When introduced in the 1970s, the Soviet T-72 Main Battle Tank (MBT) became an export success for Soviet allies of the Cold War period - some 25,000 were produced for service worldwide. Operators included Czechoslovakia which eventually managed several hundred of the type in inventory. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, followed by Czechoslovakia in 1993, the newly-born Czech Republic inherited this stock of tanks and continued in their operational use. In time, about thirty were called to be upgraded to a newer, more modern local standard designated "T-72M4 CZ".
The T-72M4 CZ stands as a comprehensive reworking of the base T-72M1 production model. Nearly all major facets of the fighting machine have been reworked or replaced including the powerpack, crew positions, and vehicle survivability. Some of the work was made possible by foreign companies such as NIMDA of Israel. A fully digitally-assisted main gun has added lethality and a laser range-finder / thermal system had been built into the commander's position (as has day and night panoramic sighting devices). A laser warning system (of Polish origin) has improved crew and tank survivability by enhancing situational awareness. The engine is now an American Perkins CV12-1000 water-cooled diesel unit of 1,000 horsepower output and this is mated to an American Allison XTG-411-6 automatic transmission system. The main gun remains the same Soviet-era 125mm smoothbore fit but all-new ammunition has been locally developed for it, increasing penetration values at range (however the gun stabilization hardware is a carry-over).
Beyond expanded use of Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) blocks for self-defense, the vehicle retains electronically-actuated smoke grenade dischargers to produce a self-screening effect. Side skit armor enhances protection from side attacks to the upper track system. Due to its originating in the T-72 design, the T-72M4 CZ also shares the original tank's low profile and three-man crew (as well as autoloader for the main gun).
The changes have produced a heavier combat vehicle as a result but one that is more powerful and better-protected than previously fielded. However, the resulting commitment has also produced a T-72 offshoot that is reliant on foreign-born components and this has triggered escalating per-unit cost. The Czech Army originally ordered some 350 of the new standard to come from its existing T-72 stock but this total was reduced to 140 units due to budgetary constraints. Additional pressure forced just thirty of the vehicles to be covered under a revised contract commitment.
Work on the series spanned from 2003 to 2006. The VT-72M4 CZ is an Armored Recovery Vehicle (ARV) based on the T-72M4 CZ.