|Hello dear reader! This article is in a constant state of update, given that it is a contemporary tank. Last updated 17/04/2017.
Armor Testbed – 2 converted
New armor kits for the SAA?
The T-72 Shafrah (meaning “Sharp Blade”, a name suggested by WithinSyria blog) is a testbed for a new type of armor intended for a centralized SAA (Syrian Arab Army) T-72 upgrade intended to resist all forms of anti-tank rockets. Syrian tanks have, thus far, been highly vulnerable to Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), and successful missile attacks against SAA tanks in Damascus are often filmed and used for enemy propaganda. Thus it is very understandable why the SAA wanted to develop rocket resistant tank armor packages.
The Shafrah package does not appear to have been this answer – even despite a better relative performance compared to the SAA 4th Armored Division’s T-72 Mahmia.
There are at least two known T-72 Shafrah tanks, but there may be more (as analyzing footage and photographs to tell vehicles apart is very difficult). One, which is quite easy to distinguish, has ERA on the turret, as the base vehicle is a T-72AV. However, the most commonly filmed T-72 Shafrah is the non-AV version.
Other vehicles also have Shafrah armor. At least two or three bulldozers had the upgrade as early as October 2016 (see sidenote II), and at least one ZSU-23-4 Shilka was seen circa late March 2017 (see sidenote I).
T-72 Shafrah closeup. On the lefthand side of the gun is one distinct large plate. The hull also clearly has rows of angled plates. Posted 27th February, 2017.
Context: T-72 Grendizer Project
Major tank upgrades in Syria mostly concern making tanks resistant to rockets and missiles. Whilst the T-72 Mahmia (also known as the T-72 Adra) upgrade of the SAA 4th Armored Division was successful at defeating RPG-29 hits, it was not consistent at defeating ATGMs. In recent months, it seems as though tank upgrades have been centralized by the Syrian Arab Army, with the intention of making a new type of upgraded T-72 that is invulnerable to all missile types.
This mysterious upgraded T-72 project has been dubbed “T-72 Grendizer”, which refers to a popular Japanese cartoon show that was popular in the Middle East in the 1980s – children of that era now being the tank crews of today. The existence of the T-72 Grendizer project is based off a tweet from @syrianmilitary, and therefore, the existence of this project is not confirmed (the T-72 Shafrah may even be the T-72 Grendizer). Assuming the project to be real, then unlike the T-72 Mahmia, the T-72 Grendizer appears to be a centralized project headed by the Syrian Arab Army as opposed to just the 4th Armored Division.
However, the T-72 Grendizer is not yet a finalized design – it is merely a concept. There are only a few things that are known. Firstly, it will be a T-72, and secondly, it will have armor intended to resist all enemy missile types. It is totally unclear how far along the T-72 Grendizer project is, but it can be assumed that the armor it will use has not been settled on yet.
The T-72 Shafrah, appears to be a testbed made in very short series by the SAA Republican Guard’s 105th Mechanized Brigade for a relatively new type of armor (first seen used on bulldozers in October 2016) in order to see if it is acceptable for the T-72 Grendizer project.
Design of the armor
WithinSyria blog reports that the armor plates are made of RHA (1.5 mm – 2 mm thick), tungsten, and glassfiber. It is rumored that the tungsten part refers to 1 mm thick tungsten copper plates. However, with an alleged budget of $5,000-10,000 US per month, the Republican Guard is unlikely to be able to use tungsten on a wider scale than this testbed due to the material being too costly. This armor package therefore seems as though it is designed to be a form of composite armor which, like the T-55 Enigma, should be able to stop ATGMs.
However, the reader should note that the armor’s exact composition is not proven. It is equally valid to believe that the plates are made purely from steel.
Armor layout of the T-72 Shafrah
The T-72 Shafrah is more commonly seen than the AV variant. This one is seen at all times with its sideskirts. The turret is encased in multiple brackets which have two large armor plates. The left-hand side of the turret only has a single plate, but is as tall as the rest of the plates. The sideskirts are made of five plates angled slightly.
