Ukraine’s Defense Gets Boost as Russia’s Tank Numbers Plummet
Kyiv, Ukraine, September 18, 2023: A recent in-depth study conducted by French researchers has delivered a concerning revelation regarding Russia’s tank situation. The research, which analyzed thousands of Russian satellite images and corporate records, paints a bleak picture of Moscow’s armored capabilities. If the current rate of tank attrition continues, Russia could potentially exhaust its tank reserves by the year 2025.
The study, conducted by the Marseilles-based “Institut Action Resilience (IAR),” employed a comprehensive methodology, incorporating satellite imagery, publicly available Russian sources, battlefield data, and a thorough examination of Russian commercial archives. The results, unveiled on August 31, present a sobering assessment of Russia’s tank stockpile, which is far lower than what the Kremlin has publicly asserted. According to the IAR report, this discrepancy has created an insurmountable gap in Russia’s ability to replace tanks lost in combat.
Western analysts concur that any significant Russian offensive in Ukraine would traditionally rely on massed tank assaults. However, the IAR study suggests that Russia may no longer have this strategic option at its disposal, and the situation is deteriorating.
The IAR’s findings reveal that since the commencement of the conflict, Russia’s seven primary tank repair and maintenance facilities have supplied a mere 180-360 tanks of various types to the field. Western sanctions have effectively crippled Russia’s capacity to produce new tanks, resulting in the exclusive refurbishment of old Soviet-era armor.
Notably, the IAR’s evaluation indicates that Russia still retains a substantial stock of older tanks suitable for refurbishment, estimated at around 6,000 vehicles. This contrasts sharply with assessments from other research groups, such as GlobalFirepower, which place Russia’s total tank inventory at 12,566 vehicles.
However, the IAR report highlights that a significant portion of these purported tank reserves consists of little more than hulks stored in open fields. Furthermore, Russia’s tank production chain faces a significant bottleneck, with only seven major facilities capable of equipping tanks with modern communications, optics, and defense systems.
According to the report, Russia’s entire industrial complex currently produces a meager 390 tanks per year for combat units. This figure starkly contradicts Moscow’s official claims, which assert that a single tank factory, Uralvagonzavod, produces 200 tanks per month with increasing production rates.
Reports from Ukrainian sources on the battlefield substantiate the IAR’s findings and refute the Kremlin’s bravado. Ukrainian military sources, including many interviewed by Kyiv Post, have noted that Russian forces have seldom deployed tanks in significant numbers since the spring. When they do, it is typically limited to five or six tanks. Russian tank crews prefer to remain concealed behind terrain features, employing their armored vehicles as indirect fire platforms.
The IAR report cites the use of thermal sights for night vision observation and firing, a technology standard on NATO tanks since the 1980s. This shift to older Soviet-era sighting technology is seen as indicative of Russia’s compromise on tank quality in favor of sustaining tank production.
In a recent development, the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) released combat video footage depicting Ukrainian tank and infantry units conducting nighttime assaults on Russian positions in late August and early September. Remarkably, these attacks encountered little to no resistance from Russian tanks.
Estimates of Russian tank losses vary, but they consistently exceed the replacement rate from Russian industry. Monitoring groups like Oryx estimate that Russia has lost a minimum of 130 tanks each month since the start of the invasion. Ukrainian military estimates, based on combat drone footage, put losses at over 250 tanks per month as of September 16, 2023.
Should this trend persist, the IAR report predicts that by early 2025, the number of Russian tanks on the battlefield could plummet to around 500, with a quarter of them being refurbished T-62 tanks produced in the 1960s or early 1970s. Such a scenario would severely restrict Russia’s ability to deploy armored brigades in border theaters, potentially leaving its borders exposed to neighboring countries.
In the event of a significant Ukrainian offensive, similar to the success achieved by Ukrainian forces in the Kharkiv sector in October, the report envisions Russia’s active army tank fleet in Ukraine dwindling to a symbolic force of fewer than 250 tanks by the end of 2023. This would render Russia incapable of conducting major armored operations, forcing its tank units to operate in small, homogeneous battalion groups.
The last notable Russian tank assault occurred in early 2023 when Russian forces attempted to breach Ukrainian fortifications around Donbass Vuhledar. Reports indicated that Ukrainian forces, specifically the 72nd Mechanized Brigade, destroyed or captured several different types of Russian tanks during this operation. Russian assault groups, led by elite naval infantry, incurred substantial tank losses, equivalent to two months of tank production, within a week of fighting.
The IAR report emphasizes that while the Russian defense industry still possesses the capability to produce tanks, the rate is insufficient to offset the losses incurred in combat. The continued degradation of Russia’s armored forces under Ukrainian military pressure could push Russian ground forces to their breaking point.
In conclusion, the findings of the French research institute, IAR, shed light on a critical vulnerability in Russia’s military posture, indicating a potentially dire situation in the coming years if tank attrition rates persist.