK-1 C&C central console. Followed by the PT-91A Twardy, PT-91Z Hardy, Malay PT-91M Pendekar and PT-91U optimized for urban combat.

Specialized variants

These are the PZA Loara and upgraded Loara-A – SPAAGs, SJ-09 driver-training vehicle, WZT-3 and 3M (based on the PT-91 Twardy) ARVs among others.

Romanian TR-125

The Romanian-built version of the T-72 with extra armor, modified suspension and a more powerful diesel engine.

Serbian M-84AS

The T-72 local vesion upgraded to the T-90 standard Yugoimport SDPR which also produce an export modernization package. The M-84AI is the ARV variant.

Slovakian T-72M1A

The main upgraded version in service today, based on the export M1. Features a DSM 16.1 engine monitoring system, full ERA and improved floor protection, better suspensions, fire detection/suppression system, laser warning, new driver, gunner and commander sights, Slovenian EFCS3-72A FCS, new electrical harness, S12U diesel engine, new smoke MB dischargers, and external sensor rod mounts.
The VT-72C is a derived ARV planned for India, and the VT-72Ž is the combat-engineering version based on a modernized VT-72B, but with a telescopic arm with bucket. The MT-72 is the Slovakian bridgelayer version, and the ShKH 2000 “Zuzana” a 155/45 mm SPG replacing the Dana based on the T-72M1 in the 1990s.

Yugoslavian M-84

The first one was a locally built T-72M but with some improvements over the original. The M-84A was based on the M1, with a local SUV-M-84 FCS, DNNS-2 gunner’s all-weather IR sight, 2-plane independent gun stabilization assisted by a local integral LR, plus a 1000 hp engine. The AK was the commander version with additional navigation equipment and radios, and the AB and export version (150 sold to Kuwait). The sub-variants ABK and ABN had extensive navigations equipment.
Polish WZT-3


As one of the original builder, Ukraine now actively developed new versions and derivatives for the domestic and export markets.


The first one was the modernization package called “MP” developed in collaboration with SAGEM of France and PSP Bohemia from the Czech Republic. This include new sights and improved FCS from the aforementioned, better ERA protection, and improved engine.

T-72AM “Banan”

Corresponds to the T-72A modernization package, with improved “Kontakt-1” ERA protection, the very powerful T-84 6TD-1/2 diesel engine (1250 hp), and additional grenade launchers.


A full upgrade to the local T-80UD standard, with the 6TD-1 diesel, Kontakt-5 ERA, FCS andh TKN-4S/1G46 sights plus the T-80 main gun. The AMG is a downgraded version with the original engine.


A version with a KBM2 120 mm sb gun converted to fire standard NATO ammunitions and reworked autoloader.


Modernization package of the T-72B for export (2011), with Kontakt-1 and Nozh armour, 5TDFMA-1 multi-fuel diesel (1050 hp), air conditioner, day/night all-weather sights, integrated laser RF and ATGM capability, with an overall wieght of 42.2 tons.


A new design including a smaller yet powerful powerpack coupled with a lenghtened hull and small troop compartment, with an extra pair of roadwheels. It’s a hybrid of MBT and APC.


The Ukrainian version of the BREM-1 combat engineering vehicle.
Ajeya Mk.I

Operators by continent

Most Warsaw pact countries had considerable numbers of T-72s alongside USSR. Czechoslovakia for instance produced some 1700 T-72/M/M1 and still retained 815 in service for its armed forces in 1991. East germany had 583 T-72s/M/M1 from either USSR, Poland or Czechoslovakia (Reunified Germany sold, scrapped or preserved 549 of these). Finland operated in the 1980-1990s 170 T-72M1s, Romanian purchased 30 T-72Ms in 1978. They are now preserved or in reserve to be resold. Ukraine once had 1180 T-72s in the early 1990s. They were either upgraded to pur into reserve and sold, replaced by T-80/84s. The 80 ex-Yugoslav T-72s are now passed onto the Serbian army, completely modernized, as the M-84s.
Here follows a list of actual operators.



Use some 500 T-72 which forms the bulk of its armoured forces.


The Angolan forces here used 22 ex-Bielorussian T-72M1s provided in 1999.


The small state operated 42 ex-Yemenite T-72s (third hand).


50 ex-Yemenite and possibly 200 more ex-Ukrainian in 2011.


The Kenyan army purchased 77 in 2002 and 22 in 2009 ex-Ukrainian T-72AVs (110 total).


Muhammad Gadaffi had a force of 150 T-72s as of 2012, and some were used by rebel forces.


Purchased 136 B and 12 BK (command) from Belarus.

South Sudan

After the capture of Ukrainian ship MV Faina in 2009, 32 T-72s joined the 67 already operated by this army.


Operates about 391 T-72s among these perhaps 200 are locally assembled under licence by MIC (Military Industry Corporation) after ex-Ukrainian and Bielorussian kits.


Operates 39 T-72s as of 2003 (unknown origin).



Operates about 150 M1s.


Owns about 192 T-72s obtained in two shipments (Ex-Russian) in 2009 and 2013-2014.



The Armenian army counts 150 T-72M/M1s.


After 1990 the country was armed with about 636 ex-soviet T-72A, Bs and Aslan (locally modified).


Some 139 T-72s are in service.


In 2011, Georgia had 180 A and T-72 S1M-1s.


Purchased 1900 T-72M/M1 as of 2009. Also produced locally as the Ajeya Mk.I/II.


This country had 980 T-72s enlisted as of 2009.


Some 215 T-72s are enlisted.


Has some 85 T-72s in service in the 2000s.


Operates some 44 T-72s.


Operates 70 T-72s


Have some 480 M1s in service.



The army still operates about 1465 T-72Bs.


Due to budget cuts, only a fraction (80) of available T-72s are in service, some 350 are put in active reserve.

Czech Republic

As of 1993, 543 were in service but only 179 today.


About 195 M/M1s were listed as of 2009, 113 are in reserve as of today.


Purchased 31 T-72As from Ukraine.


580 T-72M1/M1D (2009), 135 T-72M1Z, and 98 PT-91 Twardy.


Still operates 800 T-72BA ERA, 300 BM ERA, 3000 B ERA, and 1000 others in upgrade stage to the BM standard (Kontakt 5 ERA) plus 4000 in active reserve.


Middle East


Some 480 T-72 M/M1s were listed in 2002. Upgraded locally.


Had about 1000 T-72s, M, M1, but also the locally built Saddam and Asad Babil in 1990. After 2003, their numbers had dwindled to 375, and only 125 are listed in the new Iraqi Army.


Had 1600 T-72 M/M1s in service, some were operated by rebels in 2012-2013.

The T-72 in action

In Soviet service, the T-72 formed the bulk of the armoured forces in case of a conventional war. They were hold back during the Afghan war, more expendable T-55 and T-62s being used instead. However with the fall of USSR, there was still a 4000-strong reserve. The oldest T-72 were replaced by T-90s while a significant numbers were about to be gradually modernized to the T-90 standard. Russian federation’s T-72s were committed in action in both Chechen wars, and in Georgia (South Ossetia war).

In the middle east

T-72s were actively engaged in several conflicts, starting in 1982 with the Syrian forces south of Lebanon, confronted with upgraded IDF M60A1s and Merkava tanks. After a famous clash on the eastern Beka’a, a Syrian Brigade from the 1st armoured division gave excellent account of itself against M60A1s, with almost no losses. But they were conflicting claims about the Israeli losses these days, attributed to RPG and well-hidden TOW missiles.
Iran-Iraq War
During the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi T-72s confronted Chieftains and M48/M60A1s with good results. At the early stage of the war, a single batallion claimed to have wiped out an entire Iranian unit equipped with Chieftains. Iraqi T-72s played also a major rôle in the battle for Basra and proved immune frontally to TOW and RPGs as well as 105 mm shells from the M60s. A total of 60 T-72s were lost during the 8-years conflict.
This confidence led to devise local versions like the Saddam and later the Asad Babil. However both models were “downgraded” versions of the “Monkey” (M for export models) from Poland and Czechoslovakia and performed quite poorly in 1991 1st gulf war and again in 2003.
Many of them were knock-out by long-range fire aided by infrared sights, and a few by hellfire missiles from the accompanying Bradley IFVs. This was well demonstrated in the famous Battle of 73 Easting which was almost entirely done during a sandstorm. The feared Iraqi Republican Guard T-72s were decimated by M1A1s with ease, with the loss of a single IFV on American side. Another similar engagement occured on 26 February 1991 at the Battle of Phase Line Bullet.
Arab Spring
During the “arab spring”, Libyan and Syrian T-72s were captured and turned back against regular forces recently. Syrian rebels showed that using IEDs and well-camouflaged RPGs were only successful in an urban environment at dangerously short distances, but they had more success later with ATGMs at longer, safer ranges.

In Asia

Indian T-72s were engaged in peace keeping operations during the long protracted Sri-Lankan civil war, starting in 1983. They were used mostly for infantry support.
Armenia clashed against similar T-72s from Azerbaidjan over a border dispute, the 1988–1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War. Georgian tanks were found in operations in Southern Ossetia and Abkhazia against Islamist rebels. In Tadjikistan, local opposition was also met by the T-72s committed by the Regime.

In Europe

T-72s saw heavy action in the Yugoslav wars (1991-2001), mostly on Serbian side, including the Croatian War of Independence, Kosovo and Macedonian conflicts.

In Africa

In the Sierra Leone Civil War, T-72s were apparently used by Executive Outcome, a private security company. T-72s were also engaged in the 1994 Rwanda Civil War and in the South Sudanese conflict in 2013. T-72s will certainly be used in operations in the 2020-2030s if not longer, unless there is a new revolution in AT weaponry.



T-72 related links & sources

The T-72 on Wikipedia
T-72 Operator and variants (wikipedia)
A 200 pages document of reference about the T-72 (in Russian)
Various technical drawings about the T-72.
Specialized german website about the T-72.
#T-72 on militarytechcooperations

T-72A specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 9.24m (6.95m without gun) x 3.6m x 2.37m
(30’3″ (22’8″) x 11’8″ x 7’8″
Total weight, battle ready 41.5 Tonnes (45.7 tons or 65 000 lbs)
Crew 3 (Cdr, driver, gunner)
Propulsion V-12 diesel 780 hp (582 kw) 18.8 hp/t
Speed (land/water) 42 km/h (26 mph)
Range/consumption 490 km (290 mi) to 700 km (430 mi)/ 1,200 L with fuel drums
Supensions Torsion bars and shock absorbers/dampers
Armament Main: 2A46M 125 mm sb (4.8 in) MG, 38 rounds
sec: Heavy 12.7 mm NSVT AA MG, PKT 7.62 mm coaxial
armour Steele and composite, see notes
Total production Approx. 25 000

Comparison T-55/62/64/72
Comparison between the T-55/62/64 and 72.
T-72 1973
T-72, early production, in 1973.
T-72 early side skirts
Early production T-72 with flipper-type armoured panels, mid-1970s. Only 600 T-72 of the initial serie were delivered.
Iraki T-72 with Gill armour in Kurdistan, 1990s
Iraqi T-72 with flipper side armour in Kurdistan, 1990s.
Soviet T-72A, in manoeuvers, fall 1970s.
East German T-72
East German T-72A, without the lower side skirts, 1980s.
Russian T-72
T72A in winter exercizes, 1980s.
Iraqi T-72M
Iraqi T72M in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.
Iraqi T-72
Iraqi forces Saddam/T-72, 1991.
Czech T-72A Modernized
1980s Czech T-72M or A (mod).
Armenian T-72M
Armenian T-72M.
Asad babil - Lion of Babylone
Iraqi Republican Guards Asad Babil, 2001.
Romanian T-72M
Romanian T-72M.
Russian T-72, 1983 Red square parade
T72A in a red square parade, 1983.
Libyan T-72M1, 2012
T72M1 of Libyan rebels, 2012.
Azerbaidjani T-72B Aslan, 2013
T72B Aslan of the Azerbaidjani Armoured forces, 2013.
T-72B ERA, 1995s
Soviet T-72B ERA Kontakt-1, 1980s.
T-72B ERA K5, 1985
Soviet T-72B ERA Kontakt-5, 1985.
Iranian T-72S
Iranian T-72S.
Ayeja Mk.I
Ayeja Mark I.
Ayeja Mk.II
Ayeja Mark II deployed in Myamnmar.
T-72M ERA Morocco
Moroccan T-72M ERA.
Pakistani Al Khalid
Pakistani Al-Khalid, derived from the T-72M.
Georgian T-72M ERA
Georgian T-72M ERA.
Armenian T-72M ERA
Armenian T-72M ERA.
Czech T-72M1
Bulgarian T-72M1.
Czech T-72M4 CZ
Slovakian T-72M1, with Sabca Vega thermal sight, Sfim VS580 commander sight and two 20mm Oerlikon KAA-001.
Czech T-72M4 CZ
Czech T-72M4 CZ, the lastest local upgrade of the model.

Polish IWT 72 Genie vehicle
Polish IWT-72 combat engineering vehicle.
PZA Loara I
Polish PZA Loara I SPAAG – only five were built.

Cold War Soviet MBTs


Soviet Union Soviet Union (1963)
Main battle tank ~ 12,000 built

The world’s most technologically advanced MBT

The T-54/55 were, in 1960, relatively rugged and proven designs, derived from WW2 ideas and concepts. But, with Western countries advancing quickly towards a new generation of battle tanks, the USSR needed to make a bold step forward from its previous designs to keep the edge. By the fall of 1959, the T-62 project was advancing fast at Nizhny Tagil, designed by a young team, and looked revolutionary with its new smoothbore gun.

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Alexander Morozov, the chief engineer and father of the T-54/55 family, then headed the Kharkiv factory plant design bureau (KMDB) in Ukraine. He also sought to design the next-generation main battle tank, and also thought a new gun was the necessary upgrade around which the whole new design should revolve. This gun, the 2A46, would be derived from the new generation of Soviet AT smoothbore tracted guns, the 2A45 125 mm (4.92 in). And it would be coupled with other innovations, like an auto-loader, reducing the crew to just three, an upgraded 5DTF 5-cyl. diesel engine, and a completely new and reworked suspensions system, along with upgraded equipment.
But its development took time, and the T-62 was unveiled and mass-produced earlier. The T-64 was eventually built from mid-1960 to late 1980s and upgraded, standing apart as an elite MBT, and precursor of the second generation MBT T-72, which took a great deal from it. Its real successor came in the 1990, after the fall of USSR, with the equally advanced T-90.
The Object 430 on display at the Kubinka museum.

