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In Development: IT-1

The IT-1 (Russian for Istrebitel Tankov – Tank Destroyer) is perhaps the best known of the series of Soviet tanks armed with anti-tank guided missiles instead of a conventional gun and is, essentially, a T-62 with a Drakon ATGM launching system installed inside of it. Its designation is a bit of a throwback to the IT series of light tank destroyers designed mostly before and during the Second World War, but there was nothing obsolete about this vehicle by the time it was conceived.

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IT-1

The Second World War is often considered to be the golden age of tanks but if the 1940s belonged to a gun, it can be said that the 1950s and 1960s were marked by a certain fascination by guided missiles. When it came to aircraft, this fascination eventually led to some fighter jets that ditched a cannon altogether. On the ground, things stayed more conservative.

The first actual anti-tank guided missile was likely the German X-7, developed at the end of the Second World War. As its designation suggests, it was an experimental design that was very likely never fielded but the documents for it were seized by the Allies and the early French SS.10 ATGM from 1956 was, if not an actual improved copy, heavily inspired by the X-7.

Naturally, this didn’t escape the attention of the Soviets who had trouble of their own. While the T-54 was quite sufficient to defeat any German World War Two tank, the post-war American M48s proved to be resistant to its armor-piercing ammunition and even sub-caliber ammunition couldn’t defeat them at over 1000 meters. That left the Soviets with the 100mm HEAT ammunition that could do the job fairly well, but it had problems of its own, specifically its lower accuracy at longer distances. In this perspective, the development of ATGMs was seen as an ideal solution to defeat western tanks and a program was launched to develop the first anti-tank guided missiles.

The first real discussion about putting ATGMs in tanks in the Soviet Union took place between 1955 and 1956. There were several outputs from the discussion – or, more specifically, instructions regarding the direction of the development. The future ATGM vehicles were supposed to be:

  • Fully tracked
  • With protection equal to tanks
  • With the launcher and its operator protected by the tank’s armor
  • The vehicle was supposed to fire when stopped
  • The first vehicles with missiles were to be ready by the end of the 1950s

In other words, the Soviets wanted a tank – but with missiles as its main armament. The demand for internal launcher departed significantly from the way the French were doing it (external launchers) and presented a number of challenges.

The development of the first missile systems took place between 1955 and 1959 and there were plenty of ideas to put ATGMs on pretty much everything, from light amphibious tanks to heavy tanks. Multiple different ATGMs were designed as well. However, by 1960, only two types of “infantry” ATGMs were accepted in service (the Shmel and the Falanga – NATO designations AT-1 and AT-2) with the first “tank” ATGM (a program called Drakon) expected in the mid-1960s.

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IT-1

The reasons for the delays were (apart from the usual lack of funding) the relative inexperience of the Soviets with this type of systems, both on development and production side. One thing that made it worse for the Soviets was the interference of the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, who loved ATGMs and had unrealistic expectations, something that would come to haunt the project later (more on that below).

To make matters worse, the Soviet heavy tank development was cancelled (in theory freeing up some resources) but a portion of ATGM research went away with it as these programs were connected (at least in Leningrad and Chelyabinsk).

Kharkov decided to essentially dump the program in favor of a new gun-armed tank (that eventually resulted in the T-64) with its own missile-armed tank (Object 431) never going anywhere. Who was left was L. N. Kartsev in Nizhny Tagil, who saw an opportunity to use the missile tank program to get enough resources to develop a number of other tank components such as suspensions (this experience would later be used to build the T-72, but is another story altogether).

The Drakon program had the goal of creating a medium weight category armored launcher (25-30 tons, crew of 3-4).

Regarding the missile itself (as a part of the abovementioned Drakon program from 1957), there were a number of debates regarding how it should be actually controlled. The problem (another one) was that the missile tank requirements changed from a purely defensive measure to an offensive one – and that meant the addition of the ability of firing on the move (at least formally) and sitting inside a rolling tank, which, if you haven’t experienced it, can be one hell of a bumpy ride, while guiding the missile manually, that wasn’t really physically possible.

Another option was fully automatic guidance – in theory, the Soviets had plenty of experience there were operational AAGMs in existence already but neither heat-seeking nor radar guidance were really working on the ground. As a result, the most practical solution at the time was semi-automatic guidance where the gunner was tracking the target constantly and the missile reacted automatically in order to hit the marked target.

