Key point: The new anti-tank shells might not even fit their current tanks.
The Soviet Union’s huge tank fleet was a cornerstone of its power during the Cold War. However, events in the 1991 Gulf War called its superiority into question. On February 26, 1991, a cavalry troop of nine M1 Abrams tanks and twelve Bradley fighting vehicles bumped into an armored brigade of Iraqi T-72 tanks of the elite Tawakalna Republican Guard division. Within twenty-three minutes of frenzied firing, the troop destroyed thirty-seven of the Soviet-designed T-72s without losing a vehicle in return.
Such outcomes were not solely a result of superior U.S. training. Iraqi tankers did sometimes land multiple hits on M1 tanks, but their shells failed to penetrate the Abram’s frontal armor. Not one M1 was destroyed by hostile fire in the war.
Russian tank enthusiasts are quick to point out that the Soviet Union did not export to Iraq it’s more advanced 125-millimeter armor-piercing sabot shells, some of which used dense tungsten or depleted-uranium for increased penetrating power. After the USSR’s dissolution, Russian engineer continued developing improved ammunition. However, the effective thickness of frontal armor on Western tanks also increased by roughly 50 percent.
Todays, T-72s remain Russia’s primary main battle tank, supplemented by turbine-engine T-80s and four hundred more advanced T-90s. All carry variants of the 125-millimeter 2A46 smoothbore cannon, which loads its ammunition using a rotating ‘carousel’ mechanism instead of human loader. You can see the carousel in operation in this video.
Tanks employ a variety of different ammunition, including fragmenting high-explosive (HE) shells for combatting personnel and light vehicles, and high-explosive-anti-tank (HEAT) shells employing shaped charges that blast a jet of molten metal when they strike their target. Because HEAT shells do operate based on kinetic energy, they do not lose power over distance. Russian tanks can also fire guided missiles through their gun tubes which use HEAT warheads. Though slower than a shell, missiles are more accurate against very distant targets.