Development history

Alexander Morozov commenced studies for a new tank when the T-54 was just entering full production, back in 1951. The T-54/55 family, in the meantime, greatly evolved, and the production was eventually resumed in 1987, after nearly 33 years of incremental modernization.

The Object 430

At the Kharkiv transport machine-building factory No. 75, the KB-60M team was formed at the factory design bureau, with engineers from Nizhniy Tagil and headed by A.A. Morozov. They designed a new engine, which was a real departure from previous diesel of conventional design, with the compact opposed-piston 4TD mounting, coupled with two lateral gears on each side, that allowed even more compactness. by these means they achieved the unthinkable, providing more power with a far smaller and lower engine (the engine compartment was half the size of the T-55).
Even the exhaust was revamped, with a new extracting system. To get the new hull moving, modeled around this engine, they also designed a new lightweight suspension made of small hollow aluminum roadwheels and tracks with rubber joints. But the gun was the same D-54TS of the T-55, and the armored glacis kept at 120 mm (4.72 in). Two prototypes were eventually built and fully tested at Kubinka in 1958. But Morozov estimated that the numerous issues caused by the combination of so many innovations did not allow further development that wasn’t compensated by real progress in terms of armament or firepower, compared to the much cheaper and simpler T-55.
The Object 432 at the Kubinka museum.

The Object 432

As work continued on the new Object 430U and its 122 mm (4.8 in) smoothbore gun, the Object 432 was started in parallel, with an equally revolutionary 115 mm (4.53 in) D-68 smoothbore gun, for the first time coupled with a fully functional electro-hydraulic autoloading system. This risky featured required less internal space for the two-man turret (commander and gunner), ensuring a much lower silhouette, and almost the weight of a light tank, with only 30 tons compared to 36-38 tons of other projects. However, they had to devise yet another trick to face the new L7/M68 NATO gun, recently unveiled by reports and a captured ex-Iranian M60 tank.
It had the first composite armor on this side of the Iron Curtain. Called “K combination”, it apparently combined an aluminum alloy layer sandwiched between two high strength steel layers or glass-reinforced plastic sandwiched between layers of steel. This add-on armor raised the overall weight to 34 tons, well compensated by the new 5TDF engine. This time, Morozov estimated the combination was worth a production and had the greenlight after the first prototype was unveiled in September 1962 and passed all tests successfully. The new tank production was set up in 1963, and the new tank was named T-64, after the year of its introduction into service. This MBT was far more successful than the T-62, especially when comparing their respective mobility.

The T-64A

After the production started, the team worked frantically on a new project, derived from the Object 443U, the Object 434 which would be armed with yet another gun, a much more powerful 125 mm (4.92 in) smoothbore. Superficially, the D-81T from the Perm weapons factory was a scaled-up 122 mm (which equipped the T-62), itself merely a smoothed 115 mm (4.53 in). This 125 mm gun was already produced as a towed AT gun for the army as the 2A45 and was adapted as the 2A46, still fitted with a completely new modified 6ETs10 autoloader. The latter one had the advantage of allowing to carry more rounds for such a big gun and restricted interior space (without, the 122 mm/4.8 in ammo supply would have been reduced to 20-25 rounds max). That freed space from the elimination of the loader allowed to carry 28 rounds.
Object 434 - T-64a
The Object 434, T-64A series prototype.
The T-64A main gun was also given the 2E23 3-pane stabilizer coupled to the new TPD-2-1 night sight, TPN-1-43A night driving periscope for the driver and, in addition, for night combat, the infrared L2G projector, placed just left to the main gun, coaxial, instead of being over the gun like in previous designs. Armor was modified with fiberglass replacing the aluminum alloy and spring-mounted plates (Gill skirt) were added along the mudguards. Additional storage spaces were also added along the turret sides and rear, plus the usual snorkel tubes relocated. A full NBC protection system was provided, while the hatches were modified and widened.
The Object 434 prototypes were tested in 1966-67 and the production started in 1968 after 600 T-64s of the 1st generation had been made. By the 1970s, this influential design had not only earned Alexander Morozov the Lenin Prize but also influenced the T-72 design. Constantly upgraded, the T-64 was given to elite units of the Red Army.
In 1971-72 a new wave of modernization will see the adoption of the TPD-2-49 day sight with optical coincidence rangefinder, the TPN-1-49-23 night sight and new 2E26 stabilizer, driver’s TBN-4PA sight and commander TNP-165A. The biggest change was a remotely-operated NSVT 12.7 mm (0.5 in) machine gun, with an optical PZU-5 sight. The KMT-6 anti-mine system was added and a new R-123M radio. The new command tank T-64AK was derived from it, with a long-range R-130M radio, PAB-2AM and TNA-3 navigation station powered by an auxiliary petrol engine. This version derived from the Ob’yekt 446 prototype (1972) had a 10 m (33 ft) telescoping antenna, no AA machine-gun, and only 38 rounds of ammunition.
In 1976 another set of upgraded saw the adoption of the D-81TM tank gun stabilized by the 2E28M2 system, and 6ETs10M autoloader, TNPA-65 night sight. For the first time, the engine was modified to be multi-fuel (it could run either on gasoline, diesel, kerosene), answering the NATO standard. By 1981, two banks of 81 mm (3.19 in) 902A smoke grenade-launchers were added to the turret, while the Gill skirts were replaced by more traditional rubber skirts. Additional upgrades were performed along the T-64B lines in the 1980s, like the adoption of ERA protection and laser TPD-K1 telemeters. The older T-64s were fully modernized in 1977-1981 along the lines of the T-64A, ending as the sub-standard T-64R.
The T-64B series prototype.

The T-64B

Work started as early as 1961, as a backup plan when it was found that the new 5TDF engine was complicated to make, and therefore had a slow rate of production. The design team tried to fit, in the small engine compartment, the more conventional 12-cylinder V-45 engine. After years of researches and modifications, the three Ob’yekt 436 prototypes were eventually tested in 1968 at the Chelyabinsk factory proving grounds. Other developments led to the four Ob’yekt 439s, which were not produced but served as testbeds for the T-72 design.
In 1973, further studies with the T-64A-2M led to the creation of the Ob’yekt 476, with a new 1100 hp engine (the future T-80 engine compartment was modeled after it) and the Ob’yekt 447, which featured a new laser telemeter and guiding system, allowing to fire ATGMs through the gun. In addition, it had the D-81Tm gun with a 2E26M stabilizer, 6ETs40 autoloader, 1A33 FCS comprising a ballistic calculator, sight with laser telemetry and cross-wind sensor. The ATGMs were eight 9M112 “Kobra” (radio-guided, NATO “AT-8 Songster”). Command tanks were the T-64BK and T-64B1K, with an R-130M radio and its 10 m telescoping antenna, a TNA-3 navigation system and AB-1P/30 APU, without antiaircraft machine gun, carrying 28 shells.
Object 447
The Object 447, now on display at the Great Patriotic war museum.
The Object 447 was produced as the T-64B, and the cheaper Ob’yekt 437 variant, without this ATGM capability, was produced as the T-64B1 (which could carry 37 shells instead of 28). These two tanks also had better fording capabilities (1.8 m). These were accepted for service in September 1976. In 1981, the gun and stabilizer were upgraded and 902A “Tucha-1” smoke grenade launcher added to the turret. In October 1979, a new engine was developed, the 6TD, which could now replace the former 5TDF and, consequently, in the early 1980s, led to further modernization as the T-64AM and BM, and their derivatives like the BM-1 and K command variants. These were the latest produced in USSR, in 1987. The BV was an export version of the T-64B, with a “Kontakt-1” reactive armor and “Tucha” 81-mm smoke grenade launchers (turret left side). It was only sold by Ukraine (as the BV1) to the Democratic Republic of Congo recently. Modernization, however, did not stop after the fall of the USSR, and Ukraine continued on these upgrades packages with the BM2, U and BM Bulat, all active in the Ukrainian armored forces up to this day.
T-64BMRussian T-64BM in maneuvers.

The T-64 specifics

According to the Perret, Bryan book of 1987, “Soviet Armour since 1945” (London: Blandford Press. ISBN 0-7137-1735-1), the T-64 was not only highly innovative and riskily engineered, but it had serious limitations and drawbacks, which limited its adoption by the Warsaw Pact. The price was probably the biggest issue to prevent any export.


The automatic loader of the T-64 was hydraulic, not electric, and thus much faster (6 to 13 seconds reload time) and much more reliable and less sensitive to off-road damping than the T-62’s. Furthermore, the “sequence” fire mode could provide the gun with same type shells in less than five seconds. The modernized version was capable of moving backward to keep a fast pace at the end of the loading sequence.
Improved crew comfort
For the first time in a Russian tank, the crew comfort seemed to have taken attention, starting with far less exhausting drives and appreciable driving comfort, thanks to assisted controls and a more flexible and refined suspension.
Improved crew safety
Reinforced by the relocation of the ammunition stowage to the lower point of the turret shaft, also lowering the risk of detonation.
Improved vision
The tank commander’s cupola provided better vision than usual cupolas and better awareness of the battlefield.
Improved firing safety
The AA heavy machine gun could be remotely operated (from inside the turret), which presents some advantages in urban combat. For the first time, the tank commander could also override the gunner and fire the main gun if necessary.
T-64 withdrawing from Hungary in 1989


The autoloader controversy

The adoption of an autoloader presented many advantages, but came with some controversy, due to the experience with the less refined T-62 autoloader. It was dangerous for the crew if the assembly quality was not optimal (rounds bouncing around, jammed mechanics), leading to serious injuries and hot poisonous gas exhausts inside the cramped turret, not to mention the problems that arose if the autoloader was inoperable for some reasons. The gunner had to manually load the gun in an uncomfortable and dangerous position, and with a very slow rate of fire (less than one per minute), critical in the heat of battle.

A crew of three

From a strict military point of view, a crew of three could be a great advantage when having limited manpower. France tested this in the 1930s with almost systematic one-man turret configurations (a tradeover due to a depleted male population and poor birth rate after the losses of the Great War), only to find that an overloaded commander was not favorable on the battlefield. A two-man turret with a commander occupied with his usual tasks allowed a three-man tank to remain fully operational and field more tanks with the same amount of trained crews.
But this came at a price, as the crew was also in charge of the tank maintenance and refueling, which was even more exhausting on the complex T-64. Moreover, these duties are also performed at the end of the operations, when the tank crew is physically exhausted, often without an officer, leading to two-men operations and less effective crews on the long run. Maintenance routine, in these cases, had a tendency to be botched or even skipped, which was paid, in return, by higher risks of mechanical failure. These aspects are further exacerbated in active combat operations.

T-64EThe T-64E


Unlike most Russian tanks, simple and rugged, the T-64 was a very complex and unusually care-sensitive machine. This, combined with summary maintenance habits and reduced crew, resulted in a very high breakdown rate at the beginning. The brand new suspension system, a quite advanced design, necessitated the permanent presence of teams of civilian mechanics from factories to assist the unit for the first years after its adoption and delayed a widespread adoption in operational frontline units until the 1970s, and only with proper maintenance procedures. The engine itself was also troublesome, and entire units stationed in East Germany and Hungary were sometimes depleted of 30 tanks in a single year, the equivalent of a whole battalion. Complaints numbers reached the military wing of the central committee. Alexander Morozov himself was blamed, but the military school was able to train a new generation of young officers, able to deal with all aspects revolving around this new tank. This generation was able to make the transition between the “old school mass produced” generation MBTs, to those accustomed to a fewer and high engineered third-generation main battle tanks, like the T-80 and T-90, plus better-trained crews, but the T-64 triggered all this.

The Ukrainian variants (1990-2000s)

The end of the Cold War allowed the T-64 to keep up with the latest technologies, right up to the XXIst century. These developments were greatly helped by the presence of the original factory and its numerous facilities on Ukrainian soil.

The T-64BM2

This version received a brand new 57DFM multi-fuel engine capable of 850 hp (625 kW), a new 1A43U fire control system, a new 6ETs43 autoloader and a system enabling the use of the light 9M119 AT missile (“AT-11 Sniper”). Armor is upgraded to the Kontakt 5 ERA standard.
The Ukrainian T-64BM Bulat in maneuvers.

The T-64U

This model is based on the latter, but received a new 1A45 fire control system borrowed from the T-80U/T-84, the tank commander PNK-4SU and TKN-4S all-weather NV optics, and an anti-aircraft PZU-7 AA sight for the heavy machine gun. The tank commander is given the possibility to fire the gun directly if the gunner was incapacitated. The standard protection is provided by a Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor set, and apparently upgraded only on a few prototypes. Both the BM2 and U are in the process of being re-engineered with the new 6TDF 1000 hp (735 kW) engine.

The T-64BM Bulat

Based on the BM2, this version integrates the Ukrainian designed Knozh reactive armor, a well improved version of Kontakt-5, apparently giving better overall protection against tandem warheads, and also equipped with the new Ukrainian main gun 125 mm (4.92 in) gun KBA3. It is also equipped with the advanced TO1-KO1ER night sight and compatible with the Ukrainian KOMBAT missile system, which uses tandem warheads. It basically brings the T-64B to the standard of the T-84 with “Nozh” reactive armor, 9K120 “Refleks” missile (NATO code “AT-11 Sniper”), 1A45 “Irtysh” fire control, TKN-4S commander’s sight and PZU-7 AA HMG sight plus TPN-4E “Buran-E” night vision and a 6TDF 1000-hp (735 kW) engine.

Production & variants

Due to the program secrecy, the sources are differing considerably about the total production, at least in the initial period of 1963-1967. In practice, the first T-64s had the same 115 mm (4.53 in) smoothbore gun as the T-62, but mass-production models were all equipped with the 125 mm (4.92 in) gun, compatible with T-72 ammunition. The T-64 was, however, much more complex and costlier than the T-72, and did not see much active service outside the USSR or Russia.

