T-72: The Old Tank That Saved Russia in the Ukraine War (2024)

The T-72 Tank Won't Go Away: TheUkraine Warhas entered its third, hellish year. Both sides have sides suffered horrible losses. The frontlines have remained mostly static (with the Russians continuing to hold most of the territory that they had at the start of their illegal war in 2022).

The Ukraine War, however, is a snapshot of our future.

And it is more like a blast from the past. This war has all the worst aspects of the twentieth century’s wars. The Ukraine War has a brutal frontlinedefined by trench warfare, just like the First World War. From there, this frightful mix tape of twentieth-century warfare includesa constant cavalcade of 1970s-era weaponssystems dominating the battlespace.

Throw insome nuclear threatsfrom Moscow for good measure, too.

Oh, and as a bonus track, you’ve seen the way that drones—themost iconic weaponssystem of the Global War on Terror—have defined the Ukraine War as well.

At no point, however, has the magnificent, next-generation technologies that all great powers have been developing be used in the ways that their designers had intended. In fact, most of the sophisticated, newer systems that either Russia or the West has designed over the last 30 years are not really being fielded (there are some systems, but not many).

The Ukraine War is a Modern War Stuck in the Past

When Vladimir Putin cooked up his invasion of Ukraine, he envisioned a short, sharp, brutal war of technologized speed and maneuver. In Putin’s formulation, Russia’s invasion wouldgo quite likeUS President George W. Bush’s ill-fated flight of fancy into Iraq in 2003. Just as Bush thought his war in Iraq would go, once the Russian forces arrived, the country’s government would collapse, and he’d control the country.

Of course, that was not to be.

Much like the Iraq War for the Americans, though, the Ukraine War would transmogrify quickly from the easy, speedy assault by a larger power (Russia) against a smaller power (Ukraine) into a brutal, grinding, war of inches. The most iconic weapons of the Ukraine War were not theT-14 Armata tanksandSu-57 fifth-generation warplanes.

Instead, the definitive Russian weapons systems of the Ukraine War are the old Soviet-eraSu-27 warplaneandthe T-72 tank. The Russians have lost a staggering number of systems. Beyond that, a host of other platforms that Moscow thought would work as advertised, have not worked. After suffering heavy losses of their armor on the battlefield, Russian forces have switched over to theiraforementioned old T-72 Main Battle Tank (MBT).

And, while Ukraine’s ridiculous X, formerly Twitter, “NAFO” bot army has celebrated this turn, what they fail to realize is that the Ukrainians have suffered staggering losses at the hands of the Russians—and unlike the Russians, Ukraine’s forces have been degraded whereas the Russian forces have continued marching on.

Ukraine’s military, too, is forced to rely upon mostly antique systems handed to them by NATO as well as systems leftover from the old Soviet days.

Don’t Knock the T-72

AsForbesreportedin November of last year after more Russian units were being reequipped with the old Soviet T-72 MBT following heavy losses of their newer systems in the Ukrainian meatgrinder, “It’s further evidence that, despite a heroic effort on the part of Kremlin planners to expand production of more modern tank models, steep losses in Ukraine continue to drag the Russians into the past.”

Maybe it’s a good thing.

After all, the Ukraine War is a war of numbers and time. Russia has both in its corner. And the older Russian systems seem to be doing well for the Russians.Because theRussians are beating Ukraine,despite generous Western aid and support.

The Russians, like the Americans, did not have a sufficient number of advanced systems in reserve. So, when their more complex—and expensive—platforms were lost or damaged in combat, grave strategic gaps in their capabilities were formed. To plug these gaps and proven the Ukrainians from exploiting these weaknesses, Russia turned to their older, in fact, more reliable platforms to get them through this crucible.

With theirsuperior defense industrial base,Russia has been churning out these old Soviet systems like sausages.

There’s no other way to say it, though. Russia, like all major powers, is at a point when its most sophisticated platforms are simply too expensive to mass produce and deploy in such a way that losing these units in combat would not be onerous for their overall force posture. Moscow can count its lucky red star that it has massive numbers of these older systems in reserve.

Neither NATO nor the United States, however, have such luck.

The West is Unprepared for WWIII

If a great power war were to erupt, multiple platforms would be deployed—and likely lost in the conflict—and there’d be little chance of having any replacements on hand for these systems.

That alone could mean that the United Statesloses the next great power war. The next great power war will likely see the negation of the whizbang, next-generation technologies early in the fight. This would force the combatants to rely on older systems.

T-72: The Old Tank That Saved Russia in the Ukraine War (1)

And these systems would have to be in abundance and have a large enough industrial base to mass produce them in reliable timeframes.

Russia, China, and their autocratic allies have this right now. The West lacks this. You can see that on display in Ukraine.

About the Author

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, the Asia Times, and The-Pipeline. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower, Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. His next book, A Disaster of Our Own Making: How the West Lost Ukraine, is due October 22 from Encounter Books. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

All images are from Shutterstock.

