Russia’s T-80 Tank Defined an Era but Is Now Failing in Ukraine

The T-80 is one of the main battle tanks of the Soviet Union, and it was built to defeat NATO's armies... However, it wasn't as good as the Soviets initially planned.
T-80B in front of the T-34 museum, Moscow Oblast

The T-80 was particularly designed to fight against NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and its tanks.

Decades later, this tank is still one of the most important for the Russian army, and despite its multiple losses both in Chechnya and Ukraine, it is still one the backbone of the Russian military.

The T-80

The T-80 is a battle tank engineered and manufactured in the Soviet Union, and after its collapse, its production continued in Russia.


When it first entered service in 1976, it was one of the first battle tanks to be fitted with a gas turbine engine and the first to use it as the main propulsion engine.

The biggest advantage the T-80 offers over other Russian tanks such as the T-72 or T-90 is its engine, which is much better suited to the harsh Russian weather.

It was created to operate in extremely cold conditions because the diesel engines of nearly all the world’s tanks need to be warmed up for roughly 45 minutes to be run at temperatures below -30 degrees, while the T-80s, powered by gas turbines, can be in motion within a minute. The main drawback of gas turbines is higher fuel consumption.



T-80 tank, Engineering Technologies 2010
T-80 tank, Engineering Technologies 2010 by Vitaly V. Kuzmin. Licensed under CC by 4.0

  • Crew: 3
  • Mass: 42.5 tons
  • Length: 9.9 meters (32 feet 6 inches)
  • Width: 3.4 meters (11 feet 2 inches) 
  • Height: 2.202 meters (7 feet 2.7 inches) 
  • Unit cost: USD $3 million
  • No. built: around 7,500
  • Operational range: 335 kilometers (208 miles)
  • Maximum speed: 80 km/h (50 mph)

In addition to an advanced generator and starter motor, this tank features the innovative Sosna-U fire control system, which includes a state-of-the-art thermal imaging camera, laser rangefinder, and an automated target-tracking system.

Service History

a soviet t 80 main battle tank equipped with reactive armor 30f0ad
A Soviet T-80 main battle tank, equipped with reactive armor by The U.S. National Archives. Public Domain.

They were initially deployed during the First Chechen War. This first actual combat experience for the T-80 was somewhat unsuccessful as the tanks were employed to capture cities, a task for which they weren’t prepared to.

The most considerable tank losses came during the deplorable assault on the city of Grozny. Dozens of tanks were lost during the battle, and the forces that captured Grozny weren’t ready for such an operation.


Additionally, the T-80 tanks involved in this mission didn’t have reactive armor (T-80B), and the T-80 crews lacked adequate pre-war training.

During the fighting, inexperienced crews had no knowledge of the city layout, while tanks were attacked by RPG crews hidden in basements and on top of tall buildings.

After that, the T-80s were never used again to capture cities and instead supported infantry squadrons from a safe distance.


T-80 in Ukraine

4thTank Brigade – T-80U by Vitaly V. Kuzmin. Licensed under CC by 4.0

Russia has more than 3,000 T-80 tanks in active service, and many of them have been mobilized in Ukraine to fight in the war. 

It has been a historical tank for Russia and the former Soviet republics. Still, today it is already showing signs of age, and several T-80s were destroyed in combat which shows that although it marked an era against modern weapons, it is no longer effective.

It’s not as effective as other main battle tanks like the Abrams, which is definitely more decisive on the battlefield. In fact, lately, even some Ukrainian farmers have taken the T-80s as a souvenir.


This tank marked an era but is no longer relevant

The T-80 has been one of the most important battle tanks for the Soviet Union, and today it is still one of Russia’s mainstream tanks.

However, this tank, which was designed to face the most advanced adversaries, never became what its designers promised. Its vulnerabilities make it a relatively easy target for enemy troops in many cases.

Feature image credit: T-80B in front of the T-34 museum, Moscow Oblast by Vitaly V. Kuzmin Licensed under CC by 4.0