Ah yes, the Russian forces. Once touted as one of the world’s best militaries, exposed by its neighbor to have severe weaknesses and deficiencies. From faulty communication systems, bad planning, and even worse logistics, the war has revealed another Achilles’ heel of the Russian forces – their domestically made Russian tanks.
We all know that the Russians haven’t had the best military performances in Ukraine, losing almost 30,000 troops in the four-month-old war. Another statistic that is outrageously high is Russian tank losses in Ukraine, which SOFREP has followed quite closely over the past few months.
Recent US intel reveals that some 1,00 Russian tanks have been destroyed or inoperable due to Ukrainians sending their turrets into low Earth orbit with their anti-tank and anti-armor weapons. This number is on par with Ukrainian estimates that 1,330 tanks have been destroyed in Ukraine. Open source military data collector Oryx puts this number at 733 as of this writing, so the numbers are not that far from each other, given how difficult it is to verify losses in an ongoing war. Orvx uses open-source data like photographs of destroyed tanks to come to its numbers, but they would not include tanks destroyed inside Russian lines. The US and Ukraine would be relying on reports from the field by units on the ground, signals intelligence and images from drones and satellites.
This is not surprising as the Russians have not faired well with their tank units. Their so-called “elite” 4th Guards Tank Division unit had been obliterated in Trotsyanets some 15 miles from the Russian border, the 1st Tank Army had been reported to incur massive losses of some 308 armored vehicles, and most recently, the Russians lost an entire tank battalion trying to cross a river in Donbas.
Rebuilding tank losses of that magnitude are no simple task, have no doubt about it. Losses of a thousand or so tanks are tough to rebuild as it takes an extravagant amount of money, time, and effort – all of which the Russians do not have. Before the invasion, Russia allegedly had some 12,420 tanks in total, with 10,000 tanks in storage (plus other vehicles) and allegedly 2,800 – 2,900 tanks in active service. So, if they had already lost a thousand or so, they should have a ton of tanks left to throw at Ukraine in Donbas, but this does not seem to be the case.
SOFREP previously reported that the Russian forces are scraping the bottom of the barrel as they were deploying very old and outdated Russian T-62 tanks to the frontlines. If you had more advanced tanks such as the T-72s, T-80s, and T-90s, then anybody with a brain wouldn’t send out their old tanks to fight a war with Ukraine – who are armed with the world’s best anti-tank weapons. In all honesty, it looks like Russia is sending their T-62s to the chopping block. It seems to us that they are literally calling for the Ukrainians to come hit them with a Javelin or those Stug-buggies they have, with the words “Hit Me” painted on the sides of the tank. That Russian “Z” and other symbols are eventually going to be used as the main targets for these anti-tank weapons.
For an army already having morale problems, Russian troops will not be thrilled at the idea of going into battle with tanks that are relics of the 1960s.
Furthermore, the war in Ukraine has also exposed one fatal design flaw of the Russian tanks that have been taken advantage of by the Ukrainians. If you haven’t noticed yet, photographs of tanks surfacing from the frontlines reveal that the Russian tanks have been suffering from the “jack-in-the-box effect” as their turrets are blown completely off. Just a quick search on Google or social media about Russian tanks in Ukraine would give you a flurry of photos showing destroyed tanks without their turrets.
#Ukraine: A Ukrainian T-72B tank was destroyed by the Russian army in the vicinity of Lyman, #Donestk Oblast. We believe it is approximately a week old but was not seen before. pic.twitter.com/PeJT70QiOc
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 18, 2022
Well, what is this”jack-in-the-box effect?” The effect is named after the children’s toy, the jack-in-the-box, where a puppet or another toy bursts out of a box when a crank is turned. In tank battle-speak, it refers to when a turret of a tank or another armored vehicle is violently blown off from its chassis because of the ammunition that facilitates an even larger explosion than it’s supposed to have after the impact of an anti-tank weapon. This usually happens because of bad ammunition placement.
This is because the Russians have a bad habit of designing their tanks to have the ammunition stored in the turret. In fact, it was reported that Russian tanks carry up to 40 tank rounds in their turrets. For most T-72s and T-80s, the Russians have an autoloading system that stores 20 rounds when fully loaded. Thus, when a Javelin or an NLAW is fired at it, targeting the top portion of the tank as it has thinner armor to pierce through, the ammunition gets hit too, resulting in a more violent cook-off of the ammunition and the almost certain death of the three-man crew as well. The high fatality rate among Russian tank crews presents its own problems as replacements are green and inexperienced. Needless to say, these tanks are literally mobile coffins that the Russians are driving around.
What I can say is that 🇺🇦Ukraine’s military have been demonstrating outstanding anti-tank effectiveness. I’m just losing count of Russian armor convoys slaughtered every several hours across the country. pic.twitter.com/EzY07SyTnx
— Illia Ponomarenko 🇺🇦 (@IAPonomarenko) February 26, 2022
It seems like they did not prepare for this before the invasion. Their tanks were seen to have these basket-like armors on top of their tanks so that they could possibly stop the Javelins from hitting them above. However, destroyed images of Russian tanks sporting the armor reveal that it was not very effective.
To think about replacing these units anytime soon is purely living in la-la land. The Russians are finding it difficult to find new people to join the military, so they have a shortage of willing men that can be trained, and more so, they do not have the money or the parts to build tanks. If they did, then we should have seen more modern Russian tanks in Ukraine, but instead, we’re seeing old T-62s stepping up to the plate. Even Russia’s main tank manufacturer, Uralvagonzavod, cannot build it for them as it had stopped operations due to a lack of foreign components. They did reopen briefly for a propaganda showing of delivering some T-90s to the Russian army but they would need to be making about 25 tanks a day to replace their losses in battle so far.
Expect more of these tanks to be destroyed as the war rages on. The Ukrainians do not have a shortage of western-supplied Javelins, NLAWs, and Panzerfaust-3s. More so, they have their very own Stugna-P to match, together with their modded Stug-buggies and e-bikes to take out more Russian tanks.
That being said, the tank is still a formidable battlefield weapon when properly employed in a combined arms operation. The problem is that Russia seems rather clueless as to how to conduct such operations.