The T-64 was the first Soviet tank to replace human loaders with mechanical autoloaders, reducing the crew from four to three, including commander, gunner and driver.
In the history of the development of the Soviet main battle tank during the Cold War, a tank design was never exported even though it was rated better than the T-54/55/62 generation, and even T-72. It was the T-64 main battle tank – a revolutionary tank in the Soviet and world tank design. The technologies applied on T-64 are now popular all over the world, even on the latest generation of T-14 Armata tank.
However, unlike the popularity of T-54/55/62/72, T-64 tanks were not sold abroad by the Soviet Union or aid to any country in the world, although by the time it was born, the world was witnessing many conflicts, typically the war in Vietnam. Why didn’t the Soviet Union provide T-64 abroad?
The introduction of the T-64 tank
It can be said that the Soviet Union’s second-generation main battle tank was a revolution to the tank world at the time it debuted in 1960-1970.
The T-64 development program started right in the mid-1950s with the Object 430 creating the outstanding T-54 tank, meeting the war against Western tanks at that time. After many improvements, research, and experimentation, in 1966, the new T-64 tanks were accepted by the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party and the Soviet Council of Ministers. It was publicly revealed in 1970. The production ended in 1987 for all versions. The total production has reached almost 13,000.
Improvements of T-64 tanks compared to its predecessors
The T-64 was the first Soviet tank to replace human loaders with mechanical autoloaders, reducing the crew from four to three, including commander, gunner and driver. The T-64’s second trend-setting innovation was the introduction of composite armor, which layered ceramics and steel together to provide superior resistance compared to only steel. Armor protection ranged up to 450mm in thickness. In spite of being armed and armored like a heavy tank, the T-64 weighed only 38 tonnes.
Further, the T-64 had lightweight, small diameter all-steel road wheels in contrast to the large, rubber rimmed ones on the T-55 and T-62.
These features made the T-64 expensive to build, significantly higher than previous generations of Soviet tanks. This was especially true of the power pack, which was time-consuming to build and cost twice as much as more conventional designs. Several proposals were made to improve the T-64 with new engines, but chief designer Alexander Morozov’s political power in Moscow kept the design in production in spite of any concerns about price. This led to the T-72 being designed as an emergency design, only to be produced in the case of a war, but its 40% lower price led to it entering production in spite of Morozov’s objections.
T-64 tank’s armament
Initial production version of the T-64 was armed with a fully-stabilized 115 mm gun. Essentially it was the same gun, as used on the previous T-62 medium tank. Initial production version of the T-64 is considered as a medium tank due to its caliber. The T-64 was the first Soviet tank to be fitted with an autoloader. At that time only the Swedish STRV-103 had such feature. The autoloader allowed to reduce the crew, as loader was no longer required. Reduction of the crew allowed to reduce the size of the turret. The T-64 fires HE, HE-FRAG, and APFSDS rounds. Maximum rate of fire was up to 10 rounds per minute.
The T-64 was fitted with a single coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun. Later versions were equipped with a 12.7mm NSVT series heavy machine gun to counter low-flying aerial threats. Standard NBC protection was afforded to the crew as was a fire extinguishing system.
The overall design of the T-64 tank
The five large road wheels consistent with earlier Soviet tanks were dropped in favor of six small road wheels to a track side. The drive sprocket was now relocated to the rear of the hull with the track idler at the front. The hull was suspended by an effective and advanced torsion bar suspension system. The driver’s position was now centered at the front hull as opposed to front left.
Initial production version of the T-64 was powered by a 4TPD opposed diesel engine. On later models it was replaced with updated 5TD and 5TDF engines, provided 700 horsepower power. The maximum speed can be up to 60km/h, the operating range is 500km and can be up to 700km with external tanks. The T-64 tank is fitted with a deep wading kit. It can ford water obstacles up to 5 m deep.
A 1976 upgrade brought about another revision to the fire control system as well as improved night vision support and gun stabilization. In the early 1980s, another upgrade brought about formal use of external smoke grenade dischargers to replace the engine-generating smoke system used on prior Soviet tanks. Other combat-oriented equipment was also upgraded in time.
T-64 tanks were never exported
At the time of its introduction the T-64 was a very advanced machine. On the other side it was expensive to build and troublesome to maintain. A less capable, but cheap and reliable T-72 tank was introduced a couple of years later. The T-72 was produced in thousands. It was the workhorse of the Soviet Army. Production numbers of the T-64 were smaller and it was rather a force multiplier. Initially the T-64 had some fire control advantages, but that diminished with introduction of improved versions of the T-72.
At present the T-64 is in use in very few nations or regions, but is currently undergoing significant factory overhauls and modernization in Ukraine. The newest, vastly upgraded and improved model of this 50-year-old design, the T-64BM Bulat, has increased in weight to 45 tonnes and is seeing active service in the field.
Equipped with the world’s most advanced technologies, T-64 tanks have become a dream for every country in the world, even NATO countries in the 1960s did not have any tanks as strong as T-64. However, having these advanced technologies was one of the main reasons that prevented the T-64 from rolling out to the outside world. The Soviet Union could not accept a modern tank like T-64 fell into the hands of the Western world.
In addition, the high cost of production led to a monstrous expensive unit cost that made the T-64 tank not only not exported but also not widely equipped for the Soviet Red Army. It was almost exclusively equipped for the elite mechanized infantry unit to seize the vital area of the Soviet Union and Warsaw blocks such as East Germany and Hungary.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, T-64 tanks were divided among republics – the two most occupied were the Russian Federation, up to 4,000 units and Ukraine 2,345 units. In 2014, the Democratic Republic of Conggo became the first country outside of the Soviet Union to own a T-64 tank after a contract with Ukraine.
Since it was never exported, T-64 had no chance to join the war. The only war it took was the conflict in eastern Ukraine. There, the T-64 became a formidable disappointment, many T-64 tanks were destroyed, even losing the turret after being hit. It is really a big question mark with a tank that has a revolutionary composite armor.
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However, the sources later explained that the T-64 produced in Ukraine suffers from a serious technical defect in the production process, making it completely incapable of countering attacks from enemy’s shells or anti-tank missiles. In other words, it is easier to understand that the T-64 tanks manufactured in Ukraine were of very poor quality, probably not true to the prototype.
We can see that the T-64 main battle tank may not be the most successful Soviet tank, but it kept American intelligence officials guessing for years.