The T-80 is a main battle tank which was designed in the Soviet Union and entered service in 1976. A development of the T-64, it was the first production tank in the world to be equipped with a gas turbine engine for main propulsion (the Stridsvagn 103 used a supplementary gas turbine by 1971). An advanced derivative, the T-84, continues to be produced in Ukraine. The T-80 and its variants are in service in Belarus, Cyprus, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, and Ukraine. The T-80U and T-80UM modifications are currently in production in Omsk, Russia. The chief designer of the T-80 was the Russian engineer Nikolay Popov.
One of the T-80's advantages is the small size of the tank (projection is about half to three quarters that of the U.S. M1 Abrams, depending on the aspect) and optimal internal volume (about half of the M1's, but a bit roomier for the crew than the T-72). This gives high armour to volume ratio (one of protection indices).
The ammunition is stored in the most protected area—below the crew inside the crew compartment in the autoloader carousel. This means that if the tank is penetrated, the ammunition can cook off, killing the crew and blowing the turret into the air. In most western tanks, like the M1 Abrams, only part of ammunition is stored inside the crew compartment and can cook off too; however, to protect the crew this ammunition is usually stored in a blast-proof cabinet with blow-out panels above it in case it ever does cook off. Autoloader speed is from 7.1 seconds to 19.5 s depending on the initial position of autoloader carousel.
The carousel itself is actually quite well protected. It is the rounds stored outside of the autoloader, especially those in the fighting compartment, that are mainly responsible for this "trademark" survivability issue, and this problem is made all the more acute by the use of semi-combustible charge casings instead of the traditional brass ones, giving almost no protection from the white-hot metal fragments sprayed inside the vehicle in the event of penetration. A T-80 restricted to carrying ammunition in its carousel greatly reduces this hazard, though it limits the vehicle to 28 rounds of ammunition (a fully laden T-80 can hold 45 rounds), which may be quite inadequate for most combat missions on the high intensity battlefield, but more acceptable in low intensity operations.
Due to the low turret roof, the maximum gun depression is a few degrees below zero and so it is more difficult to find hull-down positions that the tank can fire from. However with the dozer blade equipped the T-80 can create an excellent fighting position in a short time. The latest version in service, the T-84 Oplot, has an entirely new turret with armoured ammunition compartment.
In 1966 the experimental Ob'yekt 288 rocket tank, powered by two aerial GTD-350 turbine engines with a combined power of 691 hp (515 kW), was first built. The trials indicated that twin propulsion wasn't any better than the turbine engine which had been in development since 1968 at KB-3 of the Kirovsk plant (LKZ) and at WNII Trans Masz. The tank from LKZ equipped with this turbine engine was constructed in 1969 and designated as Ob'yekt 219 SP1. Essentially it was renamed the T-64T, and was powered by a GTD-1000T multi-fuel gas turbine engine with power of up to 1000 hp (746 kW). During the trials it became clear that the increased weight and dynamic characteristics required a complete rebuilding of the vehicle's caterpillar track system. The second prototype, designated Ob'yekt 219 SP2, received bigger drive sprockets and return rollers. The number of wheels was increased from four to five. The construction of the turret was also altered to use the same compartment, 125 mm 2A46 tank gun, auto loader and placement of ammunition as the T-64A. Some of the additional equipment was also repurposed from the T-64A. The LKZ plant built a series of prototypes based on Ob'yekt 219 SP2. After seven years of upgrades, the tank became the T-80.
The T-80 has been confused by some Western analysts with the Soviet T-72, but a quick overview of Soviet tanks and their histories provides clarity: the T-80 and T-72 are mechanically very different. They are the products of different design bureaus (the T-80 from SKB-2 design bureau of the Kirov Factory in Leningrad, the T-72 from Uralvagonzavod at Nizhny Tagil, Russia), and are really only similar in general appearance. The T-80 is based on the earlier T-64 and incorporates features from the T-72, which was a complementary design.
The T-64 was the earlier offering of the Morozov Design Bureau (KMDB), a high-technology main battle tank designed to replace the obsolescent IS-3 and T-10 heavy tanks, used in the Red Army's independent tank units. The T-72 was intended to be a tank mass-produced to equip the bulk of the Soviet Motor Rifle units, and for sale to export partners and eastern-bloc satellite states. The mechanically simpler T-72 is simpler to manufacture, and easier to service in the field.