Armor layout of the T-72AV Shafrah
The base vehicle of the T-72AV Shafrah is a T-72AV with only its turret Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) retained, and Viper-72 thermal imaging systems (see Sidenote III below).
The vehicle’s turret had one small half plate on the left hand side of the gun in order to allow the Laser Range Finder to be unobstructed. The rest of the turret was encased in seven brackets (which is apparently more than the T-72 Shafrah had), with multiple small armor layers (as opposed to just two large ones, which the T-72 Shafrah had).
At some point, the vehicle had sideskirts, as evidenced by bars between the roadwheels, but it appears as though they were lost very early on into the battle at Qaboun, March 22nd, 2017.
T-72AV Shafrah viewed from the front. There are many welded plates, creating a composite armor system. The source reports that the vehicle is in service with the 105th Mechanized Brigade of the Republican Guard. It is also equipped with Viper-72 sights (see Sidenote III).
T-72 Shafrah at Eastern Ghouta, 27th February 2017
The T-72 Shafrah was first documented in combat in Eastern Ghouta, on 27th February 2017. The footage below shows that the vehicle was hit by an ATGM. As a result, the driver was wounded and the turret was damaged, but the vehicle was not destroyed. Crucially, there was no internal fire, which was a common problem with the T-72 Mahmia. However, at this point, the Republican Guard stated that the T-72 Shafrah was not considered good enough for their purposes, and it may be the case that the official testing phase ended at this point.
It was later photographed being transported back to the workshop on the back of a lorry. The photograph was dated 1st March, 2017.
T-72 Shafrah being hit by an ATGM. The footage is cropped, and the vehicle was not destroyed.
T-72 and T-72AV Shafrah at Qaboun, 22nd March, 2017
The T-72 Shafrah tank was next seen in combat along with the T-72AV Shafrah (videos show it already missing its sideskirt), and a third, lightly modified T-72 on 22nd March 2017 at Qaboun, in the north of Jobar, in east Damascus. The fighting took place near a fabric factory. The source (a tweet with two videos) suggests that 150 rebels were killed in the assault, which was supported by infantry.
The T-72 Shafrah in combat at Qaboun, Jobar, Eastern Damascus, March 22nd, 2017.
More combat of the T-72AV Shafrah, Qaboun, Jobar, Eastern Damascus, March 22nd, 2017.
T-72AV Shafrah destroyed at Qaboun, 16th April, 2017
On the 16th April, 2017, a photo was posted online showing what appears to be the T-72AV Shafrah having been knocked out at Qaboum. The photo shows the vehicle’s turret on fire, with multiple armor brackets missing. Reports suggest that it was hit by an AT mine which destroyed a track, but caused no damage. The crew escaped, but several soldiers are reported to have been killed or wounded in the attack.
A T-72 Mahmia was alongside the T-72AV Shafrah during the attack. The T-72 Mahmia took an RPG-29 hit, which did not penetrate the tank. However, the commander sustained significant injuries.
The vehicle was finally set on fire by the rebels, to stop any chance of recovery, and it is now probably wrecked beyond repair. Ahrah al-Sham have claimed responsibility for the vehicle’s destruction.
Better than the T-72 Mahmia?
It seems as though the T-72 Shafrah is somewhat more successful at defeating ATGMs than the earlier T-72 Mahmia. When the vehicle was hit by an ATGM on 27th February, it did not succumb to an internal fire, which was a common problem with the T-72 Mahmia. However, it still sustained significant turret damage, and a crew member was wounded. Put simply, this is not good enough for the SAA’s needs, and the Republican Guard, at that point, knew this to be the case. It must be noted, however, the concept seems much more sound than the Mahmia upgrade package.
All in all, it can be concluded that the Shafrah armor package is marginally better than the Mahmia armor package. One caveat to these conclusions is that there is very limited data on the performance of Shafrah armor.
Another caveat is that the tank still suffers from other issues that cannot be resolved by an armor package. The AT mine that immobilized the T-72AV Shafrah meant that it had to be abandoned. No armor could have saved the vehicle from this.
