Not one to rest of its laurels concerning its military power, the Iranian Army took to modernizing its extensive fleet of T-55 tanks to the new indigenous "T-72Z" standard. The local concern of Defense Industries Organization of Iran (better known as DOI) was charged with the program and ultimately delivered a revamped 40-ton vehicle with improved performance and capabilities. The modernized form still largely retains the simple lines of the original Soviet design with a few exceptions.
The T-72Z relies on the American 105mm M68 rifled main gun over that of the original (and outmoded) 100mm Soviet guns. The 105mm types were gained from Iran's procurement of American M60A1 Patton Main Battle Tanks prior to the fall of the Shah. As such, the Iranian Army benefitted from inheriting these combat systems and have since utilized various components to mix-and-match all-new modern combat systems. The main gun is mated to a Slovenian Fontana EFCS-3 series digital fire control system which allows for firing on the move and improved accuracy at range (the main gun is stabilized across both axis). The T-72Z also sports a Ukrainian V-46-6 V12 liquid-cooled diesel-fueled engine outputting at 780 horsepower. This supplies the tank with a top speed of 65 kmh and an operational range out to 440 kilometers. An external fuel drum can be fitted to the rear of the hull for increased operational ranges as required. The track system remains faithful to the original and includes the five double-tired road wheels (with the identifiable gap between the first and second wheel pairs) with the drive sprocket at the rear and the track idler at the front. Track return rollers manage the upper track sections which are protected by optional skirt armor. Like all Soviet/Russian tanks, the T-72Z manages a very low profile to make for a more difficult target to spot. Defense is provided by the original 12.7mm heavy and 7.62mm medium machine guns - the latter coaxially mounted in the turret and intended for infantry; the former intended for low-flying aircraft. Armor protection ranges up to 203mm at its thickest facing (front of the turret) and is designed to defeat all manner of projectiles and anti-tank munitions. In concert with battlefield developments elsewhere, the T-72Z can also make use of explosive reactive armor (ERA) blocks to help contend with the new breed of anti-tank guided missiles used by the West. The vehicle is suspended atop a conventional torsion bar suspension system. Air conditioning, power steering and a fire suppression system are all believed standard. A laser range finding may fit into the scope of the design as this is a rather standard offering globally. An integrated laser warning device alerts the crew to incoming enemy tracking threats and can actuate the 2 x 4 banks of electrically-operated smoke grenade dischargers to screen the vehicle. Additionally, the T-72Z retains the Soviet-style tank ability to generate its own smokescreen by injecting raw fuel into the exhaust, create a smoke system emanating from the left side of the rear hull.
Compared to Western main battle tank offerings (the American M1 Abrams, British Challenger 2 and German Leopard II series), the T-72Z is a tactically limited machine. Western types operate through more powerful engine installations and utilize 120mm main guns along with advanced countermeasure systems - though they are vastly more expensive to procure, operate and maintain than modernized T-54/T-55 types. The T-72Z is an obvious budget-conscious initiative that would serve the Iranian Army well in a localized or regional conflict better than all-out war with the West. The T-72Z remains on par with M60A3 Patton Main Battle Tanks and like-minded designs worldwide.
Iran has undertaken similar programs to upgrade its existing fleet of T-54 and Type 59 (Chinese T-54A) tanks to which these are identified under the "Safir-74" and "Type 72Z" designations respectively.
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