Russia’s main battle tanks have been chewed up in the Ukraine war. Many of them have been destroyed and left clustered on roadways, some by modern weapons such as the US Javelin, some by Ukraine’s indigenously produced man-portable anti-tank weapons such as the Stugna-P and still others taken out by drones like Turkey’s Bayraktar.
By any modern measure, Russian tanks deployed to the Ukrainian battlefield are old and obsolete. Russia’s armor operations have been criticized by many experts who have noted tank drivers often stay on roadways where they get stuck in traffic jams and are easily ambushed.
They’ve also been frequently used in urban spaces where they are immobile and can’t maneuver.
Russian tanks have been especially vulnerable from above, where Bayraktar drones have taken them out. Other criticism has centered on Russian tank flaws; when a Russian tank is hit, the ammunition – located near the gun system and stored around an automatic loader – “cooks off,” blowing the turret with the gun into the air. Crew survival on Russian tanks after they are hit in Ukraine is poor.
Russia has also been criticized for moving its armor independently of its infantry and not coordinating its artillery and anti-air weapons with its armor operations. Russian troop training is also highly suspect and conscripts driving tanks without adequate training has been a recipe for disaster.
But even if you put aside all these operational errors and problems, the truth is that Russia is fighting with notably old and outdated equipment, making tank survival difficult even if Russia’s field commanders had done everything right and Russia’s soldiers had been well-trained.
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Stephen Bryen is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.