In a surprising incident, a Ukrainian tank operator contacted the Russian tank manufacturer to voice complaints about operational challenges he faced with his “problematic Russian T-72B3 tank,” which the Ukrainian army had seized from Russian forces last year.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, tanks have consistently remained in the spotlight as a crucial asset for both parties in their endeavors to gain ground on the battlefield.
Kyiv is estimated to have seized over 500 Russian tanks, with around 200 being the T-72B3 models. Many captured tanks have been actively deployed in Ukraine’s military service.
However, Ukrainian engineers lack familiarity with the relatively modern Russian army tanks, resulting in challenges in maintaining and operating these vehicles.
In a video published by the Ukrainian media outlet Militarnyi, a Ukrainian tank operator with the call sign “Kochevnik” can be seen contacting the technical support of the Russian tank manufacturer to report issues with a captured Russian T-72B3 tank.
Kochevnik is a member of Ukraine’s 54th Mechanized Brigade, whose operational theater is centered around Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine.
This unit mainly utilizes a mix of Soviet-era equipment, which includes T-64 tanks and BMP fighting vehicles. They also possess some T-72B3 tanks that were once in Russian service.
The T-72B3 is manufactured by the Russian Defense firm Uralvagonzavod and stands as one of Russia’s relatively newer tank models, with which the Ukrainian defense industry has limited experience.
Kochevnik contacted a manufacturer representative named Alexander Anatolyevich, who seemed unaware that Kochevnik was a Ukrainian soldier.
“I am the commander of the armored group. The tank is new, but the problem is that we cannot operate it. It is unrealistic to fight on it,” Kochevnik said.
The Ukrainian officer complained about the tank engine expelling oil and the compressor failing to pump air into the cylinders.
Furthermore, the Ukrainian tank operator reported issues with the turret’s rotation mechanism. When the electrical equipment fails, the military manually rotates it using mechanical drives.
Without realizing that the Ukrainian soldier was engaging in a prank, Alexander Anatolyevich assured that he would raise the mentioned concerns with the design bureau. He also pledged to get in touch with the engine manufacturer in Chelyabinsk.
Kochevnik continued his trolling and contacted Andrey Abakumov, a General Director at Uralvagonzavod. The Ukrainian officer reiterated the problems with the T-72B3M tank.
Abakumov asked him to describe everything on WhatsApp and promised to discuss the problems with the tank’s designers.
However, in the end, Kochevnik finally disclosed his identity as a Ukrainian soldier, revealing that his army had captured the problematic T-72 around Izyum in late 2022.
Problems With The Upgraded T-72 Tanks?
The T-72B3 represents a modernized iteration of the older T-72 tank, boasting a range of enhancements. These include a state-of-the-art Sosna-U day-night digital gunner’s sight, advanced reactive armor, a rear-facing video camera, and a new barrel for its powerful 125-millimeter main gun.
After suffering significant losses in the early stages of the war, Uralvagonzavod, the Russian defense manufacturer, initiated the program to upgrade and reintroduce older T-72 tanks into active service.
The company claimed that in the upgraded tanks, virtually all the critical systems of these older T-72 tanks would be enhanced to improve maneuverability, firepower, and overall protection levels significantly.
However, the introduced upgrades fail to improve the T-72’s performance substantially and do not address its core issue, the hazardous ammunition storage system.
The T-72 stores its main-gun ammunition in a carousel beneath the turret, and a direct hit can trigger a catastrophic explosion, leading to the tank’s destruction, the loss of its three-person crew, and sometimes even propelling the turret into the air.
Additionally, the critical feature of the T-72B3 is its Sosna-U sight, capable of spotting targets up to four miles away in both daylight and darkness.
This sight reportedly incorporates French optics acquired by Russian industry through unconventional means.
However, sanctions, in place since 2014, hinder the flow of military electronics, and while Russia has found ways around these sanctions, replicating the optics without sacrificing quality may prove difficult once French components are exhausted.
Early this year, a EurAsian Times report said Uralvagonzavod was installing the older 1PN96MT-02 sights, which have a limited two-mile range, on numerous upgraded T-72 tanks instead of the Sosna-U system.
While the precise impact of these upgrades remains uncertain, it is believed that the Russian defense industry is currently manufacturing approximately 200 tanks annually.