Iraqi armor – Back to the future

Turning T-55s Into Streetfighters (March 25th entry)

iraqit55.jpgThe Iraqi 1st Mechanized Brigade was activated in January. They’re equipped mostly with Soviet-built T55 tanks, BMP light armored vehicles, and French-designed Panhard M3 armored personnel carriers (which were donated by the UAE). The tanks, though old, will provide the backbone for the new force.

These have used additional armor and screens to provide protection from RPG warheads. The T-55 tanks being used are also getting the additional protection, as the side and rear armor of the T-55s can be penetrated by some types of RPG warheads. Another way to keep T-55s from blowing up is to send them into action with less than a full load of ammo. The T-55 is built to carry about 45 100mm shells. But in most urban warfare situations, only about a dozen are needed. The empty space can be used to carry more machine-gun ammo, drinking water or whatever. Especially whatever won’t explode if an RPG does penetrate the thin side armor. When an RPG penetrates an armored vehicle, it does so in the form of a super hot jet of gas, and a few bits of molten metal. If no ammo or crew are hit, there’s some loud noise, a new smell and that’s about it. The crew just goes on about their business. But if the hot gas jet hits something explosive, there’s an explosion, and that’s the end of the tank.

The unit is still getting its feet wet, but as they gain experience they will become more and more important as Iraqis struggle to establish order in their new nation.

Besides the relative cheapness of equipping Iraqi forces with T55 tanks due to the large numbers available and the loads of spare parts laying around, it also guarantees that the Iraqi army is more of a defensive-oriented force. T55s can provide great support for Iraqi military and police forces battling insurgents and terrorists, but they’re no match for modern armored forces. In the future, the Iragi military will set up a tank depot factory in Taji to refurbish T72s, which will be a great improvement over the T55 but still no match for state of the art main battle tanks.

Baby steps.


  1. there’s some loud noise, a new smell and that’s about it.’ Like if they had a strong curry the night before :P

  2. The T-55 would probably benefit from the birdcage armor the same as our M-1s and Strykers. Maybe they could secure some of the rounds on the floor of the tank. Of course, as soon as the do that, one will hit a mine and blow itself up. I climbed into one Iraqi tank that had been killed by a cluster bomblet. The shaped charge had cut a quarter sized hole in the side of the turret near the top. A stored round directly across from the hole had exploded. I did not see the bodies of the crew, then I realized that the tank had been sealed shut when it was hit. The pressure of the explosion drove everything not bolted down, including the 3 crewmen, back out that quarter sized hole. All that remained was a 50-foot streak of ash leading away from the tank. Ouch! Anyhow, a tank, even a crappy old tank, is a very scary thing to a foot soldier. A snorting, earth shaking, 55 ton machine designed to kill you can shock and intimidate even well train troops – even if it is obsolete by our standards.