Implications for the T-72 Grendizer
Again, assuming the T-72 Grendizer to be real, whether or not this armor type will be seen on it is another matter. The hit from an ATGM on 27th February shows that the vehicle is still not impervious to ATGM hits, which is what the SAA is looking for; thus one of two situations will play out:
It is most likely to be the case that further experiments take place with new armor package types.
On the other hand, with such a limited budget, it may be that the Republican Guard, and, indeed, the 4th Armored Division, have reached their technological limit and will have to settle for the Shafrah or perhaps even the cheaper Mahmia upgrades. They may therefore have to abandon the Grendizer project. A more complex armor system is a necessity if the SAA wants to defeat ATGMs – this can be achieved by an Active Protection System (which is far beyond their budget), or a more complex armor system, such as the composite armor system on the T-55 Enigma.
The SAA has more T-72s earmarked for upgrades, but it is unclear how they will be upgraded. The intention is for them to be upgraded to the still unfinished T-72 Grendizer standard – a design which is still being figured out.
T-72AV of the Republican Guard, for comparison.
T-72 Mahmia, for comparison.
T-72AV Shafrah with its post-trial armor layout at Qaboun, 24th March, 2017.
T-72 Shafrah. Posted online, 1st April, 2017.
T-72 Shafrah being transported by lorry back to the workshop, photo posted online on 1st March 2017. This was after the vehicle had been hit by an ATGM.
The T-72AV Shafrah on 25th March 2017. Bars originally holding on the sideskirts can be seen just in front of the first wheel and between the second and third from the front. Rows of angled armor plates can also be seen on the hull.
T-72AV Shafrah in combat at Qaboun, supported by infantry, reportedly on 24th March 2017. The turret layout appears slightly different to the above, but it is probably an optical illusion.
Footage of the T-72AV Shafrah, knocked out at Qaboun, 16th April, 2017.
Sidenote I: ZSU-23-4 Shafrah
On March 26th, a photo of a ZSU-23-4 converted with “Shafrah armor” has surfaced. This, too, is a testbed, used by the Republican Guards, probably the 105th Mechanized Brigade. Further details are not clear, due to the vehicle’s recent appearance. Further information will be added when available. ZSU-23-4s are actually used for supporting vehicles in urban combat, as their guns can hit enemy positions which are high up in tall buildings.
“ZSU-23-4 Shafrah”, in Jobar, posted online on March 27th, 2017. The photo was probably taken on 26th March, 2017. The vehicle may have been built up to a week earlier, however, it seems odd that it has not been seen in combat earlier, if that is the case. Footage can be viewed here.
Sidenote II: Bulldozers with Shafrah armor
The Shafrah armor package originally appears to have been given to bulldozers, around October 2016. One was reportedly captured by Jaish al-Islam in October 2016. Another bulldozer with Shafrah armor was also used by the 105th Brigade at the Siege of Wadi Barada, January, 2017.
Bulldozer with Shafrah armor, captured by Jaish al-Islam in eastern Ghouta, October 2016.
Other view of the bulldozer with Shafrah armor, captured by Jaish al-Islam in eastern Ghouta, October 2016.
A bulldozer with Shafrah armor of the 105th Brigade at Wadi Barada, January, 2017.
Another bulldozer, probably a third was seen on 30th March, 2017, probably at Qaboun with the 105th Mechanized Brigade.
A Republican Guard bulldozer with Shafrah armor. Posted online on 30th March, 2017.
Sidenote III: Viper-72 thermal sights
The T-72AV Shafrah is fitted with Viper-72 thermal imaging sights. This is quite an important feature. Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, tanks, especially those with complex technologies, have fallen into disrepair. This means that regular night vision sights and infra-red lamps are no longer functioning, and tanks cannot engage in night time combat.
As a way around this, the SAA have fitted some of their tanks with Viper-72 thermal imaging sights, which do not require any infra-red lights. This is quite ingenious, as it allows not only effective aiming from 1.5 km – 2km (0.9-1.2 miles), but also the ability for the tank crew to see enemy snipers behind cover.