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Syrian Armor

T-72 Shafrah

Hello dear reader! This article on the T-72 Shafrah has not been updated since 19th March 2018, meaning that the article may be out of date, considering that the Syrian Civil War continues.

Syria (2017-Present)
MBT – Estimated 11-17 converted

New armor kits for the SAA

The T-72 Shafrah was originally a testbed for a new type of armor made by the Republican Guard’s 105th Mechanized Brigade (first seen used on bulldozers in October 2016). This upgrade was supposed to resist all forms of anti-tank rockets. Throughout the Civil War, Syrian tanks have been highly vulnerable to RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades) and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), and successful missile attacks against SAA tanks in Damascus are often filmed and used for enemy propaganda.
Initially, the Shafrah package did not appear to be sufficient for the SAA’s needs, but it seems as though more vehicles were upgraded to the Shafrah standard throughout 2017 and 2018, each bringing design improvements making the armor more resilient to missiles. Now, with anywhere between 11 and 17 T-72 Shafrah tanks, the package has a proven record of its success.
The name ‘Shafrah’ means ‘razor’, a joke originating from @withinsyria blog, referring to the armor looking like a shaving razor. This name has stuck with the tank and is apparently used in SAA propaganda.

T-72 Shafrah I, posted online on 27th February 2017.

T-72 Grendizer?

Whilst the T-72 Mahmia (also known as the T-72 Adra) upgrade of the SAA 4th Armored Division was successful at defeating RPG-29 hits, it was not consistent at defeating ATGMs. In late 2016 / early 2017, it seems as though tank upgrades were slowly being centralized by the Syrian Arab Army, with the intention of making a new type of upgraded T-72 that is invulnerable to all missile types.
Around late 2016, a tweet from @syrianmilitary, referred to a mystery T-72 upgrade dubbed “T-72 Grendizer” (which refers to a popular Japanese cartoon show that was popular in the Middle East in the 1980s – children of that era now being the tank crews of today) and was suggested to be “the T-55 Enigma reborn”.
The Shafrah may actually be this project. It has, in some sense, composite armor like the T-55 Enigma.

Basic outline of the armor

The T-72 Shafrah’s armor is quite distinct. Essentially, numerous brackets are placed on the tank’s turret, which have a number of angled plates welded onto them. Some tanks have sideskirts (most appear to at least have sideskirt mounts consisting of two metal beams above road-wheels), which follow a similar pattern, but the welded plates are not angled.
WithinSyria blog reported that the armor plates are made of RHA (1.5 mm – 2 mm thick), tungsten, and glassfiber. It is further rumored that the tungsten part refers to 1 mm thick tungsten copper plates. If this is true, then this armor package, therefore, seems as though it is designed to be a form of composite armor which, like the T-55 Enigma, should be able to stop ATGMs.
However, with an alleged budget of $5,000-10,000 US per month, the Republican Guard is unlikely to be able to use tungsten on a wide scale due to the material being too costly. As such, it is equally valid to believe that the plates are made purely from steel until further evidence is available.

SAA propaganda showing T-72 Shafrah III, probably not long after it was built, around June 19th 2017. The extent of the uparmoring can be seen clearly in this photo.

