Tuesday, 23 February 2016


With critical contributions by Mike Ennamorato, Including this introduction.

Although the T-80 is mostly remembered in the Western world for its lackluster performance during the invasion of Grozny, there was once a time when it was the most highly regarded asset in the entirety of the vast Soviet tank fleet. They had a fleet of T-72 tanks stretching as far as the eye could see, and enough armour and firepower to crush continental Europe within weeks, but the T-72 was still always one step behind the T-80 when it came to the sophistication of some crucial aspects. However, it wasn't planned out this way in the beginning.

As one should come to expect from anything on the other side of the Iron Curtain, the T-80 has a rather intriguing story of inception. While the designers were still ironing out issues on the 5TDF opposed-piston engine for the T-64, experiments on mounting a turboshaft engine were already in full swing. It was requested that production expand from just Kharkov (KMDB) to Kirov (LKZ) and Nizhny Tagil (UKBTM) as well. Both of the latter plants struggled to produce some of the more complex parts for the T-64 - namely the engine - due to a lack of personnel familiar with the intricacies of the fundamentally different engine, and hence, created their own variations of the basic T-64. UKBTM (today a part of UralVagonZavod) and LKZ split design elements and ended off designing what came to be known as the T-72 and T-80 respectively. LKZ's progeny were defined by their signature turbine engines and more robust suspension, hybridized with the turret of the T-64A, thus forming the original model T-80.

This new vehicle was more extravagant and expensive than the ones preceding it, making the
T-80 much less common than the T-64 and T-72. It also came off as being a more ambitious project than T-72 (evidenced by a far longer development span). The T-80 came too late for its' own good. The instant it entered low-rate production in 1976, it was already surpassed in capability by both the T-64B and T-72A: a troubling situation for a vehicle meant to replace and supplement them, made worse by its excessive price tag. As a result, the T-80B was quickly ushered into service a mere two years after the T-80, boasting the ability to fire ATGMs from the cannon while on the move with the Kobra system, and an updated armour layout that had better prospects against the latest and future anti-tank munitions. Beginning in 1980, a more powerful 1100 hp GTD-1000TF engine was installed in all new-production tanks. These upgrades along with the addition of Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armour and a further enhanced composite armour package formed the basis of the T-80BV, which arrived in 1985. The most advanced direct T-80 variant - the T-80U, arrived in 1986, and came with the revolutionary but flawed Kontakt-5 heavy reactive armour package. This new model presented improvements to just about everything; a new digital fire control system, engine, explosive reactive armour, and some other tidbits.

So without any further ado, let's dive deep into the intricacies of the T-80.

This article is currently undergoing renovations. If there are any errors or inconsistencies, feel free to write them down in the comments section

The section on the armour protection of the T-80 and its variants can only be considered a rough guideline as of January 2018. It is being renovated pending further research.


The commander is seated on the right hand side of the turret, entering via a rather tight half-moon hatch. The hatch swings forward under spring tension, giving the commander a little leeway when opening it, and the hatch itself offers protection from bullets when locked in the open position. If the commander wants to fight outside the hatch or simply take in the big picture with his head out and a pair of binoculars, he is almost fully shielded from sniper fire, and the hatch can be spun around along with the cupola to face any direction.

Just like with the T-64 before it, accommodations for the commander are spartan. His seat is well padded, and legroom is not in short supply, but there aren't many concessions for width. In summertime, the roominess of the station is acceptable for the average Soviet tankist, but in winter, the commander's bulky clothing cuts down on the already modest volume of habitable space. Taller people will not find it too bad, as there's plenty of headroom, though there's not much space to stretch out. Personally, I like to compare the turret stations with the cockpit of a fighter jet. The "pilot" sits in a narrow cabin with instruments to his left, right and center, and he talks to his "wingmen" via a headset and throat mike. He even traipses around with a jet engine whirring in the background.

For ventilation, there is a small plastic fan mounted on a ball joint just in front of him. It is enough for European summers, but not the high heat of Northern Africa and the Middle East.

Like with the T-72 and T-64, the commander of the T-80 is supplied with four general vision periscopes, but they got rid of the rearwards blind spot with the inclusion of a TPNT-1 rear view prism block embedded into the center of the hatch. It is useful for directing the driver while buttoned up. In non-combat situations, the commander could just open his hatch and peek out, of course. The TKN primary periscope directly in front of the commander is supplemented by two TNPO-160 periscopes and another two TNPO-165 periscopes embedded into the hatch, pointing left and right, thus giving him a very generous 180 degrees of frontal coverage around the turret, plus a "rear view mirror". While not as comprehensive as NATO tanks, the cupola is rotatable, so you still get 360° coverage in the end. In broader terms, general vision periscopes are useful for directing the driver, checking where your platoon mates are and getting a sense of direction and location, but their usefulness becomes secondary in a combat situation, as spotting well camouflaged vehicles and infantry from distances of several hundred meters and identifying them as such is simply not humanly possible while the tank is in motion over rough terrain.

However, the commander's responsibilities are not limited to simply monitoring the situation outside. In case the autoloader malfunctions (which is so rare that none of the tankers that the author has talked to have ever encountered it), the commander is also responsible for manually operating the autoloader carousel. The ammunition type indexer memory unit (YELLOW) performs the double function of an indicator unit with LEDs in it to show what type of ammunition is currently aligned with the elevator and ramming mechanism so that the commander knows when he has reached the desired ammo type -

- and the silver-gray thing underneath it is the hydroelectric carousel rotation drive motor (RED). If all electrical power is cut to the tank, rotating the carousel is achieved by the commander furiously working the hand crank attached to the side of the motor.

The commander is also provided with an ammunition type selection dial (BLUE), which allows him to select the type of ammunition that is to be loaded, thus giving him the ability to make an immediate decision on the most suitable type of shell to use upon the identification of a target. If the commander sees a tank, the procedure is to immediately designate the target for the gunner to engage, and while the turret is still spinning, the commander will choose the ammunition type so that the autoloading cycle can already be underway. Thanks to this feature, the reaction time, which is the time between seeing a target and opening fire on it, can be as low as about 6 seconds total. (Don't quote me on that).

Besides all that, being the tank's auxiliary loader, the commander is provided a control box (GREEN) to control the autoloader replenishing procedure.

Besides having his general vision periscopes and controls, the commander also gets to play around with a multifunctional pseudo-binocular sight. This is his primary means of observation.

TKN-3 "Kristal"

The original T-80 from 1976 was equipped with the TKN-3 pseudo-binocular combined periscope, similar to the T-64 and T-72 before it. Pseudo-binocular meaning that although the device has two eyepieces, the two optic feeds are combined to one aperture, which the viewer sees out of. It has a fixed 5x magnification in the day channel with an angular field of view of 10°, and a fixed 3x magnification in the night channel with an angular field of view of 8°. The periscope can be manipulated up and down for elevation, and the commander's cupola must be manually spun for horizontal viewing.
  By 1976, the TKN-3M was already somewhat obsolete. It featured target cuing and was very compact, but it wasn't stabilised, and featured only rudimentary rangefinding capabilities and its night vision capabilities were only borderline acceptable for 1976. Night vision came in two flavours; passive light intensification or active infrared. In the passive mode of operation, the TKN-3 intensifies ambient light to produce a more legible image. This mode is useful down to ambient lighting conditions of at least 0.005 lux, which would be equivalent to an overcast, moonless and starless night. In these conditions, the TKN-3M can be used to identify a tank-type target at a nominal maximum distance of 400 m due to the resolution limit, but as the amount of ambient light increases such as on starlit or moonlit nights, the distance at which a tank-sized target is discernible can be extended. In dark twilight hours, the TKN-3M may be able to make out the silhouette of a tank at a distance of up to 800 m or more, but the sight is hamstrung again, this time not by the absence of light, but by the low magnification. Any brighter than dawn or dusk, and the image will be oversaturated and unintelligible.

The active mode requires the use of the OU-3GA2 IR spotlight, which connects directly to the tank's 27V electrical system. With active infrared imaging, the commander can reliably spot vehicles from a distance of up to 2500 m to 3000 m, but identifying them can only be done at around 800 m, or potentially more if the opposing side is also using IR spotlights, in which case, the TKN-3 can be set to the active mode but without turning on the IR spotlight. The switch for activating the spotlight is the right thumb button while the operating channel selector is on the TKN-3 itself.

Though not as capable as the gunner's IR sight on the British Chieftain with its 1000-meter nominal identification range, it's worth noting that that system uses a 2 kW spotlight that has a diameter of around 570 mm. The OU-3GA2 consumes just 110 watts has an aperture diameter of only 215 mm, while still allowing the commander to see up to 80% as far as the gunner of a Chieftain can. The larger diameter illuminates a larger area, sure, but what the gunner can actually see is still limited by the field of vision of his sight, and there's nothing special there. It's also worth noting that the TKN-3 and the OU-3 series of spotlights was first introduced in 1963, four years before the Chieftain.

The problem with IR spotlights as a whole is that while the user can use them to spot for targets, the targets can use them to spot the user too, but from much further away. Because of the diffraction of light waves, you won't see just a circle patch of light either. If you observe a tank with its IR spotlight on, a large portion of the tank will be brightly illuminated from miles away. The diffracted light does have the benefit of lighting up the ground better for the driver to see, though, so the common issue of speed control due to short visibility distance with the complementary IR periscope for the driver is slightly alleviated in battle conditions.

The OU-3GA2 spotlight is mounted co-axially to the TKN-3 sight aperture via a connecting rod, visible in the photo below to the left hand side of the spotlight.

Rangefinding is accomplished through the use of a stadiametric scale sighted for a target with a height of 2.7 m, which is the average size of the average NATO tank. Like the TKN-2, the TKN-3 is unstabilized, making it exceedingly difficult to reliably identify enemy tanks or other vehicles at extended distances while the tank is travelling over rough terrain, let alone determine the range. The left thumb button initiated turret traverse for target cuing. The range of elevation is +10° to -5°. The OU-3GA2 spotlight is also directly mechanically linked to the periscope (the arm to which the spotlight is linked to can be seen in the photo above) to enable it to elevate with the TKN-3M.

Target designation is done by placing the crosshair reticle in the periscope's viewfinder over the intended target and pressing the cue button. The system relies on the use of a single direction sensor installed on the cupola ring, so the system can only account for the cupola's orientation, and not the periscope's elevation, so the cannon will not elevate to meet the target; only the turret will.

TKN-3 viewfinder

Although all the steel and equipment makes the cupola rather heavy, its ball bearing-ed race ring makes it surprisingly easy for the commander to rotate, enabling him to quickly and precisely slew his TKN-3M sight onto multiple targets, conduct ranging and designate them. Still, it isn't quite as easy to keep the sight on target once the turret starts spinning and the tank is moving away from the target at a large relative orientation angle, especially since the TKN-3M is always operating under maximum magnification. To remedy this, the cupola was equipped with an electric counter rotating (or "contra rotating", if you prefer) motor, visible in the photo below along with the electric cable supplying it with power. It is the box to the left of the dome light.

It is slaved to the turret traverse motor via a wire connection, causing it to rotate at a rate that is directly proportional to the speed of the turret, only in the opposite direction. This solves the problem of the commander losing track of the target, and it helps maintain his sense of direction.

PNK-4S Universal Sighting Complex

For the Soviet optronics industry at the time, the PNK-4S was only a small technical innovation, but the device placed the T-80 on the same level as the best NATO tank at the time, namely the Leopard 2 with its revolutionary PERI-R17 independent panoramic sight. Like the PERI, the PNK-4S complex combines the functionality of an auxiliary gunnery complex with that of a comprehensive surveillance unit, giving the commander full authority with regards to the fire control system including the ability to directly override the gunner, which can be useful in some situations, such as to immediately engage a standout threat at the very instant it is spotted. All this is done with a simple thumbstick on the control module located to the right of the TKN-4S pseudo-binocular surveillance device around which the PNK-4S system revolves.

The decision to use a thumbstick was probably because a full joystick could not be easily manipulated with precision while the operator's body and arm was rocking around if the tank were going over rough terrain, while the thumb would be completely stationary if the hand was securely gripping the handgrip. The index finger rests on the trigger button at the back of the handgrip.

