High in the Urals, the Omsk tank plant stops producing Russian tanks

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Located in Russia’s Ural mountains, the Omsktransmash tank plant was visited by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on June 17th. His visit aimed to monitor the progress of the state defense order. 

Shoigu’s goal was to check the production status of tanks and heavy flamethrower systems, crucial elements of Russia’s growing military collection. These systems are based on the renowned T-72 tank. Shoigu emphasized not only the quantity but also the quality, particularly crew protection. This aligns with the increased armor protection in new Russian tanks, expected to be in service from mid-2022. 

Besides, Shoigu inspected the military equipment in the Omsk Region, soon to be transported to frontline units. The massive Omsktransmash tank factory, one of Russia’s largest, was a crucial part of his visit.

Soviet Union key player

Omsktransmash, once a key player in Soviet Union’s Cold War tank production, shares its legacy with other industry giants like the Uralvagonzavod factory and the Malyshev plant. During the Cold War, Omsktransmash produced T-54/55 tanks for export purposes until the late 70s. Later, the company shifted to producing the advanced T-80 tank. 

Photo credit: Telegram

Omsktransmash was the main manufacturer of the T-80 until 1988. The Malyshev factory also produced a diesel-powered T-80 variant, but Omsktransmash continued with the original gas turbine model, noted for its superior performance. The company’s transition from exporting the T-55 to domestically producing the T-80 represents a fascinating change in strategy, cost, complexity, and target market.

The Russian Army sold their surplus T-80 tanks to countries like South Korea and Cyprus after the Soviet Union dissolved. Ukraine’s Malyshev factory, which had a large stockpile of tanks, used them to fulfill a 1996 order from Pakistan. This large order nearly depleted the factory’s production capabilities. 

T-72 preferred over T-80

Despite the T-80 being an advanced tank, its high production and operational costs drove the Russian Army and most foreign clients to prefer the more affordable T-72 tank. The latest version of the T-72, rebranded as T-90, was offered to the Russian Defence Ministry and international buyers. The improved T-90A model, introduced in the early 2000s, was a major export success.

Photo credit: Reddit

Omsktransmash was able to shift to civilian production post-Soviet Union. The company updated Soviet-era vehicles and provided upgrade kits for T-55 and T-80 tanks. However, the company’s downfall was due to the unsuccessful Black Eagle program. 

This program produced a T-80 tank variant with an unmanned turret, but it failed to generate interest. This led to the deterioration of the tank production facility. By the early 2000s, Omsktransmash had declared bankruptcy and merged with Uralvagonzavod. 

Uralvagonzavod kept the business

Uralvagonzavod kept the business going through export orders, primarily from India and Algeria. This made it the most active tank factory globally and the sole tank producer in the former Soviet Union. Until 2019, their enhanced T-80 tanks were considered the most powerful in the Russian Army.

Photo credit: Twitter

The Russian Army considered retiring the T-80 tank in favor of more cost-effective T-72s during the 2010s. However, the T-80’s superior performance in harsh weather conditions, especially in Arctic regions, saved it from being phased out. 

Despite the growing need for tanks due to the Ukraine conflict, Omsktransmash isn’t set to increase production. The plant will continue its work on modernizing and refurbishing retired military vehicles, including tanks and mobile artillery. Omsktransmash is also converting T-72 tank chassis into TOS-1A flamethrower vehicles, which have become increasingly popular due to their unique capabilities in modern warfare.

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