Jane's Defence Weekly

January 14, 1998

SECTION: IRANIAN ARMOUR; Vol. 29; No. 2; Pg. 23

LENGTH: 1949 words

HEADLINE: Revolutionary surge in tank manufacture

BYLINE: Christopher F Foss

HIGHLIGHT: Christopher F Foss tracks down the latest MBTs and armoured vehiclesbelieved to be in Iranian service and those being built domestically


Iran has become the third country in the Middle East to build main battle tanks (MBTs). Until quite recently, Israel was the only country in the area able to build an MBT, with its Merkava. Egypt has also been building for some years the US General Dynamics Land Systems M1A1 MBT at the Egyptian Tank Plant near Cairo.

Like other nations that cannot afford a whole new MBT fleet, Iran appears to be adopting a two-pronged strategy: building new MBTs and upgrading older ones to improve their capabilities in armour, mobility and firepower.

Before Iran's 1979 revolution, it bought Western, especially UK and US, armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs).

In 1971, it placed an order with Royal Ordnance (RO) of the UK for 707 modified Chieftain Mk 3 and Mk 5 MBTs, plus armoured recovery vehicles (ARVs) and armoured vehicle-launched bridges (AVLBs) based on the Chieftain MBT chassis.

Most of these were built by RO Leeds, subsequently taken over by Vickers Defence Systems, which built all the ARVs.

These were followed by the FV4030 MBT series developed by the then Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (now the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency) to meet Iran's operational needs.

In all, 187 of the FV4030/1, a development of the Chieftain Mk 5 used by the British Army, were supplied.

A subsequent order for 125 Shir 1s (FV4030/2s) and 1,225 Shir 2s (FV4030/3s) was cancelled by the post-revolutionary government before deliveries could begin, even though production of the former was already under way.

If the Shir 2 MBTs had been delivered, the Iranian Army would have had the best-protected MBT in the region because the hull and turret incorporated the advanced Chobham armour system for a high level of battlefield protection over the frontal arc.

In 1979, Jordan bought 274 Shir 1 MBTs, designated the Khalid. The Shir 2 was developed into Challenger 1.

After the revolution, Iran could not obtain any new armoured vehicles from the West, nor many spare parts and ammunition needed to maintain operational status.

As such, Iran turned to other sources and today the total Iranian MBT fleet is estimated at about 1,430 vehicles (see table, p25). It is estimated to have about 200 Chieftains in service after losing the rest in Iraqi conflicts. Iraq subsequently passed some on to Jordan, along with other vehicles such as M113 armoured personnel carriers and Alvis Vehicles' Scorpion 76mm tracked reconnaissance vehicles.

For many years, the Iranian Defence Industries Organization (DIO), owned by Iran's defence ministry (Jane's Defence Weekly 15 October 1997) has been building up its research, development and production capabilities in key areas, especially AFVs.

The DIO Vehicle & Equipment Industries Division is responsible for MBTs, light tracked and wheeled armoured vehicles and probably the new 122mm Thunder-1 and 155mm Thunder-2 full-tracked self-propelled artillery systems shown for the first time late last year (JDW 10 December 1997). The weapons used in these vehicles are supplied by the DIO's Armament Industries Division.

The DIO initially made AFV consumables, such as ammunition, tracks, roadwheels and drive sprockets and more recently moved into building complete AFVs.

A key facility is the Shahid Kolah Dooz Industrial Complex where the Boragh tracked APC and the Zulfiqar MBT are built (JDW 30 July 1997).

Tank ammunition is made by the Ammunition Division of the DIO and known types include 100mm High-Explosive Anti-Tank - Tracer (HEAT-T) with a muzzle velocity of 1,000m/s, 105mm HEAT-T (muzzle velocity 1,174 m/s) and 120mm High-Explosive Squash Head (HESH) with a muzzle velocity of 670m/s. Other types, such as the now more important armour-piercing, fin-stabilised discarding sabot, are also probably built.

