How Russia Lost ’4,000 Tanks’ in Ukraine
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According to recent information shared by the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces on social media, Russia has reportedly suffered a substantial loss of over 4,000 tanks since the commencement of the all-out war in Ukraine in February.

The update indicates that as of February 24, 2022, Russia’s total tank losses amounted to 4,006, with an increase of nine tanks reported in the past 24 hours.

The conflict has resulted in significant casualties and equipment losses for both sides involved. However, obtaining a precise and unbiased assessment of the exact number of tanks Russia has lost in the ongoing conflict remains challenging.

According to experts interviewed by Newsweek, the figure provided by Ukraine regarding Russia’s tank losses is likely not far from reality, albeit with some room for error.

This reflects a consistent pattern of failures within Russia’s tank battalions since the early stages of the conflict in February 2022.

Experts suggest that Moscow has been plagued by organizational and planning shortcomings, disruptions in the command structure, inadequate training, and a lack of motivation among troops.

The initial waves of the war resulted in the decimation of the best tank crews, leaving few experienced individuals to train the next generation.

Describing the figure as “staggering,” Ed Arnold, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, emphasized the significant nature of the tank losses. Former British Army Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who previously commanded U.K. and NATO defense forces specializing in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats, stated that the tallies published by Kyiv are likely more accurate compared to other estimates due to the fact that the Ukrainians are actively engaged on the battlefield.

In a conversation with Newsweek, de Bretton-Gordon expressed his view that the figure provided by Ukraine regarding Russia’s tank losses is likely to be fairly accurate, describing it as a “staggering figure.” He emphasized that even with some margin for error, it still highlights a significant and substantial loss of armored vehicles, particularly on the Russian side. Frederik Mertens from the Hague Center for Strategic Studies (HCSS) also shared the sentiment that tank losses of around 4,000 for Russia appear plausible.

However, it’s worth noting that estimates of Russian tank losses vary depending on the source. According to the Dutch open-source outlet Oryx, which closely monitors military losses in both Ukraine and Russia, the reported number of tanks lost by Russia is 2,047 as of Wednesday.

Experts believe that this figure from Oryx, which only includes visually-confirmed losses, likely represents the minimum count and the actual number could be higher.

In contrast, the Ukrainian count of tank losses, which is nearly double the number reported by Oryx, is believed to encompass not only Russia’s destroyed main battle tanks but also other types of armored vehicles.

Additionally, it likely includes vehicles that are still operational but no longer under Russian control. Regardless of the exact figure, it undeniably represents a significant blow to Russia’s armored capabilities.

Analysts have consistently highlighted the same underlying issues that have plagued Moscow’s forces from the outset, which continue to contribute to the mounting losses of tanks.

The problems experienced by Russia can be traced back to the initial stages of the conflict. “Ultimately, this failure can be attributed to a lack of effective planning,” explained Arnold.

The forces of the Kremlin failed to anticipate the resilient resistance put forth by Ukraine, resulting in the improper utilization of their tanks during the early battles. “When tanks are not employed correctly, they become highly vulnerable,” Arnold emphasized. “The inadequate planning exacerbated the situation, exacerbating the losses.”

This sentiment is echoed by other experts in the field. Analysts point to the visual evidence captured through images and footage, showcasing Russian tanks moving in long columns during the initial days and weeks of the conflict. It was observed that tanks were often deployed without adequate infantry support or in densely populated areas.

Ukrainian forces were well-prepared to exploit these circumstances and effectively ambush Russian tanks, especially in urban environments, as highlighted by Arnold. Such tactics, as emphasized by Paul van Hooft, an analyst at the HCSS, are typically avoided by competent commanders at all costs.

However, the Russian forces continued to employ these risky strategies despite their inherent vulnerabilities. As a result of these early operational mistakes, “any highly skilled tank crews were eliminated in the initial phase of the war,” added de Bretton-Gordon.