T-72: The Old Tank That Saved Russia in the Ukraine War (2024)

FAQs

How many T-72s does Russia have left? ›

As of February 2023, the Russian Army operates 400 T-72B/BA, 500 T-72B3, and 250 T-72B3M tanks; the Russian Naval Infantry operates 170 T-72B/B3/B3Ms; the Russian Airborne Forces operates 50 T-72B3/B3M; while the 1st Army Corps and 2nd Army Corps operates some T-72A and T-72B tanks.

How many T-72 tanks does Ukraine have? ›

Main battle tanks
ModelOriginNumber
T-64Soviet Union Ukraine578 410 210 100
T-72Soviet Union Czechoslovakia Czech Republic Poland North Macedonia Morocco Slovenia Romania Bulgaria Russia Ukraine130 230+90 ~300+ 117 (T-72 Avenger)
T-80Soviet Union Russia Ukraine~130 156+
T-84Ukraine5
8 more rows

Is the T-72A good tank? ›

The T-72 is the most widely used main battle tank in the world. It has been manufactured in six countries, is in service with the armies of 35 nations and has fought in all the major wars of the last 20 years. The striking feature of T-72 is the low profile.

How many T-72s exist? ›

The T-72 is a family of Soviet main battle tanks that entered production in 1969. The T-72 was a development based on the T-64 using thought and design of the previous Object 167M. About 25,000 T-72 tanks have been built, and refurbishment has enabled many to remain in service for decades.

How much is a T-72 tank worth? ›

The price of a new T-72 tank ranges from $3-4 million, depending on the configuration, while an older Soviet T-72 can cost as low as half a million dollars. Additionally, five Russian soldiers were eliminated and three more were injured. A Russian dugout was also destroyed.

How much army does Russia have left? ›

Russia's armed forces now have around 1.1 million active troops across all branches, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' 2024 Military Balance database, 500,000 of which are in the army. Moscow has another 1.5 million people in reserve across all services.

How thick is T-72 armor? ›

Hull side armor

The flanks of the T-72's hull consists of rolled steel plates, which were welded together. The thickness of the upper plates (covering approximately 60% of the height) is 80 mm, while the lower section is covered by 20 mm thick steel plates at 60° angle from the vertical.

How many tanks does Ukraine have left? ›

Ukraine's tank strength

Ukraine's Armed Forces possessed less than 1,800 tanks as of 2024, which was more than eight times less than Russia's. To support Ukraine during the Russian invasion, several Western countries made commitments to deliver tanks to Ukraine, including Leopard 2, Challenger 2, and M1 Abrams.

How many Abrams have been lost in Ukraine? ›

The 67-tonne Abrams, with its fuel-guzzling gas turbine engine, has proven easy to detect on the battlefield, and five of the 31 have already been lost – most recently in the Ukrainian retreat from Avdiivka.

Where is the weak spot on the T-72? ›

Do keep in mind that because of the design of the carousel autoloader, the ammunition charges are not placed vertically, but horizontally. This means that the ammunition weakspot is located toward the bottom half of the hull.

What is the most badass tank in the world? ›

The Top 10 Tanks on Planet Earth Right Now
  • British Challenger 2. The British Challenger-2 is one of the most overhyped MBTs imaginable. ...
  • German Leopard II. This tank is one of the most advanced MBTs in the world. ...
  • Russian T-14 Armata. ...
  • Chinese T-99. ...
  • Korean K2 Black Panther. ...
  • French Leclerc XL.
May 4, 2024

Can Russian tanks reverse? ›

Russian tanks are notoriously slow in reverse. This was intentional by Soviet tank designers.

Has Russia run out of tanks? ›

But these old vehicles are a finite resource. Built during the Soviet Union's industrial heyday, they cannot be replaced with new production. Ominously for the Russians, the most recent projections anticipate that, as early as mid-2025, there won't be any more old tanks and fighting vehicles left in storage.

How many rounds can a T-72 carry? ›

The tank when fully loaded carried 39 rounds with an effective shooting range of 2000-3000m in the daylight and 850-1300m at night. The T-72 is powered by a V-46 diesel engine, developing 780 horsepower, using six large roadwheels similar to those on the T-55 and T-62 series tanks.

How big is the gun in the T-72? ›

It is equipped with a 125 mm cannon with a smooth barrel having the range of fire of 4,500 meters. With the use of a 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun, it is possible to attack low-flying targets. A 7.62 mm machine gun is coaxial with the cannon.

How many T-14 Armatas does Russia have? ›

Defense Intelligence of Ukraine reports: according to the available data, russia has about 20 T-14 Armata main battle tanks at its disposal, all of them from the prototype batch. Still, as of the end of 2023, the T-14 Armata had not passed state tests and had not been adopted by the russian army.

How many t90s has Russia lost in Ukraine? ›

As of 5 June 2024, Oryx blog had documented that Russia had lost at least 142 T-90s since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (visually confirmed), including 38 T-90A (of which 25 were destroyed, 1 damaged, 2 abandoned, 10 captured), 1 T-90AK (1 captured), 8 T-90S (7 destroyed, 1 abandoned) and 95 T-90M (51 ...

How many new tanks can Russia produce? ›

The Russian defense industry is able to produce at least 100 main battle tanks per month. This allows Russian troops to replenish battlefield losses and sustaine the current pace of hostilities.

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