Also Western analysts for many years denied usage of gas turbine as main propulsion. From a long distance T-64, T-72 and T-80 look pretty much alike even though T-80 is 90 cm longer than T-64.
The T-64's story continues in the T-80. The Leningrad design bureau improved upon the earlier design, introducing a gas turbine engine in the original model, and incorporating suspension components of the T-72. This gave the tank a high power-to-weight ratio and made it easily the most mobile tank in service, albeit with acute range problems, since the turbine consumes fuel very rapidly, even when the engine idles. (Morozov's subsequent parallel development of the T-80UD replaced the gas turbine with a diesel, to decrease fuel consumption and maintenance.) While the M1 Abrams has a 1,500 hp (1,120 kW) gas turbine as well, the T-80 is almost half the size and weight; its consequent maneuverability sees it referred to as the "flying tank". The T-80 can fire the same 9K112 Kobra (AT-8 Songster) anti-tank guided missile through its gun barrel as the T-64.
The T-80U main battle tank (1985, "U" for uluchsheniye ‘improvement’) was designed by SKB-2 in Leningrad (hull) and the Morozov Bureau (turret and armament). It is powered by the 1,250 hp (919 kW) GTD-1250 gas turbine. It is a step ahead of the GTD-1000T and GTD-1000TF engines that were installed on the previous tanks of T-80 line. This gas turbine can use jet fuels as well as diesel and low-octane gasoline, has good dynamic stability, service life, and reliability. the GTD-1250 gas turbine has a built-in automatic system of dust deposits removal. Of course it retains the T-80's high fuel consumption, which the Russian army found unacceptable during the Chechen conflicts. The T-80U is protected by a new generation of explosive reactive armour called Kontakt-5, integrated into the design of the turret and hull, and Brod-M deep wading equipment. It can fire the new 9M119 Refleks (AT-11 Sniper) guided missile. The remotely controlled commander's machine gun is replaced by a more flexible pintle-mounted one.
The T-80U(M) of the 1990s introduced the TO1-PO2 Agava gunner's thermal imaging sight and 9M119M Refleks-M guided missile, and later an improved 2A46M-4 version of the 125 mm gun and 1G46M gunner's sight.
Recently, the Russians seem to be abandoning the T-80. Because of the turbine-powered tank's high fuel consumption, and the poor combat performance of older T-80BV tanks in Chechnya, the Russian Army decided to standardize on the Uralvagonzavod factory's T-90 tank (derived from the T-72BM, but incorporating some T-80 technology), and have had some success selling it to the Indian Army. The Omsk Tank Plant in Siberia, facing a shortage of domestic orders, has sold a small number of T-80 tanks to Cyprus, South Korea, and China, and has demonstrated versions intended for export, including the T-80UM1 with active protection systems, and the advanced T-80UM2 Black Eagle concept tank.
A further improvement of the T-80UD is the Ukrainian T-84 main battle tank, including the new welded turret, 1,200-hp (895 kW) 6TD-2 engine, Kontakt-5 reactive armour, Shtora active protection system, thermal imaging sight, muzzle referencing system, and auxiliary power unit. The T-84U (1999) shows many refinements, including deeper sideskirts, modified reactive armour, a small reference radar antenna near the gunner's hatch (used to track rounds and compensate for barrel wear), and a large armoured box for the auxiliary power unit at the rear of the right fender. The T-84 Oplot (ten delivered in 2001) introduced turret-bustle ammunition storage, and the T-84-120 Yatagan has been offered for export, featuring a very large turret bustle and NATO-compatible 120 mm gun.
Main models of the T-72, built in the Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine, with the dates they entered service.
Command tanks with additional radio equipment have K added to their designation for komandirskiy, ‘command’, for example, T-80BK is the command version of the T-80B. Versions with reactive armour have V added, for vzryvnoy, ‘explosive’, for example T-80BV. Less-expensive versions without missile capability have a figure 1 added, as T-80B1.