Experimental variants

  • T-64R (remontirniy or rebuilt)/Ob\’yekt 432R (1977-1981), tested with the T-64A standard, but with the 115 mm (4.53 in) gun.
  • T-64T (1963), testing a GTD-3TL 700 hp (515 kW) gas turbine.
  • Ob’yekt 436, alternative version with the V-45 engine, three prototypes built.
  • Ob’yekt 437 prototype for the B1, without the FCS and only carrying 37 shells.
  • Ob’yekt 438/439 based on the Ob’yekt 434, but with the V-45 diesel engine.
  • Ob’yekt 446B prototype for the BK and B1K command versions.
  • Ob’yekt 447, prototype for the T-64B series, with the 9K112 “Kobra” system and a1G21 gunsight.
  • Ob’yekt 447AM-2, prototype for the BM2 series. Kontak-5 ERA, rubber skirts, 1A43U FCS, 6ETs43 loader, 9K119 missile enabled, 5TDFM engine.
  • Ob’yekt 447AM-1, prototype for the Ukrainian “Bulat” version.
  • Ob’yekt 476, five prototypes with the 6TDF engine, prototypes for T-80UD development.
  • T-55-64, experimental hybrid of an upgraded T-55 with the hull and chassis of a T-64, and “Kontakt-1” ERA.

T-64BM Bulat on a rehearsal parade for independence_day

Ukrainian specialized variants


Derived from the Ob’yekt 447T – armored recovery vehicle (ARV) with a light 2.5-tonne crane, a dozer blade, tow bars and welding equipment. A few were built.


Heavy infantry fighting vehicle (IVF) with completely redesigned upper hull featuring a single rear entry hatch, remote-controlled 30 mm (1.18 in) gun and 34.5 tons heavy. First tried in 2005, but limited production so far for testing and evaluation. The BTRV-64 is an APC version, also semi-experimental.


New redesigned chassis for several (planned) specialized vehicles (fire support, ambulance air-defense vehicles).


Completely overhauled chassis with 4 axles roadwheels, like the BTR series. The engine is the 5TDF-A/700, for a combat weight of only 17.7 tons. RCWS and a capacity of a platoon or eight equipped infantrymen inside. This prototype did not lead to a production run so far.


A fast combat engineering vehicle sharing the engine, lower hull and suspension with the T-64, but with a large all axis adjustable V-shaped hydraulic front dozer blade, single soil ripper spike at the rear and 2-ton crane on top. 8 crew cabin (five-man sapper squad for dismounted tasks added to the normal crew). 40 ton, only limited production due to a high price tag.

Ukrainian heavy IFV/APC designs

With large surplus of T-64s, the Ukrainian design bureau of the Kharkiv Armor Repair Plant (Zavod 311) tried to use its chassis as a basis for a whole family of combat and support vehicles, aimed for the export market. The engine compartment is moved forward and the fighting compartment removed (as well as the turret). Up to 15 “functional modules”, weighing up to 22 tons can then be inserted, turning the chassis into many new variants. The BMP-64E heavy IFV can carry 10 infantrymen with a remote weapons system. The heavy APC version BTR-64E can carry up to 16 infantrymen, which can exit through large armored double hatches at the rear. A universal supply carrier UMBP-64, a HQ vehicle and a 120 mm (4.72 in) mortar carrier are also on the conversion list. No orders were registered yet.
T-64BM Bulat on a rehearsal parade for independence_dayT-64BM Bulat on a rehearsal parade for Independence day at Kiev.


Soviet Union tanks were passed onto the successor states, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Russia had approximately 4000 tanks in service in 1995, either in reserve or active duty. 2000 were phased out of service and stored for scrapping in the 2000s. According to NATO International and Jen Psaki unmarked T-64 tanks were used by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in mid 2014.
Ukraine had 2345 tanks in service as of 1995, but only 2215 in 2005, and around 600 today (modernized), while 900 are in storage for export, conversion and reserve. 100 of these were completely modernized to the T-64BM Bulat standard.
Donetsk People’s Republic Insurgents allegedly deployed around twenty tanks from the Russian army stocks, involved in the summer fighting.
Transnistria Between ten an fifteen T-64BVs are reported in service.
Uzbekistan A hundred T-64s (unknown version) were reported in service as of 2013.
Belarus operated an unknown numbers in the 1990, scrapped since.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo received 50 T-64BV-1 from the Ukrainian Ukrspetsexport in February 2014, the only non-CEI country to operate this tank as of today.
Decontamination exercize
A nuclear decontamination exercise in the 1970s.

Active service

Despite being produced since 1963, the T-64 only entered formal service with the Red Army in 1967, with the 41st Guards Tank Division in the Kiev Military District (according to David Isby) and was only publicly revealed in 1970. It was capable of replacing the IS-3 and T-10 heavy tanks in independent tank battalions. However, the proximity of the division to the factory was not random, but linked with anticipated teething problems during the introduction of these new technologies. Factory support personnel was indeed a regular presence with the division during the service acceptance of this new tank. This period also allowed to train personnel and crews to the new model features, and devise adapted procedures.
At the same time, the simpler T-72 replaced the T-55 and T-62, which formed the bulk of Soviet armored forces, the Warsaw pact and its satellites. The T-64 was definitely a breed apart, introducing many innovations. Due to its high-price tag, it never was intended for export, and was only given to the Red Army elite units and the best trained crews. Entire maintenance and drilling procedures had to be tailored, in a 10-15 years long process. T-64 equipped units were kept in operational readiness in case of a potential outbreak of war in Europe, stationed in East Germany and Hungary.
Decontamination exercize
According to official records, the T-64 was never used in the Soviet War in Afghanistan. although it is still possible that a small number of these tanks were tested in “quieter” areas of the front. The Russian T-64s of the 59th Guards Motor Rifle Division in Moldova saw action in May 1992, although the events did not lead to any shots being fired. T-80s participated in the First Chechen War, but the presence of T-64s alongside T-72s and T-62s is only hypothetical.
The Ukrainian civil war
This recent conflict saw the T-64 heavily engaged for the first time, in mid-2014 in the Donbass area. The Ukrainian Army deployed T-64s in the offensive against pro-Russian separatists. Over 20 T-64 tanks were also operated by the military forces of Novorossiya in August. Ukrainian and NATO officials claimed that these T-64s were supplied to the separatists by Russia. Over seventeen T-64s of various configurations (including three T-64BM Bulats) were reported as destroyed by official sources.
The Ukrainian T-64s
76 T-64BM “Bulat” were reported in service in October 2011. The Kharkiv Malyshev Factory upgraded ten T-64B to the BM “Bulat” standard in 2010, and 19 more in 2011 for less than 200 million Hryvnia ($25.1 million). The contract was signed in April 2009. The “Bulat” produced at Kharkiv, then Malyshev Factory, have protection of comparable level to modern western tanks, according to the chief of the design bureau. This is due to the combination of “Knife” reactive armor, and “Warta” active defense system. For its 45 tonnes and 850 hp, the Bulat can reach 70 km/h (43.5 mi) on flat ground for a range of 385 km (239 miles). Its numerous types of 125 mm (4.92 in) ordnance include guided missiles. In February 2014 it was learned that the factory concluded a deal with for 50 T-64BV1 to Congo, the first export to a country outside former USSR operators.

US Army educational “how to fight the T-64 & T-72”

See also :
Made in USSR series, the T-64
Failed tanks series, on the same

T-64 related links

The T-64 on Wikipedia

T-64A specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 9.1m (6.4m without gun) x 3.38m x 2.3m
(29’8″ (20’10”) x 11’1″ x 7’5″
Total weight, battle ready 38 long tonnes, 42 short tons (84,000 lbs)
Crew 3 (driver, commander, gunner)
Propulsion 5DTF 5-cyl. diesel 700 hp (522 kW), 18.4 hp/t
Speed (depending of versions) From 45 to 60 km/h (28-37 mph)
Range (road/off road) 500 km (310 mi), up to 700 with external tanks
Armament Main: D-81T 125 mm smoothbore main gun (4.92 in)
Sec: 12.7 mm (0.5 in) NSVT AA HMG, 7.62 mm (0.3 in) PKMT coaxial LMG
Armor 16 to 599 mm of equivalent RHA (23.5 in)
Total production Around 12,000


T-64T-64 on the Pavlovsky-Posad memorial T-64 in PellerbergT-64T-64BMT-64BvT-64B at Kiev in 2005T-64T-64A Suvorov military academyT-64T-64T-64T-64T-64T-64B in manoeuversBulat independance day Kiev

Object 430
The Object 430, forefather of the T-64, 1960.
The Object 432, T-64 series prototype.
T-64 1967
T-64 of 1966-67. 600 tanks of this first series were built until 1968, plagued by teething problems.
T-64 winter 1967
T-64 in winter paint, winter 1967-68.
T-64A, first serie, 1968
T-64A, 1968.
T-64A, first serie, winter 1969
T-64A, winter 1970.
T-64 model 1970
T-64A, mid-production, 1970.
T-64, mid-production with a tri-tone pattern, 1972.
T-64A 1973
T-64A, late production, 1977. The tri-tone autumn camouflage sand is replaced by washable white.
T64A model 1981
T-64A model 1981.
Object 437A
Object 437, T-64B prototype, 1975.
T-64BV, upgraded version with ERA, 1980s.
T-64BVK command version, 1980s.
T64 BV-1
T-64BV-1 export version, 1980s. The Congolese army received them in 2013.
T64 B1
T-64B1, 1984
T-64 BM2
T-64BM2, with the “Knife” ERA protection, 1990s
Ukrainian T-64U, 2000s. This differed by using “Kontakt-5” type ERA protection and other turret details.
T-64BM Bulat
Ukrainian T-64BM Bulat in parade colors, 2014. These tanks took part to the Ukrainian conflict this year.
Cold War Soviet MBTs


Soviet Union Soviet Union (1961)
Main Battle Tank – 22,700 built

Designed to keep the edge.

By 1955, the T-54 and T-55 had been mass-produced and upgraded, but the western powers kept on innovating as well and unveiled excellent medium tanks. There was already a pressing demand to find an answer fit to western models like the M47 Patton and Centurion which frontal armor can deflect or defeat 100 mm rounds. As a result, engineers devised the 100 mm HEAT round, at first costly (and at that time the crew did not have the required training to deal with this ammo), although it had the theoretical advantage to fit into a similar (but smoothbore) barrel. No new tank model was envisioned, but this was infirmed in January 1961 when a disgruntled Iranian officer defected to USSR with his brand new M60A1. At that time engineers devised an APFSDS round which was easier to operate and could be produced in larger quantities. However, the latter was 115 mm in caliber and needed a higher muzzle velocity to be effective.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

Therefore new guns were tried. In 1957-58 with the D54T. Later in 1961 with the new smoothbore 115 mm (4.53 in) integrated into the T-55, but trials eventually failed. There was no way to obtain the room needed for the recoil other than dramatically increasing the turret ring. And to support the new, heavier turret, to have a lengthened chassis. This modified T-55 became the T-62, eventually, 25 pre-series were built in the summer of 1961, and by July, a full-scale production was ordered. When the production stopped in 1980 in North Korea (it stopped already in 1978 in Czechoslovakia, and 1975 in USSR) a total of 22 700 has been delivered, more than any other western model, but still far less than the combined T-54 and T-55 which were not completely replaced due to the introduction of new modern rounds compatible with the rifled gun. It found its mark on the Soviet arsenal, was used by around thirteen operators, and well-proven in combat. Its numerous limitations and issues only appeared recently and explained its replacement early on by the far better T-72.

Prototype developments

The Ob’yekt 140

The T-62 originated in the OKB-520 design bureau of Uralvagonzavod factory (UVZ) in Nizhny Tagil, headed by a young engineer Leonid N. Kartsev. He was responsible for the modernization program of the T-54A and T-54B (Ob’yekt 137G/G2). The T-54M (Ob’yekt 139) being eventually abandoned, the team worked on the Ob’yekt 140, a 37.6 ton prototype which featured six light aluminum roadwheels, a new V-36, lowered engine, and the 100 mm D-54TS gun coupled with the new Molniya two-plane stabilization system. Trials performed in 1957 on the two Ob’yekt 140 prototypes showed a complicated maintenance and expensive parts which will make the production too costly. When in turn this project was terminated, the team worked on the (Ob’yekt 155) -The T-55- and passed onto it some of the features developed on the Ob’yekt 140, like the upper fuel tanks mounting extra ammo.

The Ob’yekt 165

At the end of 1958, Karstev began to concentrate on the Ob’yekt 140 turret. It was given a brand-new cartridge-case ejector, and the diameter was enlarged by 25 cm (2245 mm turret ring). This led to marry it on a specially-stretched T-55 chassis as all the central part of the hull had to be redesigned. Therefore the torsion beams were rearranged -although using the same roadwheels- and he poured into it mostly elements from the T-55 to ease production. Eventually three Ob’yekt 165 prototypes were built and tested in November 1958 with the 100 mm D-54TS and “Kometa” two-plane stabilizer. Two more were built for a total of 5. The T-62A (produced to 25 units only) were derived from these in January 1962.

The Ob’yekt 166

In the meantime, there were attempts to recalibrate the 100 mm D-54TS tank gun. The rifling was eliminated (producing a 115 mm caliber), then the muzzle brake, and the barrel was lengthened and fitted with a an automatic cartridge-case ejector. The bore evacuator was relocated in the middle of the gun tube rather than at the base. In effect, this experimental U-5TS “Molot” Rapira became the world first smoothbore tank gun. Fire trials were performed against the D-10TS, showing a great muzzle velocity (700 kmh), doubled range, but poorer accuracy, as expected with the loss of rifling. The final production U-5TS “Molot” (2A20) Rapira was fitted into the new Ob’yekt 140 for trials in 1958, followed by trials on the Ob’yekt 165 in 1960. Added to this were the TKN-3 commander’s day/night sight, TSh-2B-41 gunner day sight (3.5/7x magnification) and the TPN1–41–11 night sight. The commander cupola was blended in the turret casting.

