Russia has been hemorrhaging armored vehicles in Ukraine and Moscow would risk increased casualties if it pulls Soviet-era tanks from storage, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
The U.S.-based think tank said in a report published on Wednesday night that the Russian offensive was being hampered by the loss of armored vehicles. In an attempt to solve the problem, the Russian military may be turning to T-54/55 tanks that had been in long-term storage, according to reports. Production of the tanks, which were introduced by the Soviet Union just after World War II, ceased in the early 1980s.
ISW cited photos of the tanks apparently being transported by rail from a storage facility in Russia—published by Georgia-based research group Conflict Intelligence Team on Wednesday—while saying that “social media sources speculated that Russian forces may deploy them to Ukraine.”
“Russian armored vehicle losses are currently constraining the Russian military’s ability to conduct effective mechanized maneuver warfare in stalling offensives in Ukraine, and Russian forces may be deploying T-54/55 tanks from storage to Ukraine to augment these offensive operations and prepare for anticipated mechanized Ukrainian counteroffensives,” the ISW report states.
“The Soviet Union produced tens of thousands of T-54/55 tanks after the Second World War,” it continues. “The Russian military will likely experience greater numbers of casualties by fielding these older tank systems in Ukraine. The deployment of inferior equipment to replenish the Russian military’s ability to conduct mechanized maneuver warfare may prompt a further degradation of Russian manpower in Ukraine.”
ISW went on to say that the Soviet-era tanks “are highly vulnerable to many anti-tank systems available to Ukraine, not all of which are expensive.” While some have argued that the tanks are cheaper for Russia to use than anti-tank guided missile ammunition, ISW pointed out that it was “not clear how effective these tanks will be against Ukrainian armored vehicles” and that “each tank loss is the loss of a tank crew as well as the tank.”
According to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, at least 3,557 Russian tanks and 6,887 Russian armored combat vehicles have been destroyed since the war began almost 13 months ago. Newsweek has not independently verified Ukraine’s figures.
According to Dutch open-source verification outlet Oryx, at least 1,871 Russian tanks had been destroyed by Ukraine and 550 tanks had been captured as of Wednesday, including only cases confirmed by video or photographic evidence.
Oryx reported that at least 2,226 Russian infantry fighting vehicles had been destroyed, while 611 had been captured. Hundreds of other armored vehicles were also reportedly destroyed.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced on Tuesday that Ukraine would receive an expedited shipment of older M1A1 Abrams tanks in the fall, rather than the M1A2 tanks that had been expected.
The DoD said that the shipment of refurbished tanks would arrive “faster than what was initially expected” with the M1A2 units. The M1A1s were produced between 1986 and 1992.
While the tanks that Ukraine will be receiving are also decades old, the M1A1s are technologically superior to the Soviet tanks that Russia might be rolling out.
Newsweek has reached out via email to the Russian Ministry of Defense for comment.
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