Russia's Mighty Tank Forces Have Been Obliterated in the Ukraine War

T-90 tank from Russia
November 29, 2023 Topic: military Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: RussiaUkraineTanksTankUkraine War

Russia's Mighty Tank Forces Have Been Obliterated in the Ukraine War

In total, some 17,300 tanks were produced by the Soviet Union or Russia between the late 1950s and now. A massive chunk of those tanks have been destroyed in the Ukraine war. 

Russia Had the Largest Tank Force in the World in 2021 – Today, Not So Much: According to figures from the Military Balance 2021 database, Russia had around 3,330 operational tanks, including 2,840 with the ground forces, 330 with its naval infantry, and 160 with its airborne forces. In addition, in storage facilities around Russia, the Kremlin could claim to have 10,200 tanks – including 2,800 T-55s, 2,500 T-62s, and 2,000 T-64s.

In total, some 17,300 tanks were produced by the Soviet Union/Russia between the late 1950s and now.

Of course, not all of those tanks were still fit for service, a fact that was noted as Moscow sought to replenish its forces after significant losses in the first year of fighting in Ukraine. On paper, Russia had a sizeable tank force, even if it was routinely questioned whether those aging platforms were still viable on a modern battlefield.

Unfortunately for the Russian tank crews, they quickly found that those tanks weren't suited for frontline combat, even as efforts were made to "modernize" the platforms. Many of the Russian T-54/55 series tanks seemed to have been pulled straight from storage, loaded onto trains, and shipped straight to Ukraine. If they were not upgraded in the least, one might speculate those antiquated tanks were little more than metal coffins – especially as they could face off against more advanced Western-made platforms, while Ukrainian forces have become quite adept with man-portable anti-tank weapons.

Given the losses of the Russian tanks to date, it is questionable whether those older tanks could actually make any significant difference in the fighting.

Russia's Tank Force Has Been Weakened

Now as the second year of fighting draws to a close, it is evident that Russia's tank force has been seriously diminished. According to claims by Kyiv, Russia has lost 5,520 tanks since February 2022 – including 30 tanks that were lost in a single day earlier this month as Moscow pressed its attack on the embattled Donetsk town of Avdiivka.

The claims haven't been independently verified, but Western analysts have noted that Kyiv's claims of tanks destroyed aren't widely off the mark. The Kremlin has claimed to have destroyed a total of 13,629 tanks and other armored combat vehicles, but that figure is likely higher than the total number of vehicles Kyiv has operated!

Both sides have seen significant losses of heavy equipment in the 21 months of all-out war, and that has included stocks of main battle tanks (MBTs).

Russia Has Been Weakened – So Too Has Ukraine

Russia's losses may continue, especially as it relies on Cold War-era tanks including the T-62 and T-55, while Ukraine's Soviet-era fleet of main battle tanks (MBTs) including the T-72 and T-84 has been supplemented by battalions of Western-made tanks, including Berlin's Leopard/Leopard 2s, the British Challenger 2s and the U.S. Army's M1 Abrams.

Of course, those aren't exactly miracle weapons either.

Kyiv's forces have seen the loss of a couple dozen Leopard 2 MBTs, while the first Leopard 1A5 was reportedly destroyed just this week. It was targeted by a Russian drone in eastern Ukraine, perhaps after striking a buried mine.

However, Ukraine has been far more resourceful at recovering and then repairing damaged/disabled tanks. As David Axe of reported, "It's possible the [Leopard 1] tank is recoverable and fixable, assuming Ukrainian engineers can get to it before Russian gunners or drones do."

The fighting in Ukraine has certainly been a slug match – with the fighting evoking past conflicts, including the trench warfare of the First World War, and the city fighting in Stalingrad during World War II. Though there hasn't been a true tank engagement like that seen at the Battle of Kursk, the losses are certainly as great.

Russian Casualties Likely to Continue

After more than 21 months of fighting, it would seem that the Kremlin is no closer to victory – and while Kyiv cannot hope to fight indefinitely, it would appear that neither can Moscow.

"Throughout November 2023, Russian casualties, as reported by the Ukrainian General Staff, are running at a daily average of 931 per day," the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced via an intelligence briefing posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, earlier this week.

"Previously, the deadliest reported month for Russia was March 2023 with an average of 776 losses per day, at the height of Russia's assault on Bakhmut," the MoD added.

The British ministry couldn't verify the methodology, taken as the total includes both killed and wounded, but it suggested that the figures are plausible.

"The last six weeks have likely seen some of the highest Russian casualty rates of the war so far," the MoD continued. "The heavy losses have largely been caused by Russia’s offensive against the Donbas town of Avdiivka."

Author Experience and Expertise

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

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