Why the T-72 tank is the backbone of the Russian military

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  • The T-72 tank is almost 50 years old, but it still has a central role in the Russian military.
  • Almost 18,000 T-72s were manufactured before the Soviet break-up, and around 2,000 are still in service in Russia.
  • The updated T-72B3M has been deployed with Russian forces since 2014 and has fought in Ukraine and Syria.

Russian T-72 tank refuses to retire: Although the Russian T-72 tank is almost 50 years old, it still has a role on the battlefield and may well be the backbone of the Russian military.

It aimed to overwhelm NATO and the United States by crossing the strategic Fulda Rift in Germany to decisively strike friendly forces during the Cold War. Today, around 2,000 of the T-72 variants are still in service in Russia while many more are in storage.

The tank was distributed in around thirty countries and nearly 18,000 were manufactured before the Soviet break-up. But the main strength of the T-72 is its upgrade package to the modern version T-72B3.

Since its introduction in 1973, the T-72 has been updated over the years with dozens of variants up to the current T-72B3 and T-72B3M variants which are now considered a third generation tank.

The updated T-72B3M has been deployed by Russian forces since 2014 and some have fought in Ukraine and Syria. The T-72S is for export and the biggest customer was the Iraqi Army which purchased 2,000 T-72S in 2009.

The T-72B3 tank has potential

Russian Army T-72B3M tank

A T-72B3M tank during the Peaceful Mission 2021 joint counterterrorism command exercise in Russia, September 23, 2021.

Gavriil Grigorov TASS via Getty Images


Upgrades to the T-72B3 will be discussed for this article as it is the most popular model in the Russian military with over 1,300 in service.

The new 2A46M5 125mm smoothbore main gun with autoloader makes it equal to many main battle tanks around the world.

The relatively new Kalina fire control system with automatic enemy tank tracking and its ballistic computer is top notch. It has a laser rangefinder with improved thermal sights. It can fire the latest ammunition such as armor-piercing shoes and HE shells.

The T-72B3 can also launch AT-11 or Sniper anti-tank missiles.

The armor is modernized and the engines are improved

Russian Army T-72B3M tank

T-72B3M tanks during the Peaceful Mission 2021 joint counterterrorism command post exercise in Russia, September 23, 2021.

Gavriil Grigorov TASS via Getty Images


The protection of the T-72B3 consists of modern Kontakt-5 reactive explosive armor which is also found on the T-90A. It can protect against anti-tank missiles and rockets.

The low profile of the turret also offers better protection thanks to a shorter silhouette.

The V-92S2F engine is a diesel engine with over 1,100 horsepower. Top speed is 43 mph on paved roads with a range of 311 miles.

There is also a new steering system which allows for better mobility than the base T-72.

Upgrades make him a hunter-killer

international military games

A T-72 B3 tank operated by an Armenian crew during the tank biathlon competition at the 2018 International Army Games in Russia.

Maxim Shemetov / Reuters



Over 7,000 T-72s are in storage, but the Russians believe they can be upgraded to the T-72B3 variant without difficulty. This means that the modern T-72B3 variant will be a workhorse for years to come.

The T-72 was originally designed to accompany infantry and not necessarily to be a hunter-killer, but the upgrade to the T-72B3 brought it up to that status.

Like most Russian tanks, a weakness of the T-72B3 is the armor plating on top of the turret which would make it vulnerable to American Javelin anti-tank missiles. But overall the T-72B3 has strength in numbers due to all the T-72s in reserve that can be upgraded to the most valuable model.


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