Pentagon Aid Package to Include T-72B Tank Upgrades: Christmas has come early to Kyiv! The Pentagon’s latest aid to Ukraine will include upgrading Cold War-era Soviet T-72B main battle tanks (MBTs) from the Czech Republic. The U.S. and the Netherlands are essentially “going Dutch” as Washington and The Hague will split the cost of refurbishing the tanks.
Super T-72B Tanks
The United States Department of Defense (DoD) announced on Friday that as part of an approximately $400 million security assistance aid package for Ukraine, it would provide funding to refurbish HAWK air defense missiles for inclusion in future presidential drawdown packages. In addition, the aid would include 40 armored riverine boats; funding to refurbish 250 M1117 armored security vehicles; 1,100 Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aerial systems (UAS); tactical secure communications systems and surveillance systems; and funding for training, maintenance, and sustainment.
The aid package will also include upgrading/refurbishing forty-five T-72B MBTs with advanced optics, communications, and armor packages. The tanks included in the package are part of a trilateral, coordinated effort with the Netherlands and the Czech Republic. These tanks will come from the inventory of the Czech defense industry.
Some of the MBTs will be made available to Ukraine in the coming weeks, with additional deliveries to be completed early in the New Year. A total of ninety T-72Bs will be supplied by Prague.
According to the DoD, unlike presidential drawdown authority, which the department uses to deliver equipment to Ukraine from DoD stocks, United States Agency for International Development (USAI) is an authority under which the United States procures capabilities directly from industry.
Tanks for Ukraine
This is the latest batch of Soviet-era tanks to be sent to aid Kyiv. Poland had previously donated hundreds of older T-72s, while Slovenia had provided twenty-eight M-55S tanks, a modernized version of the T-55. The U.S. has been cautious about providing more modern tanks, notably the M1 Abrams, out of fears that Russia could escalate the conflict if American MBTs were to roll into action.
However, there have been practical considerations as well – namely that Ukraine already operated the Soviet tanks, and its soldiers have familiarity with it and are able to maintain the vehicles. The M1 Abrams tanks also guzzle fuel and would require additional training.
“Introducing a new main battle tank is extremely costly…and it would be a huge undertaking for the Ukrainian forces. So we continue to consult with our allies and partners to assess our ability on what we can provide in terms of Western armor platforms. But these tanks, we believe, will make a difference on the battlefield,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters on Friday.
The T-72 MBT
A true product of traditional Soviet design philosophy, the T-72 first entered production in 1971, and it officially entered service two years later. The Soviets sought a cheaper and more reliable alternative to the T-64, which while ambitious, proved to be too overly complicated, and as a result utterly unreliable.
Thus, the T-72 was developed using proven components where possible but also improved the apparatus where required, while it only featured entirely new features when necessary. The result was a tank that could be described as far more “evolutionary” than “revolutionary.”
It also differed from previous Soviet tank designs in that it featured a low profile, which was achieved by a reconfiguration of the method to load the main gun. The adoption of an auto-loader, which can feed the 125mm smoothbore cannon at any angle, allowed for a more compact turret. The crew was thus reduced to three instead of the usual four crewmen found in modern tanks.
A total of 17,831 of the original T-72 series tanks were produced in the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1990.
T-72B for a Grateful Nation
Kyiv was elated by the news that the enhanced tanks would be arriving to aid its war effort.
“I am grateful to the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and the U.S. for their joint decision to provide 90 T-72 tanks to Ukraine. First 26 repaired and modernized tanks will arrive within the next month. Thank you, friends, for your unwavering solidarity with Ukraine,” Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet.
The U.S. has committed more than $18.9 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration in January 2021, including $18.2 billion since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24.
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
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