A Super-Armoured Assault Carrier.
The Ukrainians Popped the Turret off A T-64 Tank and Produced A Super-Armoured Assault Carrier
By David Axe
Ukraine has transformed at least one of its T-64 tanks into what appears to be a heavily armoured personnel carrier. And not just any APC, but one that works best while advancing toward the enemy.
That’s because the T-64-based APC is heavily armoured along its front, but much more thinly armoured along its sides and back.
If it’s facing Russian troops, the new APC could shrug off heavy machine gun fire, autocannon shells, artillery fragments and possibly even cannon fire from Russia’s older tanks.
The weird new vehicle showed up in a photo and video, apparently shot in or around the eastern city of Bakhmut, that circulated online on Sunday.
The APC seems to combine the chassis of a T-64 tank with a simple steel superstructure replacing the tank’s turret and main gun.
The superstructure might be a kind of passenger compartment. It’s unclear whether the passengers—an infantry squad, presumably—enter via top hatches or a crude rear door.
There’s a heavy machine gun and banks of smoke grenades on top of the APC’s superstructure. A vehicle like this might have a crew of two: driver and commander.
What’s most striking about the T-64-based APC is the extensive application of Kontakt reactive armour blocks—seemingly hundreds of them. These brick-like modules, which explode outward to deflect incoming shells and missiles, cover nearly the entire frontal arc of the new vehicle—except for the treads.
A standard T-64 hull already is well-protected with layers of steel and fibreglass that, thanks to the hull’s sharp angles, provide the same level of protection against high-explosive shells offered by 600 millimetres of steel. Adding reactive armour can double the effective protection.
To put that into perspective, a thousand millimetres or more of equivalent protection should be enough to defeat most attacks at typical engagement ranges. Even a direct hit by one of those aged T-55 tanks Russia is reactivating.
This is not to say the T-64 APC is invulnerable. Far from it. The welded-on superstructure appears to be a simple steel plate. And it’s vertical and square, so its angles don’t offer additional protection. And most of the superstructure has no reactive armour.
Hit the APC from the sides or behind, and even a 30-millimetre autocannon might chew right through it. The new vehicle should keep its front to the enemy—its natural disposition on the attack. All, the T-64-turned-APC is an assault APC.
The weird new vehicle’s appearance in Bakhmut, 14 months into Russia’s wider war on Ukraine, shouldn’t be terribly surprising. Both the Ukrainian and Russian armies are trying to make good heavy losses of modern vehicles by crafting new, improvised vehicles from various leftover hulls, turrets and weapons.
Some might work pretty well: Ukraine’s MT-LB-12 self-propelled howitzers, for example. Others, such as the armoured tractors Russia has armed with old naval guns, are embarrassingly awkward.
Ukrainian industry already had some experience transforming a T-64 into an armoured personnel carrier. Perhaps inspired by the Israelis, who for decades have modified old tank hulls into thickly armoured personnel carriers, the Kharkiv Tank Plant around 2014 developed a boutique T-64 APC it called the BTR-64E.
The Kharkiv factory only built one BTR-64E that we know of, and the prototype’s ultimate fate is a mystery. In comparison to the T-64 APC that appeared in Bakhmut, the BTR-64E required extensive changes to the basic T-64 hull.
Kharkiv technicians “flipped” the T-64 by moving the 700-horsepower diesel engine from the back to the front of the hull. That, combined with the removal of the turret and ammunition stowage, created a huge empty space in the back and middle of the vehicle. Kharkiv installed a rear door and seats for 10 passengers.
That elegant layout kept the BTR-64E’s profile low and made the best use of its internal volume. By contrast, the current T-64 APC clearly is expedient.
Rather than moving around the internal automotive components—a painstaking process—its builders simply added the passenger compartment on top of the engine, resulting in the tall, hunchback profile.
The T-64 APC is a compromise between protection and ease of production. But a beneficial one for the Ukrainian army and defence industry. The army needs many hundreds more APCs and infantry fighting vehicles than it has—and better-protected ones, to boot.
Industry meanwhile is sitting on several hundred old, inactive T-64s that, after 30 years mouldering in some warehouse or open tank park, might be too far gone to restore … as tanks. Electronic fire controls and delicate glass optics tend to degrade fast while not in daily use with frequent maintenance.
But an APC doesn’t need fire controls and optics. It just needs a working engine and an intact hull. If the army puts its new T-64 APC through its paces and is pleased with the results, the Kharkiv Tank Plant presumably could produce hundreds more similar vehicles.
Optimized for attacks, they could be highly useful as Ukrainian troops shift from defence to offence and try to seize the initiative from the Russians.