The PNK-4 system can be considered a true fire control system, as it connects directly to the tank's ballistic computer. It can also be used independently from the fire control system in case of an emergency by using absolutely manual means of weapons control, as explained further in the TKN-4S section. When used in the gunnery mode, the PNK-4 module is locked facing forwards. Horizontal cupola rotation control then becomes horizontal turret control, and vertical sight movement then becomes gun elevation. Independent vertical stabilization is still present, so that the sight does not elevate when the gun does to load.

The control module has all the necessary controls for the use of the main gun, including ammunition selection vis-à-vis the autoloader. Later T-80U variants with a remotely controlled anti-aircraft on the cupola would also make use of this control module for aiming and firing. With all this and the TKN-4S sighting complex, the T-80U could boast of having one of the most sophisticated hunter-killer systems in the world at the time.


The foremost improvement of the TKN-4S over the TKN-3M is the addition of an independent stabilizer with its own gyroscopic sensor and compensator motor, visible on the left side of the main periscope housing as the large bulging module. The stabilizer is designated as the 1ETs29-4s. The stabilization accuracy on the vertical plane is at least 0.30 mils, while the stabilization accuracy on the horizontal plane is much lower at 0.88 mils, because of the much greater burden of the cupola compared to the mirror in the sight aperture. This means that the maximum deviation from the original point of aim is 0.30 m vertically and 0.88 m horizontally at a distance of 1000 m. The sight can maintain this level of performance while the cupola is rotating at speeds of up to 35 degrees per second. The vertical range of elevation is quite reasonable, spanning from -10° to +20°, granting the commander an uninterrupted line of sight on any given target while the tank is on the move over terrain of any degree of impassibility (within reason).

Another major improvement over the TKN-3M came in the form of a higher maximum magnification factor of 7.6x in the day channel in the high magnification setting, along with the option to switch to a low magnification setting of 1.0x. The night channel has a fixed 5.2x magnification. The principal advantage of the increased magnification in daytime is that it enables the commander to see and designate targets at ranges suitable only for missiles and beyond what was determined to be the maximum effectiveness threshold for ballistic munitions. The field of view under x1 magnification is 47° for the day channel and 7° under maximum magnification, or 7°40' under maximum magnification in the night channel, owing to the relatively low effective viewing distance at night. The night vision module uses newer third generation light intensification technology; better than what the old TKN-3MK had, but still not competitive against first-gen thermal imagers. Like the TKN-3, the TKN-4S can operate under active IR imaging or passive light intensification. In the latter case, the TKN-4S facilitates the identification of a tank-type target at a distance of at least 700 meters under ambient lighting conditions no brighter than 0.003 lux. This is a major improvement over the TKN-3MK, which only allowed the user to identify a tank type target at 400 meters under 0.005 lux of ambient light. The viewing distance for the TKN-4S can be improved by the presence of moonlight, which can increase the viewing distance by several hundred meters.

Because the TKN-4S is designed to use the same OU-3GA2 spotlight as the TKN-2, the active mode option does not present any improvements, only just enabling the commander to identify a tank-type target at a distance of 800 m. Very late T-80 variants equipped with the Shtora-1 laser beamers had a greatly improved viewing range, though it was still limited compared to first-gen thermal imagers.

The difference between the active and passive modes of operation is that in the active mode, the maximum practical viewing distance does not change regardless of ambient lighting conditions. If not for mortar and artillery-delivered IR illumination flares which could be aimed and shot over enemy positions, active infrared imaging would be completely obsolete. In such a scenario, however, the IR spotlight is rendered totally redundant.

In hindsight, it is quite clear that pursuing light intensification technology instead of investing in prospective thermal imaging technology was a huge mistake, one that ended up setting back the Soviet Union by nearly a decade in this particular field. Up until quite recently, modern day Russia had still been playing catch-up with Western tanks by assimilating French technology through technological cooperation. However, that doesn't change the fact that the TKN-4S still had a fairly modern nightvision feature, when the day-only PERI-R17 didn't. All in all, the TKN-4S was arguably the most advanced and most versatile commander's independent sighting complex available to any modern tank in the world, until that title was usurped after the fall of the USSR when the new CITV was introduced on the M1A2 Abrams in 1992 along with the new PERI-R17A2 in 1998. Both had thermal imaging technology, and were generally better in every possible way, but I digress.

Unlike the TKN-3, which had only a simple lead measuring scale and a stadia rangefinder scale, the TKN-4S has markings for all ammunition types and all the necessary range and lead scales, plus the stadiametric rangefinder. Because the PNK-4 system lacks a ballistic computer and laser rangefinder, the targeting procedure is devolved into manual mode. The commander must manually find the range to the target using the stadia scale, of which there are two. The one on top is for a target 2.5 meters in height, for a modern tank-type target like the Leopard 2 and Abrams, which are shorter than their predecessors. The one below it is for a target 2.0 meters in height, for APC-type targets like the M113.

Besides all that, the TKN-4S has a neat 1x periscope installed just under the rubber forehead pad for wider forward vision, supplementing the two TNPO-160 periscopes flanking it. It's not much, but it does grant the commander an almost totally uninterrupted field of vision around the cupola's front 180-degree arc.

The PNK-4S system uses a different cupola counterrotation motor from the one used for the TKN-3. The motor is powerful enough to spin the cupola at a maximum speed of 40 degrees per second, easily outstripping the turret, so there is no danger of the commander losing visual contact of his target.

Strangely enough, the PKN-4 complex does not include a laser rangefinder, despite the availability of quite compact models already in the late 70's. To determine the distance to a tank-type target, the commander must still rely on the same sort of stadiametric ranging scale as found on the TKN-3, though the precision of the operation has increased thanks to the higher magnification factor. Still, this isn't that big of a problem, because the gunner can quickly and painlessly conduct ranging himself anyway, and the gunner should be putting more time in observing the target than the commander anyway, who is supposed to be spending his time looking for other things to shoot at.


The original T-80 turret was essentially identical in form and in function to the one from the T-64A, the T-80 itself being a derivative of it. Just like the turret of the T-64A, the gunner in the T-80 was provided with nothing but a single front-facing periscope for general vision. Later on, both the T-80B and T-80U turrets gave the gunner's station two TNPO-165 general vision periscopes facing forward and one TNPO-160 periscope aimed to the left, giving the gunner a good view of his surroundings in addition to helping to improve the lighting condition of his station, which is pretty neat as well.

Keep in mind that in most NATO tanks, the gunner is not provided with any general vision devices at all, but inversely, the station in the T-80 is slightly more cramped and amenities are few are far in between. Wider tankers will find it very difficult fitting into the station due to the narrow hatch, but lankier people will find the tank more accommodating, especially since there is plenty of room to stretch his legs. If the gunner is short and slim, all the better.

Besides the controls for gunnery related things, the gunner also has access to a multitude of toggle switches for a variety of things around his station. Among them are switches for the ventilation system (just below his hatch), switches for the dome light, switches for the intercom system, and others.

The new and more spacious turret of the T-80U also enabled the crew to carry a small number of additional cartridges. It certainly wasn't the most reassuring design feature, but more importantly, the ammunition somewhat reduced the available space, so removing them was quite normal.

Fire Control

Being the best tank in the Soviet Union meant a few things. One of them was having the best optics and compact computer technology money could buy.

One of the few interesting unique traits of Soviet-style sighting complexes was the control handles. Instead of a thumbstick like on the Chieftain or a pair "steering wheel" style hand grips where turret slewing was done by turning the handles like, well, a steering wheel (z-axis), spinning the turret was done by rotating the grips on the y-axis. The hand grips have two buttons each. The left trigger button is for firing the co-axial machine gun and the left thumb button is resetting the laser rangefinder. The right trigger button is for firing the main cannon, and the right thumb button is for firing off the laser rangefinder.

T-80 obr. 1976


The earliest T-80s were essentially modified T-64As, and as such, they had a great many things in common. Among these commonalities was the use of the TPD-2-49 optical coincidence rangefinder.

By 1976 standards, the TPD-2-49 was already incredibly outdated. It was first used on the original T-64 introduced in 1966, but since then, the TPD-K1 laser rangefinding sight had been invented and was already in use on the T-64B and T-72A, both introduced in 1976.

The optic aperture is split into two halves, top and bottom. The two input lenses see different parts of the same target, and the gunner must use the adjustment dial near his hand grips to line up both halves and obtain a seamless picture.

This process was cumbersome and somewhat inaccurate - the error margin was 3 to 5%, which meant that the range could be off by up to a shocking ±200m at 4000m, or a much less serious ±30m at 1000m range. However, it's worth considering that the average tank engagement distance expected in Europe was estimated to be 1500m, relieving the TPD-2-49 somewhat. Plus, the use of hypersonic APFSDS ammunition meant that the error margin could usually be ignored since the ballistic trajectory was so flat that amount of drop was completely negligible at out to 1500m or more. The problem was much more pronounced with HEAT and HE-Frag ammunition, which were heavier, had a worse ballistic coefficient and traveled at much lower velocities. With the advent of long range ATGM systems mounted on jeeps, scout cars, IFVs and even light tanks, accurate long-distance fire with HEAT and HE-Frag shells was imperative.

A major flaw with optical coincidence rangefinders in general is that they don't work very well on camouflaged targets. Tanks with some camouflage netting and some bushes stuck into them can be difficult to accurately range because the outlines of the tank may not be very clear to the gunner, and determining the silhouette through other visual cues is time consuming, not to mention that it requires at least a decently experienced gunner. And so, because the T-64A turret was practically obsolete the moment it was integrated as part of the T-80, only a few hundred of the original 1976 production variant were ever manufactured, which were subsequently brought back up to true 1976 technological standards with the retrofitting of the TPD-K1 sight.


The TPN-1-49-23 is the gunner's auxiliary sight for the original T-80, but it was quickly replaced by the TPN-3-49. It can either use ambient light intensification or use infrared light conversion and intensification by relying on the L-4A "Luna-2" IR spotlight for illumination. The Luna-2 spotlight is mounted co-axially to the main gun. Like the commander's OU-3GA spotlight, the L-4A Luna spotlight is a xenon arc lamp with a simple IR filter. It runs on the tank's 27V electrical system and consumes 600 W of power. Removing the filter transforms the IR spotlight into a regular white light spotlight. Visual clarity can be cumulatively improved if multiple vehicles sporting IR spotlights, like BTRs, BRDMs, BMPs and other T-series tanks were illuminating the battlefield.

Take a look at this video here to see the L-4A spotlight in action.

The L-4A spotlight has an aperture diameter of 305 mm, smaller than the spotlights for the M60A1 and the Chieftain. The Chieftain's spotlight, for instance, has an aperture diameter of a staggering 570 mm, and consumes 2 kW of power. This is admittedly quite beneficial for searching for targets, because although the beam itself is only about 570 mm in diameter, dust, water vapor and smoke in the air help dissipate the light and increases ambient light levels, and illuminating a reflective object such as the ground will generate a bigger lit up spot. But despite the huge size and power of the spotlight, the nightsight on the Chieftain has an identification distance of just 1000 m. Despite using a much, much less powerful spotlight, the performance of the TPN-1-43-29 is quite close, with the ability to identify tank-type targets at around 800 m. The passive setting allows the same target to be spotted at ranges of up to 800m if the ambient light is no less than 0.005 lux, which is the typical brightness of a moonless, starlit night with clear skies. Clarity and spotting distance improves with increasing brightness. The identification distance is expanded to around 1000m on moonlit nights, and it is possible to spot tanks at distances of more than 1300m during dark twilight hours, although low magnification and mediocre resolution complicates viewing beyond that range. This level of performance is on par with the best Western equivalents of the mid to late 60's, but for 1976, the TPN-1-49-23 was simply no longer competitive. It did, however, have light intensification technology, which tanks like the M60 did not have until 1977.

If used as a backup sight, it can be used to identify tank-type targets at up to 3000m in daylight or more, if the geography and weather permits it. It has a field of view of 6 degrees at 5.5x maximum magnification. Variable zoom allows reduction of magnification to 1x to give the gunner much better general visibility for spotting targets.

The sight has dependent stabilization in the vertical plane with 20 degrees of elevation and 5 degrees of depression. Dependent stabilization means that the sight is technically stabilized, but it piggybacks on the vertical stabilizer for the cannon. Since the cannon has to elevate by +3 degrees for the loading cycle, the gunner will usually lose sight of his target immediately after firing, so he will be unable to observe the "splash" so that he knows how much elevation correction he needs to apply. The commander can see, of course, but that's not a very convenient way of doing things.

