Staff Writer (Updated: 2/14/2016):
In 1963, the Red Army began use of the T-64 Main Battle Tank which formed the spearhead of Soviet armor strength during the critical years of the Cold War. The T-64 incorporated an automatic loader coupled to a 125mm smoothbore main gun capable of firing guided anti-tank missiles. Its arrival certainly forced the West to take notice as it represented the most modern Red Army tank of the time. The T-72 was then developed in short order as a simpler, economical counterpart to the T-64, though it ended up surpassing the T-64 in both numbers and world popularity (some 25,000 T-72 tanks were produced to the 13,000 T-64s). Soviet tank doctrine called for both tank types to serve concurrently and allowed for financial flexibility in the long term. As the T-64 was considered something of a "state secret" in terms of its technology and capabilities, it was not openly exported as the T-72 was.
As such, the T-64 remained the principle high-tech Soviet Main Battle Tank to lead the Red Army onto victory in the event of total war across Europe. In the late 1960s, thought was already being given to a new design built upon the inherent strengths of the T-64. Many developmental tank designs had been in play since the close of World War 2 (1939-1945) for the Soviets and many of these went on to lay the foundation of Soviet tank technologies to come. Such developments began to refine a gas turbine engine that would one day be used in powering an armored vehicle though tank engineers would have to wait for technology to catch up with the desire.
Object 288 was a tank testbed fitted with 2 x GTD-350 series aircraft turbine engines outputting at 690 horsepower. A second design, Object 219 SP1, utilized a single GTD-1000T multi-fuel gas turbine installation and this was able to output at 1,000 horsepower. After extensive testing of various chassis configurations, the Object 219 SP1 was modified into the refined Object 219 SP2 and it was this prototype that formed the basis of the "T-80". Design of the T-80 would span from 1967 until 1975 to which then serial production was ordered and the vehicle entered service in 1976 following the requisite army trials. Production of T-80s would last until 1992 to which 5,404 units would be delivered from LKZ and Omsk Transmash in Russia and Malyshev in the Ukraine. The gas turbine powerplant allowed for greater power over that of traditional diesel-fueled types at the expense of fuel consumption, general reliability and overall cost.
In keeping with Soviet tank design traditions, the T-80 managed a very low profile, exceptional inherent maneuverability and fielded a smoothbore main gun. The use of an autoloader in the turret reduced the traditional operating crew from four to three personnel to be made up of the driver (in the hull) and the commander and gunner (in the turret). The autoloader also allowed for a dimensionally shallower turret design and lighter overall weight. The tank's overall configuration was conventional with the engine at rear, the turret at center and the driver in front. The running gear of the T-80 consisted of six double-tired road wheels to a track side with the drive sprocket at the rear and the track idler at front. The upper track regions were protected over in side skirt armor. General armor protection is steel and composite which can be enhanced through add-on reactive armor blocks. Portions of the T-72's torsion bar suspension system was carried over into the T-80 which allowed for excellent inherent mobility for a vehicle of this weight class.
The T-80's primary armament was the 125mm 2A46-2 smoothbore main gun (same as on the T-72) residing in the front-center portion of the turret. The earlier T-80 marks had internal storage space for up to 36 x 125mm projectiles while newer variants housed up to 45. This could be made up of a mix of munitions to include HE-FRAG(FS), HEAT-FS and APFSDS-T projectiles as well as 9M112 or 9M119 laser-guided anti-tank missiles. Secondary armament was a 7.62mm PKT machine gun in a coaxial position. A 12.7mm NSVT or PKT series heavy machine gun took up the anti-aircraft role at the commander's cupola on the turret roof. The number of smoke grenade dischargers proved variable depending on the production model in question though at least eight were generally fitted (two banks of four launchers to each frontal turret facing.
The base SG-1000 gas turbine engine outputted at 1,000 horsepower. This was coupled to a transmission system featuring five forward and 1 reverse speed which allowed for an inherent operational range of 208 miles to be reached in theory. External tanks mounted along the rear of the hull could extent this to 270 miles under ideal conditions. Maximum road speed was 43 miles per hour while speeds of 30 miles per hour cross-country were attainable though largely based on the operating environment and driving habits.