The T-72 main battle tank was developed by the Soviet Union in 1967 and equipped with the Soviet Army in 1973. The design of the T-72 tank inherited the consistent combat thinking of the Soviet army, which was to overwhelm the opponent with a numerical advantage. So the biggest feature is that it is very convenient for mass production. In fact, the output of T-72 main battle tanks has exceeded 25,000, which is the largest output of main battle tanks after World War II.

The T-72 retains the unique low profile of Soviet-made tanks and the tradition of focusing on firepower. It is equipped with a 125mm large-caliber tank gun and a series of advanced equipment, such as gun-launched missiles and automatic loading machines. The T-72 tank debuted at the Red Square military parade commemorating the 60th anniversary of the October Revolution in November 1977.

It is the representative of the third-generation main battle tank after the war. The T-72 tank is simple to manufacture, reliable and durable. It can be called another masterpiece of the Soviet Union after the T-34 tank. Synonymous with Soviet tanks. At the same time, it gave NATO great deterrence. It became an opportunity to stimulate the United States to develop the M1 main battle tank.

Figure 2: T-72 is almost synonymous with Soviet tanks

Although the T-72 uses a lot of the technology of the previous generation of T-64 tanks, it also has most of the basic technical features of the third-generation tanks, but its technological level still has a certain gap with the world’s mainstream third-generation tanks. The editor personally thinks that, to be precise, the T-72, like the Israeli Merkava 1 tank, is a quasi-third-generation tank.

It can be regarded as the prototype of the third-generation tank. However, during the T-72’s service, until 1985, the main opponent of the T-72 was still the second-generation Western tank M60, the Merkava 1 and 2 and their improved models, and the T-72 was defeated. These opponents still don’t have much problem.

However, the T-72 can only compete with the early third-generation Western tanks, such as the M1 basic model. Once the Western tanks have more technology than the T-64, the T-72 will be difficult to deal with. Many people compare the M1 with the T-72.

In fact, they are ten years behind in terms of production time alone. Ten years is a long time for the development of tank technology, so they can hardly be regarded as the same. Tanks of an era, so this comparison is naturally meaningless. Compared with the T-72, the M1 main battle tank has made considerable progress in all aspects of technology. In fact, the M1 was originally a product developed to restrain the T-72.

The M1 tank uses an extremely advanced command ceremony digital tank fire control system, with an epoch-making digital ballistic computer, laser rangefinder and thermal imager, which is much higher than the T-72. The M1A1 main battle tank uses the Rh120 120mm smoothbore gun of the German Rheinland company, which greatly exceeds the T-72’s 125mm main gun in terms of range and accuracy. 

There are also many new technologies, including gas turbines, Chobham armor, and more. Since the United States was worried at the beginning that the M1A1 main battle tank was not 100% sure of winning against the T-72, it used the latest scientific and technological achievements at the time, that is, the latest M1A1HA main battle tank that used depleted uranium armor and depleted oil armor-piercing bullets. The strike power, defense power, and fire control system far exceed T-72. 

Especially the M1A1’s depleted uranium armor, the T-72 main gun with an armor-piercing capability of only 350mm homogeneous steel plate cannot penetrate at all. The protection of this depleted uranium armor was epoch-making at the time. At that time, no main gun in the world could penetrate it, not even the M1’s own depleted uranium bomb.

Figure 4: The T-72 is taking the path of mass production and winning by quantity

The depleted uranium armor-piercing projectile fired by the M1A1’s 120mm artillery, coupled with advanced fire control technology, can accurately destroy the T-72 at a distance of 1,000 meters outside the range. In the Gulf War in 1991, the multinational forces led by the United States mainly relied on M1A1 and British Challenger 2 tanks and destroyed hundreds of T-72 tanks equipped by Iraq almost unscathed. Like propeller aircraft, it is very natural to achieve such results.

It’s not that the performance of the T-72 is poor but relatively speaking. Of course, there was no chance of winning against M1A2, Challenger, Leopard 2, and Type 99 tanks in the 1980s. After all, the T-72 itself is actually a castrated version of the T-64, especially the castrated armor protection, so it is suitable for large-scale equipment and export.

But in the second half of the 20th century, there was no large-scale tank battle with a torrent of steel. After finally being able to pull it out for a walk, it was hanged and beaten by the RPG placed on the roof of the building in the street fighting in Chechnya. In the Gulf War, it was completely crushed by the multinational forces led by the United States, integrating air and ground with high technology.