Poland, fearing Russia could someday rebuild its military might after the Soviet Union passed, decided to build its own tanks. The PT-91 was the fruits of that effort. How good would this tank be on the battlefields of 2022? In Polish it means “hard, tough, or resilient” and the Poles have created a main battle tank that exemplifies those adjectives. The PT-91 Twardy tank is the pride of the Polish indigenous defense industry. Some have mainly homegrown features, others are more closely based on the T-72. The fire-control system and armor have been updated. Plus, bigger engines power the Twardy. It will be interesting to see if the Poles make this tank available to Ukraine for use in the war against invading Russian forces. Here is a primer on this impressive tank:
Produced After the Cold War
Poland began producing the PT-91 in the early 1990s. In 1995, the Poles made them in numbers. The Polish Bumar Group led a defense consortium for manufacturing. By 2002, there were 233 in service – not many for a main battle tank. But the PT-91 makes up for the lack of quantity with quality.
PT-91 Twardy: Interesting Blocked Armor You Don’t See in Other Tanks
The first thing you notice about the Twardy is its blocked armor.
These are ERAWA explosive reactive armor blocks. 394 blocks cover the ceramic CAWA armor for main tank armor underneath. The ERAWA blocks cover the front of the tank and its turret. The blocks, according to the Poles, are up to 70-percent effective against rocket-propelled grenades and some older anti-tank missiles.
The downside of the ERAWA blocks is they are not powerful enough to withstand a direct hit from a modern enemy tank’s 120mm main gun.
Turbocharged Engine Is the Main Feature
The PT-91 Twardy originally came with a Polish-built PZL Wola S-12U diesel engine producing 850-horsepower. This engine enabled a top speed of 37-miles per hour and a range of 403-miles. Then the Poles upgraded the power plant in the early 2000s. This allowed the turbocharged engine to produce 1,000-horsepower and a speedy 47-miles per hour on roads.
Also, the Twardy can release smoke decoys to mask movement, so along with the greater velocity, that helps with survivability.
Gun Is Improved Over the T-72
Poland also produced its own main gun for the Twardy – a 125mm smoothbore model. An updated digital fire control system and electro-hydraulic stabilize the gun, which was a significant improvement over the T-72. There are 42-rounds in total and 22 at the ready. The autoloading cannon can fire up to ten rounds per minute.
The three-man crew is adept at picking multiple targets for destruction from the gun. There’s a Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun on the turret and a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun.
The tank sports a thermal sight for aiming with a laser rangefinder. It is also equipped with a night sight. Sensors can pick up when the tank is lit up by an enemy laser from an anti-tank missile.
It remains to be seen whether the Poles would allow the Twardy to be transferred to the Ukrainians. Since it is similar to the T-72, the Ukrainians would be familiar with its basic operation. But they would probably have to be trained on the fire control system and practice the target acquisition cycle. The main gun is also different from its modern stabilization system.
PT-91 Twardy: Overall, Not a Bad Tank
The Poles take much pride in the Twardy, but they do not have many available. If they did transfer the tank to the Ukrainians, they would probably want the United States or the Germans to re-supply them with M1 Abrams or Leopards. Otherwise, the Poles have a pretty good main battle tank for their own army.
It grades about a “B” due to its advanced age compared to other main battle tanks in NATO. But the upgrades in the armor, engine, fire control, and main gun are something the Poles can take pride in for “resiliently” producing it at home.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.