Armor: December 19, 2004

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Although obsolete and no longer in production, countries continue to upgrade and use their T-72 tanks. At one point, the T-72 was the Soviet Union's most advanced main battle tank, and everybody wanted one. The tank's first production model, the T-72A, started production in 1972 and ended in 1985. The second variant, the T-72B, entered production in 1985. There wasn't really much difference between the two models, except that the T-72B had a new engine and suspension system, as well as the capability to mount explosive reactive armor (ERA). An estimated 50,000 T-72s have been built and have been exported to over twenty countries, including Algeria, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Libya, and India. With so many T-72s out there, it makes sense that Russia would be making a profit from offering upgrade packages, especially since many of the countries that own T-72s can't afford to purchase an entirely new fleet of tanks. 

The T-72 is actually a very good main battle tank, once it has some upgrades. The basic model is armed with a 125mm D-81 smootbore gun, a 7.62mm machine gun, and a 12.7 air defence machine gun. The main gun can fire armor piercing discarding sabot rounds (APDS), high explosive anti-tank rounds (HEAT), and high explosive fragmentation projectiles (HE-FRAG). The tank comes with a laser ranger finder sight, ballistic computer, and a thermal barrel sleeve.. Protection is achieved by armor plating on the hull and turret, including combined armor arrays over the frontal arc. It also has a smoke discharger. Propulsion system consists of a V-84 liquid cooled diesel engine which gives the tank a road speed of between 60 and 35km/h. 

Since a lot of countries have older T-72s that are basically useless against advanced modern tanks, many different countries offer total or partial upgrade packages. Most of the partial upgrade package, like those offered from OIP of Belgium, concentrate on the vehicle's fire control systems. The countries that offer upgrades include Poland, South Africa, Israel (which has long excelled at upgrading armored vehicles), Slovakia, Russia, Belgium, Spain, Germany, and the Ukraine. This is causing Russia some serious problems. Arms exports are one of Russia's continuing reliable industries, especially upgrading foreign equipment from past customers. With so many other countries offering their own export packages, Russia hasn''t been making nearly as much money as they could from T-72 updates. For example, India has recently decided to upgrade 250 of its T-72s with new fire control systems. Instead of having Russia do the upgrades, India has contracted PCO of Poland to do the work. In another incident, Poland signed a contract with a German company to co-operate on the incorporation of Leopard II technology into their T-72s to make them more compatible with the Leopards that Poland has already purchased. 

Many T-72s are still in use. Syria has about 1,000 of them, although they are outdated and in poor condition. Algeria has about 200. Libya, whose armed forces possess over 3,000 tanks, has only about 145. Iran is believed to possess around 580. Poland's inventory numbers about 649, many of which are being upgraded. India possesses about 368, which it too is attempting to update. At least 20,000 are still in service. With so much potential profit from updating contracts, its easy to see why Russia would be distressing at losing so much business to European and Israeli firms. 

Losing out to so much competition is costing Russia a lot of cash. But its industry is far from dead. It continues to sell fighters and newer model tanks on a regular basis, not to mention the plethora of other military equipment that it offers for export. Also, many of the countries that possess T-72s are in need of upgrades, Libya and Syria in particular, are probably not going to be doing business with US or European military suppliers any time in the near future, which may push them back to Russia for help. Syria currently has about 1,000 T-72s, many of which are falling apart and all of which desperately need modernization. Of course, neither Syria nor Libya is particularly rich and Syria's multibillion dollar military debt to Russia will probably forestall any further arms agreements between the two countries. 

 


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