Identifying Individual Vehicles

Identifying each individual T-72 Shafrah tank has proven difficult due to a lack of sources available. The tanks are identified in this article by assigning them a designation based on their base vehicle (in this case, T-72 (Urals), and T-72AVs exclusively). T-72 Urals have a plain turret, but T-72AVs have ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) bricks on the turret, making the two models distinct. The base designation is followed by a number denoting when they were first photographed (importantly, this does not necessarily mean that vehicles with lower numbers were built first). Separate vehicles are identified by comparing their Shafrah features – mostly armor layout schemes.
This system has its flaws. For example, tanks may lose parts of the armor during the course of battles, or armor brackets might be replaced or removed entirely. Therefore, some tanks may appear differently at different points in time, meaning that they are mistaken for two separate vehicles. The upshot of this is that this article may overestimate the number of Shafrah vehicles in existence. Similarly, relying on only photographic evidence may mean that it underestimates the number because some Shafrah tanks may not have been photographed. Also consider that photos sometimes surface months after being taken, thus making a chronological typology difficult (see T-72AV Shafrah VI for an example of this – photos taken on 3rd November 2017 only surfaced along with photos of the tank on 4th March 2018).
With these limitations in mind, the T-72 Shafrah tanks can be divided and described as thus (in a roughly chronological order based on when they were photographed):
T-72 Shafrah I has the fewest number of welded plates on its brackets – typically, two large plates. There is a single plate with no welded plates on the right of the gun (as if facing the vehicle). The vehicle was hit by an ATGM in Eastern Ghouta, on 27th February 2017. The turret ring was damaged and the driver was wounded, likely meaning that the brackets were repaired and/or replaced, which complicates identifying the tank. This tank originally had sideskirts, but these appear to have been eventually removed after 22nd March 2017, where it was believed to be seen at the Qaboun offensive (still with sideskirts on the 22nd however). (Again, identifying this particular tank has proved difficult due to both a lack of photos and the ATGM hit meaning the brackets were likely repaired. As such, it is possible that some photos believed to show the vehicle actually show different and separate Shafrah upgrades). It is believed that this tank was also seen in Eastern Ghouta, circa 4th March 2018, having sustained significant combat wear and tear. The front spotlight has been shot out, and the turret plate right of the gun appears to have been replaced.
T-72AV Shafrah I has no sideskirts, but does have two welded beams between its road-wheels to mount a sideskirt. The turret has seven or eight brackets, each with six or seven short plates welded on. The right side of the front bumper also appeared damaged and bent out of shape when seen at the Qaboun offensive on 22nd March 2017. That bumper section may likely be missing now. It is believed that it was this vehicle which was hit by an ATGM around 30th September 2017 at Hawsh Dawahirah.
T-72AV Shafrah II has no sideskirts, but has the welded beams for their mounting. It also appears to have only four turret brackets, each with five or six welded plates. It has a single plate on the right side of the gun acting as the protective bracket in that area. It also has Viper 72 thermal sights (see sidenote III below). This tank was first seen on 25th March 2017, possibly at Qaboun, originally mistaken for T-72 Shafrah I.
An unidentified T-72 Shafrah (whether Ural or AV is unclear) was knocked out on 16th April 2017 at Qaboun. It was originally thought that this was T-72AV Shafrah II, but that tank was seen as late as July 2017. It appears to be missing some brackets and cannot be identified as a result. (See below for more).
T-72 Shafrah II has no sideskirts, but the two welded beams for mounting them. It has seven turret brackets, six of which have three welded plates. The seventh, on the right of the main gun (as if facing), is made of two plates, with a section cut out to avoid the gunner’s optics / LRF being obstructed. This tank was first seen at Qaboun on 6th May 2017. The front bumper was later mostly broken off.
T-72 Shafrah III has sideskirts consisting of three brackets. The turret has roughly eight brackets, each with four welded plates, except the bracket on the right of the main gun, which has only two to avoid the gunner’s optics /LRF being obstructed. The tank was photographed before it saw any combat at all on 19th June 2017.
An unidentified T-72AV Shafrah was seen at Ein Tarma, Qaboun, 21st June 2017. The tank has no sideskirts, and six turret brackets with four welded plates on each. The bracket on the right of the gun has only two plates. It is possible that this is the same Shafrah destroyed at Qaboun on 16th April 2017, but this photo of it (apparently in tact) was taken before that date, and only posted online in June 2017. This remains to be proven.
T-72AV Shafrah III has damaged sideskirts made of three brackets. The left side (facing) is missing the rear bracket, and the right side is missing the bracket. The turret has many brackets (seven to nine), each with five to seven welded plates, except the bracket on the right of the gun, which has only two, to avoid the gunner’s optics /LRF being obstructed. The tank was first seen on 19th November 2017, crossing a bridge over the River Euphrates via Hawijat Kati island at Deir ez-Zor.
T-72 Shafrah IV is the most heavily armored Shafrah built so far. It has sideskirts split into three sections, with missile damage on the middle section of the left side (this section is likely to be replaced or repaired). The turret brackets strangely look as if they are made from one continuous bracket, rounded to fit the turret’s shape. The bracket has eight to ten sets of three welded plates (again, only two welded plates on the right of the gun to prevent obstruction to the gunner’s optics). The plates on the left of the gun have a small cut out so that the coaxial machine gun is not obstructed. This tank was first seen in Eastern Damascus, 7th January 2018, trying to reach Harasta vehicle base.
T-72AV Shafrah IV has no sideskirts, and no mounting bars for it between its roadwheels. Its turret has seven to nine brackets, each with four welded plates (the bottom welded plate is taller than the rest), and only two welded plates on the right of the gun. This tank was first seen at Eastern Ghouta, 3rd February 2018.
T-72 Shafrah V has a distinctive dark grey / brown colour. It has sideskirts, probably in three sections. The turret has eight brackets (the direct rear bracket is missing), each with four welded plates (again, except the bracket on the right, which has two plates). The tank was first seen around mid-February (a few days before the 19th, perhaps) preparing for the Eastern Ghouta offensive.
T-72 Shafrah VI has no sideskirts and roughly five brackets making up the turret (leaving a large gap at the rear of the turret). The brackets all have three plates each, but the half-plate below the gunner’s optics has only two. The tank also has no uparmoring on the engine deck. The tank was first seen around mid-February (a few days before the 19th, perhaps) preparing for the Eastern Ghouta offensive.
T-72AV Shafrah V has sideskirts and seven turret brackets with four plates each making up the turret armor (with a single plate below the gunner’s optics, like T-72AV Shafrah II). The sideskirts are split into three sections, and the rearmost section on the tank’s right side appears to be falling off. It was first seen in a montage of footage from offensives at Qaboun, Ghouta, Ein Tarma and other areas on 26th February 2018. The vehicle was likely first put into action at a much earlier date, most likely late 2017. It is likely that it sustained damage in the Eastern Ghouta offensive in early March 2018, leading to a loss of its rear right sideskirt section, and a rear turret bracket section, but the photo showing this cannot be confirmed to be T-72AV Shafrah V with certainty.
T-72AV Shafrah VI originally had sideskirts (see photos from 3rd November 2017 at Ein Tarma) but when photographed on March 4th, 2018, it does not have sideskirts. The turret is likely made up of seven brackets (a rear one is missing) with only several plates on each. Unlike most recent Shafrah tanks, it has several plates below the gunner’s sight which are tightly spaced, and are also shaped like trapeziums. There is also a cutout section on the left of the main gun for the turret machine gun to remain unobstructed. Photos from 4th March 2018 show that the right mudguard is missing, and the front bumper has snapped off in front of both tracks. The tank also has a registration plate painted on in black on the lowest hull Shafrah plate: ٣٨٣٠٨٣, and on the lower glacis plate in sand-yellow. The tank is also an AV, but strangely has no ERA on the turret, but the bolts where the bricks were are still there. The vehicle was first photographed on 3rd November 2017. It was later sighted at the liberation of Beit Nayem, Eastern Ghouta on 4th March 2018.
T-72 Shafrah VII (unclear model – this will be updated when known for certain) has no sideskirts (interestingly, the remains original mudguard sections are mangled out of shape), and has an estimated seven to nine squat turret brackets, each with three Shafrah plates, except on the right of the gun, which has two. A distinguishing feature is the narrow turret bracket on the left of the gun. The tank may also not have any rear uparmoring. It was first seen at the town of al-Muhamadyia on 7th March 2018.
Accounting for the potential errors with this methodology, and that there may also be unseen Shafrah tanks, there are an estimated 11-17 Shafrahs that have ever existed, probably 16 (thirteen known tanks, plus two unidentified tanks, plus the possibility that photos thought to show T-72 Shafrah I actually show two separate tanks).

Combat

T-72 Shafrah I hit by ATGM at Eastern Ghouta, 27th February 2017

T-72 Shafrah I was first documented in combat in Eastern Ghouta, on 27th February 2017. The footage below shows that the vehicle was hit by an ATGM. As a result, the driver was wounded and the turret was damaged, but the vehicle was not destroyed. Crucially, there was no internal fire, which was a common problem with the T-72 Mahmia.

T-72 Shafrah I being hit by an ATGM. The footage is cropped, and the vehicle was not destroyed.
It was later photographed being transported back to the workshop on the back of a lorry. The photograph was dated 1st March 2017.

T-72 Shafrah I and T-72AV Shafrah II at Qaboun, 22nd March 2017

The T-72 Shafrah tank was next seen in combat along with the T-72AV Shafrah, and a third, lightly modified T-72 on 22nd March 2017 at Qaboun, in the north of Jobar, in east Damascus. The fighting took place near a fabric factory. The source (a tweet with two videos) suggests that 150 rebels were killed in the assault, which was supported by infantry.

T-72 Shafrah I in combat at Qaboun, Jobar, Eastern Damascus, March 22nd, 2017.

T-72AV Shafrah I in combat at Qaboun, Jobar, Eastern Damascus, March 22nd, 2017.

Unknown T-72 Shafrah destroyed at Qaboun, 16th April 2017

On the 16th April 2017, a photo was posted online showing an unknown T-72 Shafrah having been knocked out at Qaboun. The photo shows the vehicle’s turret on fire, with multiple armor brackets missing. Reports suggest that it was hit by an AT mine which destroyed a track, but caused no damage. The crew escaped, but several soldiers are reported to have been killed or wounded in the attack.
The vehicle was finally set on fire by the rebels, to stop any chance of recovery, and it is now probably wrecked beyond repair. Ahrah al-Sham have claimed responsibility for the vehicle’s destruction.
It was initially believed that this was T-72AV Shafrah I or II, but these tanks have been seen operational after April 2017.
A T-72 Mahmia was alongside the unknown Shafrah during the attack. The T-72 Mahmia took an RPG-29 hit, which did not penetrate the tank. However, the commander sustained significant injuries.

The unknown T-72 Shafrah, destroyed by rebels at Qaboun, 16th April 2017.

Rebel footage after the tank was set alight.

T-72 Shafrah II at the Qaboun Offensive, May, 2017

In an offensive that lasted from 18th February to 29th May, T-72 Shafrah II was photographed fighting again on the 6th and 8th May, and had likely been fighting throughout the offensive from mid-March.
On May 7th, an agreement between rebel forces and Government forces led to the eventual evacuation of rebels from the district. Evacuations took place until 13th May, by which time the government had captured all of Qaboun. A new evacuation deal led to further rebels and their families leaving the district, and by May 15th, the government had total control over the district.

