Ethiopia has ordered more than 200 T-72 tanks worth over US$100 million from Ukraine in one of the largest contracts signed by the Ukrainian arms exporter in more than 15 years.
Ukrspecexport SC, the state controlled arms export, signed the contract with the Defence Ministry of Ethiopia yesterday, reports the Ukrinform news agency.
Interfax and Ukrainian sources suggest the Ethiopian order will most likely be made up of upgraded T-72s.
The T-72 was first produced in the Soviet Union in the 1970s but the tanks that will be supplied to Ethiopia will be modernised with a new engine, guided weapons and reactive armour.
Ukrspecexport will also receive maintenance and repair contracts for the upkeep of Ethiopia’s T-72s.
Ethiopia already operate the T-72, 60 of which were purchased from Yemen in 2003, according to Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment.
Ethiopia is concerned with improving its military in order to secure its borders in the restive horn of Africa region. Over the last decade the country has engaged in several skirmishes and conflicts with neighbouring countries.
Ethiopia has not enjoyed good relations with its neighbour Eritrea (which used to be part of Ethiopia) and accuses its neighbour of sponsoring violence in the country. Skirmishes along the Eritrea-Ethiopia border are commonplace. Between 1998 and 2000 Ethiopia fought a costly border war with Eritrea that did not significantly alter the border line. During the conflict, Ethiopia increased its stocks of T-55 tanks and artillery pieces, including BM-21 122m multiple rocket launchers and 122 mm D-30 towed howitzers, according to Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment. The conflict also revealed shortcomings in Ethiopia’s military, particularly regarding logistics.
In 2006 Ethiopian troops, backed by the United States, invaded Somalia to prop up the Transitional Federal Government there, which was under threat by the Islamic Courts Union Islamist umbrella group. Ethiopian troops withdrew in January 2009.
Ethiopia has also been involved in conflict in Ogaden. Between 2007 and 2008 the Ethiopian Army launched an offensive against the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front, prompted by the killing of 74 people in an attack on an oil exploration field.
Ethiopia is also involved in peacekeeping operations and has deployed troops to places like Darfur.
The T-72, a development of the earlier T-64 main battle tank, entered production in 1972 in the Soviet Union. It was the Soviet Army’s most numerous tank until the collapse of the Soviet Union, but was also exported in large numbers to Warsaw Pact countries, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. It was built with and without license in several countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia. More than 40 countries have operated an estimated 50 000 T-72s.
The T-72B entered production in 1985 and in export form is known as the T-72S. It has a new engine and suspension system and is configured for mounting explosive reactive armour (ERA). It is armed with a 125mm smoothbore gun, a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun and a 12.7mm air defence machine gun mounted on the commander’s cupola
The T-72 can also carry guided weapons in the form of the 9K120 Svir (Nato codename AT-11 Sniper). It is intended to engage tanks fitted with ERA as well as low-flying targets. It has a range of 100-4 000 metres and firing requires the tank to be stationary. Both shells and missiles can be fired from the main gun.
The hull and turret are protected by armour plating, including combined armour arrays over the frontal arc. Since 1988, ERA has been fitted.
Various upgrades offer more powerful engines, new guns, updated sighting systems and countermeasures.