Hundreds of miles from the frontlines, Ukrainians are still doing their part to aid the war effort.
Some 150 refugees have been hired by the Czech-based Excalibur Army to modernize old military equipment from around the world, which will then be shipped to Ukraine. Among the hardware are Soviet-era T-72 main battle tanks (MBTs).
The Cold War vehicles are being equipped with improved armor protection and new optics including thermal imagers and night vision systems.
The firm specializes in the development of tanks, artillery systems, and other armored vehicles for Prague, and it had been previously contracted to upgrade vintage systems for the Czech military.
Now it is doing what it can to aid the Ukrainian military by modernizing the T-72, and preparing them for the front lines. Approximately 90 of the Soviet-made T-72B are being renovated in the Czech Republic – with support also coming from the Netherlands and the United States.
The T-72B is already a more advanced variant of the T-72A, and it is equipped with new Kontakt-1 ERA (Explosive Reactive armor) package mounted at the front of the hull and around the turret. The MBT is armed with an improved 2A46M 125mm smoothbore gun that can fire three types of ammunition, including the APFSDS (Armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot) with a maximum range of 2,100 meters; HEAT-FS (High-explosive anti-tank fin-stabilized) with a maximum direct fire range of 4,000 meters; and HE-FRAG(FS) with a maximum indirect fire range of 9,400 meters.
The tanks will retain a layout similar to the original T-72B, and will be operated by a crew of three – with the driver in the front center of the main hull, and the commander and gunner seated in the turret.
The upgraded tanks that will head to Ukraine are receiving new ERA (Explosive Reactive Armor) kits mounted at the front and on the sides of the hull as well as the front and the roof of the turret.
That design flaw – from having up to forty rounds of ammunition for the main guns stored in the turret – was first encountered during the 1991 Gulf War, when hundreds of Iraqi T-72s were easily destroyed.
Russia has apparently done little to address the issue, however, and its tank crews have paid with their lives as a result.
Joining “Tomas the T-72”
Those upgraded T-72s will likely join a modernized T-72 that had been named “Tomas” and described as a “gift for Putin” earlier this year. The particular tank, which was named in honor of the children’s book series/TV program “Thomas the Train,” was upgraded following a successful crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $1.30m (£1.17m).
The organizers of the effort told the BBC that it was the first crowdfunding effort of its kind for military hardware.
“Many thanks to all of you who buy him ‘gifts’ in the form of support for Ukraine,” Czech Defence Minister Jana Cernochova said in a post on Twitter on October 7. “Once again, thank you very much for your generosity and solidarity. We must continue to help Ukraine! All of us. And we will!”
The tank was described as a “gift” to Putin on that day, as it marked the Russian leader’s 70th birthday.
Ukraine’s ambassador in Prague, Yevhen Perebyynis, stated in a Tweet: “The Czech Republic has become the first country where ordinary people bought a tank for [the Ukrainian Defence Ministry].”
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 and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.