Though the cover can be removed and the sight used during daytime, the light intensification channel must never be activated, because excessive light input will overload the sight unit and possibly damage it. In accordance with this, the aperture has shutters linked to the trigger unit. Upon firing, the shutters automatically close to shield the unit from the intense flash of cannon fire at night. These shutter may also be manually opened and closed via a handle.

1A40 Sighting Complex


The TPD-K1 is part of the 1A40 sighting complex, which included the TPD-K1 itself, plus the sight-stabilizer interface. It was first installed on the 1976 upgade of the T-72 Ural, which became the 'Ural-1', and later carrying over to the T-72A in 1979 and to the T-72B in 1983. It is the gunner's primary sight, mounted directly in front of him. It has a fixed 8x magnification and a 9° field of view.

The sight aperture housing on the turret roof is armoured to withstand small arms fire, and a thin steel shroud extension shelters the aperture from thrown mud, rain, sand and snow; a rather clever feature, really. The extended side walls are of a much thicker steel meant to protect from bullets and fragmentation. The aperture itself has a layer of bolt-on SET-5L ballistic glass (19mm thick) to protect it from bullets and shell splinters. It is provided with a small wiper to remove any debris or mud that might obstruct the gunner's vision.

The sight aperture itself is just a periscope. There are no integral components in it, just a high-quality prism head with an interface with the stabilizer arms, so the financial loss from a destroyed sight head is totally negligible. Tank crews carry an extra sight head in internal stowage for quick field repairs.


The TPD-K1 replaces the TPD-2-49 and now that the secondary optic port is rendered redundant, it is permanently blocked off by having a plate welded over it. The primary optic housing was totally renovated to accept the much larger sight head of the TPD-K1.

The TPD-K1 incorporates a removable solid-state IR laser rangefinder (pictured below). It has a maximum error of 10m at distances of 500m to 3000m. From 3000m to 4000m, the maximum error threshold increases to 15m. The rangefinder becomes somewhat unresponsive and inaccurate past 3000m.

Detached rangefinder unit

Attached to the right side of the TPD-K1 sight module

  It has a digital display for precise readouts, but range information is ported through to the range indicator dial on the top of the gunner's viewfinder, which the gunner can read for manual input if necessary. To lase a target, the gunner must place the illuminated red circle over it and fire off the laser for 1 to 3 seconds, less at closer ranges, adding about 1 second per every 1350 m. If the target is mobile, it must be tracked within the boundaries of the red circle until the range is obtained. The rangefinder unit must take 6 seconds to cool down between uses.

Range input unit

Range information is automatically routed to the sighting unit, and the sight makes the necessary corrections and adjusts the reticle accordingly. The illustrations below shows what happens duing the ranging process.

Firstly, note the circle at the center of the viewfinder. That is where the target must go in order to determine the distance to it. Once that is done, the reticle instantly lowers, and the range indicator dial at the top spins to show the distance with an accuracy of within 10 m. The lasing circle stays where it is for lasing the next victim.

  The 1A40 sighting complex features an accelerometer. Once the range data has been entered into the sight, the accelerometer begins measuring the distance traveled by the tank, also taking into account the direction of travel relative to the target that was lased. This means that the gunner only needs to lase a target once. The sight automatically calculates and registers the new range of the target even if the T-80 has driven several hundred meters since the last lasing. The accelerometer can be seen at work by observing the range indicator dial This allows the gunner to fire on the move without needing to repeat the entire target acquisition process all over again, which is quite time consuming. This form of directional compensation is sometimes regarded as the "third axis of stabilization".

The TPD-K1 features a stadia-reticle rangefinder with distance indicators for ranges of 500m to 4000m that can be used to gauge target distance if the laser rangefinder is malfunctioning. This and the manual gun laying drives allow the gunner to continue engaging targets even if all aiming systems have completely lost power. The sight's vertical stabilization is linked to the vertical manual drive for cannon elevation.


All reticle lines can be illuminated (red colour) by an internal light bulb for better discernability in cloudy weather or at night.

The TPD-K1 is independently stabilized in the vertical plane. Thus, the gunner's view is not affected by any deficiencies in the gun's stabilization drives, and the gunner can see and engage targets beyond the gun's immediate capabilities in vertical elevation.

1 - Ranging scales for co-axial machine gun (ПУЛ stands for Pulemyot, or machine gun), 2 - Ranging scales for HE-Frag shells (ОФ stands for High Explosive), 3 - Laser range finder distance indicator dial, 4 - Stadia-reticle range finder

The sight includes graduations for firing the PKT machine gun to a maximum range of 1800m, for firing HE-Frag shells to a maximum range of 5000m, for manually applying lead on moving targets, and an auxiliary stadia rangefinder for manually determining the distance to a tank-type target or a bunker 2.7m in height at distances from a minimum of 500m up to 4000m (there is no need for a ballistic solution for targets closer than 500m). The stadia rangefinder is for emergency use only. On the top of the sight picture is the range indicator dial for the laser range finder, which is also capped at 4000m. Once the gunner has lased the target, the range will be displayed here. The gunner must then manually input the data into the analogue ballistic computer.

To operate the sight, the gunner must first toggle the type of shell into the sight's control unit beforehand.

Once this is done, the sight will automatically adjust itself for appropriate elevation. All the gunner must do now is to place the center chevron onto the target and fire. Subsequent shots do not require the process to be repeated, unless the gunner changes shell types or uses the co-axial machine gun, although already knowing the range, he may simply ignore the procedure and use the ranging scales to engage. Ammunition type selection is done with toggle switches right above the hand grips. One for HEAT-MP shells, one for APFSDS and another for HE-Frag.

Notice the blank spaces on the indicator card; these are left in anticipation of new ammunition. The introduction and use of 3BK-29, for example, would necessitate reprogramming the UVP unit at a depot. The card would then be filled in.

But to fire different variants from the ammunition of each respective type, the gunner must first input the shell model into the UVP control unit (pictured above) in order for the sight to automatically obtain a firing solution. Once set, the sight automatically accounts for different ballistic characteristics of different projectiles. Of course, none of this is needed if operating completely manually.


Complementing the primary sighting complex from the original T-80 all the way to the T-80U is the obligatory nightvision sighting system, which also functions as the backup sight in the event of the destruction of the main sighting unit.

Though still sporting only a 1st Generation IR imaging module, the TPN-3-49 boasts a more advanced (and also bulkier) design than the earlier TPN-1-49-23. More specifically, it features a more sensitive IR receiver module, enabling it to see farther using the same L-4A "Luna" IR spotlight as its predecessors. The spotlight mounted co-axially with the cannon and follows it on elevation and depression via simple mechanical linkages.

There are three selectable reticle settings for the viewfinder, one for each ammunition type; APFSDS, HEAT, and HEF. Each reticle different ranging scales for the gunner to input range data onto. Gunnery is reduced to its most basic level when using the TPN-3-49. Determining the range to the target is done by comparing the size of its profile with the size of the chevron, which is a rudimentary and rather imprecise method of rangefinding that is still implemented in the most modern sighting systems as a fallback option for when everything else fails. Unfortunately, this is the only way for the gunner to conduct rangefinding. However, it was determined that since the viewing distance was so short, it didn't really matter anyway.

The sight is not connected with the 1V517 ballistic computer, or any other third party sensor system. Laying the gun onto the target is done by lining up an adjustable horizontal line to an appropriate graduation on the range scale, which also moves the chevron up and down. So for instance, if a tank-type target is located 900 m away, the gunner places the horizontal line between the "8" mark and the long mark, which drops the chevron slightly. By using the handgrips to lay the dropped chevron up and back on target, the cannon is given proper supraelevation and a ballistic solution is formed.

The maximum identification distance of a tank-type target is 1300 meters in the active channel, and 850 meters in the passive channel under lighting conditions no brighter than 0.003 lux. As repeated many times before already, this figure will increase as ambient light gets brighter, but an important point to take is that the amount of ambient light needed to achieve the 850 m identification distance - 0.003 lux - is lower than the 0.005 lux standard by which the performance of the TKN-3 is measured by. This essentially means that on the same night, the gunner will be able to see about a half kilometer further than the commander.

In accordance with its function as a night sight, TPN-3-49 features an automatic internal shutter that blocks off the light intensifier device via an electric signal from the trigger on the TPD-2-49's handgrips. This is to protect it from burning out from the flash of the cannon firing, as the device is extremely sensitive and a bright flash of light so close to the sight will generate a sudden spike in voltage big enough to fry the vacuum tubes. Of course, the image produced would also be so bright that the gunner would go blind too. The light amplification channel must never be activated during daytime, because daylight is already bright enough to permanently damage the sight.

The armoured housing for the sight head of the TPN-3-49 can be distinguished by its small and squarish front profile, and the small bolt at each corner of the armoured cover. It is taller than the housing for the TPN-1-49-23.

T-80B (1978)

1A33 Sighting Complex


The T-80B was equipped with the more advanced 1G43 sighting system featuring the 1G42 primary sight. Like the TPD-K1, the 1G42 has an accelerometer and an independent gyroscopic relative position sensor enforcing an independent 2-axis stabilization system. Supplementing all that is the 1V517 digital ballistic computer, the 1B11 crosswind sensor and the 1B14 ambient temperature sensor.

Unlike the rather outdated TPD-K1M used in the T-72B, the 1G43 FCS features fully automatic lead calculation and automatic gun superelevation. What this means is that the aiming chevron at the center of the sight picture remains static as the FCS adjusts the elevation to account for ballistic drop and adjusts the orientation of the turret to account for lead. The sight is not displaced sideways as the gun is adjusted for lead, thanks to the 2-axis stabilizer in the 1G42 - the horizontal stabilizer rotates the sight aperture to compensate for the shifted orientation of the turret, thus allowing the gunner to maintain an unchanged view of the target.

The diagram below shows the markings and indicators in the sight picture. The digital readouts at the bottom of the sight picture show the type of ammunition currently loaded and the distance to the target. Beside the digital readouts are two LED light bulbs. The one on the left lights up to indicate that the cannon is ready to fire, and the one on the right lights up when the commander designates a target.

Besides the digital component of the targeting system, there is a range scale at the top meant for manual gunlaying in an emergency. It works just like in earlier gunsights like the TSh2B-32 for the T-54; the gunner turns a dial and the range scales move up and down while the horizontal line running across it stays fixed. The only difference between the old TSh2B-32 and the 1G42 is the range scale for APFSDS ammunition - marked "Б" in the diagramabove - is not vertical, but split into a diagonal line instead. This is because the ballistic drop of 125mm APFSDS is too small to be represented on a vertical range scale - the scale would appear as a solid black bar with indiscernible markings and range values.

The horizontal sliding line lying on the vertical range line (refer to the diagram) moves along with the range scale as the dial is turned. When the dial is turned for a farther distance, the sliding line slides down, and vice versa. The intersection point between the horizontal and vertical lines is the aim point when firing in manual mode.

The crosswind sensor is shown in the photos below. It uses a rather old-fashioned windmill-type anemometer to measure windspeed and not a digital hot wire anemometer in later designs with a meteorological mast. Since the 1B11 anemometer can only be affected by crosswinds, the device cannot measure headwinds and tailwinds. It device is heated to prevent failure by icing and to enable windspeed measurements in low temperature environments.


The Kobra GLATGM is guided to its target via a radio command link, and the radio signal is transmitted by the GTN-12 antenna unit located directly in front of the commander's cupola. The transmitter is linked to the sighting system using the 9S416-1 control system, which translates movements from the hand grips and the shifting of the point of aim to generate a command signal for the missile, thus forming a SACLOS guidance regime.

The T-80A also used the Kobra system, but this was deleted in the later T-80U.



The 1G46 sight is rather large and bulky, weighing in at 115 kg. The sight has independent two-plane stabilization with a range of elevation of -15 to +20 degrees, and a range of traverse of 8 degrees to either side. According to Ukroboronexport, the minimum laying speed in both axes is 0.05 degrees per second, which equates to the ability to lay the chevron with a maximum error of 0.88 meters at a distance of 1000 meters in both the vertical and horizontal planes. The sight has two magnification settings to choose from: 2.7x or 12x.

The layout of the sight is almost exactly the same as the 1G42. The only differences are in the shape of the stadia rangefinder, the size of the horizontal sliding line for manual aim, and the shape of the digital readouts and the indicator lights at the bottom of the sight picture. A photo of the reticle can be seen below (credit to Stefan Kotsch).

