tow away


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.

Production history

The project to build the first tank powered by a turbine engine in the Soviet Union came into existence back in 1949. Its designer was A. Ch. Starostienko, who worked at the Kirovsk plant. The tank never got past the design phase because the turbine engines at the time were of very poor quality. Later in 1955 at the Kirovsk plant, and under guidance of G. A. Ogloblin, two prototypes of 1,000 hp (746 kW) turbine engine were made. Two years later a team led by the famous heavy tank designer Ż. J. Kotin constructed two prototypes of the Ob'yekt 278 tank. Both prototypes were hybrids of the IS-7 and the T-10, were powered by GTD-1 turbine engine, weighed 53.5 tonnes and were armed with 130 mm M65 tank guns. The turbine engine allowed the tank to reach a maximal speed of 57.3 km/h but with only 1950 liters of fuel onboard, range was a mere 300 km. The two tanks were considered experimental vehicles and work on them eventually ceased. In 1963, the Morozov Design Bureau created the T-64 and T-64T tanks. It used a GTD-3TL turbine engine which generated 700 hp (522 kW). The tank was tested until 1965. At the same time in Uralvagonzavod a design team under the guidance of L. N. Karcew created the Ob'yekt 167T tank. It used the GTD-3T turbine engine which supplied 801 hp (597 kW).

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.

Ukrainian T-80UD

In parallel with the T-80U, the Morozov Bureau in Ukraine developed a diesel-powered version, the T-80UD. It is powered by the 1,000-hp 6TD-1 6-cylinder multi-fuel two-stroke turbo-piston diesel engine, ensuring high fuel efficiency and a long cruising range. The engine support systems make it possible to operate the tank at ambient fuel temperatures of up to 55°C and to ford to a water depth of 1.8 m. The T-80UD shares most of the T-80U's improvements, but can be distinguished from it by a different engine deck, distinctive smoke-mortar array and turret stowage boxes, and retains the remotely-controlled commander's machine gun. About 500 T-80UD tanks were built in the Malyshev plant between 1987–91. About 300 were still at the Ukrainian factory when the Soviet Union broke up, so the T-80UD is more common in Ukrainian service than Russian.

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.

T-80 models

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.

  • T-80 (1976) – Initial model, with 1,000-hp gas turbine engine, laser rangefinder, and no missile capability.
  • T-80B (1978) – This model had a new turret, fire-control, and autoloader allowing the firing of 9M112-1 Kobra antitank guided missile, and improved composite armour. An improved 1,100-hp engine was added in 1980, a new gun in 1982, and fittings for reactive armour in 1985.
  • T-80A (1982) – A move to standardization led to a single new larger and better-armoured turret being adopted for both this tank and the T-64BM, with improved fire-control.
  • T-80U (1985) – Further development with explosive reactive armour, gunsight, and 9K119 Refleks missile system. In 1990 a new 1,250-hp engine was installed.
  • T-80UD Beryoza (1987) – Diesel version with 1,000-hp 6TD engine and remote-controlled antiaircraft machine gun.
  • T-84 (1999) – Further Ukrainian development of T-80UD with 1,200-hp diesel and new welded turret.
  • Black Eagle tank (prototype) – Several Russian prototypes shown at trade shows, with a longer chassis and extra pair of road wheels, and very large turret with separate ammunition compartment.

Service history

Soviet Union

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.

Chechen wars

T-80B and T-80BV MBTs were used during the First Chechen War. This first real combat experience for T-80 MBTs was unsuccessful as they were used for capturing cities, a task for which they were not very well suited. The biggest losses were suffered during the ill-fated assault on the city of Grozny. The reasons for that included the fact that the forces selected to capture Grozny were not prepared for such an operation while the city was defended by, among others, veterans of Soviet War in Afghanistan. The T-80 tanks used in this operation either did not have reactive armour (T-80B), or it was not fitted before the start of the operation (T-80BV).

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.

Exported T-80s

While other kinds of Soviet Equipment, like T-72, were exported to many countries around the world, T-80, like T-64 before it, had a status of secret weapon which meant that it was not planned to be exported early on like the T-72 was. Despite that Poland was negotiating with the Soviet Union about buying either T-72S or T-80 MBTs. There were also plans to start serial production of T-80 MBTs in Poland but it turned out that Polish industry wasn't yet ready to handle T-80 production. After the political changes of 1989 in Poland and the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, Polish-Soviet talks on purchase of modern tanks came to a halt. This led to Polish developing the PT-91 MBT.

United Kingdom

In 1992 United Kingdom bought a number of T-80U MBTs for purposes of defense research and development. They were not bought officially but through a specially created trading company which was supposed to deliver them to Morocco. The price of five million USD offered for each tank ensured the lack of suspicions from the Russians who realized the situation when the Moroccan minister of defense who was at the time in Russia did not confirm the transaction. By this time however the tanks were already in British hands. Britain evaluated the tanks on their proving grounds and transferred one over to the US where the Americans evaluated it on Aberdeen Proving Ground. While evaluating the vehicle, British got to know all weak spots and flaws of the T-80U which helped them in preventing the Russians from successfully selling it to the countries of the Near East and the Middle East. Although the first public appearance of T-80U in Abu Dhabi in 1993 stirred some attention, no tanks were sold as a result of it. In January 1994, British Secretary of State for Defence Jonathan Aitken confirmed in parliamentary debates that a Russian T-80U tank was imported for "defence research and development purposes".

