Ukraine war
Main battle tank T-72 – Putin’s steel coffin

T-72 firing.

T-72 firing.

©PR

The T-72 was designed as a fast attack tank for large engagements. Hundreds were destroyed in Ukraine, targeting the workhorse of the Russian armed forces.

Much has been said about the T-14 Armata, but Putin’s super tank is still not in action. The T-90 was also frequently presented in its modernized variants. But the standard tank of the Russian armed forces is much older, it is a modernized variant of the T-72.

A tank built in large numbers since the early 1970s. The T-72 is the most-produced main battle tank of the present.

Peculiarities of tank building of the USSR

At that time he had several peculiarities. The T-72 was developed in the late 1960s to accommodate a 125mm caliber tank gun. The Bundeswehr’s standard battle tank at the time, the Leopard 1, only had a caliber of 105 mm.

Another peculiarity of Soviet tank construction is the crew of only three men. One man less reduces the interior space to be protected. Since the T-64, the Soviets have incorporated an automatic machine to save on the loader. In the T-72, the propellant charge and projectile are held in separate carousel magazines and brought into the chamber fully automatically. The complicated mechanics are said to have never caused any technical problems. Also typical for the tank construction of the USSR is the weight of under 50 tons and the flat silhouette. For comparison: the Leopard II weighs well over 60 tons. With additional tanks, the T-72 achieves a range of 550 kilometers.

Over time, the T-72 has undergone several modernizations. But now in the Ukraine war his weaknesses are showing. This includes above all the magazine below the tower. The crew sits on the ammunition store. A hit in this area causes a massive internal explosion, often blowing off the entire tower. Other tanks attempt to mitigate this threat by storing ammo in sealed boxes at the rear of the tank.

Wrong use of the tanks

However, the high losses in the Ukraine war – Russia is said to have lost over 300 T-72s – are less due to the specific design of the T-72. At the beginning of the war, many tanks were lost due to incorrect operational doctrine. There were also logistical problems. In the event of technical problems, the tanks had to be abandoned because no mountain units were available.

The war in the Ukraine also shows that battle tanks are tough opponents. These include infantry anti-tank weapons, which Kyiv has received in large numbers from the West. These include advanced systems like the Javelin, which can fly over a tank and penetrate the barely protected topside. But on simpler and more reliable systems than the javelin destroy the main battle tanks. In particular, the reactive armor, which is supposed to blast off the warhead of an anti-tank missile, does not meet expectations.

In addition, all common battle tanks are designed as dueling tanks and have their best protection at the front. In the Ukraine war, however, the tanks are now being attacked by fighter squads from hidden positions. They target weaker armored sides and undercarriage.

For this purpose, the main battle tanks are attacked by drones from the air. However, most of the losses are due to targeted artillery strikes. Scouts or drones spot the enemy vehicles and shortly thereafter the artillery fires at them. Another point is the heavy use of anti-tank mines.

New opponents for the main battle tank

The T-72 is comparatively defenseless against these opponents. However, it can be assumed that other main battle tanks would have similar problems. The explosions might not be as spectacular, but a side-penetrating hit from a Panzerfaust 3 would likely kill the crew of a Leopard II as well. Only hard-kill systems could offer a remedy. You are trying to shoot down an incoming missile. They are not a panacea. Hard-kill systems cannot do anything against airstrikes, artillery and mines. When a Panzerfaust is used at close range, they reach their limits. Modern anti-tank weapons send two projectiles on their way at the same time. The first is a dummy, which attracts the defense, in whose protection the second then finishes.

Ultimately, the high losses are only secondary to the constructive weaknesses, primarily the wrong operational doctrine is responsible. It remains to be seen whether there is any doctrine that promises success in a war like the one in Ukraine. Kyiv has not learned from the course of the war so far that main battle tanks are generally obsolete. The country is trying to get as many battle tanks as possible.