In order to examine the T-72 more closely, we must initially verify the veracity of this claim. They contend that the presence of artillery, unmanned aerial vehicles, and handheld anti-tank missiles render them exceptionally susceptible in contemporary warfare and pose an impractical danger to their operators. Numerous photographs depicting destroyed turrets and charred remains have garnered global attention, leading some to declare the demise of tanks in its entirety. This particular T-72, which you may identify as one of the tanks that endured significant damage throughout the conflict in Ukraine.
This is a tank designed for army conscripts, which is easy to produce and reliable. Although the T-72 is cheap, its most important feature is its ruggedness. However, it struggles with accuracy when fired on the move. The gun on this tank is very powerful, measuring 125 millimeters, which is much larger than its NATO contemporary tanks. Additionally, it has an extremely low profile achieved by reducing the crew to just three. Weighing just over 40 tons, it is maneuverable and quick. It is widely used as one of the most battle tanks in the world for a good reason. It first entered service in the early 1970s.
If they had major upgrades, that’s why they are taking such heavy losses. But the T-72B3s in service in Ukraine are modernized Russian T-72s, featuring improved thermal imaging sights and upgraded reactive explosive armor. However, our tank here at Duxford IWM is an export version with thinner armor, called T-72M.
Ukraine has employed drones effectively, particularly when targeting slow-moving Russian armored convoys. In addition to infantry-carried anti-tank guided missiles, there has also been extensive utilization of portable anti-armor weapons like the Javelin and the NLAW. These weapons have the ability to strike the top of the tank, where it is least protected, by arcing down from a higher angle. It is worth noting that the T-72, among other things, is becoming increasingly vulnerable in the face of more advanced weapon systems used for defense. Samir Puri, author of “Russia’s Road to War with Ukraine,” shares these observations.
The Russian crews that leave are very vulnerable, but it is helpful for a Cold War conscript army. Storing ammunition here, the cheaper and lighter smaller vehicle is kept. This was a priority question for the Soviets. If the storage compartment gets hit, it can cause a chain reaction, blowing off the clean turret. The ammunition in the T-72 sits directly beneath the crew and turret. While tanks in the western countries tend to store their ammunition in the back of the turret, away from the crew. These new weapons have exacerbated one major design flaw of the T-72, its ammunition storage.
In a victorious display, the Ukrainians paraded the carcasses of T-72 tanks in the center of Kiev, defending their capital and defeating the Russian assault. Perhaps if the Russians had used their tanks in a more coordinated combined arms operation, they wouldn’t have seen Russian tanks in the center of Kiev. Of course, there are now questions being asked about how much attrition the Russian armored forces have suffered in the invasion of Ukraine, and whether the tank is actually dead, as Puri Samir suggests.
The main battle tank, designed to be used in this way, has largely been absent in the combined arms warfare in Ukraine. Before becoming a standard practice in the deep battle doctrines of the Soviet Union and the blitzkrieg tactics of the Germans during World War II, this approach was first developed and successfully deployed by the Allies during World War I, where aircraft, artillery, tanks, and infantry were deployed in concert to break the trench deadlock in 1918. Known as combined arms warfare, this offensive approach is the core of modern warfare. The problem lies not in the tank itself, but rather in the way the Russians have employed their armor.
Puri Samir, we don’t really see this kind of tight combined arms operations being mounted by the Russians. Instead, we saw that the Russians were often moving their positions, as the defending positions were still very well defended and the Russians hadn’t softened the war that has moved on the sixth, seventh, and eighth month. I have changed tack very much to guess that the bombardment of the cities they want to reduce them to ashes before rolling in forces has basically changed. Those remaining defenders that pick off the Russians in a quite brutal and discriminatory manner.
The T-72 Cold War tank was specifically designed for battles where there are no massed tank engagements. In fact, engagements in Ukraine involve much smaller scales with clashing companies and platoons. Additionally, the absence of close air support is also a crucial factor in the lack of tank support for combined arms operations.
Interestingly, over the past seven or eight months, we have observed a significant increase in the combat aircraft attrition rate among the Russian forces, as they have been deploying their air resources more effectively to cover their fixed positions. It is worth noting that both sides have effective aerial defense systems, which can be deployed to protect their positions. Early on in the invasion, there was a lot of aerial activity and intense fighting, as Samir Puri mentioned.
Russia has now launched a much larger mobilization of manpower to fix this problem, but there are already questions about the morale and supply quality of these new soldiers, as well as the equipment and troops that have already been expended. In the early months of the war, Russia had little infantry to protect its tanks, especially in urban settings, which resulted in a severe manpower crisis. Before they knew what was happening, it seemed like guerrilla operations were almost happening, with guided anti-tank missiles taking out Russian armor and getting close to them.
Ukrainians are able to capture intact T-72s, which is a testament to the lack of proper support from Russian headquarters. Some Russian PWOs complain about the lack of supplies and equipment, meaning that they have either run away or given up. While Ukrainians are able to steal Russian military equipment, Russians are stealing Ukrainian land.
Russian armored vehicles, positioned miles away from the front line, have become significant contributors to the ongoing conflict, despite the varying challenges they encounter. Tanks continue to play a vital role in the battle, despite Russia’s shift towards a defensive strategy.
I don’t think that relying solely on a simple trench, which the Russians are using for protection, will be enough in the modern warfare. The downside of using a more advanced drone warfare apparatus, like the sophisticated aerial sensory system combined with operation arms, is that the tank’s turret is the only visible part. This old-fashioned infantry technique of parking the tank in a trench is well-known for its offensive capabilities as well as being the main course of the tank battle.
Ukrainian forces are using their main battle tanks, such as the T-64s, to recapture territory in both the eastern and southern parts of the country. This brings us the most compelling evidence that the tank is not obsolete.