The 1G46 sighting complex also comes with a liquid cooled laser beam encoding and transmitting unit attached to the right hand side, unlike the T-72B, which used its 1K13-49 auxiliary sight for this purpose. This probably explains the heavier weight of 1G46 compared to other Soviet sighting complexes. The missile control unit is pictured below.

Other than the inclusion of the encoded laser projection unit, there is not much difference between the 1G46 and the 1G42. The independent stabilization system for the sight head has a good accuracy by Soviet standards, but the sighting line drift can be problematic. If the tank is moving at a high speed of around 25 km/h, the sight may drift away from the original point of aim at a rate of 0.2 mrads per second, so in the space of five seconds, the chevron will have moved 1.1 meters off target. This can be easily corrected by twitching the hand grips just slightly, but this does mean that the gunner has to be mindful. It is not known if there is automatic drift compensation.

T01-P02-01 "Agava-2"

  The revelation that new Western developments in thermal imaging technology was producing tank-borne sights that were rapidly outstripping the capabilities of light intensifiers resulted in new research on creating analogous devices to up the ante. Thermal imaging was not a totally unknown scientific field for the Soviet industry during the early 70's, as bare-bones prototype imaging systems for tanks had already been developed by the early 80'.

Working prototypes were already available by the early 80's, but problems with establishing mass production held up the development of thermal sights in the Soviet Union for a long time. In this sense, Soviet tank technology was behind the West by almost a decade, in both technological achievement as well as industrial know-how.

Only the command variant models of the T-80U, the T-80UK, had the Agava-2 installed due to their prohibitively high cost, which bloated the already incredibly high price of the T-80 tank series in general. But still, the Agava-2 had a few interesting quirks that are worth investigating.

Instead of an optical eyepiece or a "fishbowl" lens like the type found on the Abrams, the viewfinder on the Agava-2 was a 384x288p CRT monitor screen similar what the PZB-200 used. The sight itself is only capable of limited optical zoom, from 1.8x to 4.5x. To attain a greater degree of magnification, electronic interpolation (digital enhancement) is used to generate 18x zoom.

(Not actual resolution of viewfinder screen)

Under the highest magnification setting, the sight facilitates the identification of a tank-type target at a distance of around 2500 m under clear weather conditions. While the sight itself may be more than serviceable enough at combat distances, the low resolution and small size of the monitor makes it difficult to distinguish targets from one another at longer distances.

The commander is also provided with a 4.33" CRT monitor which feeds from the Agava-2, giving the commander a duplicate image of what the gunner is seeing.

The armoured housing that protects the sight aperture can be distinguished from the one for the TPN-3-49 by a hinge on the left of the armoured window cover. The window can be opened from within the tank via a simple pullstring, as you can see below. This particular T-80 is an experimental T-80B equipped with the Agava-2. The armoured housing is identical between all models.


By 1976, it would have been unimaginable to not include full two-axis weapons stabilization as a prerequisite for the T-80. Being a developmental offshoot of the T-64A, the original T-80 came with the same two-axis stabilizer system.


The 2E28M two axis stabilizer is used in the original model T-80, being the newest stabilizer at the time of its development, while the 2E28M2 was used for the modernized T-80 with the TPD-K1. It is precise enough to guarantee hits on tank-sized targets at distances of up to a kilometer while travelling cross country at a slow crawl.

The hydroelectric generator for the hydraulic gun elevation mechanism is pictured below.

This stabilizer is incredibly slow to turn at only 18° per second. It would take it a minimum of 20 seconds to do a complete 360° revolution. This is a rather severe drawback, since it limits the gunner's ability to stay on target when the tank is executing high speed maneuvers, as the tank's ability to turn far outpaces the turret's ability to spin.

An inherent shortcoming of hydraulic stabilizers is their risk factor in case of turret penetration. Hydraulic fluid is highly flammable, and it would most likely cause and spread an internal fire very quickly. This is an especially serious concern to the T-80, since the layout of its autoloader does not shelter the ammunition from burning fluids. 2E38M2 uses MGE-10A, a type of mineral hydraulic oil with very low temperature sensitivity, having an operating range of between -65°C to 75°C. The entire system operates at 7.25 psi. This is quite dangerous, as with all hydraulic systems, because hydraulic oil may spurt out from burst tubes at high speeds, spraying large portions of the interior with the flammable liquid.

The entire stabilization complex is centered around the use of a gyrostabilizer meant for measuring angular velocities in order to enforce corrections. The weight of the sum of all the components is 320 kg.

Vertical Stabilizer:

Maximum elevating speed: 3.5° per second
Minimum elevating speed: 0.05° per second

Horizontal Stabilizer:

Maximum turret slew speed: 18° per second
Minimum turret slew speed: 0.07° per second

The hydraulic fluid reservoir for both the 2E28 is mounted to the roof of the turret, just adjacent to the commander's head. It has a clear window with replenishing indicators. Maintaining the stabilizer and its associated subsystems is the gunner's responsibility.


The components shown in the photo above are the amplidyne generator for the turret traverse motor, the hydraulic arm for the vertical stabilizer with its attached hydraulic pump, and the turret traverse motor itself, from left to right.

The photo below shows all of the components for the turret rotation mechanism. From left to right: Amplidyne generator, relay control box (to control rate of rotation), and the electric motor.

The 2E42M1 combines a hydroelectric turret rotation and stabilization drive with a hydroelectric cannon elevation and stabilization drive.
The hydroelectric pump for powering the cannon elevation system is located under the cannon's breech, and the hydroelectric pump for turret traverse is installed in front of the gunner, behind his sight unit.

Amplidyne generator for 2E42M1 visible in the upper left corner of the photo

Besides being more precise than the 2E28M-2, the horizontal stabilizer motor is also more powerful, giving the turret on the T-80U a much needed faster spin to accompany the tank's increased agility.

Vertical Stabilizer:

Maximum elevating speed: 3.5° per second
Minimum elevating speed: 0.05° per second

Horizontal Stabilizer: 

Maximum turret slew speed: 24° per second
Minimum turret slew speed: 0.054° per second

The sum total of the components belonging to the stabilization system weighs 320 kg.


Being a direct offshoot off of the T-64 family, the T-80 inherited its autoloader directly from its parent design. Designated the 6ETs-15 and officially nicknamed "Korzina" (meaning "basket), the autoloader is of a hydroelectric type. Between it and the AZ autoloader used on the T-72 series of tanks, it is quicker to load and has a considerably larger capacity, but it has its own peculiarities and drawbacks nevertheless. The hydraulic lifting arm for the ammunition cassettes are located on the false floor of the turret crew cabin.

The ammunition cassette lifting arm can be seen in action in this video of the autoloader of the T-64.

Both the gunner and commander are provided with controls to the autoloader. The gunner's autoloader controls can be seen below. Photo credit to "coast70" from the QIP.ru photo sharing platform.

The two-part cartridges are stowed in an 'L' position. The propellant charges are held vertically and the projectiles are held horizontally.

One drawback of the "Korzina" autoloader is that it takes up valuable horizontal space, because the ring of ammunition is installed within the diameter of the turret ring, so the crew stations are narrower than the turret ring diameter would suggest.

The biggest advantage to the 6ETs-15 autoloader is of course the fact that it holds a remarkable 28 rounds of ammo, more than the 22 rounds carried on the T-72, much more than the 16 rounds in the bustle of an Abrams, and nearly double that of the 15 rounds on the Leopard 2. The average loading speed of the "Korzina" autoloader is easily on par with human loaders, and even outpaces the AZ autoloader of the T-72 by around a second.

The autoloader is insensitive to scorching heat, freezing cold, nor does it care how fast the turret is spinning, thanks to its impeccable sense of balance. It does not matter if the tank is rocking around like a bucking bronco at 50 km/h over the most gutted dirt paths. The autoloader will still load a shell in 6 seconds, every time. The argument that the autoloader can be "knocked out" by hard impact or a hit on the tank's armour is fallacious. A hit that's powerful enough to disable the autoloader would also be powerful enough to knock the people inside the turret out of their senses, and that includes human loaders. From an economics standpoint, an autoloader makes sense too. These really aren't complicated machines. Manufacturing one can take a few dozen cumulative man hours, but training a loader would take at least around 3 months, and a shoddily trained candidate will not be able to perform "up to spec". Of course, it can be pointed out that depending on unskilled labourers to assemble the autoloaders would also produce the same effect, but really, these aren't complicated machines.

While discussing the reload speed, one must not forget that it is usually the gunner that determines how much time passes between each shot. Besides searching for a target, he must determine the range to the target. On the original T-80 with the TPD-2-49 optical coincidence sight, rangefinding can take four seconds or more, depending on the skill of the gunner.

The cartridge trays are composed of two hinged halves, both of which are skeletonized to save weight.

The second half of the tray is levered up from the rotary elevator acting upon an angled lug in front of its hinge point with the first half of the tray. The same elevator supplies most of the force propelling the tray upwards, and it also helps support the weight of the tray when it is unfurled.

The first half of the tray has an eccentric mounting point for the system of levers of the alignment mechanism to act upon. The eccentric installation is very apparent in the GIF above, which neatly demonstrates how the tray is cammed backwards into the rear bulge of the turret in order to create enough room for the second half of the tray to be pulled up before the entire assembly straightens out.

As you can see in the GIF above, the two halves of the tray split apart and release the cartridge from its bonds just a moment before the ramming cycle begins. When reloading the trays, these halves must be locked together before the tray can be indexed and lowered back into the autoloader.

  Ramming is conducted by a rigid chain actuator.

Restocking the entire load of ammunition including non-autoloader stowage can take between 25 and 30 minutes to complete, while replenishing the ammunition reserves of the autoloader carousel takes between 15 and 20 minutes. Reloading the autoloader is a simple process. All that happens is that the normal loading cycle is reversed, so instead of shells being rammed into the breech of the cannon, the trays are raised into position, where they are loaded up, then lowered back into the autoloader.

One of the peculiarities of the "Korzina" autoloader is that the entire row of cartridges stowed around the perimeter of the turret ring completely isolates the driver from the rest of the crew. This makes it practically impossible for the commander to communicate with him without using the intercom system. However, the designers were kind enough to create provisions for creating a passage between the driver's station and the turret. This involves keeping the turret oriented exactly forward and removing any two ammunition trays which happen to be within the sector of the passage.


Whereupon the entire load of ammunition in the autoloader has been expended, the crew has the option of replenishing it with extra cartridges from racks placed here and there all around the interior of the fighting compartment of the tank. The original T-80 and the T-80B had a rather small reserve capacity of just 7 cartridges, stowed in the hull in a conformal fuel tank-cum-ammo rack located on the port side of the hull, just behind the driver's seat.

Five shells of any type and seven propellant charges can be stowed in the racks, and another two shells may be strapped onto the exterior of the rack to complete the set. These two extraneous shells each have a metal cup bolted to the floor of the hull to hold them in place.

The new T-80U and its turret had space to store 10 extra cartridges. Stowing extra ammunition in the turret was a substantial security risk with the chance of catastrophic ammo detonation jumping up by two times, since now the turret and not just the hull was potential cause for a popped turret. So as mentioned before in the "Gunner's Station" segment, the crew could, and would have opted not to make use of the racks in the turret.


There only ever were a few things in common between the members of the Soviet "tank triad", and the cannon was one of them. Like its brothers, the T-80 mounted the 2A46 125mm smoothbore cannon, but along with the T-64, the T-80 was consistently ahead of the T-72 in implementing the latest and most advanced variants of the 2A46 family.

The initial T-80 employed the 2A46-1 cannon (D-81TM), a variant of the original 2A26 (D-81T). Unlike the 2A26 which had a barrel length of 51 calibers (6.35 m), the 2A46-1 had a shortened barrel measuring 48 calibers (6.0 m) in length, as the superfluous length of the 2A26 was proven to be excessive for what Soviet metallurgy technology could support during that era. Correspondingly, there were issues with the barrel of the D-81T having insufficient stiffness causing it to experience excessive vibrations from the movement of the tank over rough terrain. This reportedly led to some reduction in accuracy.


This section will only contain details on the missiles compatible with T-80, as the basic types of ammunition available to the T-80 are identical to what was available to the T-72. Therefore, if you wish to read about APFSDS, HEAT and HE-Frag ammunition, please head over to the T-72 article.


