Technical evaluation of T-72M4 CZ – current status and future vision
In the first half of this year, Germany offered 14 Leopard 2 A4 tanks and one recovery tank on the same platform to the Czech Republic as part of its assistance to countries that have provided their military equipment to the struggling Ukraine. The Minister of Defence then announced on 18 May 2022 that she and the German Minister of Defence, Christine Lambrecht, had agreed on the above-mentioned donation, adding that the two sides would also begin negotiations on the possibility of acquiring up to 50 tanks of the latest version 2 A7+ for the Czech Army in the coming years. Representatives of the Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic subsequently signed a series of contracts with their German partners on 11 October, relating to the delivery of the donated Leopard tanks to the Czech Army, and the first Leopard 2 A4 tank should arrive to our tankers in Přáslavice in a few days. In the first phase, the donated Leopard 2 A4 tanks will be used primarily for training Czech crews, who will have to get used to new standards and procedures in tank operation and combat operations. Our 73rd Tank Battalion is currently armed with T-72M4 CZ tanks, which are currently undergoing technical evaluation. These tanks will remain in the unit's armament until they are replaced by the new main battle tanks, i.e. probably the already announced Leopard 2 A7 or Leopard 2 A7+ tanks. A lot of different theories and fabulations have appeared in the media recently around the technical evaluation of the upgraded T-72M4 CZ tanks, so let's take a closer look at the original T-72M4 CZ tank upgrade and the current technical evaluation of these tanks in the following article.
The T-72M4 CZ tank is a Czech comprehensive modernisation of the original Soviet T-72 tank. This modernisation has increased firepower by conducting effective fire from the ground and on the move using a new fire control system, and the effectiveness of the sub-calibre ammunition has also increased thanks to a completely new sub-calibre round. The upgrade also included more sophisticated day and night observation equipment. The new power unit and chassis modifications then contributed significantly to the tank's increased mobility and manoeuvrability. The tank's passive and active protection in combat was also strengthened by adding dynamic protection (reactive armour) to the hull and turret, overall armour strengthening and hull modification. A laser radiation detection and indication system, a ejection smoke device and a protective camouflage system (against visual, infrared and radar reconnaissance) were implemented. To increase the safety and comfort of the crew, new internal communication equipment (VHZ), new means of external communication (VHFradio), ground navigation system (inertial + satellite), Raychem electrical installation, anti-explosion fire-fighting equipment, new heaters and heating, etc. were installed. The modernization was approved by the Czech Government in 1994, when it was originally decided to modernize 353 tanks. The security situation changed after the Czech Republic joined NATO and the originally planned number of modernised tanks gradually decreased, first to 140 units and then to only 33 units. From 2003 to 2005, a total of 27 combat tanks (designation T-72M4CZ), 3 command tanks (designation T-72M4CZ VV) and 3 recovery tanks (designation VT-72M4CZ) were produced in the then state enterprise VOP025.
Since the modernized T-72M4 CZ tank was introduced into the armament of the Czech Army, no partial innovation or modernization has taken place. Since the technical design of the modernisation project was completed before 2000 and taking into account the pace of development in all areas (especially in electrical engineering, communication systems and other technical fields), the situation arose that some components and systems became unavailable or unrepairable over time and individual T-72M4 CZ tanks faced operational problems and the number of fully functional tanks (fire control system, etc.) could be counted on the fingers of one hand.
In September 2020, a contract for the so-called technical evaluation (TE) of the T-72M4 CZ tank was signed with the state enterprise VOP CZ. Unfortunately, the power unit was omitted from the originally proposed scope of the project due to limited finances. The objective of the technical evaluation is to solve the problem of unavailability of spare parts that are beyond repair and no longer available on the market due to the already mentioned technical age or production termination by replacing certain well-defined components or subsystems. It is therefore not a case of upgrading, where whole systems are changed, in layman's terms, "piece by piece", where the new system should be several levels more efficient/modern. Technical evaluation is mainly about maintaining existing systems or improving some specific sub-features, where only defined components for which there are no longer spare parts on the market are changed. At the same time, the implementation of the project will increase the basic parameters of survivability on the battlefield beyond 2026.
In the fire control system from Leonardo S.p.A (Italy), for example, the components of the commander's and gunner's observation unit will be replaced for better target detection during day and night. These are mainly InfraRed cameras, IR camera control panels, OLED displays, wiring, gyroscope, etc. The existing firefighting equipment (FFE) system will be replaced by an upgraded system with a shorter reaction time after fire detection and a shorter fire extinguishing time, while the system will meet the latest legislative requirements. VOP CZ is cooperating with Kidde Deugra Brandschutzsysteme GmbH (Germany) on this solution.
In the framework of communication systems, the internal data link of the tank and the BVIS/V combat vehicle information system (SAMET, command) are being addressed in the technical evaluation of tanks. This is an improvement of the HW and SW means to increase the performance of the tank's internal data link. Both HW and SW are military material working with information of classified nature in the sense of working with signals, messages, map documents and tank location, enables identification of own units' location, enables tank navigation and collects and evaluates vehicle diagnostic data, e.g. information on ammunition, fuel status, vehicle malfunctions, etc. In the field of communication it cooperates with HARRIS radios and all other tank systems. This package also includes the internal communication equipment (VICM), which must be compatible with other parts of the vehicle communication system. Cooperation with Delinfo, spol. s r.o. , LPP s.r.o. , Mesit asd, s.r.o., Akermann Electronic Praha, spol. s r.o., Optokon a.s. and INTERLINK CS, spol. s r.o. is ongoing on this part of the project.
An important milestone of the technical evaluation are the company, control and shortened military tests, the aim of which is to verify the contractual parameters and the overall functionality of all systems, including the parts that are directly related to or connected with the evaluation. According to the schedule, the test programme is foreseen to start in April 2023 and to be completed with short military tests by the end of August 2023. During the test programme, company and control tests will be performed on 1 command and 1 battle tank. Primarily for the purpose of verifying the functionality of the communication systems, the abbreviated military trials will be carried out in conjunction with 1 command tank and 3 battle tanks.
After the verification of all parameters and the positive result of all tests, these 4 T-72M4 CZ tanks will be handed over to the user, i.e. the 73rd Tank Battalion, and then intensive work on all remaining tanks should begin.
The subject of the contract also includes updating of technical specifications, operational documentation, training of operators and personnel, and supply of defined spare parts.
Hopefully, everything will go according to the above schedule and the T-72M4 CZ tanks will be able to be fully deployed by the time the promised new machines arrive to our tankers.