Serial production since 1996, Zulfiqar is a remarkable main battle tank of Iran that inherits the advantages of generations of American and Russian tanks.
The MBT that was named after the sword of the first religious, spiritual and political Shia leader, Hazrat Ali, and based on the American M48 and M60 and Soviet T-72 tanks. Currently, this tank line is developed into three variants: Zulfiqar 1, Zulfiqar 2 and Zulfiqar 3.
Reports have indicated that the Zulfiqar uses several components of the Russian T-72 including a 125 mm smoothbore gun and an automatic loader. It should be noted that the T-72S, an export version of the T-72 and equipped with an ERA, is currently being produced in Iran under license. Existing images of the Zulfiqar show that the hull and turret are made of welded steel and are completely different from the T-72. The layout of the Zulfiqar MBT is conventional with the driver front left, turret in the centre and the power pack at the rear. The driver has a single-piece hatch cover that opens to the right and three periscopes for driving when closed up.
The roadwheels and other parts of the suspension appear to be very similar to those of the US M60 series MBT which has been in service with Iran for many years. The hull of the Iranian MBT is of the box shape rather than the boat shape of the M48/M60 series. The front of the turret is well sloped and is angled to the rear to provide the maximum possible level of protection. There is a domed ventilator in the turret roof on the right side and this is similar to that fitted to the US M48/M60 series MBTs, as are the day/night driving lights mounted on the glacis plate.
The Zulfiqar is armed with a fully-stabilized 125-mm smoothbore gun, fitted with an autoloader, and a crew of three personnel. The automatic loader is believed to be the same one from the T-72 tank. Secondary armament consists of a roof-mounted 12.7 mm machine gun. It appears that this main battle tank lacks a coaxial machine gun. This main battle tank is fitted with Slovenian computerized fire control system.
Zulfiqar has a combat weight of about 52 tons, a length of 9.20 m, a width of 3.6 m, and a height of 2.5 m. On early models, the Zulfiqar 1, was equipped with a 780 hp diesel engine, and was later replaced by a 1000 hp AVDS-1790 engine on the Zulfiqar 3. The tank can reach a top speed of 70 km/h, and has a range of 450 km.
The Zulfiqar-3, the most advanced variant of the Zulfiqar family, bears a close resemblance to the American M1 Abrams. It features considerable upgrades to the fire-control system, chassis, engine and main gun. The new variant is equipped with the 2A46 125 mm smoothbore cannon with an autoloader, a laser rangefinder and a new fire-control system. It is also fitted with a reinforced turret and the wheels are covered by an armoured skirt. Research and development on the tank was completed in 1999 and the tank appeared in a military parade in 2011.
Military analysts say that the Iranian military often exaggerates its capabilities for propaganda purposes. Tehran lacks the conditions for research, foreign components and core technologies to make modern military equipment. Iranian engineers often rely on creativity to make up for technological shortcomings. The Iranian claim has many reasons for doubt, so more time is needed to determine the true origin of the Zulfiqar tank.