T-72 Shafrah II at Qaboun, 6th May, 2017.

A different view of the above.

Video of T-72 Shafrah II at Qaboun, 6th May, 2017.

T-72AV Shafrah II at Jobar, June 2017

T-72AV Shafrah II was photographed in late June fighting in Jobar along with a ZSU-23-4 Shafrah, and at least one other regular T-72. Reports indicate that the 105th Republican Guards were attacking Ein Tarma (near Jobar) from the southwest and made some gains.

T-72AV Shafrah II, Jobar, 21st June, 2017.

T-72AV Shafrah I hit by ATGM, circa September 2017

Footage dating to around late September 2017 shows what appears to be T-72AV Shafrah I being hit by an ATGM fired by Jaish al-Islam at Hawsh Dawahira. The vehicle likely survived the hit, as it can be seen driving backwards for a few frames before the camera cuts to another scene.

T-72AV Shafrah III crossing the Euphrates, November 2017

On 19th November 2017, four photos were posted online of T-72AV Shafrah III and other armor crossing a bridge over the River Euphrates via Hawijat Kati island at Deir ez-Zor.

T-72AV Shafrah III behind a T-72AV near a bridge crossing at Deir ez-Zor (circa 16th November 2017). The rear third of the skirt (on the left) is actually missing from the tank. Notice also that the turret also has more brackets, and each bracket has more armor plates compared to earlier Shafrah-upgraded T-72s. This is likely in response to earlier models being too poorly armored.

Different view of the above.

T-72AV Shafrah IV filmed up close by rebels, 3rd February 2018

Rebels of Jaish al-Islam filmed T-72AV Shafrah IV up close around 3rd February 2018 at Eastern Ghouta. The rebels do not appear to have any AT weapons, hence they merely shot at the vehicle’s optics. The rebels were later forced to retreat due to their lack of AT weapons.

T-72 Shafrah V and VI, preparing for the Eastern Ghouta Offensive, mid-February 2018

Compilation SAA propaganda footage shows T-72 Shafrah V and VI preparing for the Eastern Ghouta offensive circa mid-February 2018 (probably around the 16th-19th). The video shows a column of vehicles including a T-72M1, a handful of BMP-1s, and two ZSU-23-4s preparing for or beginning an assault in Eastern Ghouta.

Front: T-72 Shafrah V. Rear: T-72 Shafrah VI. Eastern Ghouta, circa mid-February 2018.

Front: T-72 Shafrah VI, with two turret brackets missing covering the rear. Note that the rear engine deck of the tank is not uparmored. Background: T-72 Shafrah V, showing it to be missing a single turret bracket. Eastern Ghouta, circa mid-February 2018.

T-72 Shafrah V (left) and a T-72M1 with an improvised turret bracket (right). Eastern Ghouta, circa mid-February 2018.

SAA propaganda footage of T-72 Shafrah V and T-72 Shafrah VI as part of a column in Eastern Ghouta, circa mid-February 2018.

T-72AV Shafrah VI at the liberation Beit Nayem, Eastern Ghouta, 4th March 2018

T-72AV Shafrah VI was photographed after fighting in Beit Nayem, as part of the SAA’s major Eastern Ghouta offensive, along with other T-72s (one of which is an AV featuring an improvised turret cage). An estimated twenty rebels were killed in the attack on the village, and others are reported to have fled. Another vehicle, a BMP-1 with a ZU-23-2 enclosed in an improvised superstructure was also photographed, which also features Shafrah-style sideskirts.

T-72AV Shafrah VI after the liberation of Beit Nayem, 4th March 2018.

T-72AV Shafrah VI after the liberation of Beit Nayem, 4th March 2018. This photo confirms beyond all doubt that it is an AV model. Note the registration plate – ٣٨٣٠٨٣. Also note that it has no ERA bricks on the turret, but the bolts are still there

BMP-1 with a ZU-23-2 enclosed in an improvised superstructure also featuring Shafrah-style sideskirts. The addition of a ZU-23-2 is a common enough feature, but the Shafrah sideskirts appears to be fairly new. Previous BMP-1/ZU-23-2 conversions have notably featured sideskirts made from thin metal cages. The turret superstructure is also a significant improvement on previous designs. 4th March 2018, Beit Nayem.

Different view of the above. Note the Shafrah armor on the front of the vehicle, and additional visor for the driver.
On 6th March 2018, one photo taken at Beit Nayem also shows that T-72 Shafrah III and T-72 Shafrah I were present at least after the village’s liberation.

T-72 Shafrah III (background left, the second tank from the right. The four plates on the left-side turret bracket indicate it to be T-72 Shafrah III) and T-72 Shafrah I (in the center, covered by the soldiers. The single plate on the bracket behind the man furthest left is the indicator), Beit Nayem, circa 6th March 2018.

The Eastern Ghouta Offensive Continues, 7th March 2018 – Present

T-72 Shafrah VII was seen at the town of al-Muhamadyia on 7th March 2018 along with a BMP-1 during scant shelling operations.

T-72 Shafrah VII  at al-Muhamadyia on 7th March 2018. Credit: SANA
T-72AV Shafrah VI was shown by RT Arabic on 8th March 2018 to be continuing to advance in Eastern Ghouta, having presumably moved on from Beit Nayem village.

This still reveals that T-72AV Shafrah VI not only is missing a rear turret bracket, but also has no ERA bricks. al-Muhamadyia, Eastern Ghouta, circa 8th March 2018. Credit: RT Arabic.

T-72 Shafrah I in Eastern Ghouta, 8th March 2018.

T-72AV Shafrah VI bursting through a wall,  Eastern Ghouta, circa 9th March 2018.

T-72AV Shafrah VI at Mesraba, circa 10th March 2018.

T-72AV Shafrah VI at Jisreen, having travelled south from Mesraba, 10th March 2018.
T-72AV Shafrah VI was seen circa 11th March 2018 attacking at the farmlands near Jisreen.

T-72AV Shafrah VI at Kafr Batna, 19th March 2018.


T-72AV Shafrah II at Qaboun(?), 24th March, 2017.

T-72AV of the Republican Guard, for comparison.

T-72 Mahmia, for comparison.
T-72AV Shafrah in combat at Qaboun, supported by infantry, on 24th March 2017
T-72AV Shafrah I in combat at Qaboun, supported by infantry, reportedly on 24th March 2017.
The T-72AV Shafrah with the new armor layout on 25th March 2017. Bars originally holding on the sideskirts can be seen just in front of the first wheel and between the second and third from the front.
T-72AV Shafrah II on 25th March 2017. Bars originally holding on the sideskirts can be seen just in front of the first wheel and between the second and third from the front. Rows of angled armor plates can also be seen on the hull.

T-72AV Shafrah II and a T-72AV with their crews, 23rd March 2017.

T-72AV Shafrah II and other vehicles. Unknown date.

T-72 Shafrah I. Posted online, 1st April 2017, meaning this is its post-repair state.

T-72 Shafrah V, in its distinctive brown / grey colour, and T-72 Shafrah VI. Circa mid-February 2018.

T-72 Shafrah II at Qaboun, 6th May, 2017.

A still from up-close footage of T-72AV Shafrah IV, taken by rebels of Jaish al-Isla at Eastern Ghouta, 3rd February 2018.
T-72 Shafrah IV Eastern Damascus, circa 7th January 2018, trying to reach Harasta vehicle base. A black hole in the middle of the side skirt is likely an ATGM hit that did not penetrate the armor. There may also be an RPG hit to the turret, as indicated by a black burn mark.