The relevance of gun-launched guided missiles designed for tank cannons of a limited bore diameter is arguable, to put it mildly, but what is most certainly true is that they were prohibitively expensive and their value against new NATO composite armour arrays was questionable at best until the new tandem charge Refleks-M missile arrived. Besides, the tank would have had very few chances to exploit the incredible range offered by its arsenal of missiles due to the infrequency of encountering large expanses in Central and Western Europe. The huge flatland fields of the Ukraine were optimal, but the Red Army was certainly not planning on being on the defensive.

However, missiles are not used just for shooting at ground targets. Airborne targets are fair game as well. In fact, besides the Germans, Soviet tank crews are the only tankers that are trained to engage low-flying aircraft as part of their curriculum. The only difference was that West Germans were taught to attempt to use APDS shells to do the job. With speedier 125mm APFSDS ammunition, the T-80 was capable of this too, as mentioned before, but the likelihood of scoring a hit isn't very high.

The missiles used for the T-80 are split into two halves; rocket motor and fuse for the front half, and warhead plus guidance receiver for the back. The two halves are snapped together by the straightening motion of the loading tray as it is moved into the ramming position.

9M112 "Kobra"

From Stefan Kotsch's website

Kobra had only a single charge warhead placed at the front half of the missile. The shaped charge liner was possibly made of aluminium. An improved version with a copper warhead was also in use, designated 9M112M. The basic 9M112 version was introduced in 1976, while the improved 9M112M was introduced in 1979. The main improvement of the 9M112M over the basic 9M112 was the use of the new 9N129 warhead with a 20% higher penetration. 9M112M entered service in 1978 and began mass production in 1979. The 9N129 warhead uses OKFOL for a more powerful blast effect and for a more energetic cumulative jet.

The placement of the shaped charge warhead at the front of the missile severely limits the standoff distance. This has a negative effect on its penetration power, and renders the missile no more powerful than the typical 125mm HEAT shell.


9M112: 250mm at 60°

9M112M: 300mm at 60°

The missile is soft-launched out of the gun barrel by the 9D129 propellant charge.

Kobra's is guided by radio command. At engagement distances of 4 km, the missile does not fly at a level altitude. Kobra climbs to 3 to 5 meters above cannon level and cruises at this altitude until it reaches within 600 to 800 meters of the target, whereupon it descends back to cannon level and continues until it hits the target. This enables it to avoid striking bushes, low hills and other natural obstacles throughout its long journey.

In the "emergency" shooting mode, the missile travels at a level altitude and reaches the target in this manner. The "emergency" mode is only intended for shooting high priority targets that appear suddenly at close range, but the tank has a missile loaded.


9K119M "Refleks-M"

The 9M119M Refleks-M missile is similar to the 9M119 Refleks used in the T-72B, but with a different guidance method. Guidance is accomplished by the integrated 9S517 laser beam unit on the 1G43 sighting complex.

The missile is soft-launched by a 9Kh949 reduced load piston-plugged ejection charge, giving the missile some momentum before the rocket motor kicks into action. The piston plug is designed to properly seat the missile in the chamber, but its primary purpose is to protect the laser beam receiver at the base of the missile from propellant gasses. The total weight of the 9Kh949 charge is 7.1 kg.

The missile itself has an efficient layout with the rocket motor placed in the middle, the warhead at the very rear, and the control surfaces and mechanism at the front along with the fuse at the tip. The large distance between the tip of the missile and the warhead means that the warhead is given a large standoff distance without the need for a special standoff probe. The layout enables the 125mm missile to have a comparable flight range as the 127mm ITOW missile, and superior armour penetration performance, but in a much more compact package. With 700mm of penetration, "Refleks" is a much more serious weapon with a much better chance of defeating the new generation (at the time) of NATO tanks like the Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams, albeit from the side. The chances of defeating such tanks from the front with this missile are rather slim.

The missile uses a solid fuel motor, with four nozzles arranged radially. Flight stabilization is maintained via five pop-out tail fins with curved and angled surfaces to impart a slow spin onto the missile, while steering is accomplished by the two canard fins at the front. These are operated pneumatically, so the more corrections the gunner makes while the missile is mid flight, the less responsive the missile will be over time, though the gunner will have to be tracking a very difficult target like a moving helicopter for this to become noticeable.

Missile Diameter: 125mm
Wingspan (Stabilizer Fins): 250mm

Shaped Charge Diameter: 105mm

Maximum Engaging Distance: 5000 m
Minimum Engaging Distance: 100 m

Penetration: 700mm RHA

Hit Probability On Tank-Type Target Cruising Sideways At 30 km/h:
100 m to 4000 m =  >90%

Flight Distance Time:
4000 m - 11.7 s


9M119M "Refleks-M"

The appearance of Refleks-M gave the T-80 the newfound ability to confidently destroy new heavy NATO tanks like the M1 Abrams. That is, until the M1A1 variant appeared in 1985.

The precurser warhead has a cone diameter of 64mm, essentially just as large as a 66mm LAW warhead, and almost equally as powerful. Unlike typical Western tandem warhead designs, the precurser warhead on the Refleks-M was deliberately made powerful enough to compromise the thick composite arrays on emerging NATO tanks before the main charge detonates.

700 - 750mm RHA (Without ERA)
650 - 700mm RHA (Behind ERA)


The T-80 is equipped with the ubiquitous PKT general purpose machine gun as a supplementary coaxial weapon.

The PKT is most commonly encountered, but PKTM may be used in later models. Raw performance is nearly identical between the two of them. It is fed with 250 round boxes, with 5 more carried inside the tank. The rate of fire is 800 rounds per minute. Ball and tracer ammunition are usually linked in a 2:1 ratio. The theoretical maximum effective firing range is 650m against a running target, and up to 1500m against  stationary targets. However, the actual practical ranges are much lower at around 600m for both running and stationary targets, depending on terrain and meteorological features. The gunner's ability to actually see and track personnel at extended ranges also plays a huge part in the co-axial's practical engagement envelope.

The machine gun is fired by the gunner using his hand grip controls. The commander may also cut in on the action and use the 6P7.S6.12 electric solenoid switch attached to the machine gun, or in the case of the T-80U, the trigger button on the PNK-4S control module.

The machine gun is mounted to the right of the main gun, and protrudes from a pill-shaped port which provides vertical space for gun elevation. Since it is mounted alongside the main gun, it receives all the benefits of the stabilization system.


The T-80 continues the tradition of mounting an inclusive large caliber AAMG on the turret roof, but it does so in a rather curious way. Instead of a conventional ring or skate mount or perhaps a direct installation onto the rotating cupola, the T-80U's NSVT can be installed onto any one of three pedestals jutting out of the turret roof. There is one forward and slightly right of the commander's cupola, a rather stubby one immediately to its left, and another directly behind it for a total of three. Alternatively, there is another pedestal behind the gunner's hatch.

This unusual scheme has its own small advantages, but for the most part, this system is a detriment to the usefulness of the machine gun. For one, the fixed installation of the machine gun limits the aiming sector to only about 90 degrees forward and slightly to the right, and that's with the commander leaning out of the hatch. To aim sideways, the commander must exit his hatch and sit out on the turret roof, open to all and sundry. Aiming backwards is not possible unless the machine gun is installed on the rearmost pedestal, which is not feasible when already in combat, as the machine gun itself already weighs 25 kg. The NSVT mount also includes a canvas belt catcher to prevent sections of belt from landing in front of the commander's sight aperture and obstructing it.

The NSVT itself is a respectably accurate, rapid-firing heavy machine gun chambered in the 12.7x108mm cartridge. It fires at the devastating cyclic rate of 700 to 800 rounds per minute, but at longer ranges, heavy machine guns generally devolve to a "spray and pray" regiment, especially against fast-moving jet attack aircraft.  Against slower attack helicopters, the NSVT may still prove marginally useful every now and then, especially if the attack helicopter in question has poor or no cockpit and fuselage protection like the AH-1 or AH-64, though to be honest, firing at attack helicopters with a machine gun is an exercise in futility. Firing at aerial threats is facilitated by a K-10T collimator sight attached to the machine gun cradle. Firing at ground targets can also be done with the K-10T, but using the machine gun's original iron sights are more appropriate for the job.

For some inexplicable reason, the NSVT on the T-80 is fed with unusually voluminous 150-round boxes; an obvious point of merit compared to other tank-mounted AAMGs which are typically furnished with more modest 50-rounders, like on the T-72 and T-54. Transferring the 11 kg ammo boxes from the side of the turret to their special bracket on the left of the machine gun mount can be simplified by rotating the machine gun to the right, making it that much easier to haul them up.

1ETs29 Remote Weapons Station

In 1987, the all-new T-80UD received a new remotely controlled, electrically assisted machine gun mount integrated into a redesigned commander's cupola. It is independently vertically stabilized, and derives horizontal stabilization from the counterrotation mechanism of the cupola. The range of elevation permitted by the mount is extremely generous, spanning from -15° to +85°.

Aimed fire on ground targets is conducted using the PNK-4 combined sighting system through the eyepieces of the TNK-4S. The commander can shift from observation to shooting at the flick of a toggle switch, whereupon the reticle of the TKN-4S changes to a graduated one with suitable markings and the stabilizer for the NSVT mount is slaved to the sight. The commander is then able to use the sight elevation handgrip to operate the machine gun up and down by +20° and -4° down respectively.

If the commander wishes to fire at a target situated higher than the tank, he may use the PZU-7 anti-aircraft sight installed at the front left quadrant of the cupola. Using it disengages the machine gun from the TKN-4S, but the use of the thumbswitch is retained for aiming and firing. The sight has a maximum elevation of +70° and maximum depression of -5°.

Thanks to vertical stabilization, the commander has the ability to engage targets while on the move.

The main merit of the new weapon system is of course the fact that the commander does not need to expose himself to fire the machine gun, thus isolating him from harm, but another less obvious but equally noteworthy improvement is the deletion of the frontmost mounting pedestal, thus giving the commander a free, unobstructed view of the front-right of the turret.

On the modern battlefield in the modern world, the utility of the normally proprietary anti-aircraft weapon is extremely limited. Current trends in anti-insurgency warfare have demoted the machine gun to a marginally useful tool of suppression, and though the 12.7mm caliber is more adept than the 7.62mm caliber at destroying light cover like adobe walls and tree stumps, heavy machine guns are generally too inaccurate at the distances at which it surpasses the general purpose machine gun in such value. That, in combination with the low ammunition reserves owing to the large size of the cartridge, has led to the necessary extinction of the heavy machine gun as a native weapon system on tanks. The new T-14 mounts not an NSVT or KORD but a PKTM general purpose machine gun on its commander's panoramic sight, fed with 500 rounds in a single box, as compared to the 150 loaded for the NSVT on the T-80, and the 50 for the M2HB on the Abrams. In this regard, the T-80 joins fellow Cold War era tanks in obsolescence, stepping aside for the new generation.


There is no doubt that it was the T-80 series that had the most sophisticated sighting systems and the best firepower, and the T-80s were one of the fastest tanks on Earth to boot, but nothing is perfect. For the T-80, the crux of the matter is the lackluster effort made in utilizing the best glacis armour available at the time, and the turret armour was surpassed by the T-72B in 1983. Regardless, the members of the T-80 family still had a warranty of virtual invulnerability to the vast majority of weapons deployed by NATO with a superiority margin of several years' worth of technology.

And let's not forget to mention that the secret to not blowing up is to not get seen. The T-80 was equally as short as its big brother the T-64 and its cousin the T-72, though it did get a little taller when the new Object 476 turret was fitted in 1985. Otherwise, the T-80 and T-80B from 1976 and 1978 respectively were both nearly as short as the novel Stridsvagn 103 by a margin of just a few centimeters. And one of the features that made the Strv. 103 so attractive to the Swedes was, of course, its low silhouette.

Still, getting seen might be inevitable even at the best of times, and not getting seen might not even be possible sometimes, so when the tank does get hit, the only thing that's worth anything is the steel between the crew and certain death.


Not only were the very first T-80s from 1976 visually indistinguishable from the earlier T-64A, they also shared a great many components and even had identical glacis armour geometry and configurations. Just as with the T-64 and T-72, the steel used in the array was rolled, and had a hardness of between 290 and 340 BHN, depending on the thickness. The thicker plates are softer, and the thinner plates are thinner. The entire array measures 205 mm in actual thickness, but the 68° slope multiplies this figure to 547 mm in relative thickness. The configuration is as follows:

80 mm RHA > 105 mm Glass Textolite > 20 mm RHA

A highly detailed examination of this composite armour design is available on the T-72 article. You can view it here.

