Pakistani T-80 Battle Tank

Pakistan’s armed forces today deploy some of the largest tank forces in the world, almost all of which are Chinese designs such as the Type 59 and Type 69 or jointly-developed China-Pakistani Al-Khalid platforms. What is less well known, however, is that Pakistan was able to acquire the most capable tank from its longstanding adversary the Soviet Union, the T-80, which currently forms the elite of its armoured units. The T-80 is widely considered the most capable tank of the Cold War period, and was a heavyweight platform which directly succeeded the T-64 and IS-3 tanks and was never offered for export due to the sensitivity of its technologies. The tank was a heavier and more capable counterpart to the T-72 and T-90A tanks, although its high maintenance requirements and operational costs meant that after the Soviet collapse Russia would show a strong preference for lighter designs - namely the T-90 which remains in production until today.

Despite Pakistan’s longstanding hostilities with the USSR, including multiple clashes with Soviet forces over neighbouring Afghanistan, acquisition of the T-80 was made possible by the state’s collapse, with the successor state of Ukraine producing the T-80 in limited numbers domestically and providing around 320 of them to the Pakistani Army. These tanks were notably heavier and overall much more capable than the T-72s which made up the bulk of neighbouring India’s armoured units, although they were still outnumbered more than ten-to-one by the Russian-supplied platforms. 

Pakistan was hardly the only country to exploit the Soviet collapse to acquire its most advanced tank design, which were previously out of reach even for the superpower's closest allies, with both North and South Korea acquiring the T-80 from Belarus and Russia respectively - although the former did so only for research purposes to improve its indigenous tank designs. Britain and China are also reported to have acquired the T-80 in limited numbers, the former through multiple intermediaries, to study the design. Pakistani T-80 tanks have not been upgraded to the latest T-80BVM standard, and are increasingly considered out of date when compared to India’s newer T-90MS platforms which incorporate technologies several decades ahead. With Russia unlikely to be willing to supply an upgrade package for the tanks, and Ukraine’s smaller defence sector far too constrained to do so, T-80 platforms in service are likely to be eclipsed in future by more capable tank designs such as the VT-4, which Pakistan is currently considering acquiring from China.