T-72 appeared, looking like LEO 2: extended turret front and rear

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The T-72 tank has been a mainstay of the Russian military for decades. Despite this, Russia is continually exploring ways to enhance this formidable machine. One might note that most nations have a singular primary battle tank. For instance, the US leans on the M1 Abrams, Germany on the Leopard 2, the UK on the Challenger 2, France on the Leclerc, etc.

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Despite variations and upgrades, using one type of tank significantly simplifies maintenance, training, and part supply.  Russia, however, operates a variety of tanks in Ukraine, including the T-62, T-72, T-80, T90, and possibly even the T-55. The country also has ambitions to transition to the T-14 Armata tanks.

For now, though, the T-90M Proryv remains Russia’s most advanced tank. Interestingly, the T-90 was developed from the T-72 and the T-80 – from the T-64. With the T-90M in use and the T-14 on the horizon, is it worth upgrading the T-72, in service since 1973? 

T-72 unusual large turret

Experiments are underway. Ukrainian military observer Oleksandr Kovelenko noticed that a particular Russian T-72B featured an unusually large turret. It seems the regular T-72 turret was extended both at the front and the rear. Kovalenko suggests this could be an attempt to enhance the protection of the engine and transmission compartment against suicide FPV drones. 

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Small kamikaze drones, used by both Ukrainians and Russians, can cause significant damage to a tank. Owing to their high maneuverability and human control, they can target a tank’s most vulnerable points. They have even been directed through the open hatch of a tank or other armored vehicle. 

Kovalenko theorizes that the added armor around the turret shields the tank’s engine compartment at the rear and bolsters the turret’s protection. But could there be another reason for the turret’s augmentation? 

The ‘another reason’

The T-72 tank’s turret was extended both front and rear for several reasons, one of which was to improve the tank’s overall balance and stability. The extension of the turret helped to shift the center of gravity of the tank forward, which made it more stable when firing its main gun. This was particularly important for the T-72, which had a relatively short hull compared to other tanks of its generation.

Another reason for the extension of the T-72’s turret was to provide more space for additional equipment and ammunition storage. As tanks became more advanced and required more sophisticated electronics and ammunition types, the need for additional storage space became more pressing. By extending the turret, designers were able to create more room for these critical components.

Photo credit: blogspot

The extension of the T-72’s turret also provided additional protection for the tank’s crew. By increasing the size of the turret, designers were able to add more armor to the tank’s most vulnerable areas, such as the front and rear. This helped to improve the tank’s survivability in combat situations, as it was better able to withstand enemy fire.

In addition to these reasons, the extension of the T-72’s turret also allowed for the installation of larger and more powerful engines. This was important for tanks that needed to operate in difficult terrain or in situations where speed and maneuverability were critical. By installing larger engines, designers were able to improve the tank’s overall performance and make it more effective on the battlefield.

It looks like Leopard 2

Interestingly, Kovalenko points out that the modified T-72 bears a resemblance to the Leopard 2. Western tanks typically have larger turrets as they store ammunition in a separate compartment within them, improving crew survival rates if the ammunition detonates. 

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In comparison, Russian tanks like the T-72 store ammunition in a ring below the turret. This design choice leaves the crew vulnerable and can result in catastrophic damage to the tank if the ammunition detonates. This stark contrast is highlighted by the Leopard 2’s ability to survive an ammunition detonation, while a similar event in a T-72 could obliterate both the tank and its crew. 

Before the invasion, Russia began installing improvised lattice armor on tanks to guard against Javelin missile attacks. However, this measure proved ineffective. While such grilles could protect a tank against drones, FPV kamikaze drones can simply target a different spot.

Other T-72 updates

The Russians have made several updates to their T-72 main battle tank over the years to improve its capabilities. One of the most significant updates was the addition of explosive reactive armor [ERA] to the tank’s hull and turret. An ERA is designed to detonate when struck by an incoming projectile, reducing the effectiveness of the attack and protecting the crew inside.

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Another update to the T-72 was the installation of a new fire control system [FCS]. The FCS includes a laser rangefinder and thermal imaging sights, which allow the crew to accurately identify and engage targets at longer ranges and in low-light conditions. The FCS also includes a ballistic computer that calculates the trajectory of the tank’s main gun and provides firing solutions to the crew.

The T-72’s engine has also been upgraded over the years to improve its performance. The tank’s original engine was a V-12 diesel that produced around 780 horsepower. Newer versions of the T-72 are equipped with more powerful engines, such as the V-92S2, which produces up to 1,130 horsepower. This allows the tank to move faster and more efficiently across the battlefield.

Finally, the Russians have also made updates to the T-72’s armor to improve its protection against modern anti-tank weapons. One of these updates is the addition of a new composite armor package, which includes layers of ceramic and metal plates that are designed to absorb and deflect incoming projectiles.

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