Final decision

However the GBTU (General Armoured Directorate) expected most from senior engineer Morozov’s prototype Ob’yekt 430 in development since 1952. Morozov design bureau had the full support of General Ustinov, in charge of the production, which did not expected a radically new tank. Events changed dramatically with -according to Zaloga- the capture of a brand-new M60A1 which shows not only the brillance of the new NATO L7A1 gun, but also the armour performances of the new American MBT. Added to this, Soviet intelligence reports claimed developmenrts and a possible production of a 120 mm gun in the west. A GBTU committed early in 1961 confronted Morozov and Kartsev projects, and since the former was only a basic upgrade of the T-55, Kartsev more promising new tank was chosen instead by General Chuikov. It was a bold move which triggered the T-62 mass-production based on the Ob’yekt 166, on July 1961. There were other projects in development like Morozov Khakiv Factory Ob’yekt 432 and Kartsev development Ob’yekt 167 equipped with the new V26 engine, but the GBTU did not wanted to wait anymore.

Design of the T-62


While the chassis was basically a stretched-out T-55, the Ob’yekt 166 turret combined with the new U-5TS “Molot” Rapira gun made for a new appearance. Indeed, the T-62 looked externally even more lower and longer than the T-55. The gun itself participated in this, with a staggering 9.34 m (30 ft 8 in) gun forward, and 6.64 m chassis lenght compared to 6.45 m for the T-54/55. It was perhaps even slighly narrower according to charts (3.30 vs 3.37 m) but kept the same height at 2.40 m, compared to almost 3.40 m on the M47 Patton…
While the chassis construction was basically the same, compartimentation and most parts identical, the suspensions still comprised five paired “starfish” model roadwheels on each side, on individual torsion bar suspensions, idlers at the front and drive sprockets at the rear. But there were differences in characteristic uneven gaps between roadwheels, with larger gaps to the two rear pairs. Also, only the first and last pairs received an hydraulic shock absorber. There were still no return rollers, and the same tracks were used.
The hull armor was slighlty thinner compared to the T-55 (measurements in brackets) with 102 mm at 60° on the hull front (100 mm), 79 mm upper sides (80 mm), 15 mm lower sides (20 mm), 46 mm rear (60 mm), 20 mm bottom (20 mm), and 31 mm on the top deck (33 mm). The overall weight was nevertheless 40 t (44 short tons or 39 long tons) compared to the 36 (39 short tons) of the T-55. Protection in general was 5% better on the hull front and 15% better on the turret than the former T54/55, although to save weight other less vital parts were somewhat sacrificed. The driver was located to the left front of the vehicle and turret, and had a single piece hatch. Due to their similar engine, the T-62 could, like the T-54/55, generate a smokescreen by injecting vaporized diesel fuel into the exhaust system. There were equipped with an undutiching beam at the rear, and had a thin snorkel to ford deep rivers, usually dismounted and carried on the turret’s back.


The engine was the same V-55 12-cylinder 4-stroke one-chamber, 38.88 liter water-cooled diesel which was rated for 581 hp (433 kW) at 2,000 rpm, producing a power to weight ratio of 14.5 hp/tonne (10.8 kW/tonne), also compared to the 14.6 hp/ton for the T-55. It seems having a top speed of 50 kph (on flat), compared to 48 kph on the T-55 and 40 kph cross-country (the ground clearance was 42 cm), but in reality due to the inert mass to move around, mobility and agility was somewhat reduced. It was coupled with the same mechanical synchromesh, 5 forward, 1 reverse gears transmission. Fuel capacity was 960 liters, extended to 1360 liters with two 200-liter extra fuel tanks versus 580 liters internal plus 720 liters external and jettisonable rear drums.
Operation range varied from 450 km to 650 km on flat with external fuel drums to 320-450 extended cross-country. The hull could be sealed to ford rivers, but was apparently never treated NBC. Tests were also performed with the Ob’yekt 167 with a charged version of the V-26 engine, and 700 hp output. These two prototype had also a reworked suspensions and 9M14 Malyutka ATGM launchers. The 167T tried a GTD-3T gas turbine engine.


It was based on the Ob’yekt 140. Although larger from 25 cm, the same hemispheric shape was kept, as the typical central spine segmentation on top, and position of the commander cupola and loader hatch on the rear left and right of the gun breechblock. The commander cupola had four periscopes with prismatic vision blocks (two front on the hatch cover, the other rear of the cupola. The loader had a single piece hatch further back to the rear, and equipped with its own periscope. Still cast, the turret internal armour thickness layout was characteristically uneven, thickest at the base and thinnest on top according to direct fire optimal angles.
This thickness layout was 214 (205 on the T55 and 242 after 1972) mm at the front, 153 mm sides, 97 mm rear, and 40 mm on the turret roof. It was however slow to traverse 360° (21 sec.) with an electric system and manual backup. There was a fume extractor, as a blower was mounted in the rear of the turret, to the left of the spent cartridge ejection port. The loader manned from its position the heavy 12.7 mm DsHK M1938/46 machine-gun at the right but was exposed to enemy fire. The optical equipments were inherited from the T54/55, to the exception of the TSh-2B-41 gunner sight which has x4 or x7 magnification, coaxial with an optic rangefinder. In addition, he had two periscopes and a large main searchlight mounted coaxially on the right of the gun, plus two small searchlights, one mounted on the commander cupola. There were also two headlight, one white and one infrared. Curved hand rails on the turret sides helped the crew cimbing into it, as the infantry to hang on if needed when carried. The was also a box-shaped radiation detector/actuator.


The T-62 is the world’s first tank to introduce a smoothbore gun, and to use the APFSDS ammunition successfully. It had the theoretical advantage to fire at a far greater muzzle velocity and better range, at the expense of accuracy, and to fire a large variety of modern ammunitions. The 115 mm U-5TS “Molot” (2A20) Rapira was coupled to a two-axis “Meteor” stabilizer. At its right was mounted a 7.62 mm PKT coaxial general-purpose machine gun which could fire tracers. Only four ready rounds could be stored inside the turret, while the other 36 were stored inside the front hull, next to the driver, and 2500 round for the coaxial. Provision for the optional 12.7 mm AA is unknown. The main gun could fire the BM-6 APFSDS-T, BK-4, BK-4M HEAT and OF-18 Frag-HE rounds.
Elevation was limited to 16° and depression to only -4° which was customary with these soviet-design low turrets. There was no autoloader but an automatic cartridge ejector (which was innovative but had serious issues, see later) and to be reloaded the gun must be elevated or depressed to +3.5°. Normal range (extended with the “sabot” round) was 4000 m, a real improvement on the T-54/55 but only 800 m at night with a rate of fire for a trained crew of four rpm (while stationary). It was lower on the move, and accuracy was rather poor in these conditions due to the lack of efficient stabilization system or modern FCS.

Known issues

Both the production and numbers of users of the T-62 were quite inferior compared to the T-54/55. Well hidden during the soviet era, the design flaws which were only known facts by military experts are now public. Although largely based on the former T-54/55, and innovative with its smoothbore gun and APFSDS rounds, the T-62 cumulated issues. One was the cramped turret, barely larger than the former, but with a much bigger gun breechblock, to the point that the tank crews were chosen for their small size. By extension foreigner users had to set up the same recruitment rules to deal with it.
“Comfort” standards were also poor and would have been unacceptable in western tanks. The gun autoloader automatic ejector was modified several time, and on the production model, quite energetic. In fact it was so violent and poorly aligned to the rear ejection port that spent cartridges sometimes bounced wildly inside the turret, with the risk of burns and serious injuries for the crew, accompanied with large bursts of poisonous carbon monoxide.
Iraqi T-62 dug in a static firing position – 1991 1st Gulf War
Despite its range, the new gun was not a success mostly due to crude gun control, and firing on the move or on a moving target accuratey was tricky even at short range. Second-hit capabilities were limited. It was aggravated by a low rate of fire, very slow traverse for the turret, and limited depression/elevation (tradeoffs of the low-profile design) (a liability on a sloped terrain, as shown in numerous engagements of the cold war). This was impossible to traverse the turret while the driver’s hatch was open. In case the gunner was injured, the commander could still traverse the turret by hand, but not fire from his position not elevate/depress the gun. The T-62 was also relatively slow and could not keep pace with the numerous APCs like the BMP-1 of the red army, a problem never really solved in operations before the introduction of the completely re-engineered T-72.
At the end, the T-62 was also a commercial failure. Partly due to its price: double of that of a T-55; And the fact that in 1968 an excellent 100 mm HVAPDS round was made available. It was compatible with the more accurate rifled gun of the T-54/55 and made the T-62 even less attractive for customers. Production under licence was therefore limited to Czechoslovakia and North Korea, and no Warsaw pact country adopted it. T-54/55s were kept modernized or directly replaced by the T-72 in their arsenal. Already by 1965, western tanks like the Chieftain, Leopard 1 and M60 largely rendered the T-62 obsolete.

Production and variants

By july 1961, helped by the strong commonality with the T-55, Uralvagonzavod in Nizhny Tagil, Malyshev Factory in Kharkiv, and Ukraine and Omsk Factory No. 183 geared their production for the T-62. It was maintained until 1973 at Uralvagonzavod and shifted to the T-72, and was stopped two years later for the other plants. Waves of modernization campaigns followed. Total production was 20,000. Apparently 1500 more were built for a short period (1975-78) by Czechoslovakia and only for export. As for the T55 they enjoyed some success due to their higher quality standards. Perhaps 1200 more were built under licence by North Korea until 1982 according to the total. In 1990 a variant was designed by the North Korean Second Machine Industry Bureau, which was lighter than the original. These tanks are now first line and known as the Ch’ŏnma-ho I (Ga).


The batallion commander version, based on the Ob’yekt 166K prototype. It was equipped with R-112/R-130 radio, AB-1 APU plus wire antenna base on top of the turret, and less rounds were carried to make room for these equipments. The sub-variant T-62KN received the TNA-2 navigation system and some were also equipped with the 9M14 Malyutka (AT-3 Sagger) ATGM launcher.

T-62 Obr 1967-75

The first (1967) had a modified engine deck, the second (1972) a modified mount for a fixed DShK 1938/46 machine gun installed on the loader’s hatch, plus new drive sprocket, RMSh tracks and an improved fording equipment. The third (1975) had a boxy KTD-1 or KTD-2 laser rangefinder installed next to the gun.

T-62D “Drozd” (1983)

Improved active protection (APS) “thursh” KAZ 1030M, BDD appliqué armour (glacis plate) and the new V-55U diesel engine. The T-62D-1 received later the new V-46–5M diesel engine.

T-62M (1983)

An all-out modernization campaign along the lines of the T-72. Consisted of the “Volna” fire control system, KTD-2/KTD-1 laser rangefinder, TShSM-41U gunner’s sight, new commander’s sight the “Meteor-M1” stabilizer, the BV-62 ballistic computer, and new R-173 radio. On the armament side, the turret was equipped with the 9K116-2 “Sheksna” (AT-10 Stabber) ATGM coupled with the 1K13-BOM sight. The gun itself could fire the 9M117 Bastion ATGM and received a thermal sleeve.
Engineers also obtained to pack two more rounds in storage. For protection: A BDD applique armour package (two horseshoe shaped blocks), a belly anti-mine extra protection, 10 mm thick reinforced rubber side skirts and a 10 mm thick anti-neutron liner to improve the NBC protection. On the mowerplant side, a new V-55U diesel engine rated for 620 hp (462 kW) was installed. In addition, many received two clusters of four smoke grenade launchers.
Sub-variants consisted of the T-62M-1 (V-46–5M diesel engine) and the “downgraded” M-1 with a revised frontal armour layout, normal night sight, no ATGM, and 1-1 and M1-2 without the belly armour or the BDD armour package. The 1-2-1 received the V-46–5M engine upgrade.
-The T-62MD received the “Drozd” protection system and the MD-1 the V-46–5M diesel, while the T-62MK was the command variant of the latter. The sub-variant MK-1 received the V-46–5M diesel upgrade.
-The T-62MV was the ERA version (Explosive Reactive Armor) fitted with “Kontakt-1” blocks, front, sides and turret, replacing the appliqué armor. The MV-1 received the same diesel engine upgrade while the M1V have no ATGM capability and the sub-variant M1V-1 received the diesel engine upgrade.


Some T-62s were tried with AA capabilities, a rear turret box containing anti-aircraft missiles. Other experimented a new kind of protection called ZET-1 (ZET stands for Zaschtschita Ekrannaja Tankowaja) aimed at infantry carried shaped-charge weapons, taking the shape of a stretchable screen with net structure centered on the vehicle’s main armament and side flipper-type side skirts. It was seen on some T-72 in operation. The “Zhelud” autoloader was also tried. Other experiments includes the Object 167M (125 mm gun and T-72 drive-train/suspensions and engine).

Other variants

Combat engineering howiter/mortar

Two combat engineering armed variants were tried, like the T-62/122 (with a 122 mm howitzer) and the T-62/160 (160 mm mortar) and fitted with BTU.


T-62 converted into a flamethrower tank, mounted co-axially to the main 115 mm gun.

IT-1 missile tank hunter

The Istrebitel’ Tankov-1 was developed between 1957 and 1962 by Uralvagonzavod and built by it and other to 80 units in all until 1970. These were equipped with a “flattened dome” turret containing a 2K8 ATGM launcher or later the PTUR 3M7 “Drakon” (range between 300 m and 3,300 m, 15 on board, 3 in the autoloader), assisted with the T2-PD and UPN-S day/night sights. This was the only one missile tank hunter in service in the red army, given to only two batallions, respectively based in the Belarus and Carpathian military districts. After being withrawn from active service they were converted into the IT-1T partial ARV tractors, and then into BTS-4V.


For bronirovannij tyagach, srednij (“medium armoured tractor”), Similar turretless ARV conversion than the T-55, with the same equipment, stowage basket, hoist, small 3-ton cap. folding crane, winch, and snorkel. Only 35 apparently converted. The BTS-4V2 or VZ were partial reconversion of damaged and recovered vehicles.


The Fire fighting vehicle conversion, with a 50-round flame-retarding projectile launcher based on the turret ring and front dozer blade.

Operators, local variants and service records


USSR at some point used massively the T-62. By 1970, it was with the T-54/55 the most common tank in the soviet arsenal, these two models counting approximately for 85% of the armoured force’s tanks. However, after 1990 (still 11 300 listed) these were gradually phased out. Most of the 1962 models which were not modernized being converted in many variants, sold abroad, or scrapped. “M” versions are kept stored now with the reserve for a secondary mobilization.
Battle records includes the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict (one was captured by China), the war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1988, the war in Georgia from 1988 to 1993 (South Abkhazia and Ossetia), the 1992–1997 civil war in Tajikistan, the 1994–1996 and 1999-2009 Chechen Wars, and the war in South Ossetia (2008).


