Russian T-72 Tank Was Designed to Fight NATO but Is Now Being Decimated in Ukraine

The T-72 was a tank meant to fight a potential Third World War but is ending up in tank cemeteries in Ukraine – or being taken by Ukrainian farmers.
T-72 Tank memorial Stepanakert

The T-72 is having a rather tough time on the Ukrainian battlefields. It is suffering quite significant losses – and social media has extensively documented the tank’s failures.

It was definitely built for a different time and enemy… the NATO in the 70s. Now, it is very challenging for this tank to adapt to modern times and the advanced weaponry of the Ukrainian army.

So, what was this tank exactly built for? Why does it seem so powerless on the modern battlefield?

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History of the Soviet T-72

Park Patriot 2015 part2
Park Patriot 2015 part2 by Vitaly V. Kuzmin Licensed under CC by 4.0

The T-72 was built for a war against NATO during the peak of the Cold War… And it is one of the most produced tanks in history as more than 25,000 units have been built so far – and the amazing thing is that it is still in production since 1968.

It was first deployed with the Soviet Army in 1973. Since then, dozens of armies have acquired this tank because it was developed as a cost-effective weapon that most of the world’s armies could afford.

Although, with its poor performance in the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia, its production and sale will be significantly reduced in the following years.

T-72 Specs

T-72
T-72 by Srđan Popović. Licensed under CC by 3.0

  • In service: 1973–present
  • Manufacturer: Uralvagonzavod
  • Unit cost: $0.5-$2 million
  • No. built: over 25,000 units
  • Length: 9.53 meters (31 feet 3 inches)
  • Width: 3.59 meters (11 feet 9 inches)
  • Height: 2.23 meters (7 feet 4 inches)
  • Fuel capacity: 1,200 liters (320 gallons)
  • Crew: 3
  • Operational range: 460 kilometers  (290 miles)
  • Maximum speed: 75 km/h (47 mph)

The T-72 has been taken a beating in Ukraine

The Russian commanders believed the T-72 could break through the Ukrainian front lines and run relentlessly to seize urban areas, including Kyiv.

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But, the Russians didn’t plan for their logistical problems and vulnerability to anti-tank missiles and the attack of lethal drones.

Moreover, the T-72 drives on roads where the Ukrainians can set up ambushes as the fighters know the terrain layout better and use anti-tank weapons such as the Javelin, NLAW, and loitering munitions.

The Jack-in-the-box effect

The malfunction, nicknamed jack-in-the-box, seriously endangers its crew and the tank itself. The flaw is closely tied to the way most Russian tanks store and load munitions.

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T72 crew
T72 crew by Alexpl. Licensed under CC by 3.0

In the T-72, the ammunitions are stored inside the turret, and when the enemy hits the right spot, the ammo is rapidly heated. It sets off a chain reaction, blowing the turret off the tank – and the explosion instantaneously kills all the crew and completely destroys the tank.

Generally speaking, cutting-edge western tanks have long emphasized crew survivability, and their design is planned to protect the crew’s lives.

On the other hand, in Russian military culture, soldier survivability is not remotely on the list of priorities – and this is often reflected in tank designs of the Soviet Union and now Russia.

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In fact, Russia is famous for not placing much importance on the welfare of its soldiers. In WWI and WWII, the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union had a tragic and shocking number of casualties… and in Ukraine, the same military culture seems to be prevailing.

T-72 is slowly dying in Ukraine

Russia currently possesses more than 10,000 T- 72 tanks, and there are not so many Javelin missiles and Bayraktar drones in Ukraine to destroy them all.

So, the T-72 will remain the backbone of Russia’s armored fleet. However, it looks like these are the last days of the T-72 which can hardly survive modern anti-tank weapons.

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Feature image credit: T-72 Tank memorial Stepanakert by RAFFI YOUREDJIAN. Licensed under CC by 2.0

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