T-72AV Shafrah III behind a T-72AV near a bridge crossing at Deir ez-Zor (circa 16th November 2017), showing the other skirt to be missing its front third.

Different view of the above, showing the rear of the tank to also be significantly uparmored. The SAA crossed the River Euphrates via Hawijat Kati Island.

T-72AV Shafrah V. Still taken from a montage of SAA ‘archive footage’ posted online on 24th February 2018, as propaganda for the Eastern Ghouta offensive.

T-72AV Shafrah V. Still taken from a montage of SAA ‘archive footage’ posted online on 24th February 2018, as propaganda for the Eastern Ghouta offensive. The damaged sideskirt is a particularly useful identification method of this tank.

Unidentified T-72AV Shafrah. Behind is a T-72M1, and in front is a ZSU-23-4 Mahmia, and a T-72 Mahmia. Unknown date, probably Qaboun, late April / early May 2017. This may be T-72AV Shafrah II, but no other photos of that tank show it to have sideskirts, and an in-tact front bumper. The tank is unidentified because its technical features are not totally clear enough to confirm it to be a new T-72AV Shafrah, and the images lack any confirmed dates to make this more difficult.

T-72AV Shafrah VI at Ein Tarma, 3rd November 2017. In this photo, it has sideskirts, but photos from March 4th 2018 show that they have been removed.

What is believed to be T-72 Shafrah I in Eastern Ghouta, circa 4th March 2018, having suffered significant combat wear and tear.

Unknown T-72 Shafrah, circa 3rd March 2018, Otaya, Eastern Ghouta. The tank is almost certainly T-72AV Shafrah V, but a lack of photos make it hard to confirm. If it is T-72AV Shafrah V, then this photo indicates that the right rear sideskirt section has fallen off (it was previously hanging loose on one mount), and a bracket at the rear of the turret has fallen off or been removed (as with T-72AV Shafrah III). This photo showing T-72AV Shafrah V after combat damage makes sense, as it is clear from the dirt on the tank that it has seen significant combat.

T-72 Shafrah VII  at al-Muhamadyia on 7th March 2018. Credit: SANA

Sidenote I-a: Shilka Shafrah tanks

So far, at least two ZSU-23-4 ‘Shilka’ tanks have been upgraded with Shafrah armor, in various configurations. The first is similar to the regular Shafrah upgrade, but another (dubbed the ‘Shilka Super Shafrah’) deviates from the standard Shafrah design). ZSU-23-4s are actually used for supporting vehicles in urban combat, as their guns can hit enemy positions which are high up in tall buildings. Therefore, the tanks need to also be protected from ATGMs and rockets. A Syrian tank crewman reports that there are locally-built munitions for the Shilka which copies a Russian design, and that such munitions are plentiful. Furthermore, he reports that these munitions are so strong, there are even rumours that a single round has been known to demolish concrete walls. Rebels fear the Shilka due to its massive firepower, stopping power, and fairly good protection.
Following the same typological method as identifying the T-72 Shafrahs, the following can be deduced about the ‘Shilka Shafrah’ tanks:
On March 26th, footage showing Shilka Shafrah I was posted, probably at Jobar. Note that the photo shows it facing the rear. Strangely, the guns have also been given single Shafrah plates. The sideskirts also appear to have gaps in them, probably to allow access to the Shilka’s regular exterior fixtures.

Shilka Shafrah I, in Jobar, posted online on March 27th, 2017. The photo was probably taken on 26th March, 2017. The vehicle may have been built up to a week earlier, however, it seems odd that it has not been seen in combat earlier, if that is the case. Footage can be viewed here.


Shilka Shafrah I, some time in March 2017, unknown location. Probably somewhere in East Ghouta.

Shilka Shafrah I at Jobar, 21st June, 2017.
Eventually, the most of sideskirt on the left of Shilka Shafrah I was removed, probably because of a need to access the vehicle’s side ports, as can be seen in an unlocated photo dating to 12th October, 2017. It is also possible that it was simply lost due to poor driving.

Shilka Shafrah I, 12th October, 2017. Unknown location. Note that the sideskirts have now been partly removed on at least one side (the other side seems to still have the sideskirt).
Shilka Shafrah I was also seen on 6th March 2018 at Beit Nayem, just two days after its liberation. It is unclear if it took part in fighting.

Shilka Shafrah I can be seen in the background left (6th March 2018 at al-Muhamadyia). Credit: RT Arabic

Shilka Shafrah I after the capture of Mesraba, circa 10th or 11th March 2018. The left sideskirt is still on, but the right one has been removed (see above photos).

Sidenote I-b: ‘Shilka Super Shafrah’

A new type of ZSU-23-4 Shafrah was seen in February 2018 (a fitting nickname may be ‘Shilka Super Shafrah’). This version is apparently a significant evolution to the design, with rows of vertical bars protecting the turret of the vehicle. The sideskirt is also apparently a single piece, and each welded plate is encased on the ends of the skirt, as opposed to them being roughly left open (see the turret for a contrast). The driver’s hatch also appears to be substantially up-armored. Most curiously of all is the rocket attached above the guns, likely for anti-urban infantry use, where the machine guns are not sufficient to penetrate buildings.

Shilka Super Shafrah was also seen circa 7th March 2018 at the Eastern Ghouta Offensive.

Shilka Super Shafrah, circa 7th March 2018 at the Eastern Ghouta Offensive. Credit: RT Arabic

Shilka Super Shafrah, now with the frontal bar armor removed. Believed to be at Mesraba, circa 10th March 2018.
Shilka Super Shafrah was videoed fighting alongside T-72s on the Mesraba axis on 11th March 2018.

Shilka Super Shafrah fighting on the Mesraba axis, circa 11th March 2018.

Different view of the above.

Different view of the above.

Sidenote II: Bulldozers with Shafrah armor

The Shafrah armor package originally appears to have been given to bulldozers, around October 2016. One was reportedly captured by Jaish al-Islam in October 2016.

Bulldozer with Shafrah armor, captured by Jaish al-Islam in eastern Ghouta, October 2016.

Other view of the bulldozer with Shafrah armor, captured by Jaish al-Islam in eastern Ghouta, October 2016.
Another bulldozer with Shafrah armor was also used by the 105th Brigade at the Siege of Wadi Barada, January 2017.

A bulldozer with Shafrah armor of the 105th Brigade at Wadi Barada, January, 2017.
Another bulldozer, probably a third was seen on 30th March 2017, probably at Qaboun with the 105th Mechanized Brigade.

A Republican Guard bulldozer with Shafrah armor. Posted online on 30th March, 2017.
The most recent sighting of a Shafrah bulldozer is in November 2017. A video shows a Shafrah Bulldozer at the Jobar front being damaged (by IED or rocket is unclear, presumably the latter).

Still from footage of a Shafrah Bulldozer at the Jobar front, seconds before an explosion.

Still from SAA ‘archive footage‘ showing a Shafrah bulldozer in action alongside ground troops. Possibly at Jobar, late 2017.