Between 1970 and 1972, US company Bowen-McLaughlin-York, now part of United Defense LP, built a vehicle-manufacturing plant in Iran. This included heat treating, plating, X-ray capability and furnishing the operating equipment and machinery.

The US company rebuilt three examples of the older US-supplied 90mm M47 tank into an Iranian version, the M47M. This incorporated automotive (diesel engine and automatic transmission), suspension, gun control and fire-control components of the M60A1 MBT, also used by Iran.

The original petrol-engined M47 had a range of only 130km. However, with the Teledyne Continental Motors V-12 diesel engine, this reached 600km. About 150 upgraded M47Ms are believed to have been delivered.

In the M47M conversion, the 90mm gun was retained but the bow-mounted 7.62mm machine gun removed; this reduced the crew to four but increased 90mm ammunition capacity to 79 rounds.

The rest of the conversion programme took place in Iran and the facility subsequently undertook overhauls for other armoured vehicles as well as for some foreign countries.

Late in 1995, it was revealed (JDW 25 November 1995) that Iran had developed a new MBT, called Zulfiqar, now said to be in quantity production.

This is armed with a 125mm smoothbore gun fitted with a fume extractor which may be fed from an automatic loader. If this is the case, the complete weapon system could be that taken from the Russian T-72 MBT.

As well as Russia, other Eastern countries are well positioned to supply key components of the T-72, either new or from disassembled vehicles.

It is known that the Zulfiqar uses suspension like that fitted to Western MBTs such as the M48/M60 MBT. The diesel engine is also not taken from the T-72 since this has a distinct exhaust outlet on the left side of the hull. This feature is absent on the Zulfiqar.

For at least financial reasons, it is logical that the Zulfiqar uses components from the upgraded Iranian Type 72Z and/or the Russian T-72 series MBT.

The latest foreign MBT to enter Iranian service is Russia's T-72S, being built under licence.

The T-72S, also known as the Shilden, is an export version of the T-72B originally built at the Uralvagonzavod facility in Nizhny Tagil.

The T-72S MBT weighs 44.5 tonnes and is armed with the latest stabilised 125mm smoothbore 2A46M gun, IA40-1 computerised fire-control system (FCS) with laser rangefinder and day/image intensification night sighting system.

As well as firing the normal types of 125mm separate-loading ammunition (projectile and charge), the T-72S can also fire a Svir 9M119 (NATO designation AT-11 'Sniper') laser beam-riding guided projectile to a range of 4,000m.

More recent versions of the Svir 9M119 have a tandem HEAT warhead capable of penetrating explosive reactive armour (ERA). According to Russian sources, when engaging an enemy MBT at a range of 4,000m with the Svir 9M119 missile, a hit probability of at least 80 per cent is possible.

The T-72S is powered by the V-84MS diesel engine, which develops 840hp and, with a combat weight of 44.5 tonnes, a power-to-weight ratio of 18.87hp/tonne is obtained. For greater cross-country mobility, the suspension has also been upgraded and mine protection improved.

As far as is known, Iran is the first export customer for the T-72S, although it has been offered to other countries, including India.

To extend the operational life of the T-54/T-55 MBTs, and the similar Chinese Type 59 equivalent used by Iran, all of which are armed with a 100mm gun, an upgrade has been developed in Iran called the Type 72Z.

The existing 100mm gun has been replaced by a 105mm M68 rifled tank gun in service with Iran on the M60A1 MBT. The Armament Industries Division of the DIO probably makes this weapon because for some years it has had the capability to bore tank and artillery barrels, such as the 122mm Russian D-30.

To improve first-round hit probability, the Type 72Z has a Slovenian Fontana EFCS-3 computerised FCS.

According to the manufacturer, installation of the EFCS-3 FCS enables stationary or moving targets to be engaged while the Type T72Z MBT is static or moving.

The 7.62mm co-axial and roof-mounted 12.7mm machine guns have been retained as has the ability to lay a smoke screen by injecting diesel fuel into the exhaust outlet on the left of the hull. In addition, four electrically operated smoke-grenade dischargers have been mounted on each side of the turret. They fire forwards.