In 1979, the original T-80 underwent a modernization program to bring it up to the level of the T-80B, which sported a revised design that was better optimized against emerging Western long rod penetrators.
 As a result, it was decided to weld a 20mm hard steel appliqué plate to supplement the base armour of the original production variant of the T-80. The pre-fabricated plates were sent to depots, where they could be installed as part of regular scheduled maintenance, along with a few other minor things added as part of the modernization program.

The extra armour plate probably had a hardness of around 400 BHN, chiefly due to its low thickness relative to the other rolled plates used in the construction of the hull.


While the original glacis armour configuration was more than enough to contend with perhaps all 105mm ammunition of the APDS variety found on the other side of the Iron Curtain, by 1976, the design was already teetering on the brink of obsolescence in light of recent advances in Western APFSDS technology. Therefore, in 1978, the layout received a belated update for the new T-80B using the same materials, with only a few minor tweaks in thicknesses. The new array is essentially the same as the T-72 Ural-1 or the T-72A. The configuration is as follows:

60mm RHA -> 105mm Glass Textolite -> 50mm RHA

By 1983, the recent revelations on newly emerging 105mm APFSDS technology - namely that the Israeli M111 Hetz had better than expected performance - and the need to bring the standard of protection up to the level of the new T-80BV necessitated the installation of an appliqué armour plate onto this new glacis design. The appliqué armour plate was only 16 mm thick. It is quite likely that the M111 was discovered to be able to perforate the "60-105-50" array only at very short distances, hence the low thickness of the appliqué plate. 


In 1982, the newly introduced T-80BV came endowed with a heavier, but more effective double sandwiched laminate array design for the upper glacis. Instead of a single layer of STEF between two steel plates, the new array is composed of two thinner layers of STEF sandwiched between three 50mm steel plates. This new array is 220mm thick perpendicularly, with a LOS thickness of 587mm.

The additional protection from KE projectiles mostly comes from the three spaced steel plates. At a slope of 68 degrees, the LOS thickness is 400mm, and the spacing effect further improves penetrator defeat. The two STEF layers are not as thick as in the previous models, but the presence of spaced steel plates and the greater overall thickness of steel enables the armour to retain the same protective qualities as the previous arrays against shaped charges.

50 mm RHA -> 35 mm STEF -> 50 mm RHA -> 35 mm STEF -> 50 mm RHA

The drawing below, shared by Militarysta on the Polish militarium.net forum, details the formation of "lips" at the edges of the perforated plates due to the asymmetrical distribution of forces on the back surface of the plate during the penetration process. The "lips" are pushed into the path of the shaped charge jet or the long rod penetrator by a shock wave travelling through the non-metallic filler and rebounding off the neighbouring steel plate. The drawing are from MBB, where the illustrious Dr. Manfred Held worked during the 70's and developed his first explosive reactive armour.


The addition of Kontakt-1 ERA armour added just under 1.2 tons to the original weight of the tank. The layout of the blocks was not optimal, to put it mildly.

Installing Kontakt-1 on the tank is easy but tedious. Each reactive armour block is attached to the surface of the hull, turret and sideskirts using a pair of bolts. The ease of installing and replacing the blocks meant that the entire modification could be done as part of regular scheduled maintenance. However, simplicity comes at a price in this case. The rubberized side skirts are rather fragile, and can be quite easily knocked off when the tank is travelling through densely wooded areas, or perhaps traversing obstacles in urban sprawl. With the added burden of a few dozen Kontakt-1 blocks mounted onto it, it only gets easier to accidentally knock the side skirts off. The photo below shows a "naked" T-80BV with the necessary provisions for mounting Kontakt-1.

A detailed examination of Kontakt-1 is available on the T-72 article. Please access it here.


The T-80U carried over the 5-layer glacis array from the T-80BV, so there's not much to talk about here without getting into the Kontakt-5 reactive armour integrated with the tank. What's more interesting is the installation the turret, which had a very distinct aesthetic profile.

The armour of the turret of the T-80U will not be covered in this article until the author has gathered enough data on the behaviour of ceramics in the configuration used in the T-80U.


Although even the best 105mm APFSDS shells and the most powerful guided missiles had already been successfully nullified by the introduction of new composite armour and Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armour, there was still the 120mm threat to consider. 120mm ammunition of the early 80's were not a very serious threat in the short term for a variety of reasons, but it was clear that the new weapon had great potential, so serious countermeasures had to be devised. While the M1 Abrams was not armed with the M256 cannon for which it was famous for until the M1A1 upgrade in 1986, the Leopard 2 had achieved IOC in 1979 and had already grown into a thousand-strong contingent by late 1984. The folks at NII Stali did not twiddle their thumbs idly while news of the new NATO tanks trickled in, and thus, Kontakt-5 was introduced in 1985 as an integral component of the new T-80U.

Coverage on the glacis is good, but not for the turret, which is totally unprotected on either side of the gun mantlet. This was done in the interest of the driver's convenience in entering and exiting his station. Unfortunately, once he slips in, there is an increased possibility that he will never have the chance to get out ever again.

British trialing had long ago concluded that it is the turret that sustains the majority of hits when engaging in tank-on-tank combat, a fact corroborated by independent Soviet tank loss analyses during WWII. This is because the lower third of the tank is usually not visible to the enemy due to tall grass and undergrowth, making the turret ring of the tank the perceived center of the tank.

How Kontakt-5 Works

An extensive analysis of the mechanism of Kontakt-5 is available on Tankograd's T-72 article. You can view it here: (Link). 

There are two variants of Kontakt-5 employed on the T-80. The glacis modules are set at 68 degrees to the vertical plane, and that fact alone makes them extremely potent. However, the turret modules are set at only 50 degrees to the vertical plane. To compensate for this, the modules on the turret are of a bidirectional design. But first, let us examine the upper glacis of a T-80U.


Flyer plates removed

To reduce the likelihood of a chain detonation, each module is separated by a 20mm heavy duty steel partition permanently welded onto the glacis.

Loading and reloading the modules is an extremely simple affair, as long as you have a wrench at hand. Each module is filled with eight 4S20 explosive cells, arranged in a pattern of four, stacked two deep.


Loading and reloading the turret modules are equally painless. However, the flyer plates for the turret modules are not bolted onto a fixed housing. Rather, they are welded to the walls of the support structure frame. As such, replacing the turret blocks flyer plates is less straightforward than replacing the ones on the glacis, as doing so requires welding equipment and subsequently results in a longer turnaround time.

Click to enlarge

Each turret module is composed of a single backwards-flying flyer plate, with a robust steel box welded to it to contain four 4S22 explosive cells - two cells side by side, stacked two-deep to make four. The rear wall of the steel box may also act as a flyer plate.

While the turret modules on the T-72B obr. 1989 are set at a slope of 68 degrees, the modules on the T-80U are only sloped at 50 degrees. To compensate for this, a thick steel plate is welded behind the armour.

Kontakt-5 on the T-80 is composed of a welded steel body and explosive cells, topped off with a bolt-on cover plate. The steel body acts to contain the immense pressure from the detonation of the explosive cells and to prevent premature damage from machine gun and autocannon fire, and the front facing of the steel body is the flyer plate. It is made of high hardness steel. The front plate measures approximately 15mm, or 40mm with the angling of the glacis accounted for.

However, all things come at a cost. In the case of Kontakt-5, its high explosive content and power is also its biggest drawback, as it is perfectly possible for the activation of one module to set off another. The photo below doesn't actually show the aftermath of this phenomenon. It's just for illustration.


It's quite obvious in the case above that an APFSDS shell struck the edge between the upper and lower modules, which set both off and didn't do very much to the penetrator.


Without effective measures for protecting the sides of the hull, the tank's speed and agility will be for nothing. 80 mm of steel, even angled at 70 degrees, isn't really worth much against quasi-modern shaped charges or long-rod penetrators. With Kontakt-5 and about a meter and a half of air space, though (depending on the incidence angle), the odds of survival suddenly doesn't seem that bad. With these side hull modules, the T-80 should be immune to hits from any 105mm APFSDS shell within a 70° frontal arc, but this probably goes down to a 60° to 40° arc for earlier 120mm APFSDS. This should include the DM13, DM23, M829 and M829A1.


Besides front facings of the turret, the upper glacis and the side hull, the roof of the turret is also partially protected by proprietary Kontakt-5 blocks.


APFSDS ammunition was advancing rapidly, now that the 120mm cannon and the tanks that hosted them were in play. In 1989, the M829A1 was introduced - the best of its type so far. Measuring in at just a hair under 700mm in length, it was the lengthiest and thinnest long rod monobloc shell in the world. It could penetrate around 350mm RHA at 60 degrees at 2 kilometers' distance. Nothing came near it in performance. The M829A2 introduced in 1992 retained the construction of its predecessor except for a modified tip, and it flew faster thanks to better, more powerful propellant. In 1994, they discovered that M829A1 was unable to penetrate the front of the T-80U and T-72B obr. 1989. It was stopped by...


And on that bombshell, let's take a look at what sort of measures are in place to preserve the tank in case it does get penetrated.


3ETs11-2 "Iney" Firefighting System

To prevent the spreading of internal fires in the engine and crew compartments, the 3ETs11-2 "Iney" halon gas quick-acting firefighting system was installed, with the driver-mechanic as the primary operator. The system can operate in two modes; automatic and semi-automatic. In the automatic mode, the system reacts immediately to a fire in either the crew compartment or the engine compartment and acts upon the flame regionally, meaning that the system activates specific fire extinguisher nozzles to put out the flame, as opposed to just flooding the entire compartment. In the semi-automatic mode, the system can still automatically detect a fire but instead of immediately activating the fire extinguishers, the driver-mechanic is alerted via the P11-5 control and signal unit placed just in front of him. The decision as to what the next course of action should be is deferred to him.


There are 12 TD-1 thermal sensors strategically placed in the engine compartment and crew compartment. The ones in the crew compartment are attached just above the floor of the hull, and aimed mostly at the floor. You can see one of them in the picture below, just right of the three fire extinguishers attached to the 3ETs11-2 system.

The firefighting system reacts regionally when a rise of temperature to 150°C is detected in the crew compartments and engine compartments. The three PPZ fire extinguishers are fitted with electrically triggered quick release valves. The PPZ extinguishers use R-114B2, also known under the designation Halon 2402. It is very effective against any class of fire, but the tradeoff is that inhaling large quantities of it in a confined space (the inside of a tank, for example) is a huge health risk. It is advised to immediately throw open all hatches and exit the tank upon activation of the PPZ fire extinguishers. In the event of a penetrating hit, the tank and crew may be saved, but it cannot be manned until the gas has dispersed adequately. As such, the tank can be considered to be temporarily out of action.

Two handheld OU-2 carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are also provided to supplement the automatic fire extinguisher system. If the TD-1 fire detectors fail to respond (usually in the case of small flames), then these will be the only firefighting tools available to the crew, aside from manually activating the PPZ fire extinguishers via the driver's control box. Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are suitable on Class B and C (fuel and electrical fires), so they are right at home inside a tank. CO2 fire extinguishers are also more directional that halon extinguishers, so the user can starve a fire of oxygen quite effectively within the confines of the tank. Using the OU-2 extinguishers might be a more appealing option to activating the 3ETs11-2 system, since your chances of asphyxiating is somewhat lower.


If a company of T-80s were to be called upon to defend a certain sector out of the blue, and there isn't any time to create proper fortifications, the crew may create their own cover using the dozer blade installed on the lower glacis.

On flat, dry terrain, it can take up to 20 minutes to dig a tank-sized dugout, but on uneven soil, it can take as little as 5 minutes to do the same. For maximum stealthiness, camouflage netting and some improvisation is usually necessary for a proper disguise. 

However, because of the T-80's turbine engine, it is extremely ill-suited for static defence, seeing how the engine guzzles nearly as much fuel while the tank is immobile as when it is going at full speed. Because of this, it may not be able to sustain a counterattack when the moment comes. 


The secret to not getting blown up is to not get hit, and the secret to not getting hit is to not be seen. To that end, the T-80 is equipped with a smoke grenade system to shield it from prying eyes, but unlike prior Soviet tanks, the T-80 is unable to generate a fuel-based smokescreen from its engine, for fear of a potentially explosive result.  

