Tank on Tank Duel: Russian Army T-72B3 ‘One Shot Kills’ New Ukrainian M1 Abrams

New footage released on March 6 has confirmed the destruction of a third Ukrainian Army M1A1 Abrams tank, which is the latest of a significantly larger number of vehicles reported to have been taken out by Russian forces in the disputed Donbas region over the past two weeks. While prior confirmed kills were achieved by Russian drones and handheld anti tank weapons, the latest kill was the first achieved by a Russian Army tank – a T-72B3. Filmed tank on tank engagements have been relatively rare in the Russian-Ukrainian War, with tanks primarily used for infantry support and facing primary threats from drones, helicopters and handheld anti tank weapons rather than enemy armour. The engagement took place near Avdiivka, a key Donbas town recently abandoned by Ukrainian forces after they took extreme casualties. Drone footage released on February 23 first confirmed that the 47th Mechanised Brigade had deployed Abrams tanks for combat, which was followed three days later by the confirmed destruction of the first tank.  

The T-72B has formed the backbone of the Russian Army’s armoured units since the 1990, and after entering service in 1973, demonstrated overwhelming superiority over Western vehicles of its generation in Syrian and Iraqi hands in the Lebanon War and Iran-Iraq War. After the USSR’s disintegration the class was favoured over the higher end T-80 for its lower maintenance needs and operational costs. From the early 2010s the T-72B3 upgrade package saw tanks integrate new 2A46M-5 125mm smoothbore guns, providing compatibility with new 21st century munition types, while fire controls were revolutionised with the integration of the Katherine FC thermal imaging system, digital displays, modern communications and the Sonsna-U gunner sight among other additions. Also added were Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armour providing a significant survivability boost. 

From 2016 T-72s were modernised to the T-72B3M standard with an improved autoloader, superior Relikt explosive reactive armour, and the V-92S2 1,000hp engine from the T-90. The 2A46M-5 is far from the most powerful tank gun in the Russian Army, and its ability to destroy Abrams tanks with a single shot is likely to be highly reassuring as to the standing of the country’s armour against NATO forces. Compared to the Abrams, the T-72 is well under two thirds the weight, and requires only three quarters the crew due to its use of an automatic loader. Its maintenance needs, fuel requirements and operational costs are also significantly lower. Significant reserves of T-72B tanks have allowed Russia to expand the number in service rapidly, making up for heavy losses suffered in the war’s initial months in early 2022, with armour protection levels also being improved significantly for more recently modernised models.