Outside USSR, only Bulgaria adopted this MBT en masse (250 delivered 1970-72, plus many other demobilized from the war in Afghanistan. Somewhat modernized, now deactivated or sold to Angola and Yemen). Only variants are used now like the TV-72 and TV-62M ARVs and the TP-62 fire-fighting vehicle.
Austria once created a modernization package called NORICUM, centered around the British L7 105 mm ordnance gun. It was later adopted by Egypt. France, with the Giat Company also created a modernized package with the main gun replaced by the AMX-40 120 mm smoothbore and associated FCS. None was ordered.


After the fall of USSR, Independent Ukraine retained a significant number (300) of T-62 in its arsenal. However by 1985, only 85 were apparently still enlisted, now all put in reserve. The T-62AG is a local upgrade package aimed at export designed by Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau. This version receives the 5TDF 700 hp diesel engine, 125 mm KBA-101 main gun and modernized FCS and protection. The company also offers three conversion packages variants of the T-62 or to enhance regular T-62s with the T-55AGM upgrade for the export market.


Also independent, this country still counted 175 T-62s in service by 1995, all scrapped afterward.

Middle east


Saddam Hussein bought a considerable numbers of T-62s, starting with a batch of 100 in 1974 and 600 more in 1976, delivered until 1979. They participated in the Kurdish-Iraqi War of 1974-1991. 2150 more were ordered in 1982 and delivered until 1989. About 200 were lost during the entire Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), 50 in the sole battle of Dezful in 1981 (where they performed well against Iranian M60s and Chieftains), and 1500 of the total were still in active service in 1991 and about 1000 at the eve of the second gulf war in 2003. Kurdish PUK and KDP peshmerga forces probably used an estimated 150 captured Iraqi T-62s.


65 ex-Libyan T-62s were purchased in 1981, followed by 100 from Syria in 1982, and 150 150 Ch’ŏnma-hos in 1982. Only 50 are apparently in service today.


IDF captured dozens of Syrian T-62s during the course of the 1973 Yom Kippour war. 120 in total were serviceable, known locally as the Tiran-3. A modernization took place in the 1980s, as the Tiran 5. These received the L7 105 mm rifled gun, new Israeli FCS, laser rangefinder and thermal imaging sight, and a new General Motors diesel engine. The Tiran 5s was a subvariant equipped with “Blazer” ERA protective tiles, and the turret received a rear flat plate bustle rack and two side stowage bins. The turret received also extra pintle mounts for two M1919 MG or M60s, plus the heavy M2HB replacing the Soviet “Dushka”. They are now retired and placed into reserve.


Syria ordered 500 T-62 in 1973, and was delivered 200 more from Libya in 1978, and 300 more ex-Soviet in 1982. They were severely tested during the 1973 war, performing quite well in prepared positions or in night combat. By the 1990s, the were of the M and K models, and apparently a total of 1000 were enlisted. T-62 have been used recently against the Free Syrian Army, which in turn captured some. They are still in operation since the beginning of the civil war in 2011.



Some were apparently used in the 1975–1991 Western Sahara War against the Polisario front.


The Egyptian army ordered 750 T-62s from USSR in 1971, delivered until 1975. Too late for the Yom Kippur war, they were modernized and today, 500 are still in service while 100 are kept in storage. These modernized versions were the RO-115 Mark I (1980) with the NORICUM package, British diesel, better ammo, two-plane stabilizer, ballistic computer, laser rangefinder, BMP-3 IFV FCS, smoke dischargers and ERA. The T-62E Mark II is the phase II modernization in the mide-1990s, with a new licence-built German MTU engine (880 hp), 105 mm M68 tank gun, and Italian FCS and electronics, ATGM launchers, improved ERA and armored side skirts, plus modernized suspensions and full NBC upgrade. The phase III upgrade (2004-2008) or RO-120 Mark III is even more impressive, comprising the localy built 120 mm M-393 tank gun developed by FSUE, with increase elevation and depression (7° and +15°) upgraded MTU diesel, and improved armor for a total of 46.5 tons.


After receiving 20 T-62s from USSR in 1977 and 50 more in 1980, plus others from various sources, The Ethiopian army still fielding 100 tanks as of today. Some were passed on Eritrea. They were used against Guerillas during the Ethiopian Civil War and the Ethiopia-Eritrea Civil War of 1988.


150 of these tanks were ordered in 1973, then 400 in 1976, and 250 in 1978, and possibly more for a total of 900 (about 170 at the eve of the fall of Muhammar Ghadaffi and the civil war in 2011). They were actively used in the Libyan-Chadian War of 1982, also called the “Toyota war”, dealing with Militias armed wth modified Toyota pickup trucks with MILAN ATGMs and Recoiless guns. The remainder were used by and against the National Liberation Army and rebelling tribes in 2011.


During the Yemenite wars, South Yemen received 50 from the Soviet Union in 1979, 100 more in 1981-82 and 120 more in 1989. The North yemen or Arab Republic received only 19 of these in 1979. Approximatively some were captured by the Yemeni Southern Rebels while 56 were purchased from Bulgaria in 1994.

Asia & Americas


100 were ordered for the Royal Afghan army in 1973, delivered until 1976, and 155 more in 1979 (M and M1), delivered until 1991. They were used by all sides during the war, USSR, the Northern Alliance, and later the Talibans.


By the 1969 border clash with USSR, China captured a single T-62 near the Ussuri river. It was toroughly studied since the Soviets severed their technical help years ago and had some influence on local design improvements, all based on the T-54A.


280 Ex-Soviet T-62s were in service in several brigades, passed onto the Kazakh army in 1991. As of 2005, only 70 were registered.


100 T-62 were ordered and shipped until 1975, with apparently more later as still 250 are in service as of 2011.

North Korea

500 in total was ordered in two batches (1970 and 1974), delivered until 1978, most probably of Czech manufacture. The Ch’ŏnma-ho was derived and then locally produced as a copy. About 1200 of these were in service in the 1980s and apparently still 1000 of the latter type and T-62s enlisted as of 2011.


This country apparently had 179 T-62s and still 170 enlisted in 2005. The Tajikisjan had three in its arsenal, and Turkmenistan seven.


200 were ordered in 1978, delivered until 1979, and possibly of Czech construction. They were probably not used in combat against the Chinese in the north VN (February-March 1979 “Third Indochina War”) since all units deployed here were infantry regiments and militias, but armed with RPGs. Apparently 220 registered as of 2011.


Cuba was the only known user in the area outside the USA which bought a few for evaluation and training. Cuba received two batches of 200 T-62s, in 1976 and 1983, delivered until 1988. 380 are currently in service, modernized to the T-62M standard.


T-62 related links

The T-62 on Wikipedia

T-62 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 9.33m (6.63m without gun) x 3.3m x 2.39m
(30’6″ (21’7″) x 10’8″ x 7’8″
Total weight, battle ready 40 Tons (80 000 lbs)
Crew 4 (Commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion V-55 12 cyl wc diesel 581 hp (433 kW) Power/weight ratio 14.5 hp/t
Top speed (flat, road) 50 km/h (31 mph)
Range (with external fuel tanks) 450 off road -650 km road (280 – 400 miles)
Armament Main: 115 mm U-5TS (2A20) SB (40 rds)
Sec: 12.7 mm DShK 1938/46 AA MG
Sec: Coaxial 7.62 mm PKT MG (2500 rds)
Armor 20 (hull bottom) to 214 mm (turret front)
Total production Approx. 27 500


T-62T-62T-62T-62T-62T-62DushkaT-62T-62T-62T-62T-62T-62 at Nellis AFB, USAT-62T-62T-62T-62T-62

The T-55 for comparison.
T-62 straight from Ultravagonzavod factory plant, 1961.
T-62 1960s
T-62 early production, early 1960s.
T-62 OP Danube 1968
T-62 Operation Danube, Prague spring, 1968.
T-62 on Moskow’s red square, 1973 military parade.
Bulgarian T62
Bulgarian T-62, 1970s.
T-62 1970s
T-62 of the Red Army, 1970s.
Cuban T-62 1970s
Cuban T-62, 1970s.
Afghan T-62, Royal Afghan Army, fall 1970s
Egyptian T-62 model 1962 in 1973 Yom Kippur war.
Egyptian T-62, unknown unit, 1973 Yom Kippur War.
T-62 Yom Kippur war
Egyptian T-62 number 431 with a pale field drab blended stripes over light stone, Tank Brigade of the 3rd Army, 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Syrian T-62, Yom Kippur War 1973.
Libyan T-62
Libyan T-62A during the “Toyota war” against Chad militias in 1982.
Iranian T-62
Iranian T-62A of the revolution guardian’s Brigade, Iran-Iraq war, early 1980s.
T-62 1960s
T-62A, 81st Independant brigade of the Syrian army, Golan front 1973.
T-62 from the 93th Motorized Regiment, 100th Division, Interior Ministry forces, Chechnia war, 2001.
T-62 of the Afghan Northen Alliance, 1994
Afghan Northern Alliance T-62, 1994
Soviet T-62M
Soviet T62M in 1982.
T62M of the Northern Alliance.
Same, from another tank unit of the Northern Alliance.
Iraki T-62
Iraqi T-62 with rubber side skirts, 1st gulf war, 1991.
T-62 with BAR armor
T-62M with BAR armor, Afghanistan 1980s.
T-62M Airborne Div
T-62M of the VDW Airborne Division in Afghanistan with BDD armor, 1980s.
T-62M Dozer
Soviet T-62M with Dozer blades and mine plough in Afghanistan, late 1980s.
Russian T-62M ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor), 1990s.
Soviet T-62M Chechnya 2002
T62M in Cechnya, 2002 with BDD armor.
T-62 Cechnya 2001
T-62M, 160 Guards Armoured regiment of the Russian Federation, Chechnya 2001.
North Korean Ch\'ŏnma-ho
Locally-built North Korean Ch’ŏnma-ho, derived from the T-62, 1990s.

Soviet T-62 Tank – Tank Encyclopedia Support Shirt

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Cold War Soviet MBTs


Soviet Union (1958)
Main battle tank – 27,500 built

The most produced tank in history?

Still classed as a medium tank, the T-54 was clearly a superior design to the T-44. Nowadays it is seen as an all-out classic of the Cold War. The T-55 version, which appeared in 1958, was the sum of all the modifications applied to the previous T-54 series, with several differences which made a clear distinction from the previous model. One of these was NBC protection and a brand new engine. T-54s were modernized over time to the T-55 standard, leading to a nearly indistinguishable “T-54/55” generic type.

Hello dear reader! This article is in need of some care and attention and may contain errors or inaccuracies. If you spot anything out of place, please let us know!

By combining the T-54 and T-55 production figures, the Soviet Union delivered itself a whooping 60,500 main battle tanks, and when including local productions (Czech, Polish: 21,000 more), production reaches a staggering 85,500 units delivered. This is more than its WW2 ancestor, the legendary T-34 (84,000 estimated). Part of these were largely exported, with increasing numbers when more advanced models like the T-72 came to light. Again, this must be compared to the USA’s MBT production figures of the M47 Patton (9000), M48 Patton (12,000), M60 Patton (15,000) and M1 Abrams before 1990 (around 5000).
According to most intelligence reports published in the mid-1980s, when the Cold War suddenly grew colder, it was admitted that the Warsaw Pact could field more than 50,000 tanks in a single day, and modernized T-54/55s still accounted for a good part of this number. This has to be put in perspective with the T-62 (22,700+), T-64 (13,000+) and T-72 (25,000+) production figures, not to mention the T-80 (5400 as of 2005). But the technological gap between a modern-day, well-modernized T-80 and the T-54/55 easily explained such production differences. The T-55, like the T-54 was still a relatively inexpensive and unsophisticated design, fed by the same principles that made the T-34 an iconic figure of WW2.
The production itself was viewed as a quality, technological refinements or crew comfort always came second to reliability and simplicity. It had adequate firepower, protection and speed to match the life expectancy of a single tank in operations. This made the T-54/55 the most inexpensive MBT to date, with more exports than any other modern tank in history. Outside USSR, Warsaw Pact and allies, most non-aligned countries bought and had this model in operations. Thus, it is nowadays one of the best-known Soviet tanks, and certainly the most iconic of the Cold War.
However, the T-54/55 series has been battle-proven in all kind of environments, from the icy cold northern border between USSR and China, to the tropical jungles of Vietnam, and only Australia and Antarctica have not seen this model roll its tracks in anger. Unfortunately, its production figures never matched the quality standard of the western world. Countless Cold War engagements, during indirect conflicts, with western-built tanks, proved that it was inferior on the battlefield to its counterparts. A well-documented fact which was somewhat toned down by the countless local modernization and improvements aimed at rendering this tank a still valuable battlefield combination.

Design of the T-55 – model 1958

The all-improved T-55 was developed from 1955-58 onward at the Uralvagonzavod plant. It was basically the sum of upgrades performed on the former T-54s, but with full NBC protection called PAZ (Protivoatomnaya Zashchita), studied by the KB-60 design bureau in Kharkov.


NBC protection

It was shown in tests that this tank could survive a 2-15 kt (tactical warhead) nuclear blast 300 meters (980 ft) from the epicenter, although the level of heat and radiation forbid any chances of survival for the crew at less 700 m. The sealing system associated with the NBC protection was triggered 0.3 seconds after detecting gamma radiation. This protection, however, was only partial, with particulate filtration, but not gamma radiation or poisoned gas. KB-60 completed its tests on the NBC kit in 1956, with the blueprints and the range of modifications required was then sent to Uralvagonzavod. The T-54M (Obyekt 139) also tested new production technologies and incorporated the sum of the latest upgrades of the T-54B and planned successors, under chief engineer Katsev’s supervision.


The T-55 was fitted with the new V-55 12-cylinder 4-stroke one-chamber 38.88 liter water-cooled diesel engine (581 bhp) to cope with the additional weight. Fuel pressure was augmented. The pneumatic starter with AK-150S charger was new. A new heating system for the engine compartment was introduced, as well as an MC-1 diesel fuel filter. The hatches over the engine compartment were modified for better access and maintenance. At the same time, operational range and fuel capacity were increased, with 300 liters added in tanks in the front hull, for a total of 680 without external tanks. The number of rounds carried rose from 34 to 45, of which some were stored in “wet containers”, in fact, lateral fuel tanks. The suspensions, tracks and transmission were basically unchanged, but the modern “starfish” type roadwheels were made mandatory.


