T-72 (Ural) Main Battle Tank (MBT)
One of the most successful post-World War 2 tank designs, the Soviet-era T-72 Main Battle Tank succeeded the T-54/T-55 series systems.
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The Soviets/Russians have always maintained a penchant for successful (and globally popular) tank designs since they unveiled their war-winning T-34 Medium Tank during World War 2. The T-34 began a long-running history of capable, cost-effective combat machines designed to match - or in some cases surpass - available Western offerings. The Cold War-era T-72 proved no exception, granted with excellent speed for its class and an inherent reliability that is always require by the modern battlefield. Perhaps most important to procurement authorities, the T-72 was a budget-conscious end-product which could be produced in the tens of thousands during a period when every effort was being made to stay one step ahead of the United States and Europe in comparable developments. As such, the T-72 has gone on to see an extended service life in many foreign inventories and has undoubtedly proven an export success. With over 25,000 examples delivered, the T-72 ranks only second to the most successful post-World War 2 tank - the T-54/T-55 (with as many as 100,000 being built). In comparison, the wartime T-34 saw 84,000 units produced.
The T-72 originated as a design to counter the expensive nature of the technologically-advanced T-64 of 1963. The T-64 was the primary spearhead Soviet Main Battle Tank and introduced the D-81T 125mm smoothbore main gun. To this point, Western offerings relied on a rifled 105mm system and have since gone on to adopt a 120mm smoothbore design themselves. The T-64 also coupled the 125mm main gun with an automatic loader which reduced the crew size to three and contained overall operational weights to manageable levels while promoting a reduced profile on the horizon. The T-64B was the first Soviet tank line to support firing guided anti-tank missiles from the main gun barrel which broadened its tactical value considerably. However, its procurement costs proved limited and only 13,000 T-64 tanks were produced from 1951 to 1962 from plants originating in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
The prototype T-72 was born as the "Object 172" which evolved into the modified "Object 172M". Evaluations of this new vehicle were undertaken in 1971 and concluded the tank to be functional and capable, leading to its adoption as the "T-72" for the Red Army. Serial production began that same year, quickly replacing the T-55 and T-62 in production, and formal deliveries occurred the following. The T-72 was first unveiled to the public in the 1977 "May Day" parade and, amazingly, would retain its frontline status until the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991.