One-of-a-kind Soviet T-80UM2 tank equipped with Drozd APS destroyed
While the story is by no means breaking news – 18 months have elapsed since the incident – it remains largely unknown within our local informational sphere. Hence, it warrants particular attention. This tale revolves around the T-80UM-2, a unique vehicle enhanced with the Drozd active defense system. This one-of-a-kind piece of technology was unfortunately lost in the Sumy region, northwest of Kharkiv back in March 2022. The T-80UM-2 is not only distinguished by its advanced technical specifications but also by its intriguing journey.
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The legacy and versatility of the ‘Drozd’
The ‘Drozd’, a Soviet active protection complex, holds a prominent place in the annals of military history. Its significance stems from being the first mass-produced system designed for actively destroying projectiles that pose a threat to tanks. This system, adopted in 1983, has piqued the interest of military enthusiasts and experts alike. Its effectiveness is a testament to its ingenious design that uses high-frequency radar sensors to detect anti-tank grenades and missiles, eliminating them with a targeted explosion and a fragmentation stream of fired counter-munitions with an impressive success rate of 70-80%.
The T-55AD tank was the primary vehicle equipped with the Drozd, easily identifiable by its twin launchers and radar stations along the sides of the turret, and an overarching “backpack” housing the electronics unit in the turret rear. Despite attempts to create a different active protection complex for the T-62, the Drozd’s universal design enabled it to be installed on various other vehicles.
The post-Soviet era saw the T-80 tank incorporated with the Drozd. The Ukrainian ‘Object 478BEM1’ is an example of this, which was eventually handed over to the United States, providing the Americans the opportunity to delve into the technical aspects of both the tank and the Drozd.
In Russia, the T-80U tank, upgraded to the T-80UM-2, is the most known bearer of the Drozd. This unique model was produced only once in 1995 by Omsk Transmash. However, it has often been mistaken to carry the Drozd-2, a common myth that has been perpetuated over time.
In truth, there is no Drozd-2 on the T-80UM-2. It retains all the characteristics of the original Drozd, including twin launchers, radar stations, and an external turret electronics unit. The upgraded Drozd-2 can be seen on modernized equipment such as the T-14 tank, the T-15 infantry fighting vehicle, which is based on the Armata platform, and even on an exotic vessel like the ‘Raptor’.
Behind the scenes
The tale of the T-80UM-2 can be best described as a tragic saga. With the dissolution of the USSR in the 90s, many of Russia’s defense enterprises found themselves in a financial quagmire. Deprived of any substantial funding sources, they had to fend for themselves. The Research Institute of Steel, a frontrunner in the development of armor for equipment and infantry, was forced to resort to manufacturing cemetery fences. On the other hand, some entities with relevant production capacities, like UralVagonZavod, managed to survive by exporting the T-90 to India.
Omsk residents also pursued the same commercial endeavors to keep their financial ship afloat. The T-80UM-2, along with other projects like the T-80UM-1 equipped with the Arena KAZ, was an attempt to secure production contracts, whether from their own Ministry of Defense or foreign entities.
The tank soon made its way into catalogs of military equipment for potential foreign buyers. The T-80UM-2 was showcased at various arms exhibitions and participated in public demonstrations to pique buyer interest. However, unsurprisingly, it didn’t achieve commercial success.
Even if we set aside the speculation that the Drozd ended up in the United States courtesy of Ukraine, the skepticism and traditionalism of the military towards KAZ, and the dearth of funds, this vehicle would not have made its way into the troops. The Drozd, by then, was an extremely limited and outdated system. Against this backdrop, the Arena appeared far more appealing. Consequently, the T-80UM-2, unlike its counterpart, the T-80UM-1, soon made its exit and found a home at the training ground in Kubinka, under the purview of the NIIII BT VT.
The T-80UM-2, unlike many other models of military equipment, has not been left to gather dust in a hangar or an open field. This can be evidenced by the numerous photographs available online, showcasing the tank in different settings and angles. It has been a part of various experiments and exclusive military displays, and its unique nature has even prompted security personnel at the training ground to pose for photographs with it.
One might have expected the T-80UM-2’s journey to conclude with it being relegated to “long-term storage” – a place from where equipment rarely returns unless it possesses significant historical value. However, this was not the case.
In September 2021, the T-80UM-2 re-emerged into the public eye during the “West-2021” joint exercises involving Russia and Belarus. As military units returned to their usual bases, the tank was spotted among the Kantemirovskaya division’s equipment at a Belarusian railway station.
This unexpected sighting led to a flurry of media speculation, with some major publications suggesting the tank’s presence was no coincidence. There were claims that the tank had been operational during the exercises, in preparation for the mass production of KAZ. Some even went as far as to assert that the tank was equipped with Drozd-2, a patently false claim, yet it fuelled hope for the introduction of this new system into the military.
However, the most plausible explanation for the T-80UM-2’s appearance in Kantemirovka is a simple lack of material. The tank’s active protection likely lacked both combat equipment and functioning automation. Despite this, the T-80UM-2 is a worthy museum piece, representing an original model. Unfortunately, historical significance isn’t always a priority in the military. As long as it drives, shoots, and maintains a fully combat-ready condition, it is deemed fit for battle.
The implementation of this principle has unfolded unexpectedly. Initially, it was believed that the involvement of this tank in active troop maneuvers would be confined to exercises. However, on February 24, 2022, a special military operation was launched in Ukraine. This tank, a product of Omsk, found itself during its final battle.
On March 18, 2022, images began to circulate on social networks and various media outlets, depicting the aftermath of a skirmish between Russian forces and units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces near the town of Trostyanets in the Sumy region. Among the various types of equipment captured in these images was the T-80UM-2 tank. Determining the exact nature of the damage it sustained is challenging. However, the photos clearly show that the tank was completely incinerated, with the turret separated from the main body of the tank. Whether this was due to the ignition of propellant charges, the detonation of shells, or other factors, remains a matter of speculation.
Regardless, the destruction of the T-80UM-2 is an undeniable fact. Its loss has created quite a stir in both Western and Ukrainian media. One of the more restrained comments on the matter was “Orcs have lost a unique tank”. In reality, the outcry about the specific features of the tank is overblown. What was lost was essentially a museum piece, not much different in combat capabilities from the standard T-80U and certainly not equipped with a functioning Drozd. The “kit” replete with launchers and radar was nothing more than that.
From a historical perspective, this was one of the first T-80s to be fitted with active protection. From a practical standpoint, it was a regular line tank with no unique combat attributes to its name. The most important concern, however, is whether the crew survived the incident.
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