The main gun was basically unchanged, with the characteristic new bore evacuator introduced on the T-55B. New ammunition had been developed, like the BK5M HEAT rounds which could penetrate 390 millimeters (15 in) of armor. The commander received a new TPKUB or TPKU-2B sight system, and the gunner a TNP-165 sight. The 12.7 mm (0.5 in) DShK installed around the loader hatch was dropped later, as it was found useless against modern jets. The T-55 was equipped with the “Rosa” fire protection system and the turret casting had a thicker armor while the back plate was slightly thinned to save weight. The gun was stabilized with a two-plane system while infra-red vision became a standard. The gun had a four shots per minute ratio.

The T-55A

This version was derived from the prototype Ob’yekt 155A in 1963, characterized by a new antiradiation lining and full PAZ/FVU chemical filtration system. This development was a logical step further after the PAZ protection suite, and was developed by the Morozov design bureau in Kharkov in conjunction with NII Stali (scientific research institute for steel). The result was a special lining called POV, and permitted by the intervention of the Vagonka bureau at Nizhni Tagil. This was a lead-impregnated plastic applied to all interior surfaces to protect the crew, outsides of the hatches and hatch combings, protected by a thin steel cover. Outside the overpressure system, a new NBC-proven air filtration completed the set against chemical agents. After trials, the production started in August 1963 as the T-55A.

The T-55 upgrades (1970s)

In the early 1970s, the need for additional firepower (experienced in distant conflicts where the export versions fought on) dictated the return of the Uralvagonzavod DShK 1938/46 or KPVT AA 12.7 mm (0.5 in) heavy machine gun on the gunner’s cupola. This upgrade was sometimes called “model 1970”. Later on, in 1974, KTD-1 and KTD-2 laser rangefinders and R-123 or R-123M radio sets were fitted. By the 1980’s the growing threat of personal-carried AT missiles, experience from Afghanistan and urban combat, triggered the adoption of the ZET-1 vehicle protection system. This was a net-like structure applied on the main gun and flipper-type side plates.

The T-55M & AM (late 1970 to 1980s)

These upgrades packages for the T-55s & T-55As comprised:

  • The “Volna” fire control system
  • The 9K116-1 “Bastion” ATGM system & 1K13 BOM guidance system
  • The “Tsiklon-M1” gun stabilization system & TShSM-32PV sights
  • The upgraded V-55U engine
  • Improved suspension and RMSh tracks
  • Increased armor, anti-mine, anti-napalm & improved anti-radiation protection
  • R-173/173P radio set
  • A laser range-finder in an armored box fitted over the main gun
  • Soft side skirts & rear RPG screens (used only in Afghanistan)
  • 81 mm (3.19 in) “Tucha” smoke grenade launchers
  • BDD turret brow armor and glacis appliqué armor

The T-55M1 was a sub-variant fitted with a new 691 hp (515 kW) V-46-5M engine derived from the T-72 and rendered compact enough.

The T-55AD “Drozd” (1980s)

These T-55As were fitted with the “thrush” active protection system also called KAZ (kompleks aktivnoj zashchity). About 250 tanks from the Soviet naval infantry adopted this system but reverted to simpler reactive armor (ERA). These versions also adopted most of the T-55AM modifications, included the R-173 radio set, TShSM-32PV sight, “Tsiklon-M1” stabilizer among others. The AD-1 was upgraded with the new V-46-5M engine from the T-72.

T-55MV & T-55AMV (1990s)

This was basically an upgrade to the ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) protection. The “V” stood for Vzryvnoj (or “explosive”). Not all T-55s were upgraded this way, many still kept the standard passive BDD/appliqué armor. The standardized ERA bricks (EDZ for “elementi dinamicheskoj zashchity”) are mounted on the hull, turret front and hull sides. The Elite units of the Soviet Naval Infantry were first to deploy these tanks, followed by the rest of the army in a gradual process after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and extended to previous versions like the T-55AMV (AM) and T-55MV (T-55M). These were also exported, notably to some Iraqi elite republican guards units. The sub-variant V-1 received the V-46-5M engine upgrade.


This is an “upgrade kit” aimed for export to all previous T-55/T-55A customers. This package includes “Kontakt-5” ERA panels, longer chassis, stabilized TVK-3 and TKN-1SM sights, upgraded main gun stabilization system for the 100 mm (3.94 in) D-10T2S, and the new V-55U engine or V-46-5M as an option for more mobility. The combat weight was less than 40 tons.


The latest upgrade, both for the Russian army and export, includes a longer chassis with six roadwheels per side, a completely overhauled turret with the 2A46M 125 mm (4.92 in) main gun and autoloader from the T-72B, V-46-5M engine and protection upgraded to the T-80U level. As an option, it could receive the 1A40-1 fire control system and ATGM system 9K120 “Svir” (from the T-72B), or A42 and 9K119 “Refleks” (from the T-80U).

Command versions

T-55K1, K2 & K3 ; T-55AK1, AK2 and AK3; T-55MK1, MK2 and MK3 were derivative command versions of the T-55, T-55A and T-55M respectively. The “K” which stood for “Komandorski”. The K1 and K2 received additional radio sets R-123/R-123M and were given to companies and battalions respectively (losing 5 rounds in the process), while the K3 received an R-130M, R-123M, a 10-meter antenna mast and a generator AB-1-P/30 (and losing 12 rounds). This was the divisional level command version. The modernized T55MK received R-173 (K1, K2) and an R-143T2 (K3) long range radios.

T-55A on display at the Imperial War Museum North, UK. Possibly from Tsahal, according to the identification plate (Author John Arwood, Credits – Wikimedia commons).


The Object 155 was scheduled for production on 1 January 1958, replacing the T-54 and accepted into service as the T-55 in the Red Amy by May 8, 1958. Overall, 27,500 T-55s were built until 1981, as many upgrades followed along the sixties and seventies. Most T-54s were upgraded along the same lines as the T-55, ended as hybrid series collectively known in NATO as the T-54/55. With combined production, this series remained the bulk of the Soviet conventional force until the fall of USSR, and was also largely exported. The T-55 production eventually ceased at Kharkov in 1967 (replaced by the T-64) and at Nizhni Tagil in 1971 (replaced by the T-72). It was continued at Omsk (mainly for exports) until 1977. During the production course, the bow-mounted machine-gun was removed to store six additional rounds, while the coaxial SG MT 7.62 mm was superseded by the PKT. In the mid-1970s, the DShK 12.7 mm (0.5 in) was back on the turret, on the loader’s cupola, for additional firepower and AA fighting capabilities against NATO helicopters like the Huey Cobra.

Succession: The T-62

Other projects, the Object 165 and 166, were attempts to upgrade the T-55A with the new D54T 100 mm (3.94 in) smoothbore gun. After reviewing the design, the Vagonka bureau reported that only an enlargement of the hull would allow a wider turret race. But, in January 1961, a disgruntled Iranian officer crossed the border with the USSR with his brand-new M60A1 Patton. After closely examining this new tank, better protected and equipped with a 105 mm (4.13 in) gun, it was decided to upgrade the main gun to 115 mm (4.53 in). After quick development, this modified T-55 became the T-62 prototype, which led in turn to curtail the production of the T-55A as it was replaced by the T-62 on the same production lines. 25 pre-series prototypes were followed by full-scale production in July 1961.

T-55 variants & conversions

The Red Army kept perhaps 20,000 T-54/55s in battle readiness in case of a conventional war or to use in the aftermath of a nuclear war due to their conversion to the NBC standard. By the mid-1970s, they still counted for more than 85% of the Red Army MBT force. Thanks to gradual modernization campaigns and updated ammo, about 3000 of these contemporaries to the M47 Patton were still frontline when the Berlin wall fell in 1990. About 412 T-54/55s were in active service in 1995 but only 20 in 2000. However, 1200 were reported in storage as of 2008, with perhaps 100 T-55s in reserve and less than 500 in storage as of today.
Outside the countries from the following paragraphs, the T-55s were modernized or gave way to local variants in Argentina (TENSA upgrade), Croatia (the up-armored T-55 and the Minocistac), Cuba (upgraded to the S-75/S-125 Dvina TEL), Egypt (The T-55E Mark 0, Mk. I, Mk. II and Ramses II), Finland (T-55M), Great Britain (post-1990 packages and AA Marksman conversion for export), Hungary (local modernization into the AM standard), India (modifications on the tubes to distinguish themselves from Pakistani models or 105 mm/4.13 in upgrade), Iraq (T-55 Enigma, QM & QM2, rocket launcher, mortar conversions and local BTS-2 and BTS Saddam recovery vehicles), Iran (Type 72Z or Safir-74, Safir-86), Israel (Tiran-2, Tiran-5, Tiran-5Sh, Ti-67 & 67s and Achzarit APCs among others), Pakistan (Al Zarrar), China (Type 59), Peru (modernized T-55M1 Leon 1 & M2A1 Leon 2, Tifon 2 and T-55 fire-support, built in USSR), Rhodesia (T-55LD), Serbia (all-improved T-55H and the VIU-55 Munja engineers APC) and Slovenia (M-55, a local modernization performed by IDF’s Elbit expertise, and sub-variant M-55 USP for driver training).

Soviet T-55 conversions

Despite massive exports, derivatives, variants, and new designs like the T-62, 64, 72 and T-80, the T-54/55 family formed the bulk of the Red Army for 40 solid years, both for the ground forces and naval infantry branches. To obtain precise numbers of the modernized T-55s in service today is quite tricky, but it is assumed to have decreased greatly due the end of the Cold War, lack of funds for maintenance and operations, and it is estimated a good 70% of the park is now kept in reserve.

Recovery vehicles

The BTS-3 were medium armored recovery tractors (Bronetankoviy TyagachSredniy) built on the T-55A. The T-55 MARRS is apparently a late recovery kit developed by Vickers.


MT-55 or MTU-55 : The TM stood for “Tankoviy Mostoukladchik”. These were, apparently, Czechoslovak-built MT-55As converted as bridgelayers with a scissors-type bridge. The MTU-12 (1955) was equipped with a 12 m (39 ft) long single span bridge with 50 tons capacity. The MTU-20 had a twin-treadway superstructure giving a 20 m (66 ft) long, 50-ton capacity bridge. Most were based on the T-54 but others were built on the T-55 basis.

Genie vehicles

The BTU dozer blade kit was developed to be mounted in less than 1 hour on every T-54/55. The ALT-55 was a permanently converted bulldozer, with a new superstructure and an angular concave dozer blade with hydraulic rams. Another variant of the T-55 dozer is a tracked armored excavator, turretless, with a rotatable armored cab with a boom and a bucket. The ubiquitous IMR (Inzhenernaya Mashina Razgrazhdeniya) is the main engineer version, turretless with a modified superstructure, hydraulically operated crane with a capacity of 2 tonnes, convertible to an excavator, dozer blade and searchlight for night operations. Only two heavy crane versions SPK-12G were built, while the MTP-3 is an SU-122-54 converted to a technical support vehicle fitted with a light crane (1973). It is noted that some T-55s were also fitted with twin-jet-engine mounts and multiple water nozzles for fire-fighting.

BMR-2 mine clearing vehicle

The BMR-2 (1987) is the main version derive from the T-55. It stands for Boyevaya Mashina Razminirovaniya or mine clearing tank. This vehicle had a fixed superstructure armed with an NSVT light MG, a KMT-7 mine clearing set and tried many mine roller designs.

OT-55 flamethrower

The OT-55 (or TO-55 derived from the Ob\’yekt 482), is equipped with the ATO-200 flame projector. Ignition used by pyrotechnic charges, with 12 charges per-loaded. The stowage tank contains 460-liters (and each burst averages 36l). Maximum range is about 200 meters (656 ft).

BTR-T armored personnel carrier

This is a recent heavy APC based on the T-55 (Bronetransporter-Tyazhelyy), with the DPM as a sub-variant convoy escort vehicle. Intended for export and fighting in the Caucasus region.

Czechoslovak T-55s & conversions

The T-55A was the main version built in Czechoslovakia. Due to higher quality standard compared to USSR manufacture, they were more widely exported. They differed only by details like redesigned engine access plates (three plates fitted to the hull to reduce track shedding) and oval engine grills in the engine decks. The sub-variant AK (command) had a modified base plate on the turret roof for a radio mast.
-The T-55AMB, first Czechoslovak upgrade, with local-built laser rangefinder, fire control system and wind sensor mast.
-The T-55AM1 Kladivo, local AM version, with local-built “Kladivo” computerized fire control system, laser rangefinder and cross-wind sensor mast. The AM1K3 is the related command version.
-The T-55AM2, locally upgraded version with the “horseshoe” turret passive BDD appliqué armor, hull front and sideplates. Individual steel boxes are filled with Penpolyurethane and some hull cavities were filled for added protection. It was upgraded to the V-55U engine with integral supercharger (620 hp) and R-173P radio set, had 8 smoke-grenade launchers (turret right-hand-side) and additional headlights. Sub-variants includes the Dyna-1 armor upgrade, the T-55AM2B equipped to fire the laser-guided 9M117 100 mm (3.94 in) “Bastion” (AT-10 Stabber) ATGM and 1K13 BOM gunner’s sight. The T-55AM2K1, T-55AM2K2, T-55AM2K3 are command version respectively at company, battalion, and division levels.
-The VT-55A recovery vehicle, widely exported. It had a 15 tonnes capacity crane, main (44 tonnes cap.) and secondary winches (800 kg cap.). The sub-variant VT-55KS is the main export versions while the ZS-55A had a BTU-55 dozer blade.
-The JVBT-55A genie vehicle, is the main Czechoslovak crane tank (15 cap. tons crane and BTU-55 dozer blade). The JVBT-55KS is the associated export variant.
-The MT-55A bridgelayer and sub-variants MT-55K and MT-55L which had longer bridges. MT-55KS is the export version and the PM-55L is the lightweight version.
The Modern-day Czech Republic also developed the T-55C-1 dozer “Bublina”, T-55C-2 “Favorit” driver training tank and fire-fighting SPOT-55.

