Armor: Why Ancient T-62s Survive


October 22, 2022: Modern Russian T-90 and T-72 tanks suffered such high losses during the first months of the Ukraine War that Russia was eventually forced to replace them with T-62s. Those that had been modernized in the 1980s by adding more powerful engines, upgraded fire control systems, and ERA (Exploding Reactive Armor) tiles. Thousands of stored T-62s were upgraded like this and then returned to storage. The success of these T-62s in Ukraine led Russia to take 800 more out of storage and add further upgrades, using items that do not require any imported components. This included a more effective fire control system with improved thermal imaging. Improved EAR is also added, including more on the top of the turret to provide protection against Western top-attack missiles. The T-62 does not have an auto-loader for its 115mm gun, which makes the tank less vulnerable to total destruction from any turret penetration, especially by top-attack missiles. The T-62 was the last Russian tank built without an autoloader and that means the tank has a four-man crew. This provides more personnel to maintain the tank, which three-man crews were not always able to do adequately.

The T-62 is now in great demand because when it was discovered that most of the T-72 and T-90 tanks in storage and available as replacements were not fit for duty. These tanks were stored in lightly guarded facilities that usually had no staff to regularly check the readiness of these tanks, as is the practice in the West and Ukraine. Many if not most of those reserve tanks had been rendered unusable because of theft of key components. Some of the missing items were high-tech components like fire control systems that contained some Western electronics that were now unavailable because of economic sanctions. That explains why so many of the replacement tanks are half-century old T-62s. The T-62 had a 115mm rather than a 125mm main gun. Since most tanks support infantry rather than fight other tanks, the elderly T-62s were an adequate replacement tank. The 115mm gun was the first modern, smoothbore, tank gun used by Russian tanks and fires the same types of modern 125mm tank gun ammo. The smaller caliber means the 115mm ammo is not quite as effective as the 125mm against the better armor on Ukrainian T-72s and T-80s. The 115mm ammo is not always effective against the frontal armor of Ukrainian tanks, but hits on the side or rear armor are deadly. The 115mm ammo can destroy any lighter armored vehicles. The T-62 carries 40 115mm shells, which have a max range of 4,000 meters, but are most effective at 1,000 meters. Upgraded T-62s weigh 38 tons, compared to 44 tons for the T-72. T-62 max road speed is 50 kilometers an hour while cross-country speed is 40 kilometers an hour. Max range with internal fuel on roads is 650 kilometers and 450 kilometers cross-country.

So far over 200 T-62s have been lost in Ukraine. There are a lot more anti-tank weapons at work in Ukraine than in previous campaigns like Afghanistan in the 1980s, Chechnya in the 1990s, Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine from 2014 to 2022. Since the 1970s T-62s were used by reserve units and paramilitary KGB and FSB paramilitary units. Over 20,000 T-62s were built between 1961 and 1975. About 20 percent of those are still available for service. T-62s are still used by Syria, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Cuba, Yemen and Angola. Russia remains the largest user of T-62s.




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