Three denomination for the same upgrade
Wether it was called Safir-74 (T-54), T-72Z (T-55) or Type 72Z (Type 59) the same kind of upgrade seemed to have been applied to a very common kind of Main Battle Tank: The T-54/55 Soviet early MBT family and its Chinese version, the Type 59. Many (up to 190) T-54/T-55 series MBTs has been indeed captured from Iraqi forces during the 1980-88 war. In addition, some 220 Norinco Type-59 and about 200 Type 69s were in service, but only the first were apparently modernized.
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Since all three tanks share the same characteristics, it was easier to upgrade them on a standard basis but it makes also more difficult to distinguish between types. It seems that these tanks follow the same pattern of Western modernization reminiscent of the upgraded 1980s Chinese tanks, Israeli Tirans or more recently the Ramses II MBT.
Taking advantage of the typically low silhouette and ruggedness of the type, Safir-74s were fitted by the Vehicle Industries Group with a modern and accurate long-range firepower and better power pack for increased performances, not forgetting a radical increase in protection with the adoption of ERA (capable of defeating a tandem HEAT warhead). These three MBTs has been seen since in regular parade and some exercises official footage. The modernization program was probably initiated after the Iran-Iraq war by the Defense Industries Organization of Iran and represents the only way to keep a numerical edge with nearly obsolete tanks.
Since all three tanks present the same general characteristics, elements are presumably interchangeable. The core of the modernization resides in the new HM-49L 105mm (Iranian derived-M68) rifled tank gun, inherited from the M60 purchased before the 1979 revolution. Similar to the Chinese tank guns and NATO L7 its performances are well-known. It came with a large array of ammunitions, HE, HEAT, HESH, AP1/2, APDS, and APFSDS and can launch the AT-10/ Bastion ATGMs (4000 m range). The barrel also has a much longer operational life compared to the old 100mm original gun.
More importantly, it is enhanced by a much more effective and modern Slovenian Fontona Electronic Fire Control System EFPC-3-55 comprising a ballistic computer and laser rangefinder. Maximum range is 10,000 m, accurate to plus or minus 5º. In addition, there is a commander’s independent sight and target designation system, and gunner’s night sights. Automatic/manual stabilization allows firing on the move against moving or stationary targets with much greater accuracy. On one model at east also a roof-mounted laser warning device was seen. The secondary armament comprises a co-axial 7.62 mm light MG and the usual roof-mounted 12.7 mm DSHK heavy machine gun.
The second characteristic of this upgrade revolves around better overall protection, both passive and active. Passive with apparently welded add-on armor on the glacis and sides, and rubber side skirts panels against RPG hits. Armour thickness is as follows:
-Turret 203 mm (front) 150 mm (sides), 64 mm (rear), 39 mm (top).
-Hull 97/99 mm (upper/lower front), 79/20mm upper/lower sides, 46 mm rear, 20 mm floor.
But the more recognizable addition is the active protection formed by about 60 ERA (Explosive Reactive Armour) blocks around the hull glacis front, upper sides, and turret (sides, front and roof).
Some footage extract showing a Safir/T-72Z with a rear turret basket.
The ERA blocks manufactured by the Shahid Kolah Dooz Industrial Complex are of a standard type, bolted on welded fittings. Their dual nature (CE/KE protection) meant these have one composite layer (KE) and an additional energetic material layer (CE). They are claimed proof against most kinetic energy penetrators as well as most common CE (Chemical Energy) rounds. Total weight of the package is about 1,191 kg. It’s protecting 60-65% of the turret front, 70-80% of the front and 60% of the sides. Allegedly, these are detonation-safe when dropped from a height of 5 m, hit by small arms up to 30mm rounds, napalm, or 125mm HE rounds shrapnel.
Also still for active concealment the tank is equipped with smoke grenade launchers sets and keep the original simple exhaust smoke generator system. Internally, automatic fire extinguishing systems were also fitted and full NBC lining.
The beating heart of the T72Z is now a more modern Ukrainian V46-6 diesel engine with 780 hp (used by the T-72 MBT and quite common). It is integrated into a compact single power pack unit. This has the advantage of easy access and replacement in the field, the single unit assembly comprising also the gearbox, brakes, steering, transfer case, cooling and hydraulic systems. The new Ukrainian SPAT 1200 transmission also provides semi-automatic and automatic gear shifting modes for better agility and ease of driving.
Officially the overall weight revolves around 36 tonnes, for a 21.66 hp/ton ratio, meaning a top speed in excess of 65 km/h for a 440/510 (extended) km operational range. The original Torsion bar suspensions units are kept, with the first and fifth road-wheel stations equipped with hydraulic shock-absorbers. The drive sprockets, idlers and tracks are apparently left unchanged.
Service & Exports
The name “T72Z” is confusing, knowing that Iran also modernized its own T-72s. The model was first revealed with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in 1996. It has completed trials and therefore validated its introduction into service. Defence Industries Organisation (D.I.O) has no released any official record of conversions so far so the number so the exact modernized remains obscure, only guessed from the alleged numbers of captured T-54/55 and Type 59s.
So far the only foreign customer for this model is Sudan, of which an unknown numbers were locally assembled under the name AL-ZUBAIR 1 by the Sudanese Military Industry Corporation – MIC. The same manufacturer also produces now the Type-59D based Al-Zubair II.
|Dimensions||6.45 x3.37 x2.40 m (25,6x 13,1x 9,4ft)|
|Total weight, battle ready||36 tons (72,000 Ibs)|
|Crew||4 (driver, cdr, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||V-46-6 V-12 diesel 780 hp (630 kW)|
|Suspension||Torsion bars, shock absorbers|
|Speed (road)||65 km/h (40 mph)|
|Range||440/510 km (280/316 mi)|
|Armament||105mm cannon, 12.7mm DSHK HLG, 2x 7.9mm KPT LMG|
|Armor||20-203 mm (0.24-0.35 in)+ ERA|
|Conversions||About 400 combined|
A T-72Z. Four types of camouflage patterns were observed for this type. Desert (sand/black or sand/reddish-brown), Northern regions (Olive Green and reddish-brown) or the “autumn” 3-tone pattern (sand, yellow, brown).
Safir-74 with a desert camouflage.
Type 72Z with a 4-tone camouflage.
The strange new MBT revealed in April 2016 called “Tiam” marries what is apparently a Chinese Type 59/69 tank turret with the Sabalan chassis, derived from the M47M Patton, itself a modernized version of the type with M60A components. The livery is conjectural as the model showcased officially a dark green livery with bright yellow ERA blocks, unlikely fit for a discrete livery.