According to IHS Jane’s, satellite imagery taken on August 24 at the Otkyabrsk port in the Ukraine showed 16 tanks and other equipment waiting to be loaded. Apparently, the tanks were loaded onto the Ocean Power cargo vessel, which departed on September 7 for Djibouti.
It is believed that these tanks are part of a contract for 200 T-72s signed in June 2011 with state controlled arms exporter Ukrspecexport SC. The deal, worth more than $100 million, was one of the largest contracts signed by the Ukrainian arms exporter in more than 15 years.
The T-72 was first produced in the Soviet Union in the 1970s but the tanks that will be supplied to Ethiopia were to be modernised with a new engine, guided weapons and reactive armour.
Ukrspecexport also received 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, particularly its neighbour Eritrea (which used to be part of Ethiopia). 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.
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.