902V Tucha

The "Tucha" smoke grenade dispersal system was universal between all Soviet armoured vehicles invented during the 70's, and was subsequently retrofitted to vehicles made before that. For some strange reason, the gunner - and not the commander - has access to the sole control panel for firing the grenades.

There are three variations of grenade layouts featured on the T-80 series. The T-80, T-80B and T-80U had their smoke grenades arranged on the front turret cheeks, which was rather paradoxical, because if you got hit and wanted to hide yourself, the last thing you wanted was for your smoke grenades to be blown off.

The T-80 and T-80B had a bank of five launcher tubes on the left hand side turret cheek, and only three launcher tubes on the right hand side, due to the L-4 spotlight being in the way.

For the T-80BV, it was necessary to cluster the launcher tubes at the sides of the turret in order to not obstruct the placement of Kontakt-1 blocks over the turret cheeks. The earlier T-80BV with the T-80B turret and the late model T-80BV with the T-80U turret share the same configuration.

The launcher tubes on the T-80U were equally distributed, four per turret cheek. Since they are installed directly atop the Kontakt-5 modules, it's not hard to imagine what would happen to them if they got hit.


The 3D6 smoke grenade emits "normal" smoke that can only obscure the tank in the visual spectrum. This type of grenade has been rendered next to useless with the gaining popularity of thermal imaging sights in the mid-80's, now long supplanted by the 3D17 model. It is of the slow-burning type, emitting smoke from the ground-up. It travels anywhere from 200m to 350m after launch, and it takes between 7 to 12 seconds to produce a complete smokescreen 10m to 30m in width and 3m to 10m in height, depending on various environmental factors like wind speed, humidity, altitude, etc. This is not including the time taken from launch to the grenade actually hitting the ground. This is in accordance with frontal assault tactics where tanks advance and maneuver behind a continual wall of smoke generated every forward 300m until they literally overrun enemy positions. The smokescreen can last as long as 2 minutes, depending on environmental factors.


The 3D17 is an advanced IR-blocking aerosol smoke grenade. It completely obturates the passage of IR signatures or IR-based light as well as light in the visible spectrum. It is effective at concealment from FLIR sights and cameras as well as at blocking and scattering laser beams for tank rangefinders and laser-homing missiles. Unlike the 3D6, the 3D17 grenade detonates just 1 seconds after launch, allowing it to produce a complete smoke barrier in 3 seconds flat. The drawback to this is that the lingering time of the smokescreen is only about 20 seconds, depending on environmental factors. This is enough for the tank to hastily shift its position, but not much more. This grenade detonates 50m away from the tank.


Nuclear annihilation was a very real existential threat during the Cold War, and even more so during the 70's and early 80's; a period widely regarded as the peak of hostilities. Facilitating the crew's survival in the event of a nearby atomic blast or after one is the GO-17 NBC protection suite. The GO-17 system relied on a dosimeter installed inside the tank to detect and measure the dose rate of gamma radiation, and used a small air intake on the hull roof to detect the presence of biological or chemical contaminants in the air. The air intake was installed next to the driver's hatch, and is pictured below.

More details on the GO-17 NBC protection suite can be found on the T-72 article.

Under normal operating conditions, the crew was ventilated by a normal fan system with an integrated dust blower to ensure a clean supply of air. In case of NBC contamination, the system could operate on overpressure mode. The air intake for the crew compartment is located at the rear of the hull roof, next to the engine air intake. As you can see in the photo below, the air intake dome is protected from bullets by a heavy steel shield to the right.

The photo below shows the internal components of the ventilation system. The circular air outlet for normal, unfiltered air can be seen on the silver portion of the ventilator. The drum-shaped part is a filter designed to destroy biological and chemical particles contaminating the air. When the overpressure mode is activated, the circular air outlet is closed by a servomotor and the air is diverted into the drum filter.

Besides the more active part of the tank's anti-contamination system, the interior walls are lined with an anti-radiation material. The liner is composed of borated polyethylene - a type of high-density polyethylene infused with boron - woven into fibers and made into sheets, which are then laminated and bound by a resin. Boron is known to be extremely effective at capturing neutrons thanks to its large absorption cross section, making it suitable for use as radiation shielding. The fibrous construction of the sheets and the lamination process also makes it a suitable spall liner not dissimilar to early flak vests that used woven nylon plates.


The mounting brackets on the upper glacis glacis are compatible with the KMT-6,

Th indiscriminately scoop up any mines, buried or unburied, anti-tank or anti-personnel, and shoves it to the side, creating a narrow mineless path for the tracks. This is fine... for the tank with the plow, which would be leading the crossing of the minefield as the only one of two in its company. For everyone else following behind, they can follow by driving on the track marks of the lead tank, but this is not possible in marshy and swampy ground, as doing so will lead to the tracks overpenetrating the soil, losing traction and getting stuck.

The ploughs can't reach anti-tank mines buried deeper than 8 or so inches, but this is fine, since the pressure exerted by the tracks probably won't be enough to set them off anymore at such depths.


The left side of the cabin is dominated by the instrument panel. Just behind it is the front left hull fuel cell, and behind that is a stack of accumulator batteries.

And on the right side of the driver's cabin, there's the hatch opening and closing mechanism, and behind it is the GO-27 gamma radiation detection unit system with its control board direction under it. The red boxes at the front of the hull are the fire location and warning indicator box (left) and fire extinguisher activation boxes (right), previously mentioned in the "FIREFIGHTING" section.

Lighting for the driver is provided by a single dome light affixed to the ceiling of the station, just behind the driver's hatch and behind the driver's head, which is a rather poor idea since most of the light would be blocked by the driver, so finding the buttons on some of the control boards is harder than it should be. Just like the gunner and commander, the driver gets a small plastic fan right under his nose to help cool him down.

The driver is furnished with a GPK-59 gyrocompasss. It is particularly useful when driving underwater since there's no scenery to refer to. To use it underwater, the driver memorizes the figure indicated on the gyrocompasss dial while on land. This tells him about the orientation of the tank. Once the tank enters water, the driver can refer to how much the dial deflects whenever he steers left and right to know how much and how long he must steer in the opposite direction in order to reorient the tank back towards its original travelling direction.

The use of gyrocompasses can perhaps be labeled as a less sophisticated form of an Inertial Navigation System (INS), advanced versions of which are often present in modern combat vehicles due to their independence from outside input contrary to a GPS-based navigation system. You can see how the GPK-59 works on this video here.

The T-80 is speedy, no doubt about it, but unfortunately, it is not as nimble as it can be. While certainly able to turn fast, it isn't too graceful, and this can be blamed on the rather antiquated lever-type steering system with power assist. Though workable, it's a disappointment compared to German and American tanks that had long transitioned to motorcycle-style handlebars and steering wheel-type configurations.

The driver has a bank of three periscopes for driving visibility, arranged in an arc to give a better panorama of where the tank is going, which, in the T-80's case, is sort of a mix between necessity and luxury. Driving as fast as the T-80 can demands better-than-usual situation awareness on the driver's part as a safety measure, and compared with the earlier T-64 and T-72 with their single wide angle periscope, the T-80's three better facilitates quick maneuvering. There are two variants of the same basic periscope layout; the original version where the periscopes are exposed, and the modified version introduced on the T-80U where a protective roof was added above the periscopes.

The visibility from these three periscopes is demonstrated in this video (link), taken by a T-80U driver.

At night, the driver suffers rather like all of his Soviet tanker brethren, only a bit worse. He is supplied with a single TNP IR imaging periscope. It facilitates a viewing distance of no less than 30 meters, within which he is guaranteed to be able to discern terrain features and obstacles, but because only the center periscope can be swapped out, the driver's field of view is rather narrow compared to the TNPO-160V used in the T-64 and T-72, which has a much wider aperture. With a view distance of only 30 meters and a bad case of tunnel vision at night, all the merits of the T-80's speed become irrelevant.

The driver is supplied with a face shield. It can be installed just behind the periscope, and it hooks up directly to the tank's electrical system. The face shield is mainly used when driving in convoys, serving to protect the driver's face from the dirt, insects and smoke (and in the T-80's case, hot exhaust plumes) of the leading tank as he drives with his head outside his hatch. It is only used when enemy contact is not a concern, as the shield prevents the cannon from depressing.


The radically higher forces following the implementation of a gas turbine engine wore out the T-64's small diameter lightweight roadwheels and suspension at an alarming rate. Hence, the T-80 received an all-new reinforced torsion bar suspension system paired with larger and sturdier forged aluminium roadwheels with a diameter of 640 mm, and because of the much higher rolling speed of the tracks, it became necessary to have five return rollers instead of the usual three in order to provide more dynamic support, and the RMSh tracks inherited from the T-64 required some modifications as well. Because of the extremely high spinning speed of the roadwheels, even the thick rubber rims were not enough to handle the stress, so the tracks needed to be outfitted with thick internal rubber pads, which also helped reduce vibration when driving over uneven surfaces, and thus helped improve crew comfort and shooting accuracy.

The T-80 uses a hydraulically assisted mechanical syncromesh transmission with dual planetary gearboxes and dual final drives. There are four forward gears and one reverse gear. The brakes are of a disk type, hydraulically operated. The T-80 turns on a false pivot, meaning that to turn the tank on the spot, one of the two the tracks are locked in place while the other drives the tank around it. This system of neutral steering is mechanically simple, but vastly inferior to a pivot-type steering system where one of the tracks is run at the desired speed while the other is run slightly slower in the opposite direction. Besides being slower, false pivot steering creates a huge amount of friction and places more strain on the inactive track, leading to a quicker gradual weakening of the track and a shorter lifespan. To counteract this issue, the driver may "wiggle" the tank when turning so that the tension in the inactive track is released, but it takes some skill to do that.

The transmission uses B-3V synthetic oil, of which 60 liters is needed. The same class of oil is used in helicopters like the Mi-17. If you're interested in this sort of stuff, you can read more about it here.

Because of the front-heaviness and high speed of the tank, nose diving into ditches and ruts would be particularly harsh on both the suspension and the crew. To alleviate the stresses of rough driving, the front two roadwheels and rearmost wheel are outfitted with hydropneumatic shock absorbers borrowed from the T-64. These aided recovery as the tank traversed natural obstacles.

The T-80 and T-80B have the same type of transmission. There are 5 forward gears and 1 reverse gear. The T-80U has a modified transmission with 4 forward gears and 1 reverse gear. Here's a video (link) of a T-80 driver showing off. The smooth transition to reverse and the high acceleration of the tank is demonstrated at 1:25. The curb weight of the T-80B is 42 tons, or 42.84 tons in a combat configuration. The T-80U weighs 46 tons empty, and 46.84 tons combat loaded. Stripped of additional armour, the T-80, T-80B and T-80U exert a ground pressure of 0.83 kg/sq.cm, 0.864 kg/sq.cm and 0.93 kg/sq.cm respectively.


To the casual observer, the most obvious eccentricity of the T-80 is, without a doubt, its use of a powerful gas turbine engine. Contrary to popular belief, though, the T-80 was not the first tank in the world to mount such an engine, only the first in the Soviet Union. That honor belongs to the Swedish Stridsvagn 103 first formally entering service in 1965 - a full decade before mass production of the T-80 was initiated.

The T-80 uses the GTD series of engines, a family of gas turbine engines. The turbine blades and turboshaft spins at 26,650 rpm, but the gearbox (consisting solely of reducer gears) lowers this figure down to a maximum of 3,554 rpm on the seventh gear.

The two air intakes for the engine are very substantial, which is to be expected, since gas turbine engines are in essence jet engines - turboshaft engines, to be specific, and huge volumes of oxygen is needed to sustain combustion.

In the photos above, you can see the engine deck and the engine itself along with the air intake grilles and the two ducts behind the engine that lead up to them. It is well known that the biggest nemesis to any jet engine is the ingestion of foreign objects. The cyclone-type air cleaners built into the rear of the engine shoulder most of the burden of filtration, but since it can only ensure air purity of 98.5%, the engine will ingest a small portion of pollutants all the same, but contrary to popular belief, the dust consumption tolerance of gas turbine engines . To counteract the buildup of gunk on the turbine blades, the designers implemented an ingenious solution involving vibration whereby the turbines would be shaken by high frequency vibrations produced by a system of motorized hammers. The hammers were tuned to vibrate the turbine blades at resonant frequencies, causing them to shake off any "pollutants" gunk-ing them up, which are blown out by blasts of compressed air. This purging process occurs during the startup procedure, and during the deactivation procedure. This system is not dissimilar to ultrasonic polishing for jewellery, and the sum of all of the individual engineering solutions was so effective that in fact, the T-80U surpassed the T-90S in engine during comparative endurance trials in India. The T-80 was a top-A student during initial tests as well, passing its hot climate trials in the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan with flying colours.

