I was recently lucky enough to spend a day with the 73rd Tank Battalion (Czech Army) and the T72M4 CZ. This vehicle is based on the original T-72 (second generation) but with complete modernisation to the level of a third generation variant.
The T72 has been in use with the Czech Army since 1981, and plans have been drawn up for a substantial modernisation programme. Amongst a host of “wants”, the plan included better protection, both from enemy and from the effects of radiation and chemical agents.
Initially, there were debates about whether to purchase the T72S and later the T72S1. However, these plans were shelved, mainly due to financial (and political) constraints.
In 1995, a manufacturing competition was opened, and VOP 025 (Military Repair Plant 025) was selected as the prime contractor for the Czech programme of the new T72M1.Two prototypes were completed – the T72M3 and the M4.
The only real difference between these two vehicles (M3 and M4) is the power pack. The M4 has the new CV-12-TCA Condor, a component familiar to me. Where had I encountered it before? Well, it’s the same British Perkins engines that are used for the Challenger 2, only rated at 1000 HP rather than the 1200 HP of the Challenger 2.
Why does it have a lower output? Compare the weights:
The main advantages of the NPP 2000-1 Power Pack (according to the sales pitch) are:
The transmission is the US developed Allison Transmission XTG-411-6. It is fully automatic, with four forward and two reverse gears.
The day started with a drive (wet) out onto the training area, followed by various displays of the manoeuvrability of the vehicle
The demonstration of the speed across a bridge was impressive (there was some air time, as you see in the video). At least it was for the spectators anyway… the Commander emerged afterwards looking rather “shaken”! Something that was immediately noticeable for a “Challenger” man was the lack of hydro-gas suspension.
|Crossing a water obstacle. The tank is capable, with the snorkel fitted, of crossing through water up to five metres deep.|
The tank is armed with the 2A46 (D-81TM) 125mm Smoothbore main armament.
It has an autoloader (Below), which for a British Tankie is always an interesting debate. It is fully stabilised, retaining the fume extractor, and is also equipped with a Muzzle Reference System. This is similar to the Challenger 2, and provides a quick method for the gunner to check that there is an accurate relationship between the gun and the sight.
The installed fire control system is an Italian Officine TURMS-T (Tank Universal Reconfigurable Modular System), which reduces the time taken for engagements. It also increases the likelihood of a first round hit. The heart of the system is the TMC (Turret Management ballistic Computer) which replaced the K1 box.
Both the Gunner and the Commander have stabilised primary sights, with both Day and Night Mode. The Gunner also has a laser range finder.
The Commander’s sight is very similar to that of the Challenger 2 in both configuration and use, allowing for “Hunter/Killer” target engagements. This means the Commander can now identify and designate targets whilst the Gunner is conducting another engagement. Night ranges are quoted as up to 4,200m.
As for “headgear”, I thought it was extremely comfortable compared to our British head guards. However, the crew all said that after prolonged wearing they are not so great!
|Commander Sight. Magnification- Day x4 +x 12. Night x5 + x13||Gunners Sight|
A host of new sensors have also been incorporated, including a turret sensor and a meteorological sensor. This will feed ambient weather conditions, wind strength, speed etc. into the computer, adjusting the ballistic data, and adding further improvement to the chances of a first round strike.
Of particular interest was a quote of an 80% increase in strike probability while engaging a moving target at 2000m.
The Commander has a new fixed cupola with the stabilised panoramic sight mounted on it. Just to the right is the new 12.7 mm gun support. Mounted (below) is the 7.62mm PKT
In addition, the vehicle now hosts the Polish PCO SSC-1 laser warning system. This can detect whether the vehicle has been detected with laser-spotting devices. It can also identify the direction of the threat.
|Laser Warning System sensors – clearly visible.||SSC-1 Laser warning system|
Another addition is the integration of a German Kidde Deugra fire detection and suppression system. As the name suggests, this is an automatic system designed to deal with the outbreak of fire.
As well as composite armour, Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) has also been added, consisting of numerous blocks mounted on the glacis plate, front and turret roof.
Called DYNA (Dynamic Armour), it was designed in Poland and offers a degree of protection against Kinetic Energy rounds such as APFSDS (Armour Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot) and Chemical Energy Rounds such as HESH (High Explosive Squash Head).
I have already pointed out the multinational input into this vehicle, but many local Czech companies were involved as well. Synthesia developed the enhanced 125mm APFSDS-T Ammunition and Letecké Přístroje Praha SRO developed the NBV-97 GPS. Also locally designed is the Metra Blansko SP System, designed to neutralise mines with a magnetic fuse.
This all means that the T72M4 CZ hosts both active and passive defence.
I have attempted in this very limited space to highlight some of the key modifications. There are many more, and it would be easy to write a book on the subject.
I have driven and fired from older variants of the T72 and have to say that this is a world apart. To compare the M4 to the original is like comparing the Challenger 1 to the Challenger 2.
It’s a capable vehicle, although definitely not comfortable, and the idea of spending long periods closed down in this would not be something I would relish. The crew compartments are cramped, but the height and therefore the mass to be engaged is low.
It’s agile, accurate, and offers a fair degree of protection for the crew.
This is a trusted and proven design, now with third generation capability.
I wish to offer my huge thanks to the guys from the 73rd Tank Battalion of the Czech Army for a wonderful day. Thank you for letting a Brit Tankie loose on your vehicle.