Sidenote III: Viper-72 thermal sights

T-72AV Shafrah III is fitted with Viper-72 thermal imaging sights, and it is likely that others are, too. This can be seen on the turret, just behind the regular gunner’s optics.
Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, tanks, especially those with complex technologies, have fallen into disrepair. This means that regular night vision sights and infra-red lamps are either no longer functioning, or have been specifically targeted by rebel small arms fire in lieu of engaging them with AT weapons, which rebels do not always have. (For an example of the latter, see T-72AV Shafrah IV, with its broken optics and lights.)
As a way around this, the SAA has fitted some of their tanks with Viper-72 thermal imaging sights, which do not require any infra-red lights. This is quite ingenious, as it allows not only effective aiming from 1.5 km – 2km (0.9-1.2 miles), but also the ability for the tank crew to see enemy snipers behind cover.

Image showing the difference between a T-72AV with (right) and without (left) Viper 72 thermal sights.

Sources

The author would like to extend his thanks to @Mathieumorant
Within Syria blog / Twitter
WithinSyriaBlog
southfront.org

Categories
Syrian Armor

T-72 Mahmia

Syria (Circa 2014-2017)
Main Battle Tank – 8-10 converted (as of March 2017)

Forged by Civil War

T-72 Mahmia (meaning “shielded/protected” in Arabic) is an unofficial name for up-armored T-72s from the Syrian Civil War. These tanks are Syrian Arab Army (government forces) T-72s that have been fitted with additional armor – mostly cages, chains, and spaced armor (reported by an SAA source to actually be some type of simple composite) – in order to protect the tanks from RPGs and missiles. They were first seen in combat in 2014 at Jobar, a suburb of Damascus, and have been seen commonly since. Various combat footage and photographs show that the upgrades are somewhat reliable against RPGs, but are often no match for modern ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles). The vehicle is perhaps more commonly known as “T-72 Adra“, but this is a western name, and the name “Mahmia” has been chosen, as Syrian sources refer to the vehicle as “Shielded tank“.


Hello dear reader! This article is in a constant state of update, given that it is a contemporary tank. We are also aware that some sources used in this article may be unreliable / untrustworthy. Updates will be made when more reliable information is available.


Other tank models have been upgraded in a similar fashion, such as the ZSU-23-4, but the Mahmia upgrades are mostly given to T-72s. Tanks with much more hasty armor upgrades, such as spent shell cases fastened to the turret and hull, and tanks with bricks replacing lost ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor), are not included under the unofficial designation “T-72 Mahmia“, as they are either precursors or separate upgrades.
Syrian T-72 and ZSU-23-4
Fairly typical early-production T-72 Mahmia with the usual balls and chain armor. This chain armor proved ineffective at stopping missiles.

Context: T-72s in Syria

An estimated 700 T-72s are believed to have been delivered to Syria in four batches. The first two batches came from the USSR. The first, in the late 1970s, consisted of 150 T-72s (the initial production type, the Object 172M, AKA T-72 “Urals”) and the second batch, consisting of 300 T-72As, came in 1982. The T-72As were a very rare export, as these were not even sold to Warsaw Pact countries under the USSR. The 300 T-72As were divided between the Republican Guard and the 4th Armored Division, and were all eventually upgraded into T-72AVs, featuring Kontakt-1 ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor).
The third batch of T-72s consisted of 252 T-72M1s, which were ordered from Czechoslovakia, of which only 194 were delivered in 1992 due to the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. Slovakia eventually delivered the remaining T-72M1s in 1993, in what can be considered a fourth batch.

Between 2003 and 2006, 122 T-72s, of all types, were upgraded with Italian TURMS-T FCS (Tank Universal Reconfiguration Modular System T-Series Fire Control System) and tanks upgraded to this standard had the letter ‘S’ added onto their designations. ‘S’ stands for “Saroukh“, meaning “Missile“, which refers to these tanks being able to fire the 9M119(M) guided AT missiles from their guns. An estimated 100 of these upgraded vehicles are in service as of 2014, mostly in service with the Republican Guard. Some were lost in Damascus in 2013 during the early stages of the Civil War, but the remainder are believed to be held in reserve thus far, because T-55s and T-62s are in such large supply.

Syrian T-72M1 with TURMS-T Fire Control System
Syrian T-72M1S, a T-72M1 fitted with TURMS-T Fire Control System.

An estimated 300 T-72s, of all types, remain in service as of 2014. 19 T-72s (13 T-72 Object 172Ms, and 6 T-72AVs) are operated by ISIL, and 8 (2 purchased from a corrupt officer, and 6 captured, of which 1 is a T-72M1S) are in use by Jaish-Al Islam. The rest are still operated by government forces.
Oryx blog gives an excellent overview of T-72s in Syria, which can be viewed here.

Design Process

Thanks to social media, the history of the design of the T-72 Mahmia has been fairly well documented. According to the Oryx blog, the T-72 Mahmia was the result of experiments by the Syrian 4th Armored Division, an elite unit of mostly career soldiers, often regarded as Syria’s most elite force. However, this was not the first attempt by the SAA (Syrian Arab Army) at providing additional protection for tanks.

Precursor: Bricks and spent shell case armor

All too common are photos of battle-worn T-72AVs fitted with exceptionally crude armor upgrades. These come in two distinct types. The first is mesh baskets on the turret (presumably made from thin metal pipes or similar commercial materials such as wall insulation mesh) which are filled with building bricks and rubble in order to replace Kontakt-1 ERA which has been lost. This was a modification usually done to the turret, but some examples show mesh sideskirts made from a similar material. For the sake of clarity, the unofficial name of “T-72AV Labna” (meaning “brick”) will be used to designate these. Tanks upgraded in this fashion still appear today, with new innovations such as sandbags being used instead of rubble. It is reported that this was a design first introduced by the 4th Armored Division.

The second type of improvised uparmoring is spent shell cases being strapped to the vehicle’s hull and turret, often with a similar mesh basket / cradle as seen on T-72AV Labna tanks. Various types of vehicles use this type of uparmoring, including T-72s and T-55s.
A T-55 fitted with spent shell cases as spaced armor. The effectiveness and reliability of this upgrade is very questionable, but was a precursor to the T-72 Mahmia.
A T-62 fitted with spent shell cases as spaced armor. The effectiveness and reliability of this upgrade are very questionable but was a precursor to the T-72 Mahmia.

It seems likely that these upgrades were an attempt to stop missiles and RPGs from penetrating armor, but without a doubt, the real combat effectiveness of these improvised and crude up-armoring ideas is negligible. Whilst they might cause an RPG to explode a short distance away from the armor, it is probable that the rubble or thin shell cases would not absorb the impact, and the projectile may still damage the vehicle in some manner.
In short, these crude upgrades were simply not up to the task, but the idea of up-armoring was sound enough to receive further attention.

A precursor of the T-72 Mahmia, the “T-72AV Labna” (“brick”), again, another unofficial name. It appears as though these were T-72AVs with their lost ERA replaced by bricks. Credits: Oryx blog.

