The T-72 is a Soviet second-generation main battle tank that entered production in 1971. About 20,000 T-72 tanks were built, making it one of the most widely produced post–World War II tanks, second only to the T-54/55 family. The T-72 was widely exported and saw service in 40 countries and in numerous conflicts. Improved variants are still being built for export customers.

Class Vehicle
Type Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Manufacturer Uralvagonzavod
Origin Russia (USSR)
Country Name Origin Year
Russia (USSR) 1974
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Russia (USSR) 1973 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Uralvagonzavod 1974 25000 View

The T-72 was the most common tank used by the Warsaw Pact from the 1970s to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was also exported to other countries, such as Finland, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yugoslavia, as well as being copied elsewhere, both with and without licenses.

Licenced versions of the T-72 were made in Poland and Czechoslovakia, for Warsaw Pact consumers. These tanks had better and more consistent quality of make but with inferior armour, lacking the resin-embedded ceramics layer inside the turret front and glacis armour, replaced with all steel. The Polish-made T-72G tanks also had thinner armour compared to Soviet Army standard (410 mm for turret). Before 1990, Soviet-made T-72 export versions were similarly downgraded for non-Warsaw Pact customers (mostly the Arab countries). Many parts and tools are not interchangeable between the Russian, Polish and Czechoslovakian versions, which caused logistical problems.

Yugoslavia developed the T-72 into the more advanced M-84, and sold hundreds of them around the world during the 1980s. The Iraqis called their T-72 copies the "Lion of Babylon" (Asad Babil). These Iraqi tanks were assembled from "spare parts" sold to them by Russia as a means of evading the UN-imposed weapons embargo. More modern derivatives include the Polish PT-91 Twardy. Several countries, including Russia and Ukraine, also offer modernization packages for older T-72s.

Various versions of the T-72 have been in production for decades, and the specifications for its armour have changed considerably. Original T-72 tanks had homogeneous cast steel armour incorporating spaced armour technology and were moderately well protected by the standards of the early 1970s. In 1979, the Soviets began building T-72 modification with composite armour similar to the T-64 composite armour, in the front of the turret and the front of the hull. Late in the 1980s, T-72 tanks in Soviet inventory (and many of those elsewhere in the world as well) were fitted with reactive armour tiles.

Laser rangefinders appear in T-72 tanks since 1978; earlier examples were equipped with parallax optical rangefinders, which could not be used for distances under 1,000 metres (1,100 yd). Some export versions of the T-72 lacked the laser rangefinder until 1985 or only the squadron and platoon commander tanks (version K) received them. After 1985, all newly made T-72s came with reactive armour as standard, the more powerful 840 bhp (630 kW) V-84 engine and an upgraded design main gun, which can fire guided anti-tank missiles from the barrel. With these developments the T-72 eventually became almost as powerful as the more expensive T-80 tank, but few of these late variants reached the economically ailing Warsaw Pact allies and foreign customers before the Soviet bloc fell apart in 1990.

Since 2000, export vehicles have been offered with thermal imaging night-vision gear of French manufacture as well (though it may be more likely that they might simply use the locally manufactured 'Buran-Catherine' system, which incorporates a French thermal imager). Depleted uranium armour-piercing ammunition for the 125 mm (4.9 in) gun has been manufactured in Russia in the form of the BM-32 projectile since around 1978, though it has never been deployed, and is less penetrating than the later tungsten BM-42 and the newer BM-42M.

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  • 1980-2001 Afghanistan war (Afghanistan)
  • 1980–1988 Iran–Iraq War (Iraq) (Iran)
  • 1982 Lebanon (Syria)
  • 1983–2009 Sri Lankan Civil War (India)
  • 1988–1994 Nagorno-Karabakh War (Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan)
  • 1988–1993 Georgian Civil War
  • 1991–1992 War in South Ossetia
  • 1992–1993 War in Abkhazia
  • 1992-1997 Civil war in Tajikistan
  • 1990–1991 First Persian Gulf War (Iraq, Kuwait)
  • 1990–2002 Sierra Leone Civil War (Executive Outcomes)
  • 1991–2001 Yugoslav Wars (Yugoslavia)
  • 1991 Ten-Day War (Yugoslavia)
  • 1991–1995 Croatian War of Independence (Yugoslavia, Krajina Serbs, Croatia and Republika Srpska)
  • 1998 Kosovo (Yugoslavia)
  • 2001 2001 Macedonia conflict (Macedonia)
  • 1994 Rwanda Civil War (Uganda)
  • 1994–1996 First Chechen War (Russia, Chechnya (limited)) First known case of using tank-launched missiles, which effectively destroy targets at 4 km range.
  • 1999–2009 Second Chechen War (Russia)
  • 2003 Invasion of Iraq (Iraq)
  • 2008 War in South Ossetia (Russia and Georgia)
  • 2011 2011 Libyan civil war (Gaddafi Government and Anti-Gaddafi forces)
  • 2012– Syrian civil war – Government forces using T-72 tanks. Opposition forces using captured government's tanks
  • 2013– South Sudanese conflict
  • 2014– Conflict in Ukraine
  • 2014– Northern Iraq offensive
  • 2015- Boko Haram insurgency (Nigerian Government Forces) 

DesignationsT-72 "Ural"
Manufacturer(s)Uralvagonzavod USSR
StatusProduction completed. In service with Russia.
Production Period1974-1976Production Quantityless than 7000 (1)
Length, overall9.5mLength, hull6.9m
Width, overall3.5mHeight, overall2.2m
Combat Weight41000kgUnloaded Weightn/a
Radio, externalR-123MCommunication, crewn/a
Main Armament125mm D-81TM smoothbore gunAmmunition Carried39x125mm
Gun Traverse360Elevation/Depression+18/-5
Traverse Raten/aElevation Raten/a
Gun Stabilization1-axisRangefinderoptical
Night VisionactiveAuto-Loaderyes
Secondary Armament7.62mm PKT MG (coaxial)
12.7mm NSVT MG (AA)
Ammunition Carried2000x7.62mm

EngineV-46 diesel V12 air-cooled multi-fuelTransmissionsynchromesh, hydraulically assisted (7 forward, 1 reverse)
Horsepower780hp at 2000rpmSuspensiontorsion bar
Power/Weight Ratio19hp/tTrack Width580mm
Speed, on road60km/hTrack Ground Contact4.25m
Fuel Capacity705 l (1)Ground Pressure0.83kg/cm2
Range, on road500kmGradient60%
Fuel Consumption140 l/100kmVertical Obstacle0.85m
Turning Radiusn/aTrench Crossing2.8m
Ground Clearance0.49mFording1.2m
Smoke Laying2x6 forward facing smoke grenade launchers, smoke screen exhaustNBC Protectionyes
Armor DetailsTurret has conventional cast armor with a maximum thickness of 280mm. The hull glacis is laminate armor 200mm thick giving about 500-600mm of protection.
(1) The T-72 series was still in production in the late-1980s.
(2) Jettisonable external drum tanks can be mounted on the rear providing an addition 495 liters of fuel. (3) Fording depth of 5 meters with preperation.

End notes