Serbian T-55H as seen in 2007, a late, localized modification of the AMB variant.

East German T-55s & conversions

These include the T-54Z, T-54AZ and AMZ (Z for Zusatzausrüstung or “additional equipment”), equivalent to the T-54AM. The T-54T and T-54TB recovery tanks were equivalent to the BTS-2. Other variants included the T-55AM Minenräumladung (mine-clearer) and T-54 M1975/2 flail variant, T-55T with extra towing equipment and dozer blades, T-55TK crane tanks, BLG-60 bridgelayers and sub-variant BLG-60M2 with a larger bridgespan.

Polish T-55s & conversions

These include the T-55AD command tank with a 100 miles (161 km) range radio, T-55L (local version of the T-55A) and LD (T-54 rebuilt to this standard), command versions AD-1 & 2 (T-55A with additional R-123/130 radio).
-The modern Polish T-55AM is called the T-55AM “Merida”, comprising a local SKO “Merida” fire control system, cross-wind sensor, CCDN-1 day/night rangefinder, passive BDD protection and active protection consisting of a laser-warning system WPL-1 combined with WWGD-1 “Erb” and WPD-1 “Tellur” 81 mm (3.19 in) smoke-grenade launchers each side of the turret and W-55 WAX engine developing 613 hp (457 kW). Sub-variants include the genie T-55AMS and AD-1M & AD-2M command versions.
-The T-55AM2BP is a Czechoslovak-based version for export only, built under licence
-The W-152SC is a conversion into a S-125SC “Newa-SC” air-defense missile system.
-The WZT-1 & 2 are recovery vehicles, while the main mine-clearer is the T-55A engineer tank, with KMT-4 mine plow. The IWT is the standard dozer/crane version, and the BLG-60 was a joint Polish/East German bridgelayer.

Romanian T-55s & conversions

Romania modified the T-55 for the local needs in the 1970s. Modernizations were performed locally, like the local T-55AM sub-divided into tanks equipped with the Russian “Volna”, Czechoslovak “Kladivo” and local “Ciclop” fire control systems.
-The local production was the TR-580 (Tanc Românesc Model 580) in 1974, with a new, longer hull and chassis, 6 road wheels and metal side skirts, but equipped with the original 580 hp engine. 400 were produced until 1981, including the TER-800 and TCZ-800 ARVs.
-The TR-85 (for 1985) was the second major upgrade and variant with a new modified turret, fire control system, suspensions and a more powerful German engine.
-The BLG-67, along with the sub-variants 67M and 67M2 are the main bridgelayer variant.

East-German T-55AM2B now on display at the Munster museum.

Ukrainian T-55s & conversions

The Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau was responsible for fitting on T-55s 4 smoke grenade discharges cluster and a laser rangefinder, and later the fitting of a 125 mm (4.92 in) KBM1 smoothbore gun.
-The T-55 AGM is the locally modernized version, aimed at convert all T-54/55s to the T-80 standard. (a thorough description will be made in the modern Ukrainian section of the website)
-The T-55-64 was an other upgrade to the T-64 standard suspension and powerplant.
-The T-55MV is a tailor-made modernized version or package for the export market.

Yugoslav T-55s & conversions

Before the breakup following the death of Marshal Tito, the country had a significant fleet of T-54/55s (called TZI-JVBT), which were gradually modernized as the T-55AI “Igman”. This version had components of the M-84 (local T-72), which includes the engine, external AT-3 Sagger missile rails, simplified SUV (meteosensor & laser rangefinders), spaced armor on the turret and front and smoke dischargers.

Other modern operators

The list includes Abkhazia (a separatist republic which captured Georgian T-55s and operated them until 2008, also seeing service in Ossetia), Afghanistan (50 ordered in 1961, later 705 delivered between 1978 and 1991), Algeria (175 total), Angola (around 400 T-55 and modernized versions from various sources, which saw heavy fighting), Armenia (perhaps 40), Bangladesh (122 modernized T-54/55s today), Cambodia (205 from 1980 to 1990 including Polish T-55AM2BP), Chad (60), Central African Republic (4), Democratic Republic of the Congo (20, ex-Ukrainian in 2006), Ivory Coast (10), Cuba (1300+, around 120 modernized T-55M/AMs), Egypt (around 700 T-55s delivered between 1963 and 1973), Eritrea (120 ex-Bulgarian, 2005), Ethiopia (1200+ from various sources, less than 100-150 as of today), Georgia (108 as of 1992), Guinea (8, 1974), Iran (120+65 ex-Libyan and Syrian, now upgraded), Iraq (300+250+25+150 from various sources as of 1991), North Korea (570 from USSR and Belarus), Laos (15), Latvia (5), Lebanon (400?), Mali (12 T-54/55), Mauritania (51), Mongolia (250), Mozambique (110), Namibia (15?), Nicaragua (136), Nigeria (100?), Peru (250), Romania (850 + 400 TR-580), Rwanda (30 T-54/55), Sarhawi Republic (50), Somaliland (85?), Ossetia (12/15 T-55s), Sri Lanka (99 from various sources 1991-2003), Sudan (160 from various sources), Syria (1375 total), Togo (2), Uganda (160 total), Uruguay (Ex-Tiran-4/5She), Vietnam (perhaps 450 today, from 600 ordered by the NVA), Uzbekistan (80), Yemen (approx. 150) and Zambia (20).

Former operators

Outside the above list, are Albania, Azerbaidjan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Ecuador, Hungary, India (apparently 1219 in several batches), Israel (by captures, peaked in 1990 with 1500 T-54/55)s, Macedonia, Montenegro, Morocco, Pakistan, Serbia (510 T-54/55s), Slovakia (206), Slovenia (58), and Ukraine (still 112 in service by 2010).

The T-54/55 in action

Here is a summarized list of major events were T-55 or T-54/55s were committed in the world.
In Europe, the 1956 Invasion of Hungary, the martial law in Poland and the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s.
In the Middle East the 1967 Six-Day war, 1970 Jordanian civil war, 1973 Yom Kippur war, 1980s Lebanon war and Iran-Iraq war, not to mention the 1991 and 2001 coalition wars against Iraqi forces (Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom). Until recently, T-55s participated on both sides in the Syrian civil war.
In the Far East, T-54 and T-55 action revolved around the Vietnamese conflict, with the North Vietnamese army. They also participated in the Indo-Pakistani wars, Cambodian wars and the Sri Lankan civil war, against LTTE or Tamil Tigers.
In Africa, the Ugandan-Tanzanian wars, the Angolan and Mozambique wars, and more recently the Libyan civil war.
It could be said that the T-54/55 has encountered or fought with nearly all NATO tanks types ever produced during the Cold War but a few, and was for some time a master standard to judge western tanks combat performances.

T-55 specifications

Dimensions (L-w-h) 6.27 (9 m oa) x 3.15 x 2.40 m (20.6 x 10.4 x 7.1 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 36 tons – 36.4 long tonnes (72,000 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion V-55 12-cyl diesel, 581 hp (433 kW)
Top speed 55 km/h (34 mph)
Suspensions Torsion bars with hydraulic arms
Range (with extra tanks) 501 (960 l) to 600 km (311 to 370 mi)
Armament Main: 1 x 100 mm D-10T2G or D-10T2 rifled (3.94 in)
Sec: 1 x 12.7 mm (0.5 in) DSHK AA (back in 1972)
Sec: 1-2x 7.62 mm (0.3 in) PKT & SGMT machine guns
Armor Frontal glacis 120 mm (4.7 in), sides 80 (3.15 in), rear 45 (1.77 in), turret front 200 (7.87 in), roof 30 (1.18 in), bottom 20 mm (0.79 in)
Production (USSR only) Approx. 27,500

T-55 related links

The T-54/55 on Wikipedia
The T-55 On Military Factory
On T-54/55s variants and operators


MTU-20 bridgelayer conversion of the T-55, now on display at the Latrun museum

Soviet T55 fresh from the factory
Soviet T-55, early production, summer exercises, early 1960s.

Syrian T55, Yom Kippur 1973
Syrian T-55, Golan heights, Yom Kippur war, 1973.

Czech T55, 1978
Czechoslovak T-55, 1978.
NK T55, 1975
North Korean T-55, 1975.
Finnish T55, 1980s
Finnish T-55, 1980s.
East German T55
East German T-55 in exercises with a winter camouflage, 1960s.
Syrian T55, 1982
Syrian T-55, Beirut, Lebanon, 1982.
North Vietnamese T55, 1970s
North Vietnamese T-55, 1971-73.
Iranian T55, 1980s
Iranian T-55, 1980s.
Czech T55A, 1970s
Czechoslovak-built T-55A, 1970s.
Soviet T54-55, 1970s
Soviet T-54/55, during exercises, 1970s.
Soviet T55A, Northern Alliance, 2000s
Afghan T-55A, as found in a scrap yard at Kandahar, 2000s.
Somali T55A
Somali T-55A at the time of the UN intervention (Operation Restore Hope) 1992-95.
Romanian T55A
Romanian T-55A from the time of the anti-communist revolution of 1989
Serbian T55A
Serbian T-55A in Bosnia, 1990s
Bosnian T55/M18
Bosnian Serb T-55A/M18 Hellcat hybrid (SO 76 M-18 Mod) used for mechanic training before the war in Bosnia Herzegovina, 1990s
Croat T55A
Czechoslovak-built Croat T-55A in Turanj near Karlovac, 1990s.
Macedonian T55A
Macedonian T-55A, late 1990s.
Soviet T55A winter
Soviet T-55A, winter 1970 maneuvers.
Iraqi T55A 1991
Iraqi T-55A, First Gulf war, 1991.
Albanian T55A
Albanian T-54/55, 1997 revolt.
Soviet T54-55, Northern Alliance, 1980s
Afghan Northern Alliance T-54/55, 2000s.
Serbian T54/55, 1970s
Serbian T-54/55 from the 32nd VRS, 1990s.
Soviet modernized T54-55, now on display
Modernized T-54/55 A, 1980s.
T55AM, naval infantry
T-55AM, Soviet naval infantry, 336th Naval Guard brigade, Baltic fleet, early 1990s.
Georgian T55AM
Georgian T-55AM in the 2000s.
Serbian T55AM2
Serbian Czechoslovak-built T-55AM2 Kladivo, 1992.
Romanian T55AM
Romanian T-55AM, 1990s.
Iraqi T55AD-1 Enigma 1991
Iraqi T-55AD-1 Enigma, Elite Republican Guards commander tank, 1991.
Serbian T55H 1990s
Serbian T-55H, 1990s.
IDF Tiran-5
IDF Tiran-5, 1980s.
Soviet T55M
Soviet T-55M, 1983.
Soviet T55MB
Soviet T-55MB, 1985.
Soviet T55AMB
Soviet T-55AMB, 1989.

Cold War Soviet MBTs


Soviet Union (1949) Main battle tank – 35,000 built

A tracked Kalashnikov

The T-54 is a legend. It was used more extensively than any other Cold War or modern MBT to date. It was supplied to or produced by Warsaw Pact countries, forming the bulk of their forces during the 1960s-70s. Then it served with the allies in the Middle East (Egypt, Syria, Jordan) and numerous nations among the non-aligned and third world countries. A staggering 83,500 were produced, alongside the Polish and Czech versions (21,000 more). It was largely associated with colonial or independence wars all around the globe and is still one of the most common pieces of equipment of any armored force today. China copied the T-54 under the Type 59 designation and it was also largely distributed among Asiatic nations, notably North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and North Korea.

Several factors contributed to this success, which has some obvious similarities to the infamous Kalashnikov. First, mass-production made it not only largely available but also the cheapest proposition for a modern MBT. Production spanned fifteen years, but modernization and upgrades were constant, up to the 1990s. Spare parts were also made largely available, for the same reason. Second, it was a good-all-around MBT, achieving the same balance in this respect as the famous T-34. Third, it was simple to operate, with a straightforward internal ergonomy.

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Fourth, it was very sturdy, dependable and easily adaptable. Now there are perhaps more than two hundred local variants, some of which are still in use today, not only the local conversions, upgrades and spin-offs. The T-54 already reached fifty years of service, and will probably still be used in the 2020s.

A T-44/100 with additional side skirts
The T-44/100, a derivative of the T-44 armed with a new 100 mm (3.94 in) gun, up-armored with side skirts, early 1946.

A successor for the T-44

Conceived, named and classed a medium tank for a long time, the T-54’s original design fully integrated the experience of the last world war. After encountering the heavily armored German tanks of the end of the war, Soviet designers came to the conclusion that the only way forward was to raise firepower. In October 1944, the OKB-520 design bureau, of the Stalin Ural tank factory No.183 (Uralvagonzavod) in Nizhny Tagil, developed the self-propelled gun SU-100. It had a very high-velocity D-10C and performed well as tank-hunter.
The experience was used by placing this gun on the T-34/85, giving birth to the T-34/100. But field tests exposed a major issue: the transmission could not endure the recoil. This led to the birth of the T-44/100, the forebear of the T-54. The first prototype of the latter was assembled in February 1945 and still largely resembled the T-44. The glacis frontal section was raised to 120 mm (4.72 in) (upper part) and 90 mm (3.54 in) (lower part) and the turret rested on a 1800 mm (5.9 ft) turret ring. The new V-54 12-cylinder 38.88-liter water-cooled diesel gave better performance, but the overall weight decreased maneuverability and speed compared to the T-44.
The first prototype was found insufficient and work started in June 1945 on a second prototype, Obyekt 137. It had a redesigned, roomier turret equipped with the 100 mm (3.94 in) LB-1 main gun, coupled with a 7.62 mm (0.3 in) SG coaxial machine-gun and completed by two 7.62 mm (0.3 in) SG-43 medium MGs mounted inside fixed boxes on the fenders, fired by the driver. The turret armor was thickened (200 mm/7.87 in front, 125-160 mm/4.92-6.3 in sides).

The T-54-1 with the first cast turret, still reminiscent of the T-44.

