Design work on T-64 main battle tank, developed as successor to the T-54/55/62 family, commenced in 1954 in the Design Bureau of the Malyshev Factory in Kharkov, Ukraine.
At the head of the project was the Bureau’s chief designer A. Morozov. The first prototype, designated “Object 430”, incorporated many innovative features, among them the 5TD powerplant. It was a two-stroke, five-cylinder, opposed-piston turbodiesel engine. Despite its smaller (13.6 litre) cubic capacity, it was more powerful, with an estimated output of 750 horsepower. The tank had an ejection-type cooling system, which used the energy of engine exhaust gases. The resulting absence of cooling fans and fan drive reducer considerably decreased power consumption.
T-64 was the first tank in the world fitted with fully automatic electro-hydraulic loading system, which allowed the number of crew members to decrease to three: the commander, the gunner and the driver. For the first time in a Russian construction an optical sight – range finder was installed, which vastly improved the accuracy of fire. “Object 430” was armed with a 100mm gun, subsequently substituted by a D-68 115mm gun. A new lightweight suspension was fitted, featuring hollow metallic wheels of small diameter and caterpillar tracks with rubber joints.
Prototypes “Object 430” and “Object 432” were thoroughly tested by the Army beginning with 1960. It was finally accepted for mass production and fielded in 1967, and was first seen in public in 1970. The production run phased out after completing 600 tanks. In 1969 a new type of more powerful main gun was introduced – 125 mm D-81 (2A46) – which gave birth to a new version, the T-64A (“Object 434”). Most tanks of earlier production were upgraded to the T-64A standard; they were re-designated the T-64R (R for “Rebuilt”, also known as “Object 432R”).
A derived version appeared at the same time, designed for the commanding officer, and named T-64AK, fitted with a R-130M radio with a 10-metre telescopic antenna, an artillery PAB-2AM periscope, and a TNA-3 navigation station, supplied by an auxiliary gasoline-fired AB-1P/30 generator. T-64A tanks were further modernised by installing, among others, a six smoke grenade-launcher 82 mm 902A on each side of the gun, rubber skirts and additional armour.
Another modernised variant of the basic design was T-64B – the “Object 447”. Its production commenced in 1976. It was fitted with a new 1A33 fire control system (which included ballistic calculator, sight with laser telemetry and lateral wind sensor) and the 9K112 “Cobra” radio-command guided anti-tank missile system (NATO reporting name AT-8 Songster).
The hull and turret were fitted with composite armour, called “K-combination” by Western armies, which consisted of an aluminium alloy layer between two high strength steel layers. The optical range finder was replaced by a laser one. Further modernisations included reactive armour boxes, able to resist kinetic energy projectiles, and a more powerful 6TD engine. The production ended in 1987 for all versions. The total production has reached almost 8,000. The T-64 was never exported outside USSR nor built anywhere on licence.