A portion of the engine's many essential life support systems can be accessed by simply opening up the engine deck. Scheduled maintenance and regular check-ups can be done from outside, but to do any serious repairs on the engine or any of the drivetrain components, the entire powerpack (the transmission and the engine are integrated into one unit) must be lifted out. Very little dismantling is needed. The whole thing just comes out - if you happen to have a large winch at hand, that is.

However, the engine deck itself could be considered something of a chink in the tank's armour.

At only around 14mm thick, it isn't really worth much when armour piercing bomblets start raining down from above, although it is still sufficient when faced with low-end autocannon fire. Thankfully for the T-80, the majority of sky-borne autocannons under the NATO banner are pretty anemic. Among them are the M197 and M230 chainguns firing the 20x102mm and 30x113mm shells respectively, which are so weak that the AP shells would glance off and the HEDP shells will either fail to fuse or detonate at such a steep angle that they will be ineffective. However, due to low structural stiffness from the insufficient thickness and lack of reinforcing ribbing, 30x173mm ammunition - namely the DU type used on the GAU-8 on the A-10 ground attack jet -  will possibly tear through the deck even at angles of attack of around 20 to 30 degrees and potentially start fires, rupture important cabling or compromise some important subsystem related to the normal functions of the engine. That is assuming that the A-10 dives at a steep enough angle, of course. Fortunately for all Soviet tanks, A-10 pilots are trained to attack at very shallow dives in the vicinity of 3°. At that sort of angle, there is practically no chance of achieving any meaningful hits on the engine deck, let alone perforating it. The deck should also be immune at angles of attack of up to 10 to 20 degrees, as projectiles are guaranteed to ricochet off at these angles.

IF the tank was attacked with autocannon fire from a steep dive, then there isn't much to protect the engine.

There's no use denying that gas turbine engines have had more than their share of controversy, and for the most part, the controversy is not far off the mark. The most sanguine property is the excellent acceleration potential thanks to the high torque output of gas turbines at low revs, but the price for such performance is steep. From a defensive standpoint, the act of simply sitting idle to ambush or in wait of attack drains the tank's fuel reserves as prodigiously as when the tank is on the move, and if the tank were to be involved in a breakthrough assault as it was designed to do, the same issue limits its ability to exploit a successful breach and penetrate deep behind enemy lines.

Aside from that, one will find no small number of online sources repeating the claim that compact dimensions and low mass compared to conventional diesel powerplants are main selling points of this type of engine. The GTD series for the T-80 are no lighter than most diesel tank engines at a hefty 1050 kg (dry). However, it is a little smaller than many diesels, measuring in at 1.494 x 1.042 x 0.888 m (L-W-H) in all of its incarnations, compared to 1.480 x 0.896 x 0.902 m for the V-46 engine for the T-72. All members of the GTD family are marginally lighter than the AGT-1500, which weighs 1134 kg, and all of them are somewhat smaller, as the AGT-1500 measures 1.68x0.99x0.80.

An advantage to the use of jet fuels is that it will not gel up unless the ambient temperature is Arctic low, unlike raw diesel which will in fact gain viscosity in deep sub-zero temperatures if not mixed with some sort of antifreeze. The engines themselves can operate in ambient temperatures of down to -40°C and up to +40°C, but the true heat limit is significantly higher at +55°C, though running the engine at those sorts of conditions entails an extreme reduction of power. In addition to that, the GTD series of engines take no more than just 3 minutes to start up at temperatures of -40°C. That is more than 10 times shorter than the time it takes for a T-72 to get moving. This gives the T-80 a huge advantage in response time, which means that reinforcements can arrive around 40 minutes sooner, but the price of this blessing was very, very steep indeed. The price of the GTD-1000T was 10 times higher.


The GTD-1000T powered the original T-80. It would be later modified (minimally) to increase its output to match the ever increasing mass of future T-80 models. To the layman, the lower power output would ostensibly mean that the T-80 is less agile than something like the M1 Abrams (1980 original), but one must remember that the T-80 was nearly 36% lighter. The greatest bottleneck to the performance of the T-80 family was the manual transmission, which limited the acceleration of the tank in rough terrain and required more skilled drivers compared to a tank with an automatic transmission. The top speed of the tank on paved highways does not matter nearly as much, as the speed of tank convoys often depends on the optimum cruising speed (not top speed) of the tank where vibration and engine fatigue is minimal.

Power - 1000 hp (745 kW)
Rate of Rotation: 3554 RPM


The newer GTD-1000TF for the advanced T-80B introduced in 1978 brought small but essential incremental improvements in both power output and fuel economy, which were achieved with the addition of a supercharger. Now, the engine is capable of developing 1100 hp, thanks to more oxygen fueling its fire, and the specific fuel consumption rate at full power was decreased slightly from 240 g/hph of the GTD-1000T to 235 g/hph (319 g/kWh). The GTD-1000TF is also used in the T-80BV. The photos below show the engine in the engine compartment of a T-80BV.

The photo below gives us a good view of location of the four accumulators, the oil and fuel tanks, and the air intakes (at the bottom corners of the photo). Note the little red TD-1 thermal sensor at the top left corner of the photo. Its location enables it to detect an electrical fire near the accumulators.


To compensate for the added weight of Kontakt-5 armour on the new T-80U (1986), it was necessary to take another step forward and increase the power of the engine yet again. As its name suggests, the GTD-1250 can put out 1250 hp. The fuel efficiency of the GTD line-up reached its peak so far at 225 g/hph (306 g/hph).

Though still less economic from a design standpoint, the actual fuel consumption rate was nevertheless lower and the new engine gave the T-80U a small, but practically negligible edge in agility over the M1A1 and its descendants.

The GTD-1250 uses a modified exhaust port with an interrupted rectangular grille pattern instead of squares like on the GTD-1000T.

Net Power Output: 1250 hp

Max Torque Output: 4395 Nm

Rated Speed: 3000 RPM

Supplementing the engine is the GTA-18 auxiliary power unit (APU). It is a small 30 hp generator outputting 18 kW. Only the command variants are equipped with an APU.


For all the sacrifices that needed to be made to gain the extraordinary speed of the turbine engine, the ability to cross rivers was not one of them. The T-80 is provided with a proprietary "Bord" or "Bord-M" snorkel kit, allowing to drive into and across rivers as deep as 5.5 meters, and ford streams down to 1.8 meters deep with some preparation. From a distance, the snorkel configuration is outwardly similar to the one used on the T-64, but the only real similarity is the implementation of a snorkel-mast where the commander can sit and direct the driver.

Photo Credit (Left): Maxim Volkonovsky

Ventilation for the crew is provided by the snorkel-mast, which is installed by locking it onto the commander's hatch. An internal ladder allows the commander to climb in and out of his station, and if necessary, the entire crew can escape a drowned tank through the snorkel.

Photo Credit: Maxim Volkonovsky

The tank is provided with a snorkel adapter for the engine air intakes. The adapter is a simple, totally hollow shell made with thin sheet steel, encompassing both air intakes and curving to form a pill-shaped inlet duct. It is stowed in a special container mounted at the rear of the turret. Alternatively, it can be left attached to the air intakes for convenience, like in the picture below. In that case, though, the range of traverse of the turret is severely restricted.

The adapter also serves the secondary but equally important function of keeping the air intake grilles from being submerged or splashed with the water blown up by the exhaust. The clip below shows an early T-80 prototype using a pair of crude ventilation ducts as an interim solution.

While the pressure of the exhaust gasses is enough to eliminate backflow into the exhaust port in shallow water, it is not powerful enough to do so in deep water, making it impossible to use a valved exhaust cover like on the T-55, T-62 and T-72 for deep water driving. Instead, an exhaust tube is used to vent the exhaust gasses out and above water. Installing the exhaust tube requires the removal of the regular exhaust port, which can be hinged away and locked in place, as you can see in the photo below.

The exhaust port adapter is stowed away in a metal bin mounted on the rear of the turret.

Because of the large size and mass of all of the snorkeling equipment, it can take upwards of an hour to prepare for a river crossing. Fording a stream can be done without the crew ventilation tube and the exhaust tube, but the engine air intake snorkel must be installed, which can cost up to 20 minutes of the crew's time.

Crew members are each given a closed-circuit IP-5 rebreather for emergency use. It comprises a watertight, form fitting gas mask, a chemical respirator chamber containing potassium superoxide (KO2), and a flotation collar. The rebreather uses the chemical reaction between potassium superoxide and carbon dioxide, activated by water from the user's breath reduce the former two to oxygen and potassium carbonate. The freshly produced oxygen gas is mixed into the previously exhaled breath to replenish its oxygen concentration for rebreathing. The crew usually puts the IP-5 on before entering water as a precautionary measure.



In terms of fuel efficiency, the GTD-1000T was ostensibly unremarkable, guzzling jet fuel at the incredible rate of 240 g/hph (326 g/kWh), while its American cousin the AGT-1500 had a specific fuel consumption of just 213 g/hph (290 g/kWh) while simultaneously offering higher power. However, we must not forget to take the "hp" in g/hph into account. Multiplying 1000 hp with 240 g/hph yields 240,000 grams per hour, which translates to 192 liters of TS-1 per hour at full power. In real number terms, this is lower than the consumption rate of the AGT-1500 by 25%, while outputting 50% less power.

For an engine of about the same size and weight, this is perfectly reasonable performance. However, it is always necessary to strike a balance between striking speed and striking distance, and while the raw performance of the GTD-1000T may not be as optimal as desired, its dimensions and foundations enabled it to be easily uprated whenever the need arises. The best example of this is the GTD-1250, having a much higher power output of 1250 hp, while at the same time offering lower specific fuel consumption rates of 225 g/hph. In real number terms of efficiency, the GTD-1250 gave more power for every liter it took by 6.9% than the GTD-1000T, while the GTD-1000TF offered 2.3% better efficiency. The GTD series of gas turbine engines was not let down by poor Soviet engineering.

However, all of that is academic. Actual mileage testing has yielded some very interesting tangible results for the GTD-1000T engine. The engine consumes between 430 liters to 500 liters of standard TS-1 jet fuel for every 100 kilometers (62 miles) traveled on paved roads, or 450 liters to 790 liters for the same distance but on dirt roads, depending on the severity of the terrain. Assuming that the tank does not stop even once during its journey, the T-80 can travel between 233 kilometers to 409 kilometers on a full tank of fuel when driving cross country. The efficiency of a gas turbine engine will be lower for a smaller engine compared to a larger engine. This is the only reason why the GTD series is less efficient than the AGT-1500.

This article is compulsory reading for all those meaning to understand the idiosyncrasies of gas turbine engines; strengths, weaknesses, and all. When operating with light loading, the power of the engine is not fully utilized. A large part of the fuel being consumed is burned up without doing any work, ending up as heat instead of mechanical energy. This is especially true for smaller engines like the GTD series. At full power, a gas turbine may be as efficient as, or more efficient than a diesel engine of the same power, but it is often not possible to travel at top speed on most terrain. When idling, gas turbine engines are incredibly inefficient as they must guzzle fuel to compress enough air to feed its own fire.

Comparative testing of the T-80U against the Leopard 2A5 showed that the Leopard 2A5 could cruise around on gravelly mountain roads for a distance of 370 km, while the T-80U could go a similar distance of 350 km on the same track. As the Soviet doctrine of tank warfare involved a great deal of tactical maneuvering as opposed to static defence, the T-80 will waste little of its fuel.


The best tank in the Soviet Union was also arguably the best tank in the world for a good long while. This, however, had the unfortunate side effect of ballooning the cost of each T-80 to up to three times as much as its cousins. In fact, a single T-80 cost nearly as much as an M60A3! What a nightmare. Although more advanced by an appreciable margin, the usefulness to cost ratio for a T-80 was not favourable compared to a T-72 or a T-64.

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic collapse, the competition between the tank producing factories rose to a fever pitch. Today, only Uralvagonzavod remains. The Omsk factory in Saint Petersburg still refurbishes GTD gas turbine engines for T-80s still serving in the Russian Armed Forces, but no new examples are being produced. The production of the T-80 ended over a decade ago, and its fate has been sealed with the appearance of the T-90M and T-14.