Design of the T-54 model 1946

The first prototype required modifications to the T-44 body, starting with a reinforced frontal glacis by removing the observation slit for the driver, replaced by two hatch periscopes MK-1K. The large turret was shifted even more to the center to improve internal arrangement, and its frontal part reached 200 mm (7.87 in). Vertical aiming of the main gun called for an articulated telescopic sight TSH-20 with electric traverse, driven by the commander and gunner. Air attacks were recognized as a major threat, fitting an anti-aircraft DShK heavy machine-gun, although a lighter one could be installed in an armored shelve with remote control. The T-44 engine and transmission scheme were kept unchanged, but the engine was upgraded to the diesel V-54. The new medium tank was heavier than the T-44, but the wheeltrain and track system were completely overhauled, with new pin engagement and better cleats, track rollers strengthened to parry angular fluctuations and new hydraulic torsion-arm suspension fitted. As built, the T-54s were among the best medium tanks worldwide in 1947, only surpassed in 1958 when the 105 mm (4.13 in) armed British Centurion was put into service.

Early production: The T-54-1, 2 & 3

The model 1948 was the first production series, also called T-54-1, and was substantially different from the previous prototypes, with increased protection (80 mm/3.15 in sides, 30 mm/1.18 in roof and 20 mm/0.79 in bottom) and better ammunition (BR-412 series full-caliber APHE). About 1490 were made, all fitted with the early turret type, an improved version of the T-44 turret, but soon quality problems emerged. In 1949 the first modernization phase came with the T-54-2. According to statistics stating that 90% of hits were taken a meter from the ground, the thick frontal upper plate was decreased to 100 mm (3.94 in). The turret design and AA mount were also modified. The new turret was inspired by the one fielded on the heavy IS-3, but with a characteristic overhang at the rear and shorter bustle.
An advanced powertrain comprised a multi-oil bath air cleaner and dust ejector, and a nozzle oil preheater reduced the warming time of the engine in cold weather.

The tracks were expanded to 480 mm (18.9 in), reducing ground pressure. The fender machine-guns were removed in favor of a more conventional bow-mounted model. Only 423 were delivered by the Stalin Ural Tank Factory No. 183 (Uralvagonzavod) in 1950, followed by 800 more in 1951. The same year, the second phase of modernization took place, later known as the T-54-3, but in production only called “T-54”. The turret was reshaped without the overhang, fitted with a new TSh-2-22 telescopic gunner sight, improved seal rubbing parts, bearings, and electrical appliances protected from dust, as well as a TDA smoke generating system. A command version, the T-54K with a second R-113 radio was also delivered. Total production for this model was quite large and spanned from 1952 to 1955, followed by an upgraded production.

The T-54A (1955-1957)

By 1953, the OKB-520 design bureau saw the rise of a new team, under the direction of Leonid N. Kartsev. Their T-54A came equipped with the new STP-1 “Gorizont” gun stabilizer in a vertical plane with better guidance, an automated electric ejection device to purge the barrel, and the initial small muzzle counter-weight was replaced with a massive fume extractor. This new gun was called D-10TG. Now it was possible to conduct true aimed fire on the move.
The engine received an air cleaner with controlled blinds, multi-stage air filter and radiator control to maintain optimum performance and a new OPVT wading snorkel. The driver received a night vision periscope, as the TVN-1 and related IR driving searchlight. A new R-113 radio was also made available. The gunner received an upgraded TSh-2A-22 telescopic sight. Other modifications included an electrical oil pump, bilge pump and automatic fire extinguisher. The most distinctive change in appearance, outside the gun’s fume extractor, were the rear massive extra fuel tanks. This T-54A was scheduled for mid-1954 but not produced until the end of 1955 as an upgrade, which lasted until 1957. Some 2102 T-10TG guns were completed by the Sverdlovsk and Perm arsenals for 1955 alone, 1854 in 1956 and 840 in 1957.

Polish T-54As were locally manufactured at the Bumar-Labedy plant as the AM, characterized by “L”-shaped fuel cells on either side of the turret ring and additional ZIP stowage bins on the turret. 2855 of these were assembled from 1956 to 1967, replacing the aging T-34/85s. In Czechoslovakia, similar endeavors started at ZTM Martin, delivering 2490 T-54As and 120 T-54AKs (command versions) from 1958 to 1966. These command versions were separated between the AK-1 and AK-2, the former having an extra R-113 radio while the latter had a telescopic long-range antenna mast HTM-10.

The T-54B (1957-1959)

In 1955, another major modernization (Objekt 137G2) was traduced into production as the T-54B. It was equipped with the D-10T2S rifled gun coupled with an STP-2 “Tsyklon” 2-plane stabilizer (“Cyclone”) on vertical and horizontal planes, developed at the TsNII-173 plant. This increased target hit probability from 30 to 60%. Fuel tanks were fitted with sets of self-sealing systems. With them, the tank could not overcome a fording depth of 5 m (16.4 ft). Production started in early 1957, replacing the T-54A. In April 1959, new infra-red vision and night sights were added at the end of the production, just before the introduction of the T-55. This included the L-2 “Luna” infrared searchlight, TPN-1-22-11 infra-red gunner\’s sight, and the new OU-3 IR searchlight, mounted over the commander cupola.

This was the first-Soviet built complete set of night fighting equipment. This version was produced until April 1958. The T-54B was sold massively to East Germany. Polish-built T-54Bs were characterized by two locally-designed “L” shaped fuel cells on the left fender, a modified right rear air intake as well as a different tool box storage, rotating turret floor and the drive\’s controls were hydraulically assisted. Command versions T-54BK were also produced, with the same sub-variants as the AK.

The T-54M (1954)

The very last set of modifications came with the Obyekt 139. This model first tested the D-54TS 100 mm (3.94 in) smoothbore gun with a new Raduga stabilization system, first developed in 1952. The prototype was delivered at Nizhni Tagil in October 1954 and also sported an increase to 50 rounds storage, a 14.5 mm (0.57 in) AA machine-gun and an uprated V-54-6 engine. Many problems were detected with the gun, preventing its adoption on the T-55, but this development was continued with the Obyekt 165, forerunner of the T-62.

Further modernizations campaigns (1965-1990)

In a sense, the upgraded T-55 was the first phase of modernization. Many T-54s were indeed retro-fitted to the T-55 standard, which included full NBC protection, the new V-55 diesel rated for 581 hp, increased range and ammunition (T-54M and AMs). Although there was no revolution in terms of armor, advances in armor-piercing and HEAT ammunition guaranteed these vehicles to stay first-line until 1990, not counting all the local modifications performed by various builder/customers all around the world. After the fall of the USSR, surplus T-54/55s were supplied with lucrative modernization programs which allowed them to remain first-line to this day. Among these improbable derivatives, there were up to recently the US-modified Jaguar or the Egyptian Ramses II, both extremely interesting MBT options for low-end budgets.

Drawbacks of the T-54

The small size and low silhouette of these tanks did not come without a price to pay. Indeed, the cramped and small fighting compartment had no comfort and severely limited the average height for recruits. It was customary along with newer models like the T-62 and T-64 and never discovered before Israeli crews dealt with hundreds of captured machines, modified and pressed into service as the Tiran-4s. Another issue was the turret shape, which prevented to depress the gun less than 5°, a fault fully exploited on the battlefield by Israelis tankers and forbade the “hull-down” firing position. Another problem was the gun stabilization system which was crude and ineffective, preventing any chances of scoring a hit when firing on the move. In practice, firing was reasonably accurate when rested, and at relatively short range (less than 1000 m) for better chances of success.
The lack of modern armor was another issue. The T-54 was conceived with traditional warfare and ammunition in mind, with a really thick armor. All this thickness was rendered obsolete by the time shaped charge were massively adopted, and T-54/T-55s paid a heavy price to LAW rockets, TOW missiles, even 76 mm shells from the M41 Walker Bulldog in Vietnam. More recent upgrades, often by foreign companies, added appliqué or spaced armor and ERA blocks. However, all this additional weight took a toll on the original engine which had often to be also replaced. The rebuilding of such modernized models makes them still a valuable proposition for a 21st-century battlefield.



In 1952 this version swapped its coaxial machine gun for a flamethrower set ATO-1 (an automatic powder flamethrower). In the bow was installed a 460 l additional reserve. The ATO-1 could throw a jet of flame to a 160 meters (525 ft) range.


The commander version T-54K (1954) was fitted with two long range radio sets, a new power unit and special navigation equipment.


This sub-variant had a shorter hull with four roadwheels per side, a thinner armor and a twin QF 57 mm automatic cannons in a revolving turret. Perhaps 3000 were built by the USSR, North Korea and the Chinese PRC, with a long list of operators.

SU-122 SPG

The SU-122 SPG was based on the T-54A. Also known as the SU-122-54 or IT-122, it was first developed in 1949, as long range tank destroyer. Between 1955 and 1957, 77, then 23 were built with minor details between series. The SU-122-54 had a modified wheeltrain with small spaces between the two first and fourth pair of wheels but a large opening between the third and others like on the next T-62. Its superstructure housed a 122 mm (4.8 in) D-49 gun supplied with 35 rounds, and two secondary KPVT heavy MGs (one AA was manned from the commander’s hatch) and 600 rounds in reserve. There was a fume extractor right behind the muzzle brake. The commander’s cupola was modified before the end of the series. A rare appearance, these 100 vehicles served briefly and were mostly seen by the west during Red Square parades in the 1970s as ARVs.

BPS-2 tractor

A modified tractor, which was fitted with a boom crane, counterweight, rear arrestor pods and a single DSHK machine-gun for defense.


A specially modified crane equipped salvage vehicle, with even more lifting power. It was well capable of towing any tanks ranging from the T-54 to the IS-10. They were used well into the 1990s.

Local versions

This includes the Czech-built T-54A, AK (command), AR “Rieka”, AM & AMK, AMB, AM1 and sub-variants, and variants; the East-German Z/AZ/AMZ (modernized) and variants, Israeli Tiran-4 & Tiran 4Sh, and variants like the Achzarit APC, and the Polish T-54AD and AMs. Much more modifications were done to the more modern T-55 in this matter.

Successor: The T-55

The T-54 was replaced by the all-improved T-55, developed from 1955 onwards at the same plant. It was basically the sum of upgrades performed on the former T-54s, but with full NBC protection called PAZ (Protivoatomnaya Zashchita), studied by the KB-60 design bureau in Kharkov. The range of modifications was then sent to Uralvagonzavod. The T-54M (Obyekt 139) tested these technologies but was fitted also with the new V-55 diesel engine (581 bhp) to cope with the additional weight. The starter, charger and heating systems were revamped, and an MC-1 diesel fuel filter was introduced. At the same time, engine ventilation hatches were modified, operational range and fuel capacity were increased. The numbers of rounds carried shifted from 34 to 45. New ammunition had been developed, like the BK5M HEAT rounds which could penetrate 390 mm (15.35 in) of armor. Overall, 27,500 T-55s were built until 1981 as many upgrades followed along the sixties and seventies. Most T-54s were upgraded along the same lines as the T-55, ended as hybrid series collectively known in NATO as the T-54/55. With combined production, this series remained the bulk of the Soviet conventional force until the fall of USSR, and was largely exported.

Short Russian documentary

T-54 and variants gallery

A Polish T-54A Polish SPAAG

T-54 related links

The T-54/55 on Wikipedia
A specialized website about the T-54 (in Russian)
On Military Factory
On T-54/55s variants and operators

T-54 specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 9m (6.45m without gun) x 3.27m x 2.4m
(29’5″ (21’2″) x 10’7″ x 7’9″
Total weight, battle ready 36 tons – 36.4 long tonnes (72,000 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion 8-cyl V-54 (B-54), 520 bhp (388 kW), p/w ratio 14.4 hp/t
Top speed 55 km/h (34 mph)
Suspensions Torsion bars with hydraulic arms
Range (road/off road) 330 to 440 km (205/273 mi)
Armament Main: 1 x 100 mm DT10 (3.94 in)
Sec: 1 x 12.7 mm DSHK AA (0.5 in) machine gun
Sec: 3 x SG-43 or SGMT 7.62 mm (0.3 in) machine gun
Armor Frontal glacis 120 mm (4.7 in), sides 80 mm (3.15 in), rear 45 mm (1.77 in), turret front 200 mm (7.87 in), roof 30 mm (1.18), bottom 20 mm (0.79 in)
Total production (T-54 alone) Approx. 35,000
T-44, forebear of the T-54 family, equipped with the same turret and main gun as the T-34/85.
T 54 model 1948
T-54-1 early type (1948), with the transitional turret and many T-44 chassis features.
T-54 model 1949, Egypt 1956
Egyptian T-54-1, war of 1967.
T54 model 1949
T-54-2, second early type (1949).
Upgraded T-54-2
Upgraded T-54-2 of the Soviet Army, fall 1950.
Syrian T54-2 1967
Syrian T-54-2, Six-Day War, 1967.
T-54-3 (Object 137), third pre-production type (1951), with the definitive turret. Notice the spoked wheels.
T-54, early mass-production type (1951). Notice the early spoked wheels.
T54 of the Soviet naval infantry
Soviet naval infantry T-54, 1960s.
T-54A of a Red Guards unit, 1955
T-54A of a Red Guards unit, 1955.
Egyptian T54A
Egyptian T-54A with spoked wheels, war of 1967.
East German T-54A.
Polish-built T-54AM, recognizable by the turret extra storage bins.
Afghan Valley 2002
Afghan T-54A, stripped of almost all its storage and mudguards, Panshir Valley, 2002.
T-54B with winter camouflage, 1958
T-54B with winter camouflage, 1958.
Polish T54B, 1970s
Polish T-54B, 1970s. Notice the mix of old spoked wheels and modern ones.
NVA T54B, 1968
North Vietnamese T-54B during the Têt offensive in 1968. 900 are still operational today, forming the bulk of the Vietnamese force.
Egyptian T54B, 1967
Egyptian T-54B with spoked wheels, war of 1967.
Egyptian T54B, 1973
Egyptian T-54B in 1973, Yom Kippur war, upgraded with a new rangefinder.
Czech T54B, 1976
Czech T-54B, 1976.
Soviet T54B
Soviet T-54B, presumably of a Red Guards unit, on display today.

Cambodian T-54B, 1980s.
Serbian T54B, 1992
Serbian T-54B, Kosovo 1992. There are unmistakably recognizable due to their improvised protection made of extra rubber panels.
Lebanese T54b, 1980s
Lebanese Militias T-54B, Beirut, 1980s.