Battered In Ukraine War, India ‘Bets Big’ On Archaic T-72 Tanks To Counter Double Threat Of China & Pakistan

The Indian Army has released an RFI (request for information) to support its initiative for the restoration and extended life of in-service T-72 main battle tanks (MBTs) at a time when images of decapitated turrets of the T-72s in the ongoing Ukraine war have been circulating on social media.

The goal of the “Overhaul II of Tank T-72” program, according to a request for information (RFI) released by the Indian Army on November 21, is to guarantee that the T-72 is returned to “as good as new condition.”

According to the RFI, the program aims to “neutralize effects of age, usage, and restoration of T-72 to a near-zero hour [and] zero km state of operational readiness.”

The RFI also specified that the T-72 restoration process includes “stripping of the tank, removal of assemblies, stripping of the repairable assemblies, inspection of the components of repairable assemblies, and replacement of assemblies [that are not repairable] with new ones.”

The RFI stated that “quality assurance; testing of assemblies; integration in tanks; and 100% replacement of parts that have limited shelf life such as gaskets, seals, rings, bearings, fasteners, washers, and so on” are also included in the process.

The T-72 hull’s worn-out sections and major/minor weld defects will be corrected, as per the Indian Army. Rubber parts, metal pipes, and engine sub-assemblies will be replaced or revalidated, and the cooling, fuel, lubrication, air induction, exhaust, and transmission systems components will be replaced or revalidated.

The T-72 overhaul program came months after the Indian Army hinted that it was in the process of finalizing the technical specifications of the Future Ready Combat Vehicle (FRCV), which will eventually replace T-72 tanks. According to publicly available information, the goal is to start inductions in 2030 and have the prototype ready in four years.

The T-72, along with the T-90, forms the backbone of the Indian Army’s armor capability. However, the FRCV, which is slated to replace the T-72, will be a much heavier tank than the T-72 that India had purchased from the USSR.

Currently, the FRCV’s combat weight is expected to be no more than 60 tons, compared to the 45 tons of T-72 tanks that it is intended to replace.

Despite being an archaic Soviet-era tank, the T-72 has been a mainstay of the Armoured Corps in the Indian Army. The Indian Army carried out special drills along the Eastern Ladakh region, which included deployment of T-72 and T-90 tank formations. The tanks and troops were required to cross the Indus River and attack enemy positions.

When a border clash broke out between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2020, with Chinese troops mobilizing men and equipment, the Indian Army responded by deploying T-90 and T-72 tanks along with the BMP-2 Infantry Combat Vehicles, which can operate at sub-zero temperatures.

Earlier this year, reports in the media stated that the Indian Army was making concerted efforts to increase the survivability and firepower of Russian-origin tanks on the battlefields. The Indian Army has also reportedly created a hybrid tank by combining the main body of the T-72 tank with the turret of the T90.

Although military analysts have long called for the replacement of the supposedly outdated T-72 tanks, it will be a while before they can be decommissioned. Therefore, upgrading and carrying out timely repairs to keep this war machine combat-ready seems to be the route taken by the Indian Army.

However, the Indian RFI has come at a time when the T-72s have been battered in the ongoing Ukraine war. Military experts have gone so far as to say that the T-72 tanks have seen a debacle that no military could have anticipated.

T-72 Tanks: Battered & Shattered In Ukraine War

According to the figures recently released by the UK Defense Ministry, Russia lost about 2,475 MBTs over the 631-day battle with Ukraine. The lost main battle tanks account for 15 percent of its inventory.

T-72B3 tank of the Russian Army
T-72B3 Tank

The percentage of operational platforms is probably higher, and Russia might not be able to adequately replace more advanced equipment lost in combat.

Russian tanks have suffered severe casualties in the Ukraine war. Many photos showing burned-out wrecks and severed turrets have appeared in headlines worldwide, with some even declaring the tank’s complete demise.

They contend that they pose an untenable risk to their crews and are particularly vulnerable in the current battlefield due to the threat posed by artillery, drones, and man-portable anti-tank missiles.

During the early stages of the conflict, the Russian Army suffered heavy tank losses as a result of poor preparation, especially during the disastrous attack on the capital city of Kyiv. In the process of moving forward in a convoy along highways north of the capital, numerous tanks and armored vehicles were damaged. 

Rob Lee on X: "Destroyed Russian T-72B3 tank in Poltava Oblast." / X
Destroyed Russian T-72B3 tank in Poltava Oblast (via Platform X)

The Soviet-era T-72 tank has been extensively deployed by Russia since the beginning of the invasion. Several variants of the tank have seen action on the battlefield and have been destroyed or captured by the Ukrainian forces over the months despite Russian attempts at making it more difficult to attack by resorting to using makeshift protective like cope cages.

Earlier this year, when Russia started pulling out vintage Soviet-era tanks like the T-54 and the T-55 from cold storage, military analysts and officials in Ukraine noted that the move was desperate and could be attributed to the heavy tank losses incurred by the Russian Army, including that of the T-72.

The Russian defense firm Uralvagonzavod launched the initiative to modernize and bring aging T-72 tanks back into combat after suffering heavy casualties in the early phases of the conflict. The company stated that practically every essential system of these older T-72 tanks would be improved in the modernized tanks to greatly increase agility, firepower, and overall protection levels. 

However, the T-72’s primary problem, the dangerous ammunition storage system, is neither addressed by the changes that have been implemented nor do they significantly increase performance.

The main-gun ammo of the T-72 is kept in a carousel beneath the turret, and a direct strike can result in a cataclysmic explosion that destroys the tank, kills its three-person crew, and occasionally even sends the turret skyward.