Two T-80UD MBTs on the Red Square in Moscow during the failed Coup d'état attempt, August 1991
In 1985 there were 1,900 T-80 MBTs overall. According to data publicized in Russia, 2,256 T-80 MBTs were stationed in East Germany between 1986 and 1987. NATO realized that new Soviet tanks could reach the Atlantic within two weeks and because of that started to develop counter methods that could stop them. This led to a sudden increase in development of anti-tank weapons including attack helicopters. In 1991 when the Soviet Union was breaking up the Soviet Army operated 4,839 T-80 MBTs in several different models.
T-80 MBTs were never used in the way in which they were intended (large-scale conventional war in Europe). They were deployed during the political and economical changes in Russia in the 1990s; In August 1991 communists and allied military commanders tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev and regain control over the unstable Soviet Union. T-80UD tanks of the Russian 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division drove onto the streets of Moscow but the Soviet coup attempt failed.
While a number of T-80 MBTs were inherited by Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Russia had possession of the majority of the tanks.
In 1995 the number of T-80 tanks increased to around 5,000 but was reduced in 1998 to 3,500.
The Russian Army had 3,044 T-80s and variants in active service and 1,456 in reserve as of 2008. There are at least 460 T-80UD in service with 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division and 4th Guards Kantemirowsk Motor Rifle Division. A T-80BV is on display in Kubinka Tank Museum and a T-80U is on display at an open air museum in Saratov. The T-80Us have recently been seen at arms expos in Russia such as VTTV.
During the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis Boris Yeltsin ordered the use of tanks against the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People's Deputies which opposed him. On 4 October 1993 six T-80UD MBTs from 12th Guards Tank Regiment, 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division took positions on a bridge opposite the Russian parliament building, and fired on it.
In July 1998, a T-80 commanded by Major Igor Belyaev was driven into a square in front of the administration building of Novosmolensk and its gun aimed at the building in protest of several months of unpaid wages.
First Chechen War
T-80B and T-80BV MBTs were never used in Afghanistan in the 1980s, but they were first used during the First Chechen War. This first real combat experience for T-80 MBTs was unsuccessful, as the tanks were used for capturing cities, a task for which they were not very well suited. The biggest tank losses were suffered during the ill-fated assault on the city of Grozny. The forces selected to capture Grozny were not prepared for such an operation, while the city was defended by, among others, veterans of the Soviet War in Afghanistan. The T-80 tanks used in this operation either did not have reactive armour (T-80B) or they were not fitted before the start of the operation (T-80BV), and the T-80 crews lacked sufficient training before the war.
The inexperienced crews had no knowledge of the layout of the city, while the tanks were attacked by RPG teams hidden in cellars and on top of high buildings. The anti-tank fire was directed at the least armoured points of the vehicles. Each destroyed tank received from three to six hits, and each tank was fired at by six or seven rocket-propelled grenades. A number of vehicles exploded when the autoloader, with vertically placed rounds, was hit: in theory it should have been protected by the road wheel, but, when the tanks got hit on their side armour, the ready-to-use ammunition exploded. Out of all armored vehicles that entered Grozny, 225 were destroyed in the first month alone, representing 10.23% of all the tanks committed to the campaign. The T-80 performed so poorly that General-Lieutenant A. Galkin, the head of the Armor Directorate, convinced the Minister of Defence after the conflict to never again procure tanks with gas-turbine engines. After that, T-80 MBTs were never again used to capture cities, and, instead, they supported infantry squads from a safe distance. Defenders of the T-80 point out that the T-72 performed just as badly in urban fighting in Grozny as the T-80 and that there were two mitigating factors: after the breakup of the Soviet Union, poor funding meant no training for new Russian tank crews, and the tank force entering the city had no infantry support, which is considered to be suicidal by many major military strategists of armored warfare.
