Armor: The T-91


January 15, 2009: Iraq has rethought its plan to buy lots of U.S. M-1 tanks and came up with a better idea; buy 2,000 T-72 tanks and refurbish them. While M-1 tanks cost about $5 million each, 2,000 Cold War surplus T-72s can be obtained from Eastern European states for very little (maybe $100 million, or less, for the lot). The real expense is in rebuilding, which is what Iraq has hired an American firm (Defense Solutions, in Pennsylvania). Iraq will pay Defense Solutions $3 million for each rebuilt T-72. The rebuild rips out existing equipment, and includes a new engine, armor (ERA, or explosive reactive armor plates added to the exterior) and new electronics (thermal sight and computerized fire control, laser range finder and detector, radios, intercom and so on). Defense Solutions has already rebuilt and delivered 77 T-72s for Iraq (the tanks were gifts from Hungary). So Iraq knows what it is getting. It is calling the rebuilt T-72s the T-91. If the price of oil bounces back, as many expect, Iraqi could afford the $6 billion bill for creating the 2,000 T-91s.

Iraq is apparently going through with the purchase of 140 M-1 tanks and 400 M-2 infantry fighting vehicles. These would equip an elite division that, if well trained and led, could take on any of the neighbors, for a while, at least, as well as internal terrorism (the M-1 has been largely immune to any terrorist weapon, while the T-72/91 is not.) But a larger war, say with Iran, would require a lot more tanks. That's where the upgraded T-72s come in. The T-91s are superior to anything Iran has, not to mention Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. The Turks don't count. Based on long and bloody experience, Arabs do not go to war with Turkey, ever, under any circumstances.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon denied that the plan was going forward, and accused the U.S. firm (Defense Solutions) of planting the story to try and drum up some business. There are firms in Israel, Russia and the Czech Republic that will do the same work, and cheaper (if only because of lower transportation costs.)



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