Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sends a message about how superpower Russian forces are in terms of war. The magnitude of their authority in the realm of weapons, tanks, and its troops is genuinely evident. But there’s a catch. Ukrainian forces discovered a way that weakens one of the Russian tankers it used to annex the country.

In April, since Moscow began its onslaught, it is estimated that hundreds of Russian tanks have been downed. The British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace estimated that Russia had lost as many as 580 tanks. Other estimates put the number over 1,000

 The Ukrainian forces apparently figured out how to set off an explosion inside this Russian tank that is so destructive that it frequently rips the turret right off the vehicle.

However, Moscow’s concerns extend far beyond the loss of tank weaponry. The “jack-in-the-box effect” is a term used to describe a flaw known to western forces for decades. According to experts, photos from the battlefield demonstrate how Russian T-26 have incurred this flaw. 

Since 1969, the Russian armed forces have been working on developing their Soviet-era T-72 tank. During the previous fifty years, Russia has reportedly produced somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 T-72 tanks. The T-72 is imported into the militaries of forty countries worldwide.

Upgrades to the turret armor and a more sophisticated laser rangefinder are some of the progressive enhancements that have been made to the T-72. But, its overall composition and configuration have remained unchanged since 1969. In addition, gaps in its base structure allowed the Ukrainian Ground Forces to obliterate the T-72s with a single blow. 

Ukrainian Ground Forces destroyed a Russian T-72 tank in Mariupol during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Source: BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

This phenomenon, called the “blow-out effect,” is caused by how shells are stored in the tank. The T-72, in contrast to Western tanks, does not keep its ammunition in a separate chamber that is located away from the crew. Instead, the turret of the T-72 tank is filled with around 40 rounds of 125 mm cannon. This is because the T-72 has an autoloader with a carousel rack beneath the crew.

Because of its design and automatic loading system, the T-72 can quickly begin a fire, producing a high density of attacks that can be used to suppress the opponent. According to an analysis from Sam Bendett, consultant for the Russian Studies Program at the Center for a New American Security, placing ammunition in the turret of the T-72 tank not only frees up space but also makes the tank lower and more challenging to target during combat. Unfortunately, a single blow to the turret is all it takes to set off a chain reaction that blows up all of the shells within the tank. This leaves the tank extremely defenseless.

Tank Vulnerability

Russian tanks that have seen better days are “vulnerable” to not just the latest anti-tank weapons but also systems like the Javelin which are from the previous generation of ATGMs. In addition, because of Russia’n tactics throughout its invasion of Ukraine, their tanks have been left open to attack by small groups of Ukrainian hunter-killer teams. For example, in its assault on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the Russian army utilized tanks in convoys along surface roads. Roads with forests on both sides of them are deadly to tanks as they make ideal ambush points.

U.S. military analyst and Russia expert Jeffrey Edmonds issued a warning to a news outlet during a feature in which he stated, “You don’t just drive tanks down roads in columns when there’s a threat of anti-tank missiles, or mines, or things of that nature.”

Russian tank damaged by Ukrainian troops in Mariupol. (Source: BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Russian army attempted to drive hundreds of T-72 tanks into Kyiv through the city’s urban centers, even though the Ukrainian military possessed many “shoulder-mounted high-powered missiles.” The consequences were a dismal failure. The Russian military has lost at least 440 tanks due to the actions of the Ukrainian army, including at least 225 T-72s. These days, the roadways of Ukraine are littered with the charred remains of blown-up T-72 tanks that have destroyed their turrets.

Learning from the Gulf War

The Gulf War changed the way most militaries view the T-72 tanks. After observing hundreds of Iraqi T-72 tanks having their turrets blasted off during the 1991 and 2003 conflicts, Western militaries saw the benefits of their own tanks storing ammunition in armored boxes safely isolated from the crew compartment. The Gulf War was a teaching moment for western armies and a sort of vindication as well. For countries using the T-72 around the world, there was recognition that it was not capable of standing up to the tanks of the West.

“Western militaries learned from the Gulf War. When they saw how tanks were being defeated during this period, they realized they needed to put ammunition in another compartment,” noted Nicholas Drummond, referring to the American Stryker infantry battle vehicle, which had been designed following the war in Iraq in 1991. The US Main Battle Tank, the M1A Abrams was designed with an armored magazine to store ammunition to protect the crew and has been very successful in assuring their survival when hit.

Though there have been existing analyses from the West, apparently, Russian forces were left behind.

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