The development of the missile fell to the OKB-16 design bureau under A. E. Nudelman (responsible for the Falanga system) and the guidance system development fell to KB-1 under A. A. Kolosov. The cooperation didn’t really work out – KB-1 was an experienced team (having worked on many guided weapons, mostly aircraft missiles) but, having other priorities, it did not have the time to focus on the ATGM program. OKB-16 was another experienced bureau (you might recognize the name Nudelman from a successful series of aircraft cannons) responsible for the Falanga ATGM but they wanted to re-use Falanga solutions as much as possible and, on top of that, both bureaus didn’t really work well with each other.

Eventually, in 1958, a third design bureau (CKB-14) entered the project, which was subsequently passed to it from OKB-16. This happened in 1959 and by that time, OKB-16 designed the general look of the missile, which is why it is often listed as its designer. From 1959 onwards, the bulk of the Drakon ATGM development was carried out by CKB-14.

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The result of this development was the semi-automatically guided 3M7 Drakon missile (the whole system was called 2K4 Drakon). The maximum range of this missile was 3300 meters, although at night, this was greatly reduced by the requirement for the operator to actually see and marked the target. Even with his IR sights, the maximum range at night was some 400 to 600 meters. A major issue turned out to be its minimum range (300 meters) – at night, this created a quite small window of engagement.

The missile’s caliber was 180mm and it weighed 54 kilograms (5.8kg of which was the warhead itself). Its flight speed was 217 m/s and it could penetrate some 250mm of rolled homogenous steel armor at 60 degrees. Fully automatic heat-seeking guidance was looked into as well but, like before, it turned out to be unreliable.

As for the platform itself – the first version of the vehicle (referred to as Object 150) from December, 1957 was to use a modified version of the Object 140 prototype tank from Nizhny Tagil as a platform. The Object 140 was designed as a competition for Kharkov’s Object 430 but it did not pass into production. It’s, however, worth noting that the design documents mentioned other platforms as well (such as Object 167 and Object 167T).

The idea was to design a lighter version of the abovementioned tank with only four roadwheels, thinner armor (approximately 20 percent less protection compared to the T-55 tank) and no gun – it was replaced by the Drakon launcher that was installed on top of the turret – a lever arm that would lower itself towards the turret, receive a missile from the automatic feed mechanism, ready itself for firing and then launch the missile. In other words, apart from the time directly before the launch, the missiles were always stored inside the tank. The missiles would be guided by a stabilized T2S sights system at day and by a Luna-P sights system by night. The vehicle would carry 15 missiles.

Fully loaded, the whole thing would weight some 32 tons and would be powered by a standard tank diesel engine. All in all, it was a well-protected tank destroyer with excellent frontal armor that could use a NBC system (very important at the time with the threat of a nuclear war very real in the minds of all strategists) and could be sealed for an underwater crossing. As a bonus, the vehicle was lower than a T-55, giving it an advantage in combat.

A number of flaws were, however, noted as well:

  • The missiles were massive and were difficult to place and reload
  • The missiles had a complicated stabilization system, reducing their reliability
  • Many launcher elements were located on top of the turret, making them vulnerable to enemy fire
  • Three out of the 15 missiles carried were located outside of the automated rack and could only be reloaded when the turret was positioned in a specific way
  • The loading process was fully mechanized – in case the loader was somehow damaged, the missile could not be loaded manually by the crew

Additionally, each missile was stored in a rather heavy container that significantly increased the weight per missile. In any case, this early draft involved some raw estimates as the KB-1 design bureau didn’t share the actual data required to complete the project until months later.

The first two Object 150 mock-ups (based on T-55 chassis) were ready by April, 1959 and were transferred to Kubinka in September, but the missile system was still not ready for testing and the planned 1959 tests were officially moved to 1963.

Earlier in the article, we mentioned Khrushchev’s interference as one of the reasons for the delay of this project. What happened was roughly this. In July, 1960, Khrushchev came to the Kapustin Yar proving grounds to take a look at various missile vehicles, including an Object 150. When the vehicle prototype was introduced to the Soviet leader, Khrushchev started demanding high-tech features nobody else wanted at the time such as missile wings opening in mid-flight and replacing the mechanized ammo rack with a drum-like automatic loader. While not completely unrealistic, these ideas required considerable amounts of time to develop and would not appear for years to come. Considering them did cost the Soviets some time.

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As was mentioned above, until 1961, various platforms were considered for the vehicle, including Object 167. In 1961, the final platform was finally selected – the T-62 tank (which at that time replaced the T-55 production in Nizhny Tagil). Between 1962 and 1963, a series of tests of a prototype of this new iteration took place.