According to Arnold, due to the significant loss of tanks during the initial stage of the conflict, Russia faced limitations in effectively utilizing them in subsequent phases of the war.

The depletion of advanced tanks and the loss of experienced operators forced Russia to expedite the training of new recruits. As a result, there were noticeable deficiencies in training, discipline, and motivation among Russian forces, as pointed out by van Hooft.

The casualties suffered in the first six months included a substantial number of elite troops. Consequently, Russia resorted to a strategy of “throwing machines and people at the problem” to compensate for these losses.

According to analysts, a similar pattern can be observed with regard to tanks. There have been reports indicating that Russia has deployed outdated tanks like the T-54 or T-55 in Ukraine.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank stated in March that Russia would likely suffer more casualties by using these older tank systems. Arnold mentioned that Russia has been forced to rely on tanks from storage, which may vary in terms of their operational readiness.

This suggests that Russia had to quickly utilize tanks that were previously kept in storage, regardless of their varying degrees of serviceability.

According to de Bretton-Gordon, relying on older equipment, including tanks retrieved from storage, has made the Russian forces vulnerable to Ukrainian tank crews who now have access to Western tanks capable of nighttime operations.

The operational status of these mothballed tanks in Moscow remains uncertain, as van Hooft pointed out, and it is unclear how many of them have been cannibalized to maintain the functionality of others. It is likely that many of these resurrected older tanks have been lost in combat, potentially contributing to the Ukrainian General Staff’s estimate of 4,000 tank losses.

These losses may help explain the discrepancy between Ukraine’s tally and the count published in The Military Balance earlier this year. The Military Balance, an annual report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, stated that Russia had 1,800 operational main battle tanks at the beginning of 2023.

According to experts, the discrepancy between the estimated tank losses of Russia and Ukraine can be attributed to several factors, such as the inclusion of armored vehicles alongside tanks in the count and the decision to deploy older tanks into battle.

These considerations help explain why Russia’s reported tank losses are less than half of Ukraine’s estimate. Furthermore, the lack of attention given to recovering and repairing damaged vehicles has compounded these losses for Russia.

The absence of recovery vehicles and a failure to plan for repairs resulted in the unnecessary abandonment of many tanks, rendering them unusable in subsequent stages of the war.

Ultimately, the figure of 4,000 tank losses, even if it leans towards the higher end of the estimate, reflects a combination of inadequate planning, limited mobility, weak command structure, insufficient training, and a reliance on outdated technology to fill the emerging gaps in Russia’s armored capabilities.

The repercussions of these mistakes have had a devastating impact on Russia, particularly on its modern tank fleet. The gravity of the situation has not escaped Moscow’s attention.

Approximately one year into the full-scale war, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged the need to “increase production of various armaments, including modern tanks,” in response to Western aid provided to Ukraine.

Just recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin conceded that Russia had lost 54 tanks in less than two weeks during Ukraine’s anticipated counteroffensive. Rebuilding a contemporary tank force of approximately 2,000 up-to-date tanks will be a formidable and time-consuming task for Russia.

According to de Bretton-Gordon, they have yet to employ tanks in the correct manner since the invasion, which further complicates the situation. Newsweek has attempted to contact Russia’s Defense Ministry for comment via email.

As for Ukraine, they have also suffered tank losses since February 2022, but obtaining an accurate assessment of the number of tanks destroyed, damaged, or captured remains challenging.

As of the beginning of 2023, The Military Balance reported that Ukraine possessed 953 main battle tanks. It’s important to note that this information predates the donation of Western main battle tanks, such as the U.S.-made Abrams, the U.K.’s Challenger 2s, and various Leopard tanks contributed by multiple nations.

According to data from Oryx, Ukraine has confirmed the loss of 539 tanks since February 24, 2022. Among these, 340 tanks are listed as destroyed, while 139 have been captured. Notably, this count includes 2 Leopard 2A4 and 3 Leopard 2A6 tanks, which would have likely been recently introduced into the conflict.


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