Russia’s announcement of mass re-production of the T-80 MBT is a warning to Ukraine and its allies.
At least at the industrial level, Russia is determined to maintain its war with Ukraine. And the new T-80 tanks needed completely new gas turbine engines, up to 1,500 horsepower. That is the assertion of the Russian defense industry.
Russian media recently published information saying that the country plans to revive the gas turbine engine used on the T-80 tank line after 30 years of stopping the production line. It is expected that this engine will have its capacity increased to 1,500 horsepower instead of 1,250 as the original. According to sources, the Russian military and political leadership has ordered the Kaluzhsky Dvigatel Engine Plant (KADVI) to resume production of GTD-1250 gas turbine engines for T-80 tanks.
It is known that the GTD-1250 engine has a capacity of 1,250 horsepower, and is the world’s first gas turbine engine developed for tanks. When this engine was successfully developed and fitted on the T-80 tank in 1976, it was three years ahead of the American M1 Abrams line, which also used a gas turbine engine.
The gas turbine engine can use multiple fuels such as gasoline and diesel, reducing dependence on logistics and allowing the crew to use enemy fuel depots. Each T-80 only needs three minutes to start up and change combat status, instead of 30 minutes like on T-72 tanks using diesel engines. Using a gas turbine engine helps the T-80 tank accelerate and overcome obstacles “quite sweetly”, so the T-80 is also nicknamed the “flying tank”.
The biggest weakness of gas turbine engines is that they consume too much fuel, many times more than T-72s using diesel engines. The original design forces the T-80’s engine to operate at full capacity even when the vehicle is stationary, causing fuel consumption to be 2-4 times higher than that of the T-72. This is considered one of the main reasons why T-80 tanks using turbine engines are no longer widely used.
For this reason, the Russian defense industry has not produced any new T-80 tanks since 1991. The GTD-1250 turbine engine production line for the T-80 series also stopped operating after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, given the recent situation, Russia decided to resume the production of T-80 tanks and thus also revived the gas turbine engines and increased them to a capacity of 1,500 horsepower.
Mr. Alexander Potapov, General Director of Uralvagonzavod Group, said that Russia is preparing to resume the production line of the T-80 tank, because this is one of the most effective weapons deployed by Moscow on the battlefield. Kaluga Turbine Factory once manufactured thousands of GTD-1000 and GTD-1250 engines with a capacity of 1,000-1,250 horsepower for T-80 tanks.
High-capacity engines and a vehicle weight of only 42-46 tons help the T-80 reach a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Reviving the gas turbine engine and increasing the capacity to 1,500 horsepower shows that Russia is prioritizing the mobility of the T-80 tank over fuel consumption efficiency. Such a powerful engine also ensures long-term development and upgrade potential for the T-80. They allow Uralvagonzavod to install a series of protective armor blocks without reducing the vehicle’s maneuverability.
Western experts believe that restarting the line at the Kaluga Turbine Factory shows that Russia is very serious in its efforts to build the new T-80 tank. For nearly 30 years the Russian army has replenished its T-80 fleet with old, refurbished hulls and engines. Those hulls and engines obviously are beginning to run out as Russian tank losses in Ukraine exceed 2,000. For context, there were only around 3,000 active tanks in the entire Russian armed forces when Russia widened its war on Ukraine in February 2022.
The fact is that with the same power as a diesel engine, a gas turbine engine has less weight, is reliable and less noisy, and starts better at low temperatures. Since the appearance of the first T-80 tanks in 1976, they were equipped with GTD-1000T engines with a power of 1000 hp; from 1980 to 1986, modifications of the GTD-1000TF engines were produced for the T-80B and T-80BV tanks with a power of 1100 hp. Since 1986, the GTD-1250 modification for T-80U tanks with a power of 1,250 hp went into production; this modification is now the main one and is installed on all T-80 tanks. There were also GTD-1400 engines, this is the serial GTD-1250 engine with a short-term power boost to 1400 hp. And the GTD-1500 engine with a power of 1,500 hp, created using the latest materials.
The T-80’s excess power explains its high speed – and commensurately high fuel consumption, which limits its range to no more than 300 miles. The work at the Kaluga Turbine Plant is a strong indication the Russians are serious about building new tanks. It won’t happen fast, of course. But it doesn’t have to. It could take months—or even a year or more—for Uralvagonzavod fully to tool up for a run of fresh, upgraded T-80s.