Precursor: Early 4th Armored Division Experiments

The elite 4th Armored Division realized the potential of spaced armor as an effective means of stopping RPGs, and as a result, began experimenting with more conventional designs on their T-72s, and possibly BMP-1s. Two distinct types of experimental T-72 upgrades were trialed.
The first type had three metal sheets strapped to the turret with sandbags filling in the gaps, a long metal sheet strapped onto the side of the hull as a sideskirt, and spent shell cases added to the top of the new sideskirt. Some also had shells strapped vertically to the front of the hull.
T-72 upgraded with a long sideskirt, sandbags behind metal sheets on the turret, and T-72 shells above the sideskirt and on the front hull.
T-72 upgraded with a long sideskirt, sandbags behind metal sheets on the turret, and T-72 shells above the sideskirt and on the front hull. This was one of the later prototypes eventually leading to the iconic T-72 Mahmia.
A second experiment was made by giving T-72 Urals with the TURMS-T upgrade sets of all around cage armor. This type was only seen at vehicles operating near Aleppo. Some may have had additional sandbags placed behind the turret cage armor.
Two examples of the second type of experimental T-72 upgrade, featuring slat armor, and possibly additional sandbags in the turret.
Two examples of the second type of experimental T-72 upgrade, featuring slat armor, and possibly additional sandbags in the turret. Near Aleppo, circa early 2014.
It is unclear how these vehicles fared in combat, but without doubt, both types of upgrade had potential, and it seems as though in the summer of 2014, the two designs were combined to make the T-72 Mahmia.

1st Generation T-72 Mahmia

From August 2014, the 4th Armored Divison began to upgrade T-72M1s, as well as military bulldozers, and at least one ZSU-23-4 “Shilka” from their workshop in Adra (north of Damascus). This has earned them their unofficial name of “T-72 Adra“, but primary sources (such as tweets and Youtube videos from Syrians) refer to them as “Shielded T-72s” or “Shielded Tanks“, hence the name “T-72 Mahmia“, meaning “shielded“. It is highly likely that the 4th Armored Division may have a specific, but unofficial, name for these T-72s.
The “1st generation” (or initial production) T-72 Mahmias have cages with what appears to be spaced armor bolted and welded onto the tank with support beams. Chains with steel balls, similar to those seen on Merkava tanks, were added to new hull side-skirts and below the turret’s cage armor. The only gaps in the cage were a small, rectangular hole to allow the gun to elevate, and a gap for the rangefinder. These armor packages appear to be fairly standardized, although some design differences do exist. The front of the hull typically had a thin girder with chain armor attached to it.
The armor would serve the job of stopping enemy rockets and explosives from penetrating the tank’s hull or turret. RPGs, especially, would hit the cages and explode some distance away from the tank’s armor, thus not being able to penetrate the vehicle, and ultimately, causing damage only to the cage at best.

It is commonplace for T-72 Mahmia to have a new, typically two-tone, camouflage, as opposed to typical sand or green liveries. This is a key indicator as to whether a vehicle has been upgraded in the field or at the Adra workshop, as new liveries only appear to have been given by the 4th Armored Division.
The first batch of upgraded tanks were three T-72M1s, which were sent to Jobar, in the northeast of Damascus. More conversions followed soon after.

Spaced or Composite Armor?

An SAA source reports that the armor seen on T-72 Mahmias are not, as many people think, merely spaced armor. The armor boxes, especially on the front of the hull, are actually a type of composite armor, which are in fact filled with an unknown material. The source refuses to inform us of the material.
The source reports: “[the armor] is not spaced. The boxes are not empty as people think, at first, yes, it was, but not now. It’s not like a secret, it’s just people will make fun from it [sic], and no one will care for the fact that it is useful and the budget is low. For me, it’s a great hack, I will not publish it, just so no one will make fun of these guys’ effort. It stopped many RPG-29s, and it’s a great result. We are using something extremely unusual... …I’ve heard the armor weights around 10 tons. I personally believe it’s between 10-14 tons.

Changes over time

The T-72 Mahmia’s design has gradually changed over time. It appears as though some T-72 Mahmias have had field modifications. It is difficult to identify these from photographs, but one appears to concern heightening the turret cage armor with additional commercial materials, such as thin metal wall insulation meshes.
It appears as though the success and failure of certain field modifications (taking place outside of the Adra workshop) have filtered back to the workshop, and have created a new generation of T-72 Mahmia. Given that these changes were gradual and happened over time, various hybrid T-72 Mahmias exist, showing examples of the 1st and 2nd generation vehicles.
Nevertheless, these hybrids are few, and therefore, the T-72 Mahmia can be generally understood as currently being in two generations.

2nd Generation T-72 Mahmia

The 1st generation of T-72 Mahmia has two major flaws. Firstly, the cage armor does not protect the vehicle from above, and a well-aimed RPG shot from a window is likely to knock the tank out. Secondly, the ball and chain armor do not appear to have been able to stop RPGs, let alone ATGMs.
These are clearly well-known limitations and have been addressed in recent months. In 2016, photos and reports began flooding in showing a new standard of Mahmia upgrade. The key differences are the use of thicker girders to hold appliqué and cage armor to the vehicle, the removal of ball and chain armor, the inclusion of a larger hull bumper (apparently some were made from I-girders) with spaced armor added onto it, the cage armor being heightened, and more, apparently thicker, spaced armor being added to the glacis plates.
The heightened cage armor on the turret would provide optimum protection with minimal obstruction to crew hatches, but this would endanger the crew. They may not be able to quickly abandon the tank, as it appears as though they would have to scramble over the cage to escape the vehicle.
The larger and strengthened bumper with its spaced (or, indeed) composite) armor may also provide some actual protection against RPGs and small missiles, whereas early type T-72 Mahmias with thin bumpers with chain armor would not. Similarly, the use of thicker girders would make the additional armor more sturdy as a whole, and would perhaps make the armor less likely to be damaged by careless driving.

T-72 Mahmia, second generation, with heightened turret cage and armor added to the glacis plate. There is space left for the gun to elevate, and such a design would allow better protection for the turret when fighting on uneven ground, but it would still obstruct the crew from quickly bailing out.

Miscellaneous Field Modifications

Not all field modifications were successful. There are some photos of some T-72s having substantial amounts of cage armor, particularly with cages enclosing the turret completely from above. At least two examples of this type are known, but did this does not appear to have become a widespread upgrade. Firstly, such an upgrade would significantly increase the vehicle’s weight. Secondly, the vehicle would have its size and silhouette significantly increased, making it an obvious target. Thirdly, it might have taken up too many resources to upgrade all tanks like this. Finally, if the crew needed to abandon the tank in an emergency, the cage would prevent them from easily escaping.
T-72 Mahmia with total protection for the turret. This was seen on at least two examples, but is not likely to have been a successful upgrade, due to it causing the crew trouble with bailing out in emergencies.
T-72 Mahmia with total protection for the turret. This was seen on at least two examples but is not likely to have been a successful upgrade, due to it causing the crew trouble with bailing out in emergencies.
As the civil war rages on, it is almost certain that a new generation of T-72 Mahmia will be seen. Due to attempts by the SAA to improve their T-72 armor upgrades, the Mahmia, as it is known, may cease to be built ever again, and may be replaced with new projects (see below).

Combat

Combat evidence, mainly photos and videos, show that the T-72 Mahmia could only resist RPGs consistently, and had only some potential to resisting ATGMs. The most common problem appears to be internal fires caused by ATGMs, but crew abandonment is a close second. Social media provides almost daily updates on the Syrian Civil War, and from this, it is easy to find a variety of case studies with which to build up a picture of the T-72 Mahmia’s combat effectiveness.

Jobar

The first ever produced T-72 Mahmias at Jobar had very mixed results – of the three sent to combat, only one appears to have survived. One appears to have been damaged, set alight, and abandoned by its crew near the Kamal Masharaqah Barracks. Another was totally destroyed, apparently from a major interior explosion, given that the entire hull was blown open, the cage armor was strewn around the wreckage, and the turret was blown off. The third seems to have survived.

