A video shared on social media Friday morning highlighted the destruction of a Russian T-72B3 main battle tank (MBT), which had been abandoned on the battlefield near Avdiivka in the Donetsk Oblast.
Units of the Ukrainian 59th Motorized Brigade, which has been on consistent rotation fighting in the Battle of Bakhmut, recorded the footage of a loitering munition drone flying directly into the gunner’s hatch – ensuring that the MBT couldn’t be recovered by Russian forces and returned to service.
Another video showed the ordnance striking the tank, which is then seen burning.
At the end of the 45-second-long clip, which was shared by Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons), the T-72B3‘s hull had been blown off – likely the result of the ammunition stored within the turret “cooking off” and causing the so-called “Jack-in-the-Box” effect.
That issue had been first observed by Western militaries during the Gulf War against Iraq in 1991 and again during Operational Iraqi Freedom in 2003 when large numbers of Baghdad’s Russian-made T-72 MBTs suffered the same fate.
Scratch one more Russian MBT.
Switchblade Cut Down the Tank
Though the video didn’t identify the type of weapon used, it was likely a Switchblade – the loitering munitions that have also become known as “kamikaze drones.”
The small unmanned aerial system (UAS) is essentially a compact “one-and-done” weapon that carries its own warhead.
Small enough to be carried in a soldier’s rucksack, it can be deployed on the battlefield in minutes.
The small drone can fly towards an enemy position, loiter overhead and then strike if an opportunity presents itself. If no viable target is located, the Switchblade can return to the operator. Targeting is accomplished by GPS, but it can also be manually controlled.
The smaller Switchblade-300 is meant for anti-personnel attacks, while the larger Switchblade-600 – which weighs around 50 pounds including internal ordnance – can be used against tanks, armored vehicles, truck convoys, and artillery nests.
The larger 600-model can attack targets 24 miles away, while it has a loiter time of about 40 minutes.
Target of Opportunity
In the video shared on Friday, the loitering munition drone was successfully used to destroy a Russian T-72B3 MBT, an upgraded model of the Cold War-era T-72.
#Ukraine: In the vicinity of Avdiivka, #Donetsk Oblast, the Ukrainian 59th Brigade destroyed an abandoned Russian T-72B3 tank with an FPV loitering munition- which was flown directly into the gunner’s hatch. pic.twitter.com/sKrpr2Jxvu
— ???????? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) March 23, 2023
The modernized tanks have been equipped with a new engine, improved gunners sight, and more advanced fire control systems along with other improvements.
The T-72B3 is also noted for its Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor (ERA) – the same type of protection employed on the T-80U and T-90 MBTs.
The armor is noted for being effective against older Armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds as well as anti-tank rockets and guided missiles.
There has been speculation as to why Ukrainian forces didn’t attempt to recover the tank, but as seen in the video it was in an open field, and may have been closer to Russian lines.
Instead of risking men and material to capture it, the 59th Motorized Brigade did the next best thing deciding if they couldn’t get it, no one would!
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Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.