Key Fact: The T-72MJ is a legacy of Yugoslavia's attempt to balance NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
One of the strongest industries of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) was its defense industry. During the Cold War, the SFRY flirted with both the West and the East, procuring and developing indigenous weapons based on technology from both sides. Perhaps one of the more interesting success stories was the success of the SFRY’s armor industry and its ultimate product, the M-91 Vihor Main Battle Tank.
The story of the Yugoslavian tank industry begins in the late 1940s, following Tito’s spat with Stalin.
Due to the Soviet Union blocking exports of it’s then-current tanks to the SFRY, while also threatening to invade, Tito himself asked workers at the Petar Drapšin factory if they could make a tank. The workers agreed, and the factory was able to produce a few tanks (around half a dozen) based on a modified T-34/85 design, called Tip (Type) A.
However these were not enough, so the Yugoslavians struck a deal with the United States for military aid. They acquired a number of M4A3E4 Shermans, M47 Pattons, M18 Hellcats, and M36/M36B1 Jacksons. Tito then made amends with the USSR in the 1950s. This allowed the SFR to acquire T-55s, T-54As, SU-100s, and T-34 Obr. 1960s. These were replaced by the newer T-55As which were donated by the Soviet Union to replace the earlier models that the SFRY shipped to Egypt during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
This deal laid the foundations of good relations with the USSR for the purchase of the T-72, but this deal didn’t go smoothly. Czechoslovakia and Poland received licenses to produce the T-72 before Yugoslavia, and in the end, the license granted limited them to ten years of production or one thousand tanks, whichever came first and locked them into a purchase of a set number of T-72M and T-72MKs.
Factories from every Yugoslav republic contributed to the production of the Yugoslavian T-72, called the T-72MJ. The first T-72MJ rolled off the production line in 1983 and differed from other T-72Ms in that it featured a fully digital fire control system.