The T-72B is the new hotness but how hot is it? Lee takes a look and tries to work out where it sits.
The T-72B was introduced by the Soviet Union to further improve the armour protection of the T-72A already in service. The new tanks introduced larger cheeks in the turret for what was dubbed “Super Dolly Parton” BDD composite armour, as well as a layer of applique armour on the front of the hull.
The gun and sights were also upgraded to support compatibility with breech fired missiles and the engine was uprated to maintain mobility. The T-72B was quickly followed by the T-72BA that added Kontack-1 ERA blocks as a further layer of protection. All of this gave the Soviets a tank that could punch as hard as the T-64/T-80s whilst costing vastly less to procure and run, suitably for filling out the rest of the frontline force. The true measure of its success was the fact that it eventually became the numerically most important tank in the Russian inventory as the T-64 and T-80 started to be phased out, serving alongside the T-90, itself derived from the T-72.
In assessing the T-72B and its Soviet stable mates, I’m going to turn to the armoured triangle and consider:
Lethality – How does it do vs a target (an M1 and infantry) at various ranges (<16” and over 32”)
Survivability – Conversely, how does it fare when the enemy fires back. We’ll consider NATO fin rounds to the face, plus flank autocannon and Carl Gustav hits.
Mobility – The final defining point of a tank is its mobility. Can the tank deliver fire on the move? Can it be stopped by a hedge? Can it move like a greased whippet when it needs to.
Not part of the armoured triangle (itself a dated and limited assessment tool for armour, but sufficient for a wargame like WW3:TY) is the cost per tank. Its all very well being a high speed, invulnerable death machine, but if the equivalent cost of low-end tanks can do the job more effectively, then what’s the point?
Let’s first consider the export users in the Warsaw Pact. Here the T-72B (with its optional AT-8 Songster missile) has to contend with its older brother, the T-72M, as well as its grandfather in the form of the T-55, itself now sporting the very similar AT-10 missile as an option.
With an AT22 fin round defeating an M1’s FA18 50% of the time, the T-72B easily wins the <16” firefight, beating the T-72M’s AT21. At >32” it needs to switch to missiles and here its on par with the T-55’s AT-10. Unlike the T-55, the two T-72 have a “Brutal” HE round, making them equally effective versus dug-in infantry. Overall – The T-72B is the clear winner, coming top in one scenario and joint to in the other two.
The T-72B is a quantum leap over the rest of the non-Soviet Warsaw Pact. It can deflect a 105mm fin round easily, survive a Milan hit more often than not, and even stand a chance against a 120mm DU fin “silver bullet” round. On the flanks its got a good chance versus the NATO 35mm round and can completely ignore the Carl Gustav. It even has a chance of stopping the top-tier disposable missile, the APILAS.
The T-72B and T-55AM2 struggle versus a 105mm fin, can do little versus a Milan and can only hope for a 1 on the firepower check when hit by a Silver Bullet. The T-55AM2 is as good as the T-72B at withstanding NATO 35mm fire but it and the T-72M have no hope versus a Carl Gustav and even a M72 LAW may cause a sweat. Overall the T-72B easily wins this category.
The T-72M and -B are very evenly matched here. Both sport stabilisers to give the option of a 14” tactical move, with penalty. Both have equally good cross 3+ and decent dash speeds over all terrains. The -B has a slight edge in that it can fire a missile on the move, something the M can’t do (moving or otherwise). By comparison the T-55 is somewhat asthmatic in its dash, struggles to clear a hedge and gets a penalty even when moving 10” tactical. The missile firing versions need to stop to fire. Overall the T-72B comfortably beast the T-55 and has a small edge over the T-72M.
The T-72B is an expensive beast by Warsaw Pact terms. Its on a 2/3 ratio with the T-72M and a roughly 1/3 ratio with the T-55. Running some scenario, I had three standard M1 Abrams take on their points in T-72B (5), T-72M (8) and a combo of missile firing (7) and standard (8) T-55AM2. Assuming the M1 fought fairly dumb, an open field and first shots for the Warsaw Pact (an ideal, if unlikely, position) the two T-72 both suffered losses but had eliminated the M1. The missile firing T-55AM2 were dead in two turns but had killed an M1 and bailed another allowing the 8 non missile firing ones to start getting in position for close range fire. How it would proceed from there would depend on if the M1 had space to use their advanced stabilisers to pick their shots. Swapping the M1 for lower tier tanks (M60) made massed T-55 quite effective whilst higher tier tanks (M1A1) favoured the T-72B.
Warsaw Pact Conclusion
Overall, the cost of the T-72B offsets some of its effectiveness, but it still remains competitive and lends credence that the best force is going to use a combination of two or three of the three tanks, rather than just use the T-72B.
Let’s look at the Soviet Union. Here the T-72B is facing not only an older T-72 (T-72A) and a missile firing T-55AM, but also T-80s, T-64 and T-62M. It gains a boost on its missile shot (AT-10 offering AT22 at range, but at a bigger cost) but otherwise is the same as its export version.
All the 125mm guns fire at AT22 under 16” so there isn’t anything between the T-64, T-72 and T-80. The T-62M also isn’t far behind at AT21. Over 32”, differences start to appear as the missiles, or lack of, make a difference. The T-72B shares the same missile as T-80 and these two rule the roost. The T-64 with its AT21 missile comes in next (buoyed by its better fin round), followed by the missile firing T-62 and T-55 then come in, in that order. The T-72A comes in last, lacking a missile.
The T-80 is way out in front with its FA20 and SA10. It can ignore 105mm fire and shrug off 120mm fins more often that not. The T-72B follows with FA18, SA9 and ERA beating out BDD armour in the Carl Gustav scenario. The T-64 leads the BDD armour tanks with its FA17 and SA9 over the T-72 FA16 and SA 8, followed by the T-55 and T-62 with their bazooka skirts, FA14 and SA9.
The T-80 is again the clear winner with its impressive low cross, high dash and advanced stabilisers. The T-72B just loses out to the T-64 as the latter has advanced stabilisers rather than stabilisers. The T-72A, more or less the same as the T-72B save the ability to fire a missile, let alone on the move. The T-55 and T-62 then, eventually, cross the line, so long as the line doesn’t require a cross check.
The T-80 pays for its effectiveness with a cost of almost 8.5pts a tank with missiles. Without missiles, the T-72A, T-64 and T-72B sit in a cluster cover by 4-5pts a tank. The T-72B trades protection over the T-64’s mobility and its hard to make a call between the two. I have found the T-64’s advanced stabilisers handy for an aggressive strategy but, then again, I have also seen enough of them killed by Milan missiles. The T-72B just makes the T-72A seem like an even worse deal than it was before. T-62 Spam still feels like its in a good place; you’ll die in droves but seven T-62 with AT21 missiles for slightly more than the cost of three T-72B with AT22 missiles feels like a very threatening alpha strike. Just hope it’s a knock out blow.
The T-72B sits in an interesting place for the Soviets. It matches the T-80 in lethality, isn’t too shabby on protection and you can get four of them for every three T-80. Its biggest competition is likely the marginally cheaper T-64 which is more mobile but less hard hitting and less well protected. Players who prefer the missile spam of the T-62M will likely not be swayed away, though there is scope for having a small platoon of T-72B as formation support to act as a “in their face” distraction for the enemy whilst the T-62M blast away at range. Certainly the T-72B opens up some interesting options for the USSR when it comes to list building.