Russia sending 1970s T-72 tanks to fight modern Leopard, Challenger and Abrams tanks

The Russian Armed Forces are adding another older tank to their growing list of vehicles being refitted for the war effort in Ukraine and this time it’s the first model of T-72s that were produced in 1974 according to a Forbes report.

“The latest Russian museum tank to roll into combat is the T-72 Ural, the original model of the tank type that has been standard across the Russian and allied armies for five decades,” wrote Forbes’ David Axe.

Axe noted that the T-72 Ural is a lot like the modern upgraded T-72B3 tanks from 2023 on the outside but said there were several glaring differences once you started looking at the interior of these older tanks as well as their combat capabilities.

The T-72 Ural uses outdated infrared spotlights as a sort of crude night vision but the technology was outdated way back in the 1970s, which means the tank probably can’t fight at night according to Axe. Fighting during the day solves that problem but Axe noted the Ural was mostly steel and very vulnerable to drone, artillery, and mine strikes, as well as direct tank attacks.

“At its toughest spots, a Ural’s armor offers protection equivalent to just 400 millimeters of steel. That’s half the maximum protection that a Ukrainian Leopard 2A4 enjoys,” Axe wrote, meaning Russian tank crews would be at a serious disadvantage on the battlefield.

This isn’t the first time Russia has pulled older tanks out of its storage depots and refitted them for service on the front. Back in March, reports circulated that models even older than the T-72 Ural were filmed being shipped on trains to destinations unknown.

Russia began moving some of its oldest tanks out of long-term storage according to a March 21st report from an open-source Georgian intelligence group and some journalists at the time were predicting we would see those antique weapons fighting in Ukraine. 

“It’s a deeply ominous sign for Russian tank crews that the Kremlin has begun pulling 70-year-old T-54 and T-55 tanks out of long-term storage,” Forbes’ David Axe wrote in a separate report at the time. 

Axe added that the older tank models had been decommissioned by the Soviet Union over forty years ago but were probably being taken out of their storage depots “in order to recondition them for front-line service in Ukraine.”

Open-source researchers from Georgia’s Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT) were the first to report that T-54 and T-54 tanks had been spotted leaving storage and provided photographic and video proof of their claims which showed the tanks on trains in the Russian Far East. 

“The CIT team has obtained photographs of a train transporting military vehicles from Russia’s Far East,” the intelligence group wrote in a March 21st report on their website. 

“The CIT team has obtained photographs of a train transporting military vehicles from Russia’s Far East,” the intelligence group wrote in a March 21st report on their website. 

“We identified the vehicles as Soviet-era T-54/55 series tanks: T-54s as well as tanks which may be either late T-54 or T-55 tanks were both on that train,” CIT added.

The photo evidence of the older tanks on train cars was captured in Arsenyev, which was a big clue for explaining what Russia had planned for these outdated weapons. 

Aresenyev is home to Russia’s 1295th 1295th Central Tanks and Repair Storage Base, so it could be possible that the T-54 and T-55 models reported on by CTI were being refitted so that they could enter the conflict in Ukraine. 

“The researchers could not confirm that the tanks were being sent for use in combat on the front in Ukraine,” The Washington Post’s Francesca Ebel wrote, but added, “their use would signal trouble for Russia given Ukraine is now awaiting deliveries of Leopards,” tanks which have now mostly arrived in Ukraine. 

According to Ebel, Russian forces were caught fighting with older tanks in Ukraine before long before March 2023. “Last year, an elite Russian unit was found to be using T-62 tanks in Ukraine,” The Post journalist wrote, noting that they were “Soviet-era tanks… introduced in 1961.”

However, older tanks don’t necessarily mean less deadly tanks. The T-54 and T-55 models are still very capable weapons that could be used to great effect in Ukraine and the same would hold true for the T-72 Ural depending on how Russian forces employ them on the battlefield. 

The introduction of older T-72 Ural tanks could help alleviate the Russian army’s supply problem, but they also come with downsides, ones that were clearly outlined by David Axe in his reporting. How well a T-72 Ural will stand up to a Challenger II or Leopard tank still has yet to be seen, though it probably won’t go well for Russian crews. 

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