Not as iconic as the T-34, but the Soviet T-72 main battle tank is still a familiar “war horse” around the world, despite its increasing age
A product bearing the traditional Soviet design philosophy, the T-72 main battle tank was first put into production in 1971 and officially entered service two years later. The T-72 was developed to provide a cheaper and more reliable alternative to the T-64, which, although very ambitious, proved to be too complex, and as a result completely unreliable.
The T-72 inherited the proven technologies of its predecessors, and made the necessary improvements. The result was a revolutionary tank that was much more efficient than its predecessors. In particular, the difference of the T-72 from previous designs is a lower profile. Its autoloader for the 125mm smoothbore gun allows for a more compact turret. And also help reduce the crew to 3 people instead of 4 as before.
The T-72 also has limitations, such as the vehicle’s stabilizer frequently failing, its autoloader being even slower than manual handling. Despite its shortcomings, the T-72 proved to be a reliable main battle tank, and it was used in many conflicts starting with the Iran-Iraq War.
A total of 17,831 T-72s were initially produced in the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1990. The Russian military subsequently operated about 9,000 T-72s. The first major modification of the T-72 took place in 1979 with the introduction of the T-72A. Considered a second generation MBT and widely exported, the T-72 is also manufactured under license in several countries such as Czechoslovakia, India, Romania and Yugoslavia. More than 10,000 licensed T-72 tanks were produced during the 1980s.
When the Soviet Union collapsed, many T-72s were transferred to different successor countries, of which Russia, Belarus and Ukraine were the largest operators. The T-72B3 version, first introduced in 2010, has been greatly improved over the original design, and is considered a third generation tank capable of effective combat. So the T-72 can still serve in the armies of many countries for many more years.