At least one example of the Type 72Z has been fitted with a roof-mounted laser warning device, probably coupled to a commander's display and the electrically operated smoke-grenade launchers either side of the turret.

New skirts and a double pin track with replaceable rubber pads have been fitted. The original T-54 is powered by a V-54 V-12 diesel developing 520hp while the T-55 is powered by the V-55 V-12 diesel, which develops 580hp.

Iranian sources say the upgraded Type 72Z is powered by the V-46-6 V-12 diesel engine developing 780hp. This engine has been integrated into a new powerpack, which also includes the SPAT 1200 transmission for use in automatic or semi-automatic modes.

The V-46 V-12 diesel engine is also installed in early production T-72 series MBTs, such as the T-72 and T-72A, and Iran could obtain these from various sources besides Russia.

The Type 72Z's combat weight is quoted as 36 tonnes, power-to-weight ratio 21.66hp/tonne and maximum road speed is 65km/h. This compares with the T-55 MBT, which has a power-to-weight ratio of 16.11hp/tonne and a maximum road speed of 50km/h.

Before the Type 72Z was revealed, it was said that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps had taken into service an upgraded T-54 under the local name of the Safir-74 (Messenger 74).

It is not known whether the Safir-74 or the Type 72Z are the same vehicle, or whether the former incorporates parts of the latter.

Last year, the Shahid Kolah Dooz Industrial Complex revealed it had developed a new ERA package that can be rapidly fixed to the T-54/ T-55, T-72 and other MBTs to improve battlefield survivability against chemical energy (CE) and kinetic energy (KE) attack.

This Iranian ERA package is similar to that being made and marketed by Russia and has been installed on Russian MBTs, such as the T-80BV, for some years.

The Iranian ERA armour system comprises one composite layer. This protects against KE and CE projectiles and an extra energetic material that provides protection against KE attack.

Iranian sources said this system can be dropped from a height of 5m; will not be activated from small arms fire up to 30mm in calibre or grenades; and is resistant to napalm type weapons.

More recently, Iran said it has developed a new light tank called Tosan (or 'Fury') armed with a 90mm gun. This is expected to enter production in the near future.

It is not yet known whether this is a new design, a further development of an existing platform, such as the Boragh full-tracked APC, or a further development of an existing in-service vehicle such as the Scorpion.

Before its revolution, Iran received about 250 petrol-engined British Alvis Vehicles Scorpion Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked) armed with a RO 76mm gun.

These could be upgraded with a 90mm gun because this has been standard on all export Scorpion vehicles for many years.

Iran has captured from Iraq quantities of Brazilian ENGESA EE-9 Cascavel 6 x 6 armoured cars, armed with a Cockerill 90mm gun. These weapons could be fitted to the existing Scorpion turrets.

GRAPHIC: Photograph 1, Iranian Armour. (Photo: Shahid Kolah Dooz Industrial Complex); Photograph 2, Iranian Type 72Z MBT which is armed with a 105mm M68 rifled tank gun. This photograph shows the mast-mounted meteorological sensor and laser warning devices on the turret roof (Photo: Shahid Kolah Dooz Industrial Complex); Photograph 3, (Above) Glimpse of an Iranian-built Zulfiqar MBT being carried on a Russian-supplied semi-trailer towed by a MAZ-537 8 x 8 tractor truck; Photograph 4, (Left) Chinese NORINCO Type 69-II of the Iranian Army showing laser rangefinder over the 100mm barrel.; Photograph 5, (Below) The Russian T-72S MBT is now being manufactured under licence in Iran and is fitted with an advanced armour package (Photo: Uralvagonzavod); Photograph 6, Chieftain MBTs armed with a 120mm rifled tank gun captured by Iraq. Over 700 Chieftains were ordered by Iran from the UK in 1971


LOAD-DATE: January 13, 1998