The biggest change was the new loading mechanism that was mostly hidden inside the vehicle and was working with the rate of fire of 2 to 3 rounds per minute. Unlike before, the loading arm/launcher was, for most of the time, hidden inside the vehicle and covered by an armored plate. It only appeared outside when the vehicle was readying itself to fire.

The vehicle was also compared to the Object 432 medium tank armed with the 115mm Molot smoothbore gun (the Object 432 would become the T-64) and the results were fairly interesting:

  • Object 150 could kill enemy tanks at longer ranges (3.5km compared to 3km)
  • At the distance of 2 to 3km, the Object 150 could kill 2-3 times as many tanks as the Object 432
  • On average, the ammunition carried allowed it to kill 10 tanks (compared to Object 432’s 6 tanks)

In 1964, two more or less finalized Object 150 vehicles were tested and fared rather well, leading to an order of 10 vehicles and 300 missiles to be delivered in 1965 in order to subject them to more trials. Several more flaws were uncovered and fixed and, finally, on September 3, 1968, the vehicle was accepted in service under the designation of IT-1.

The production version of the IT-1 weighed 35 tons and had the same armor as the T-62 medium tank. It had the same engine too and could go as fast as 50 km/h. It could carry 15 9M7 Drakon missiles (3M7 was renamed to 9M7 due to a change in the military nomenclature system – the abovementioned data apply to this finalized version), twelve of which were in a mechanized magazine and could be launched while the vehicle was going as fast as 20 km/h. It’s worth noting that the vehicle’s speed had relatively low impact on its accuracy.

Once again, the whole vehicle worked rather well but it had one major problem. Like many solid vehicles before and after it, it became a victim of delays – it simply came too late as, by 1968, the concept of a dedicated tank destroyer was already obsolete.

IT-1 could not fit into standard tank formations as it could not participate in close combat due to its minimum range of 300 meters and, if used at long distances, its thick armor was actually pointless and the missile carrier role could be performed by lightly armored BMPs. Furthermore, the Soviets came to the conclusion that rather than supporting dedicated missile carriers like the IT-1, it was far more efficient to support gun-launched ATGM systems, retrofitting standard tanks with it.

As a result of these considerations, it was decided to produce the IT-1 in very limited numbers only. Between 1966 and 1970, 220 vehicles were built along with several thousand Drakon missiles. These vehicles were split into two dedicated tank destroyer battalions – one located in Belarus and one in the Carpathian military district.

The vehicle was generally reliable but due to its limited production, it suffered from a lack of spare parts, an issue that turned quite serious starting from 1970 onwards and eventually resulted in its removal from active service between 1972 and 1973. The vehicle was never exported and never fired a shot in anger. After being phased out, some IT-1s were converted to BTS-4V tractors, others had their armament removed and served as training vehicles. As for the Drakon missile system – its development was an important lesson for the Soviets, a lesson that would be applied in the future ATGM development.

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In Armored Warfare, the IT-1 will be a Tier 5 Premium Tank Destroyer. What makes it quite special is the combination of solid armor and a powerful missile launcher with high damage per shot.

The vehicle’s armor will be rather thick, thicker than in real life, corresponding to that of the T-62M for balance reasons. This, along with a high hitpoint count, will make it one of the toughest Tank Destroyers around with its protection levels rivaling those of the MBT class. This goes for the mobility levels as well – the vehicle will be about as mobile as an MBT with the maximum speed of some 50 km/h and the 0-32 km/h acceleration value starting at 6 seconds.

Firepower-wise, the IT-1 will be an ATGM-only vehicle featuring very powerful missiles with relatively low penetration (500mm), compensated by very high missile agility. The last element of the equation is its camouflage factor and view range. Despite its low silhouette, the vehicle will feature quite poor camouflage factor – after all, it is basically a rather large Main Battle Tank. Its view range will be average.

The combination of these traits will make it suitable for active gameplay rather than the standard Tank Destroyer tactic of sniping while hidden behind thick foliage. The best use of the IT-1 is to follow the front line of friendly MBTs, firing at enemy targets that appear to engage your team’s heavies. When played right, the IT-1 will be able to deal a lot of damage even to the fronts of enemy MBTs by targeting their weakspots, now unveiled by the Armor Inspector feature. Study your opponents carefully – the knowledge will come in handy!

We hope you will enjoy this vehicle and will see you on the battlefield!

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