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The Iranian Karrar Tank Is Battle Ready

January 29, 2022
A Karrar tank photographed during the Great Prophet 17 exercises in late December. Via Iranian media.

The Great Prophet 17 exercises in late December, 2021, saw the Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) gather their strength in southwestern Iran–near the coastal city of Bandar Abbas–and fight an epic mock battle. Although some of the live fire exercises looked a bit too theatrical the intent was clear enough. On their own the IRGC is evolving beyond an “asymmetrical” doctrine since they’re able to dominate a theater with enough arms and firepower. As a final warning to Israel a salvo of ballistic missiles were launched for a hypothetical retaliatory strike on a sensitive target.

The ground warfare phase of Great Prophet 17 still had a few surprises. Aside from getting to flex their rocket artillery the mechanized units involved brought tanks and IFVs together for a counter-attack against an amphibious invasion from the Persian Gulf. Among the T-72S battle tanks was spotted a lone Karrar wrapped in canvass and artificial foliage. Although having the IRGC logo plastered on its side skirt was unnecessary the Karrar’s presence confirmed its role as the premier locally assembled main battle tank. The significance of this minor event comes after 30 years wasted on inferior tank prototypes such as the Zulfiqars.

The Karrar first came to the world’s attention in early 2017 when it received lots of hyperbolic publicity from Iranian media. Its resemblance to the Russian-made T-90M manufactured by Uralvagonzavod was no accident. Since the 1990s a production line for the T-72S was established under the Defense Industries Organization (DIO) with Russia’s full support. But in 2017 even the Russians were less than enthusiastic about the Karrar and cast doubt on its quality. This had no bearing on the effort to launch production of the Karrar and equip IRGC armor units with it.

By 2020 new evidence came out revealing the DIO were assembling Karrar tanks in batches and these had multilayered protective features beginning with an angular welded turret whose frontal arc was covered in reactive bricks. Sensors were also installed on either side of the 125mm main gun to detect and foil incoming projectiles. The turret’s smoke grenade dischargers are installed farther back and a layer of cage or slat panels protect the turret rear. Slat armor also covers the engine exhaust port and side skirts conceal the road wheels and tracks.

A remarkable detail about the Karrar is it runs on a locally made 1,000 horsepower engine. The rest of its subsystems appear to be Iranian-made as well in what amounts to a technical watershed for the DIO. This pole vaults it far beyond regional efforts at assembling domestic tank designs. The Turkish Altay, for example, remains in limbo for want of an engine and critical automotive parts that are supposed to be delivered by foreign partners. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the state-owned Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) facility released its first batch of Al Khalid I tanks in 2021 that are based on a model shared by Norinco but with subsystems imported from Ukraine.

On paper, the Iranian regular army and the IRGC possess a total of 4,000 antiquated and operational tanks but the total numbers are problematic. Aging British-made Chieftains and imported and locally assembled T-72S’ are the remaining effective models. At least the T-72’s are getting upgrades for their armor protection and a few were shared with Iran’s proxies in neighboring Iraq. The obsolescent US-made M48 and M60A1 Pattons from the 1960s, along with more than 500 Chinese Type 59 medium tanks, are no longer accounted for, and several earlier attempts at introducing locally made tanks achieved nothing.

The adoption of Karrar tanks by the IRGC and maybe the Artesh can have long-term benefits for Iran’s military power and technological base. The T-72 is an adaptable platform with different vehicle types sharing its standard hull, tracks, and engine; the 2S19 Msta-S self-propelled howitzer, the TOS-1A multiple rocket launcher, the BREM-1 recovery vehicle, and the BMPT-72 combat vehicle all come to mind. Below is a tabulated comparison of the basic characteristics for the Karrar and the T-90M Proryv.

KarrarT-90M Proryv
Main Armament125mm 2A46125mm 2A46M-5
Secondary Armament12.7mm RWS, 7.62mm coaxial7.62mm RWS, 7.62mm coaxial
Max. Weight48 tons48 tons
Engine Type1,000 hpV-92S2F, 1,130 hp
Top Speed? km/h60 km/h
Range550 km550 km
ArmorCage, ERA, Rolled Steel, SpacedCage, ERA, Rolled Steel, Spaced
OpticsPanoramic thermal/IRPanoramic thermal/IR

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