Ukraine’s 22nd Brigade operates modern T-72 tanks but also has the most outdated models, showing the patchwork of many Kyiv units.

Oleg Marzoev, a reserve officer in the Russian army, on June 29 posted a video of Ukrainian tanks being disabled during a failed raid near the village of Zherebyanki in Zaporizhzhia province. It is worth noting in the video that the T-72 tank of the 22nd Ukrainian Mechanized Brigade, but fitted with the heavy-duty wheel of the much outdated T-62 tank.

This image reflects the fact that the Ukrainian army is having to launch the “patchwork” tank-equipped brigades to strengthen the combat force on the Zaporizhzhia front, in the context of the units using Western weapons suffered great losses in the counter-offensive campaign.

The Ukrainian army has formed more than 20 new brigades to serve the large-scale counter-offensive campaign launched at the beginning of the month. Nine of these brigades are trained abroad, equipped with tanks, armor and weapons of NATO standards. These are considered modern “iron fist” units with good combat ability and good coordination ability, playing the role of leading Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive campaign.

The rest are mixed brigades, staffed with Soviet-made assets combined with a number of battalions using Western weapons. One of them is the 22nd Mechanized Brigade, a unit of about 2,000 troops, operating PT-91, T-72AMT and T-72 Ural main tanks.

“The mixed brigades are considered the backbone of the Ukrainian army as the hostilities enter their 17th month. It is remarkable that these units have not yet appeared on the front lines; they are still training in the safe zone in the  Northern and western Ukraine or keep troops in the rear to be ready to deploy when ordered,” said David Ax, a military analyst at Forbes.

The Ukrainian military maintained the 22nd Mechanized Brigade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, this unit and many ground brigades were disbanded due to budget shortages in the early 2000s.

The insignia of the “22nd Mechanized Brigade” was restored by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry late last year as Kyiv strengthened its army. The country’s armed forces formed so many new brigades that they ran out of numbers to allocate according to regulations.

The 22nd Brigade began training in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv before February but has only appeared in the media since late May.

Published images show that the 22nd Brigade operates Soviet-standard equipment including BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers, 2S1 Gvozdika and 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled howitzers, and artillery. short-range air defense ZU-23.

“The difference of the 22nd brigade is the tank force, consisting of at least one battalion with 30 units of three different versions of the T-72 series. This unit is in possession of one of the new and modern variants. Most of the T-72 series, alongside the most outdated and featureless models,” Ax said.

The best tank in the service of the 22nd Brigade is the Polish-built PT-91 model. It was based on the T-72M1 platform, a reduced export version of the Soviet T-72A series, which replaced the engine, transmission, fire control system, sight and automatic loader. The vehicle is also equipped with Polish-made Erawa explosive reactive armor blocks.

The result is a tank with the same shape, crew and firepower as the original T-72M1 but with higher speed and survivability. The most important feature is a modern fire control system with a two-way stabilizer cluster, which greatly increases the accuracy of firing in the advancing state, replacing the primitive and continuous stabilizer cluster that requires alignment of the T-72M1.

“PT-91 is a superior tank compared to the T-72M1 series born in the 1980s. The modern sight and fire control system makes it not inferior to the domestic T-64BV series of Ukraine and other tanks. The West supports Leopard 2,” Ax assessed.

Poland has given Ukraine at least 60 PT-91 vehicles and hundreds of original T-72M/M1s. 31 PT-91s appear to be assigned to the 117th Mechanized Brigade, one of the units using standard Western weapons. The remaining PT-91 tanks were allocated to many other brigades.

The rest of the 22nd Brigade is the T-72AMT tank and the upgraded T-72 Ural model, of which the T-72AMT is Ukraine’s own upgrade package to increase the combat capabilities of the Soviet-era T-72A.

Ukraine's Patchwork Tank Brigade
The upgraded T-72 Ural tank of the 22nd Brigade participated in training in April. Photo: Ukrainian Defense Forces

The T-72 Ural, born in 1973, was the first mass-produced variant of this tank, using an optical rangefinder. This is considered the most outdated model and has the worst combat performance of the T-72 series.

The improved version of the T-72A, which entered service in 1979, is more defensive thanks to the addition of complex armor, a laser rangefinder and an electronic fire control system.

One drawback of the original T-72 Ural and T-72A is the active night vision system, which includes infrared headlights and a viewfinder. This makes it easier for the tank to reveal its position and come under fire if faced with forces equipped with night vision goggles.

The upgraded Ukrainian version of the T-72AMT and Ural overcomes this problem by equipping them with passive night vision goggles that amplify ambient light, making them difficult to detect by conventional night vision goggles.

However, these upgrade packages cannot help the Ukrainian T-72 tank deal with Russia’s most powerful defensive weapon today, a dense minefield. This world’s largest minefield is considered the biggest obstacle that prevents Ukraine from penetrating the Russian line.

” Ukraine lost more than 500 tanks in the fighting and had to withdraw a lot of equipment from storage, including the T-72 Urals born half a century ago. The 22nd Brigade is not an equipped unit. Ukraine’s best or worst, but is an example of how Kyiv is using all supplies, even the most patchy, to secure the equipment for a large number of newly formed brigades,” Ax said.