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Polish PT-91s Arrived in Ukraine and are Better Than The “Soviet” Tanks Deployed by The Russians

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A phalanx of ex-Polish PT-91 Twardy tanks on a training ground somewhere in Ukraine on Monday (or earlier) is a reminder of two important facts.

Despite significant commitments to Ukraine to supply Western tanks, upgraded Soviet-style tanks are still by far the most numerous in its arsenal. And it’s these tanks that are likely to be on the front lines if Kiev’s forces eventually switch from defensive to offensive in the coming weeks or months.

Still, even the worst Soviet-style tank that Ukraine gets is better than the best Soviet-style tank that Russia has managed to get in significant numbers lately.

Russia does not import tanks yet. It builds new domestically, or restores from local stocks of vehicles from the Cold War era. Problems in industrial production have hampered Russia’s efforts to replace the roughly 2,000 tanks it has lost in the 14 months since it invaded Ukraine.

Increasingly, the tanks the Russian military has used to replace what was destroyed are unmodified T-62s and T-55s from the 1960s and 1950s, tanks that do not require high-tech components that are in short supply in Russia.

Instead, as Ukraine replaces the roughly 500 tanks it has lost since February 2022, it is getting many of those parts from foreign allies. Any local shortages in electronics, optics or bearings do not limit the supply of fresh vehicles.

That is why these eight PT-91s, parading across this field in Ukraine this week, are so encouraging to supporters of a free Ukraine. These are the tanks that Kiev could send into battle against Russia’s ancient T-62 and T-55.

It would be an unfair comparison. To produce a PT-91, Polish vehicle manufacturer Bumar-Labedy started with a 45-ton T-72M1—a downgraded variant of the 1983 Soviet T-72A—and replaced the engine, transmission, fire control systems, optics and auto magazine and added Polish-made Erawa reactive armor plates.

The result is a tank that still looks a lot like a T-72. Same silhouette. Same 2A46 125mm main gun. The same crew of three. But it has an 850bhp diesel engine in place of the old model’s 780bhp, which makes it considerably faster, and the neat reactive armor offers better protection against high-explosive projectiles.

However, the new fire control system is the most important feature of the PT-91. The T-72M1’s stabilizer requires frequent recalibration, limiting the tank’s accuracy when firing on the move. Twardy adds a new, more robust, two-axis stabilizer.

All this means that the PT-91 is a better tank than a 1980s T-72M1 is – and a much better tank than a much older T-62 or T-55. In terms of firepower and protection, the Polish-made tank can only be slightly more effective than a German-made Leopard 2A4.

Poland in the 1990s acquired about 230 PT-91s. Warsaw has so far committed to sending 60 of them to Kiev. More could follow as Poland’s new American-made M-1s and South Korean K-2s begin arriving in large numbers.

It is unclear how many of the PT-91s have reached Ukraine so far. What is made clear by the complete lack of photos of the Twardys on the front lines is that Kiev is not yet using the ex-Polish tanks and is either saving them for newly formed brigades, or waiting to send them to existing brigades as replacements for those lost during of the conflicts.

Whatever the case may be, the “fresh” PT-91s should soon outnumber Ukraine’s war-ready Western tanks, which include: 14 ex-British Challenger 2s, some 40 Leopard 2A4s from Poland , Canada, Norway and Spain and some of the 31 newer Leopard 2A6/Strv 122s coming from Germany, Portugal and Sweden.

Ukraine will also receive more than a hundred Leopard 1A5s from a German-led consortium, as well as 31 American M-1A1s. But none of these tanks have been shipped yet.

If Ukraine goes on the counterattack this spring or early summer, the PT-91s could be the most numerous of the Ukrainian army’s replaced tanks.

And fortunately for the Ukrainians, they are very good tanks. Much better, at least, than those in Russia.

Source: Capital

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