The Safir 74 during the Sacred Defense Week parade, 2012.
The Safir 74 (Messenger 74), also known as the “Type 72Z” or the “T-72Z”, is an Iranian modernized variant of the T-54/55 main battle tank. Reportedly, the name “Safir 74” is specifically used for the modernized T-54, wheas “Type 72Z” and “T-72Z” were assigned to the Type 59/69 and T-55 tanks that underwent the same modernization program.
The series, regardless of the original model, is colloquially referred to as “Safir 74” due to them having the same overall characteristics, and to disambiguated it with an unrelated Iraqi modification of the T-55 named “T-72Z”. For the purposes of this proposal, I would refer to the program as a whole as “Safir 74” to avoid confusion.
An Iranian T-55 and Chieftain tank along with the KM414 jeep in a firing position during the Battle of Khorramshar, 1982.
Like many vehicles in the modern Iranian arsenal, the Safir 74’s origins can be traced back to the Iran-Iraq war. During the early stage of the war, the Iranians Chieftain and M60 MBTs were frequently outclassed and outnumbered by the Ba’athist Iraqi T-54/55, and later the T-72 tanks, resulting into heavy losses. To replace these missing gap during such trying times, Iran decided to scramble around the middle east for a tank up for sale. Between 1981 - 82, Iran managed to procured 125 T-54/55 from Libya, 120 T-55 from Syria as well as an unknown number of Type 59/69 from China, and used that very same model of tank against the Iraqis. When the tide of war turned against Iraq, Iran also managed to capture a large number of T-54/55 from the Iraqi, which were then quickly pressed into the service.
One of the only few images of the early Safir 74, taken in 1997 i.e. a year after the initial development of the Safir 74. The early Safir 74 is largely similar to the T-54/55 with a distinct difference on the main gun and new fire control system.
After the war, Iran ended up with around 400 T-54/55 and Type 59/69 in their arsenal. As the tank is way past their prime even during the war, and as they started developing their own arms industry, as well as the dwindling supply of ammunition for the 100 mm guns, Iran decided to start the modernization program of these tanks in 1996 to increase their service life, to which the project were named as “Safir 74” (or others depending on the sources). The upgrades were carried out by the Defense Industry Organization (DIO).
The early Safir 74 is a somewhat simple modification. The hull of the tank itself is largely unchanged save for slight modification to accommodate the 780 hp V46-6 engine and SPAT-1200 transmission system. A rubber sideskirt was added to increase protection from shaped charge. The fire control system is improved with an addition of the Fotona EFCS-3-55 FCS with a second generation night vision carried over from the T-72S (that Iran started producing under license in 1994) and automatic stabilizer. The most noticeable change, however, is the replacement of the 100 mm D-10T gun with a locally-produced derivative of the American 105 mm M68 gun. This is due to Iran has already managed to reverse-engineered the M68 gun and produced it and its ammo on their own.
As production of the T-72S is underway, and that Iran has started the domestic MBT project that would be later known as the Zulfiqar, the Safir 74 was never meant to be a frontline tank. Rather, it was meant to be used as a fire support against lesser-armored vehicles and fulfil the same roles as the more advanced brethren when needed.
Close-up view of the Safir 74’s turret. Note the relatively sparse ERA on the turret’s right cheek, of which some Safir has more, some has less for some reason.
Ditto, from another angle.
Rear view of the Safir 74.
Around 2000s, the Safir 74 received an ERA kit covering the front and side, as well as an armored skirt to improves its survivability. In 2006, Iran managed to secure an export contact of an unknown number of Safir 74 and the conversion kit to Sudan, to which they were later redesignated as the “Al-Zubair”. The Sudanese Safir were then renamed as “Al-Zubair I” after they have purchased Type 59P in which they designated as “Al-Zubair II”. The Safir 74 has received another upgrade in 2012, as the tank has received a ballistic computer and target designator, as well as an option to use the gun-launched 9M117 Bastion ATGM in addition to NATO-standard ammunition.
In total, around 400 Safir 74s were converted. With an unknown number of Al-Zubair I in Sudanese service. The Safir 74 remains in service with Iran, primarily served as a second-line MBT used by the Basij militia of the IRGC. Though some of them were also in service with the Iranian Army and the IRGC Ground Forces.
Note: Due to the lack of info in most parts, most of these statistics were estimate at best
Mass: 36 tons
Crew: 4 (commander, driver, loader, and gunner)
Engine: V46-6 diesel 780 hp (630 kW)
Suspension: Torsion bar
Operational range: 440 km
Top speed: 65 km/h
Power/weight ratio: 21.66 hp/t
97 mm upper front of the hull
99 mm lower front of the hull
79 mm upper sides of the hull
20 mm lower sides of the hull
46 mm rear of the hull
20 mm floor of the hull
203 mm front of the turret
150 mm sides of the turret
64 mm rear of the turret
39 mm top of the turret
Both hull and turret were covered with an Iranian derivative of the Kontact-1 ERA
Main armament: 105 mm M68 gun, capable of fring all NATO 105 mm ammunition and 9M117 Bastion ATGM
Machine guns: 7.62mm coaxial PKT and roof-mounted 12.7mm DShKM machine guns