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The Iranian Karrar Tank Is The Real Deal

November 12, 2019

Via Iranian media.

Each year Iran marks the anniversary of its dreadful conflict with Iraq from 1980 until 1988. Military parades involving the Artesh and the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) are held in all major cities for “Sacred Defense Week” and the ceremonies at the center of Tehran in late September were predictably the largest. Yet Iranian military parades are often shambolic affairs where long convoys of trucks haul various equipment across a driveway while local TV broadcasts the proceedings. But even gratuitous news coverage misses crucial details.

It turns out this year’s Sacred Defense parade in Tehran featured the army’s brand new tank.

The Artesh still boasts one of the largest armored fleets in the region but underneath the numbers is a mixed and questionable assemblage. If not for a few hundred T-72M’s purchased in the 1990s the Artesh really have no business fighting conventional war with antiquated Chieftain and Patton tanks. Three decades of experimenting with various local designs provided meager results at best and in 2017 a model branded “Karrar” gained valuable media mileage before it disappeared from public view. The Karrar, by the way, is copied from the Russian T-90MS which is available for export. The resemblance between the two was so obvious Russian media published news that dumped on the Iranian copycat. This year, however, it seems the Karrar has joined the army in earnest.

Footage from the last military parade in Tehran showed trailers carrying various battle tanks. One of the models was obviously a T-72, noticeable for its six road wheels and rubber side skirts, with a new angular turret. Soviet T-series tanks always had small rounded cast steel turrets formed in molds that fitted powerful main guns. The single variant spotted in Tehran looked like a Karrar with a remote weapon station devoid of a machine gun. The addition of an RWS on the Karrar, as with the T-90MS, is meant to spare the commander from exposure when firing the turret’s heavy machine gun.

A noticeable difference of this tank from the Karrar are the tracks or treads that haven’t been replaced with rubber pads. The same goes for the paint scheme, being a desert camouflage pattern rather than the Karrar’s black and gray. Yet like the Karrar the biggest improvement to the tank is its armor. There are thicker side skirts protecting its flanks together with cages or slat panels over the engine exhaust. The turret and glacis–the front of the hull where the driver’s compartment is located–are layered with reactive armor. It’s unclear if Iran’s state-owned factories are able to reproduce Russian Kontakt-5 ERA bricks, which can resist direct hits from NATO tank guns, or developed several types of add-on armor plating for T-72’s and Karrars.

There’s no indication the mystery tank at the Tehran military parade was a Karrar but the commonalities deserve notice. It seems the companies responsible for maintaining the Artesh’ armored fleet have found a way to improve the existing T-72M’s. If the lessons learned are applied to a future domestic main battle tank (that isn’t as ridiculous as the Zulfiqar-series) the outcome is impressive. Comprehensive ERA protection on the turret and hull makes it impervious to handheld anti-tank weapons. The two great unknowns are the fire control system and the engine type. Installing a panoramic thermal sight for the commander with another stationary thermal sight for the gunner, both of whom have touch terminals to monitor their surroundings, allows the tank to fight in any weather conditions. As for engine type the extra weight of a Karrar tank needs a turbo diesel whose output is in the 1,000 horsepower range.

Other advances Iran’s tank development can pursue after the success of the Karrar span active protection systems and data networks where nearby battlefield platforms such as drones communicate with the tank. For the Artesh to keep pursuing an advanced tank program makes sense at the moment. Almost all of Iran’s immediate neighbors are upgrading their tank fleets. Turkey and Pakistan, for example, have production lines for indigenous third-generation tanks. Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan chose the Russian T-90S to complement their existing Soviet tanks. Four decades ago Iran’s army could boast having the finest tanks in the Middle East. It’s now clear the Artesh are striving to restore their former glory.

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