The first T-80 MBTs started arriving in the tank units of the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. The first to receive them was the Group of Soviet Forces stationed in East Germany. T-80 and T-64 MBTs were to be the core of the assault groups of tank units. The fighting capabilities of these vehicles was evaluated during numerous war games and according to them if the war with NATO would start, the T-80 MBTs would reach the English Channel within 5-6 days (with the Soviet forces having the upper hand) or 2 weeks (with the NATO forces having the upper hand). Because of this they gained the nickname of "La Manche tanks" in Soviet Army. T-80 MBTs unintentionally publicly displayed their maneuverability when a battalion equipped with those tanks appeared on a highway leading to Berlin during military exercises. While there they were able to move with speed equal to that of tourist buses and Trabant cars. At the time they were classified as secret weapons. At the beginning of its service it was the most modern and effective tank in the world. The crews praised its high speed (for a tank) and ability to quickly reach battle readiness thanks to the turbine engine. This engine however had a serious flaw which was the fact that it overheated in high temperatures which is why the tanks were not sent to the hot southern regions of Soviet Union. Only the appearance of T-80UD with a diesel engine solved this problem. In 1985 there were 1,900 T-80 MBTs overall. According to data publicized in Russia, 2,256 T-80 MBTs were stationed in East Germany between 1986 and 1987. NATO realized that new Soviet tanks could reach Atlantic within two weeks and because of that started to develop counter methods that could stop them. This led to sudden increase in development of anti-tank weapons including attack helicopters. In 1991 when the Soviet Union was breaking up the Soviet Army operated 4,839 different models of T-80.
T-80 MBTs were never used in a way in which they were intended, large scale conventional war in Europe. It was used during political and economical changes in Russia in 1990s. In August 1991 communists and military commanders allied with them tried to overthrow Mikhail Gorbachev and regain control over the unstable Soviet Union. T-80UD tanks of the Russian 4th Guards Kantemirovskaya Tank Division drove onto the streets of Moscow but the Soviet coup attempt failed.
While a number of T-80 MBTs was inherited by Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Russia still managed to save the majority of those tanks for itself. In 1993 during Russian constitutional crisis Boris Yeltsin ordered to use T-80 MBTs against Russian parliament which opposed him. On 4 October 1993 six T-80UD MBTs from 12th Guards Tank Regiment which is a part of 4th Kantemirowsk Guards Tank Division took positions on a bridge opposite the Russian parliament building. The building was hit 12 times, 10 by Frag-HE rounds and 2 by undercaliber AP rounds. It remains unknown whether the use of two AP rounds was a mistake made by the loader or if it was planned to use them as they could pierce through a dozen walls in order to further terrify the parliamentarians. This operation also failed because soon the tanks got surrounded by a crowd of bystanders and everything started to look more like a picnic rather than a military operation. In 1995 the number of T-80 tanks increased to around 5,000 but was reduced in 1998 to 3,500. In July 1998 a T-80 tank drove into a square in front of the administration building of city of Novosmolensk and aimed its gun at the building. The tank was commanded by major Igor Bieljajew from Molinsk garrison, a part of 22nd Army. His motive was unpaid pay for several months. At first the commander of the 22nd Army tried to negotiate with the major. The negotiations failed and it was decided to tow away major's tank using another T-80 tank. This was prevented by the local population which allied itself with the major. As a result all unpaid pay of the 22nd Army was paid. As of right now Russian Army has 3,044 T-80s and its variants in active service and 1,456 in reserve. There are at least 460 T-80UD in service with 2nd Guards Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division and 4th Guards Kantemirowsk Motor Rifle Division. As of right now a T-80BV tank is on display in Kubinka Tank Museum and a T-80U tank is on display at an open air museum in Saratov.
The inexperienced crews had no knowledge of the layout of the city while the AFVs that entered it were attacked by shoulder-launched anti-tank rocket propelled grenade launchers operated by the defenders hidden in cellars and on top of high buildings. The fire was directed at the least armoured points of the vehicles. The average of hits that each destroyed tank received ranged from three to six. Each tank was fired at by six or seven RPGs. A number of vehicles exploded when the autoloader with vertically placed rounds was hit: in theory it should be protected by the roadwheel, but when the tank got hit on its side armour the ready-to-use ammunition exploded. Out of all AFVs that entered Grozny, 250 were destroyed including about 100 tanks. After that T-80 MBTs were never again used to capture cities and instead supported infantry squads from a safe distance.
A few T-80s were acquired for intelligence purposes.