Resisting ATGMs?

However, these vehicles may not have been destroyed by a single ATGM hit. There is some evidence to suggest that the T-72 Mahmia could withstand at least one hit:
On 8th October, 2016, the Syrian Army reported that a T-72 Mahmia was hit twice by a Malyutka ATGM. The first hit, apparently, did not destroy the tank, but caused the crew to abandoned the vehicle. However, the second hit appears to have caused an internal fire to break out, which destroyed the vehicle. It is unclear if the first hit dislodged any armor or not, or whether it caused any major damage, and the photograph provided gives no clues.
T-72 Mahmia hit twice by Malyutka ATGMs, October 8th, 2016.
T-72 Mahmia hit twice by Malyutka ATGMs, October 8th, 2016, near Damascus.

Careless driving damage?

Some photographs of reportedly battle-damaged T-72 Mahmias show that the cage armor has been twisted out of shape or totally dislodged and needs replacing. It remains unclear if this is as a result of bad driving, or the vehicle being able to resist large explosives. The photograph below is one of these examples and is rather inconclusive.
Damaged T-72 Mahmia, 1st generation. It is unclear what has caused this damage to the vehicle.
Damaged T-72 Mahmia, 1st generation. It is unclear what has caused this damage to the vehicle. It may be from an ATGM impact, but it may also be a case of bad driving. There are no apparent scorch marks on the vehicle’s remaining armor, with the possible exception of the bent turret cage armor.

Wadi Barada

Around 17th January 2017, another T-72 Mahmia at Wadi Barada, was destroyed by an internal fire, probably having been hit by an ATGM.

Footage of the T-72 Mahmia, destroyed at Wadi Barada, 17th January, 2017.

Resisting RPG-29 hits

On 23rd March, 2017, a T-72 Mahmia was hit by two RPG-29s. The first hit damaged the additional armor, but did not hit the original turret. A second RPG-29 was deflected by the vehicle’s additional armor. The tank merely needed a section of its additional armor to be replaced.

T-72 Mahmia, having taken a hit to its armor by two RPG-29s, 23rd March 2017. The damage appears superficial.
On April 16th, 2017, a T-72 Mahmia was hit by an RPG-29 at Qaboun. The RPG hit the vehicle but did not penetrate the tank. However, the shockwave injured the commander, who is reported to have sustained internal bleeding, and some broken bones from the shock. The vehicle was put back into service on April 17th. The T-72 Mahmia was hit alongside the T-72AV Shafrah, which was immobilized by an enemy AT mine, and later burned by rebels to prevent recovery.

Resisting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices)

On 18th April 2017, a T-72 Mahmia was hit by a Free Syrian Army IED directly underneath the driver’s compartment at Qaboun. The driver, Mohammed Abdu Allah was killed, but the commander and gunner managed to escape. The vehicle was set alight by the Free Syrian Army shortly after, in order to prevent recovery.

T-72 Mahmia, hit by an FSA IED on 18th April, 2017. The driver was killed, but the commander and gunner escaped. The tank was burned by the FSA after it was abandoned, in order to prevent recovery.

The T-72 Mahmia, hit by an IED on 18th April, 2017, after the fire had died down.

Conclusions on combat

Unfortunately, without further evidence, it remains only likely that the vehicle could resist ATGMs in rare instances. It is also unknown if the T-72 Mahmia has engaged in tank-on-tank combat thus far.
Video footage shows that T-72 Mahmias are, in recent times, being used in a combined arms effort. Footage from an assault at Deir Al Khaimah, western Ghouta, near to Damascus, shows that the T-72 Mahmia is used in an infantry support role in urban areas. This is in contrast to non-shielded T-72s, which are typically dug in and used alongside field guns. Thus, there should be little doubt that T-72 Mahmias are being used for urban assaults, and not just general purpose upgrades.

T-72 Mahmias deployed in an a combined arms assault at Deir Al Khaimah, western Ghouta, near Damascus.

A fairly typical initial batch T-72 Mahmia
A fairly typical T-72 Mahmia, 1st generation. The 1st generation designs featured chain armor, thin support beams, and only some pieces of spaced armor.
Later type T-72 Mahmia, with removed chains, and additional steel plates
Second generation T-72 Mahmia. These vehicles had additional steel plates, and heightened cage armor, but did not feature ball and chain armor, as the balls and chains were ineffective at stopping enemy missiles. The cage armor is also slightly taller than usual, and the front bumper is made from a thick I-girder.
Early type T-72 Mahmia. Notice the hole in the cage armor for the rangefinder
Early type T-72 Mahmia with chain armor on the front hull attached to a small bumper. Notice the hole in the cage armor for the rangefinder.
Another example of a T-72 Mahmia with total cage armor protection. This one appears to be much large than other examples, and whilst it may provide better protection, it would, no doubt, make the vehicle much heavier, unwieldy, and it would possibly take up too many resources per tank.
An example of a T-72 Mahmia with total cage armor protection. This one appears to be much large than other examples, and whilst it may provide better protection, it would, no doubt, make the vehicle much heavier, unwieldy, and it would possibly take up too many resources per tank.
Transitional T-72 Mahmias. These have been field converted to include more steel plates, but still retain some steel chains and balls
Transitional T-72 Mahmias – whilst they still feature chains on the turret, the hull fronts have not been fitted with chains, and instead have spaced armor on enlarged bumpers. The one on the right appears battle damaged or, more likely, poorly driven, as it is missing many steel chains, and the spaced armor is bent out of shape.

Different view of the above.
T-72 Mahmia, probably from the same batch as the above. It shows signs of battle damage, or, more likely, careless driving, as it is missing some chains, and the cages and fenders are bent out of shape.
T-72 Mahmia, probably from the same batch as the above. It shows signs of battle damage, or, more likely, careless driving, as it is missing some chains, and the cages and fenders are bent out of shape.
T-72 Mahmia, which appears to be a little battle worn. There is an additional thin screen over the turret cage, likely a commercial wall insulation mesh.
T-72 Mahmia, which appears to be a little battle worn. There is an additional thin screen over the turret cage, likely a commercial wall insulation mesh or some type of fencing. This is likely a field modification, although it is unclear why it has been added. It may be a field repair to the damaged turret cage, or possibly a means of heightening the cage armor.
T-72 with a huge amount of additional steel plate added to the hull. This would, no doubt, significantly increase the vehicle's weight. It is unclear how thick the plate is, or if it is solid.
T-72 Mahmia with a huge amount of additional steel plate added to the hull. This would, no doubt, significantly increase the vehicle’s weight. It is unclear how thick the plate is, but it clearly is not solid as it is welded on and buckled in places. It is likely a rather thin sheet of probably mild steel, which is why small rockets (top right, and above the left tow hook) have become physically embedded in it. The remnants of the brown blob of the new paintwork can be seen where the missile hit.
T-72AV with crude cage armor. This was a precursor to the T-72 Mahmia, and often was used to replace lost ERA bricks with construction bricks
T-72AV Labna with crude cage armor. This was a precursor to the T-72 Mahmia, and often was used to replace lost ERA bricks with construction bricks. The effectiveness of the upgrade is questionable.
One of two initial experiments from the 4th Armored Division. This is an example of the type featuring long sheets of metal as sideskirt armor, some plates added to the turret, and spent shell cases fitted above the sideskirt.
One of two initial experiments from the 4th Armored Division. This is an example of the type featuring long sheets of metal as sideskirt armor, some plates added to the turret, and spent shell cases fitted above the sideskirt.
ZSU-23-4
ZSU-23-4 “Mahmia” of the 4th Armored Division. This vehicle would likely be used for heavy anti-infantry purposes, particularly for engaging rebels in tall apartment blocks. It is believed that there are multiple ZSU-23-4s upgraded to the Mahmia standard. Close inspection reveals that these are actually modular armor boxes, which can be removed. These are also reported by an SAA source not to be mere spaced armor, but some type of composite armor, the make-up of which is being kept secret; however, the source does report that the make-up is very simplistic, but effective.

