Russia has lost more than 4,000 tanks since the start of all-out war in Ukraine last February, Kyiv’s military said on Tuesday.
In an update posted to social media, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said that Russia had lost a total of 4,006 tanks since February 24, 2022. This is an increase of nine in the past 24 hours.
The war has cost both sides significant numbers of both military equipment and lives. But it is hard to build an accurate, independent picture of just how many tanks Russia has lost in the conflict so far.
However, experts have told Newsweek that Ukraine’s figure may well not be far from the truth, allowing room for error, and a reflection of a pattern of failures in Russia’s tank battalions since the early days of the conflict in February 2022.
Moscow has been beset by organizational and planning failures, ruptures in the command chain, poor training and unmotivated troops after the best were wiped out in the first waves of the war, leaving few to train the next generation of tank crews, analysts say.
A “Staggering Figure””It’s a very, very high figure,” Ed Arnold, a research fellow at the London-based Royal United Services Institute think tank, told Newsweek. “It’s a significant loss.”
The tallies published by Kyiv are “probably more accurate” than other estimates, “because the Ukrainians are actually on the battlefield,” according to former British Army Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, who previously commanded U.K. and NATO chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRN) forces.
“I wouldn’t have thought it’s far off the truth, but it’s a staggering figure,” de Bretton-Gordon told Newsweek. Even with some room for error, it is nonetheless showing that “there has been a massive loss of armor, predominantly on the Russian side,” he argued.
Tank losses of around 4,000 for Russia do seem “probable”, Frederik Mertens, of the Hague Center for Strategic Studies (HCSS), told Newsweek.
A destroyed Russian tank on November 20, 2022, in Snihurivka, Ukraine. In an update posted to social media on Wednesday, the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said that Russia had lost a total of 4,006 tanks since February 24, 2022.
Yurii Tynnyi/Suspilne Ukraine/JSC “UA:PBC”/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images
Estimates on Russian tank losses do vary by each count. According to the Dutch open-source outlet Oryx, which monitors both Ukrainian and Russian military losses, Russia has lost 2,047 tanks, as of Wednesday. The figure from Oryx—which only includes visually-confirmed losses—is likely to be a bare minimum, experts say.
By contrast, the Ukrainian tally, almost double that registered by Oryx, is likely to include not only Russia’s destroyed main battle tanks, according to analysts, but other types of armored vehicles, as well as vehicles which are operational but no longer in Russian hands.
Whatever the exact figure is, it still represents a substantial hit to Russia’s armored capabilities. And experts have repeatedly pointed to the same problems plaguing Moscow’s forces since the beginning, which they say are continuing to contribute to mounting tank losses.
Failings Clear Since The Beginning”Ultimately, this was a failure of planning,” Arnold said. The Kremlin’s forces did not anticipate Ukraine’s fierce resistance, he argued, adding that Russia therefore did not use its tanks properly when they were first put into battle.
“When you don’t use them properly, they’re very vulnerable,” Arnold said. “The poor planning compounded everything.”
Other experts agree. Analysts point to images and footage of Russian tanks in long columns in the first days and weeks of the war, and how often tanks would be deployed without infantry support or in built-up areas. Ukrainian forces were well equipped to ambush Russian tanks in this type of environment, Arnold said.
These are examples of tactics that “competent commanders would avoid at all costs,” according to Paul van Hooft, an analyst at the HCSS, told Newsweek. “But they kept doing it.”
Due to the mistakes of the early operations, “any elite tank crews were taken out in the early part of the war,” de Bretton-Gordon said.
“Because they lost so many tanks in the first stage, they were not really able to use them again, as they would, in the sort of second phase of the war,” Arnold said.
With many of its advanced tanks gone and the more experienced operators killed, Russia had to turn to rushing new recruits through training.
A “lack of training, lack of discipline [and] lack of motivation” shone through in so many instances for Russia, van Hooft said. With many of the elite troops killed in the first six months, Russia has continued with tactics of “throwing machines and people at the problem,” he added.
A similar principle has applied to the tanks, analysts say. Reports that Russia has resurrected antiquated tanks, such as the T-54 or T-55, for use in Ukraine have widely circulated in recent months.
“The Russian military will likely experience greater numbers of casualties by fielding these older tank systems in Ukraine,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank said in March.
“What Russia has had to do very quickly is actually start to rely far more on those ones that they had in storage, which will all be in varying degrees of serviceability,” Arnold said.
Relying on older kit, including tanks brought out of storage, has made the Russians “sitting ducks” for Ukrainian tank crews now accessing Western tanks that are able to fight at night, de Bretton-Gordon said. There are questions over just how many of these mothballed tanks Moscow would have been able to make operational, van Hooft said, and just how many have been cannibalized to keep the others working.
Many of these older, resurrected tanks will have been lost, and have likely contributed to the Ukrainian General Staff’s figure of 4,000.
They may go some way towards explaining the difference between Ukraine’s tally and the count published earlier this year in The Military Balance. An annual report on the state of each country’s armed forces compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, The Military Balance reported that in early 2023, Russia had 1,800 operational main battle tanks.
Considerations around pulling old tanks into battle, as well as the counting of armored vehicles alongside tanks, will help explain why this figure is less than half of Ukraine’s estimated Russian losses, experts say.
Underlying Russia’s many problems, and exacerbating these losses, is a lack of care paid to retrieving damaged vehicles. Many tanks were needlessly lost because of Moscow’s inability to put recovery vehicles into theater, or plan for repair, van Hooft said. This meant that many tanks were unnecessarily abandoned, meaning they could not be used in later stages of the war.
Ultimately, a figure of 4,000 tank losses, even if this estimate is on the high side, comes down to a combination of poor planning, a lack of movement, weak command, insufficient training and turning to older tech to fill the quickly emerging gaps.
These mistakes have cost Russia dearly, devastating its modern tank fleet. And Moscow has noticed. Around a year after the beginning of all-out war, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia needed to “increase production of various armaments including modern tanks,” in response to Western donations to Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted that Russia had lost 54 tanks in less than two weeks after Ukraine kicked off its long-anticipated counteroffensive.
If Russia hopes to rebuild a modern tank force of around 2,000 up-to-date tanks, “it’s going to take them a long time,” de Bretton-Gordon said.
“They just have never actually used tanks in the correct way since the invasion,” Arnold said.
Newsweek has reached out to Russia’s Defense Ministry for comment via email.
And Ukraine’s Tank Losses?Ukraine has also sustained tank losses since February 2022, and it is difficult to gain an accurate picture of how many tanks have been destroyed, damaged or captured.
At the start of 2023, Ukraine had 953 main battle tanks, according to The Military Balance. However, this data predates the donation of Western main battle tanks such as the U.S.-made Abrams, the U.K’s Challenger 2s and the variety of Leopard tanks donated by several nations.
Oryx data shows that Ukraine has lost a confirmed 539 tanks since February 24, 2022, with 340 listed as destroyed and 139 as captured.
This tally includes 2 Leopard 2A4 and 3 Leopard 2A6 tanks which would have only recently entered the fray.
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Source : Newsweek