The T-64 Battle Tank was an ambitious attempt to produce a tank that combined the fire power and armour of the tanks emerging in the West with the lighter weight of the T-54. This required the use of a series of advanced features, including a troublesome new engine and an auto-loader for the main gun.
This was a vehicle on the 'bleeding edge' of technology at the time, and perhaps inevitably it suffered from that. The biggest problem was its unreliable engine (a very common story amongst tank designs). The short lifespan of the engine meant that many of the early T-64s spent much of the their time being repaired, which in turn left the entire design vulnerable to political infighting within the Soviet hierarchy.
A picture emerges here of a project that failed. The reliability problems meant that it took years before the T-64 was ready to be issued to front line units, and it was phased out within a decade – not a good lifespan for a post-war tank design. The first production T-64s were completed in 1963, but it didn't reach the Red Army in East Germany until the mid 1970s, and began to be phased out in 1983.
At the same time the T-64 had so many advanced features that the Soviet leadership didn't want to export it, so during its heyday it didn't see combat (unlike many other Soviet designs, which have been tested in combat in the Arab-Israeli wars or the various Gulf Wars). The only recorded combat use of the T-64 has come in recent years in Ukraine, where the advanced armour proved to be something of a weakness, effectively having a 'use by' date.
The biggest surprise here is how dysfunctional the Soviet tank industry was during the development and service of the T-64. Rival tank design bureaus attempted to undermine each other's designs, and even went as far as refusing to produce them. As a result the Soviet Union ended up producing three very similar tanks at the same time (T-64, T-72 and T-80). Other problems were similar to those faced by the British defence industry – in the late 1950s and 1960s Khrushchev was convinced that the rocket was the weapon of the future, and a great deal of effort went into failed attempts to produce rocket firing versions of the tank. In Britain a similar belief in the power of the missile had a devastating impact on the aircraft industry.
This is a good history of the T-64, but for me its main strength is the insight it provides into the Soviet tank design system and the related political system. Ironically Zaloga has the space to do this precisely because the tank didn't have a significant service career.
NST: New Medium Tank
Refining the Design: Obiekt 432
The Rocket Tank Distraction
T-64 Initial Production
The T-64A Tank (Obiekt 434)
The T-64B Sosna Missile Tank
T-64 Follow-On: The T-74 PST
T-64 Command Tanks
Final Traces of the T-64
Soviet Army T-64 Deployment
T-64 Combat History
The T-64 in Retrospect
Author: Steven J. Zaloga