While other kinds of Soviet equipment, like the T-72, were exported to many countries around the world, T-80, like T-64 before it, had a status of secret weapon which meant that it was not planned to be exported early on. Despite that, Poland was negotiating with the Soviet Union to buy either T-72S or T-80 MBTs. There were plans to start serial production of T-80 MBTs in Poland but it turned out that Polish industry was not yet ready to handle T-80 production. After the political changes of 1989 in Poland and the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, Polish-Soviet talks on purchase of modern tanks came to a halt. This led to Poland developing the PT-91 MBT.
In 1992, the United Kingdom bought a number of T-80U MBTs for defence research and development. They were not bought officially but through a specially created trading company which was supposed to deliver them to Morocco. The price of five million USD offered for each tank ensured a lack of suspicion on the part of the Russians. Britain evaluated the tanks on their proving grounds and transferred one to the US where the Americans evaluated it on the Aberdeen Proving Ground. While evaluating the vehicle, the US and UK are alleged to have noted any weak spots and flaws of the T-80U. In January 1994, British Minister of State for Defence Procurement Jonathan Aitken (answering a Question to the Secretary of State for Defence) confirmed in parliamentary debates that a Russian T-80U tank was imported for "defence research and development purposes".
People's Republic of China
Some sources considers in late 1993 Russia signed a contract with the People's Republic of China for the sale of 200 T-80U MBTs for evaluation. Only 50 were delivered.
Ukrainian exports of the T-80UD have been moderately successful. In 1993 and 1995 Ukraine demonstrated the tank to Pakistan, which was looking for a new main battle tank. The tank was tested in Pakistan and in August 1996 Pakistan decided to buy 320 T-80UD tanks from Ukraine for $650 million in two variants: a standard Ob'yekt 478B and export Ob'yekt 478BE. The tanks were all supposed to be delivered in 1997. After the first batch of 15 vehicles were shipped in February 1997, Russia protested that they held the rights to the tank and that Ukraine couldn't export it. Nearly 70% of T-80UD components were produced outside of Ukraine (mainly in Russia). Under the guise of keeping good relations with India, one of its most important military customers, Russia withheld 2A46-2 125 mm smoothbore guns, cast turrets and other technology, which forced Ukraine to make its tank industry independent. It developed domestic components, including a welded turret which was in use on the new T-84. Ukraine was able to ship 20 more T-80UD tanks to Pakistan between February and May 1997. These 35 tanks were from Ukrainian Army stocks of 52 T-80UDs; they were built in the Malyshev plant several years before but were not delivered to their original destination. Their capabilities were below the standard agreed by both Ukraine and Pakistan. The contract was completed by shipping another 285 Ukrainian T-80UD MBTs between 1997 and early 2002. These had the welded turret and other manufacturing features of the T-84.
Cyprus is the first foreign country to officially obtain T-80 tanks. Russia sold 27 T-80U and 14 T-80UK for $174 million to Cyprus in 1996. The tanks arrived in two batches. The first shipment consisted of 27 T-80U MBTs arriving in 1996, while the second batch of 14 T-80UK MBTs arrived in 1997. This significantly reinforced the army of this country; their best tank up until that point was the AMX-30B2. New tanks gave the Cypriot National Guard the edge in a possible confrontation with the Turkish Army in Northern Cyprus. In October 2009 Cyprus ordered an additional batch of 41 used T-80Us and T-80UKs from Russia for €115 million. Deliveries are expected to be completed in the first half of 2011.
South Korea was given 33 T-80U and 2 T-80UK tanks to pay Russian debts incurred during the days of the Soviet Union. The tanks came in three batches; the first was of six T-80Us in 1996, followed by 27 T-80Us in 1997, and finally two T-80UKs in 2005. Originally, eighty T-80Us were planned.
The US Government obtained one T-80U from the United Kingdom. It was evaluated on the Aberdeen Proving Ground. In 2003, Ukraine transferred four T-80UD MBTs to the USA.
Failed export attempts
Apart from Cyprus and the People's Republic of China, Russia has tried to export T-80 MBTs to Turkey and Greece, who were looking for new tanks. These two attempts have failed. They were also offered to Sweden for its mechanized brigades in the early 1990s but lost to second hand Leopard 2A4s (Strv 121) and new upgraded 2A5s (Strv 122).