People's Republic of China

In late 1993 Russia signed a contract with PRC about purchase of 200 T-80U MBTs for evaluation. However for unknown reasons only 50 were delivered.


Ukrainian exports of the T-80UD have been moderately successful. In 1993 and 1995 Ukraine demonstrated the T-80UD MBT to Pakistan which was at the time looking for a new MBT. The tank was subjected it to trials in Pakistan. In August 1996 Pakistan decided to buy 320 T-80UD tanks from Ukraine for $650 million. After first 15 vehicles were shipped to Pakistan in February 1997, Russia protested by stating that T-80UD is a 100% Russian-made and therefore Ukraine can't export it. Russia was withholding cast turrets and other technology and therefore Ukraine was forced to make its tank industry independent by developing domestic components, including a welded turret which was in use on the T-84. Ukraine was able to ship 20 more T-80UD tanks to Pakistan between February and May 1997. The T-80UD MBTs Pakistan received came from Ukrainian Army stocks of 52 T-80UD MBTs which were built in Malyshev plant several years before but failed to be delivered to their original destination and their capabilities were below the standard agreed by both Ukraine and Pakistan. The contract was completed by shipping another 285 Ukrainian T-80UD MBTs between 1997 and early 2002. These however had the welded turret and other manufacturing features of the T-84.


Cyprus is the first foreign country to officially obtain T-80 tanks. Russia sold 27 T-80U and 14 T-80UK for $174 million to Cyprus. The tanks arrived in two batches. The first one consisting of 27 T-80U MBTs arrived in 1996 while the second one consisting of 14 T-80UK MBTs arrived in 1997. This significantly reinforced the army of this country the best tank of which up until then was AMX-30B2. New tanks also gave the Cypriot National Guard the edge in a possible confrontation with Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. As of now Cypriot government is interested in buying Ukrainian T-84 MBTs as, in the eyes of Cyprus, the Russians have demanded too much money for their T-80 tanks.

South Korea

South Korea acquired 33 T-80U tanks and 2 T-80UK tanks in exchange for nullification of Russian debts to South Korea made during the existence of USSR. The tanks came in three batches. The first one consisting of 6 T-80U MBTs arrived in 1996, the second one consisting of 27 T-80U MBTs arrived in 1997 while the third one consisting of 2 T-80UK MBTs arrived in 2005. Originally 80 T-80U MBTs were planned.

United States

In 2003 Ukraine transferred four T-80UD MBTs over to the US.

Failed export attempts

Apart from Cyprus and the People's Republic of China, Russia has also tried to export T-80 MBTs to Turkey and Greece, the armies of which were at the time looking for new tanks. These two attempts, however, have failed.

List of operators

The Soviet Union never exported the T-80 tank. Stocks comprised 1,900 tanks in 1985 and 4,839. When the USSR broke up in 1991, they were passed on to successor states.

  • Belarus – 95 T-80B were originally inherited from the USSR in 1991. There were 92 T-80B in service between 2003 and 2005. 90 T-80B are in service as of now.
  • Cyprus – 27 T-80U and 14 T-80UK.
  • Kazakhstan
  • Pakistan – 15 T-80UD MBTs delivered by Ukraine in February 1997 and 20 more delivered between February and May 1997. 285 T-80UD MBTs delivered between 1997 and early 2002. After receiving them it has ordered another batch of 250 T-80UD MBTs (See Pakistan section in Foreign service section for details).
  • People's Republic of China – Ordered 200 T-80U MBTs for evaluation in late 1993. 50 delivered.
  • Russia – 5,956 (4,500 in active service and another 1,456 in reserve).
  • South Korea – Acquired 33 T-80U MBTs between 1996 and 1997 and 2 T-80UK MBTs in 2005 (See South Korea section in Foreign service section for details).
  • Ukraine – 345 were originally inherited from the USSR in 1991. There were 273 in service as of 2000 and 271 as of 2005.

A few T-80s were acquired for intelligence purposes.

See also



  • Baryatinskiy, Mikhail (2007), Main Battle Tank T-80, Hersham, UK: Ian Allan. ISBN 978-0-7110-3238-5.
  • Karpenko, A.V. (1996), Obozreniye Bronetankovoy Tekhniki (1905-1995 gg.), Nevskiy Bastion.
  • Sewell, Stephen ‘Cookie’ (1998), “Why Three Tanks?” in Armor vol. 108, no. 4, p. 21. Fort Knox, KY: US Army Armor Center, ISSN 0004-2420 (PDF format).
  • Zaloga, Steven (1992), T-64 and T-80, Hong Kong: Concord, ISBN 962-361-031-9.
  • Zaloga, Steven and David Markov (2000), Russia's T-80U Main Battle Tank, Hong Kong: Concord, ISBN 962-361-656-2.

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