Bulldozer of the 4th Armored Division upgraded to the Mahmia standard.
Bulldozer of the 4th Armored Division upgraded to the Mahmia standard. This particular one is reported as being destroyed in December, 2014, at Jobar. It was immobilized, having been hit by numerous times by RPGs, and anti-materiel rifles. Afterwards, rebel fighters tunneled to the vehicle and detonated a satchel charge beneath it, causing an internal fire. The armor boxes are also modular and likely composite armor.

Further Developments

T-72 Grendizer

It seems more than likely that thicker armor will be developed in order to resist ATGMs. The possibility of seeing composite armor is highly likely. According to a tweet by SyrianMilitaryCap., a new vehicle, the “T-72 Grendizer” is being developed. The short tweet states that this will be a “T-55 Enigma, reborn“, likely indicating the use of composite armor.
The T-55 Enigma of Iraq, circa 1989, was a T-55 that was given modular composite armor blocks. It was a crudely built design, as evidenced by the plentiful and poor quality weld beads on the armor upgrade package. It is believed to have been built with fairly similar production capacity to the Mahmias in Syria, as sources suggest that Iraqi arms production was restricted to workshops with fairly limited industrial capabilities (with the possible exception of the Asad Babil and Saddam MBTs, the existence of which is still in debate).
However, the key difference is that the design of the T-55 Enigma was, from the outset, and by no coincidence, able to resist ATGMs.
A seemingly much more advanced application of military science was used in the construction of the T-55 Enigma compared to the T-72 Mahmia, given that the upgrade concerned giving the vehicle composite armor, not basic cage and spaced armor. The T-55 Enigma had modular armor boxes that had seven layers of steel plate and rubber sheeting inside, spaced apart by roughly a centimeter. What this meant for the T-55 Enigma is that it was able to resist ATGM hits, as evidenced in the Battle of Khafji (1991).
Diagram explaining the T-55 Enigma's composite armor
Diagram explaining the T-55 Enigma’s composite armor.
The T-72 Grendizer, should the vehicle ever appear, likely comes as a result of two factors. Firstly, the T-72 Mahmia is somewhat unreliable, if not ineffective, at resisting ATGMs. Secondly, it appears as though uparmoring T-72s and other vehicles has become standard practice in the SAA, with resources being reorganized for mass upgrades of all types of AFVs.
Without doubt, a lot of resources would be required if the Enigma upgrade is to be replicated in Syria, and there is a major question as to whether or not the 4th Armored Division has the manufacturing capability, or the necessary resources to replicate the Enigma upgrade.
The fact that it has been over four months since the T-72 Grendizer has been announced may point towards the Syrians not having the capabilities to make such a vehicle, but only time will tell. Perhaps the key difference between the Enigma’s and the Mahmia’s production is that the Enigma appears to have been a major military project backed by state resources. Given that uparmoring of tanks seems to have become nationwide practice in Syria, it is not unreasonable to expect the T-72 Grendizer to appear soon.

T-72AV Shafrah

Since the original publication of this article in February 2017, new info has come to light. The T-72AV Shafrah (“Sharp Knife”) is claimed to be a testbed for a new set of armor designed for the future T-72 Grendizer. The Shahfrah has been seen in combat consistently from February 2017. It is essentially an attempt to develop spaced armor that is more resistant against ATGMs.
The owner of the Within Syria blog reports that the armor is composed of plates angled at various inclinations (40-60 degrees) of 1.5-2 mm RHA, tungsten, and glass fiber, welded to a bar frame on the turret and side of the hull. The tungsten part is rumored to consist of 1mm thick copper-tungsten. However, with a budget of $5000-10,000, the 4th Armored Division is unlikely to be able to use tungsten. The vehicle also received very thick plates on top of its front glacis.
The source reports that 8-10 T-72 Mahmia tanks have been built, but there are far more T-72s approved for the upgrade. However, these might actually be upgraded to the Grendizer standard once the project is finalized. It is also claimed that the upgraded T-72s are only needed in and around Damascus, due to the dangers of urban combat.

The T-72AV Shafrah, likely a testbed for the T-72 Grendizer’s armor.

Sidenote: T-55 cage upgrades

Photos ranging from mid-2015 to February, 2016, seem to show T-55 tanks upgraded to a Mahmia-like standard. These seem to incorporate typical 2nd generation T-72 Mahmia upgrades, such as slat armor (but no chains), and a new large fender. However, there are some differences. Firstly, there is no additional spaced or composite armor. Secondly, the cages are not bolted onto the vehicle with large support beams, but rather are fitted directly onto the turret, and are curved. Thirdly, the turret-mounted DShK is commonly covered by a shield for the commander. Finally, the front of the hull also has a cage, which is not seen on T-72 Mahmias. It seems highly likely that these are standardized workshop upgrades.
A T-55 fitted with cage armor, similar to the above. A new fender can be seen on the far right of the front of the hull. Additional munitions are clearly stored in the turret cage.
A T-55 fitted with cage armor, similar to the above. A new fender can be seen on the far right of the front of the hull. Additional munitions are clearly stored in the turret cage.
Commentators will suggest that T-55s are in large supply to the Syrian Arab Army, with some reports suggesting that T-55s and T-62s are being supplied to Syria from Russia. Thus, they go on to suggest that T-55s are somewhat expendable enough to not require up-armoring, unfortunately for their crews. Despite this, it seems inevitable that all vehicles will be uparmored in some manner.
A T-55 upgraded in a manner similar to the Mahmia. The armor differs from, even if it resembles, a T-72 Mahmia's armor
A T-55 upgraded in a manner similar to the Mahmia. The armor differs from, even if it resembles, a T-72 Mahmia’s armor.

T-72 Mahmia and a VT-55KS assaulting near Daraya.

Sources

Correspondence with an SAA source, regarding the uparmored tanks in Syria.
T-72 Main Battle Tank 1974-1993” by Steven J. Zaloga
southfront.org
southfront.org 2nd page
armyrecognition.com
spioenkop.blogspot
spioenkop.blogspot 2nd page
syria.liveuamap.com
sturgeonshouse.ipbhost.com
ar15.com forums
otvaga2004.mybb.ru
bellingcat.com
timesofisrael.com
menadefense.net

Syrian early T-72
Syrian T-72 Ural in a rare three-tone camouflage.

Syrian T-72B
Syrian T-72AV of the Republican Guard. T-72s of the Republican Guard were painted in a sand livery, whereas the 4th Armored Division’s tanks tended to be green.

T-72 Mahmia, early type with chain armor.
T-72 Mahmia, early type with chain armor.

All Illustrations are done by Tanks Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.