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The Russians are modernizing hundreds of 1960's-era T-62 tanks, for multiple reasons


The War Zone reports:

The Russian military is reportedly set to receive some 800 refurbished and possibly upgraded T-62 tanks in the next three years to try to help make up for severe losses it has already sustained in its ongoing all-out invasion of Ukraine. Many of the nearly antique T-62s have already been pulled out of deep storage and sent to Ukraine, where they have shown to be of debatable utility.

If the situation is as it is reported to be, the decision to reactivate hundreds of these remarkably old Cold War-era tanks offers fresh evidence that western sanctions and other factors are hobbling Russia's arms industry. It also provides more evidence as to the poor state of Russia's more advanced armor, with many hundreds of tanks destroyed, damaged, or captured and others sidelined due to being worn out or without high-tech replacement parts after nearly nine months of continuous combat.

. . .

Gurulyov reportedly said that the T-62s in question would be modernized with new thermal and night vision optics and additional armor and other defensive features, particularly to help protect against anti-tank guided missiles like the U.S.-made Javelin. He does not appear to have provided any granular specifics about these planned upgrades. There was no mention of updating the tank's armament, which consists of a 115mm main gun, a co-axial 7.62x54mm machine gun, and a 12.7mm machine gun on top of the turret.

Russia certainly has many hundreds of T-62s in storage that it inherited from the Soviet Union, the vast majority of which are understood to be T-62M subtypes. The first T-62s entered Soviet service in 1961. In the 1980s, the Soviets had put thousands of these tanks through a broad modernization program that included adding more powerful engines, upgraded fire control systems, and new defenses.

. . .

It is worth noting that T-62s, while thoroughly obsolete for modern tank-on-tank combat, could still potentially provide valuable armored fire support assets for engaging lighter armored and unarmored vehicles, fortifications, and troops in the open.

There's more at the link.

The article speculates that the large-scale refurbishment of T-62's is due to Russia's inability to source parts (particularly electronics) to upgrade or produce more of its T-64's, T-72's, T-80's, T-90's and the new T-14 Armata tanks, which are not yet in full production.  That's probably quite true, along with most of the other observations by the author.

However, I suspect there's another reason that makes the T-62, despite its age, a very desirable battlefield asset for the Russian army.  You see, it's the last generation of Soviet tank that was not equipped with an autoloader.  The autoloaders on subsequent generations of tanks proved to be a major weakness in their design.  Not only were they rumored to occasionally attempt to load a member of the tank's crew into the breech, instead of a round of ammunition (which was alleged to be the source of the Red Army Choir's soprano section!), but the autoloaders required more than a score of rounds and their propellant charges to be exposed in a sort of carousel beneath the turret.  If an enemy shell or missile penetrated the turret, the rounds in the carousel would be at grave risk of detonating or catching fire.  This would kill most of the crew, and could even blow the turret right off the tank.  (This became known as the jack-in-the-box effect.)

During the 1970's and 1980's, the T-72 and its siblings performed reasonably well against Western tanks and missiles, because almost all of the latter were designed to attack the side of the turret or hull.  However, with the advent of smart weapons, particularly top-attack missiles, during the past three decades, the T-series tanks proved very vulnerable indeed.  The armor on top of a tank (including the top of its turret) is thinner than on the sides, to save weight (and because until recently, few weapons were capable of targeting that area).  However, once top-attack weapons became common, that was exposed as a deadly flaw.  An explosion penetrating the top of a T-series turret would almost inevitably bore on through to its ammunition carousel, with devastating results.

Here's a video clip showing a number of T-72's and other models of Soviet-era tanks being hit by anti-tank weapons.  Note how the exposed carousel rounds detonate or catch fire almost immediately.  If you're a person of faith, you might want to say a prayer for their crews, because most of them did not get out.  (Ignore the music background track.  I suggest you watch with the sound off.)

I agree that the T-62 is probably unsuitable for modern tank-versus-tank combat in the open field, although in an urban, close-quarters combat environment it might be able to sneak up on other tanks and take them out before they realized it was there.  However, the fact that its ammunition is not exposed, as in later generations of Soviet tanks, means it's much less likely to burn or explode when hit;  and therefore its crew has a better chance of escaping alive.  For the kind of meat-grinder combat the Russians are facing in Ukraine, that's a major asset.

Another factor may be that at least some of the thousands of conscripts and former servicemen being called up to serve in the Russian armed forces may have trained on the T-62 and earlier tanks, rather than more modern types.  They'll be able to get up to speed on the older model much more quickly than they would a newer tank, which has far more bells and whistles.

I have unfond memories of the T-62, having run into it on more than one occasion in Africa in the 1980's.  It was a pretty effective design for the relatively simple, uncomplicated bush warfare of the time.  South Africa's Olifant main battle tanks (modernized versions of Centurion tanks, first designed in the mid-1940's) were able to cope with it.  Despite its obsolescence, I daresay under the right conditions, with a well-trained crew, it could still give a good account of itself.


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