Russia’s Weapons Game in Ukraine Hits a Dismal New Low

·4 min read
(Sputnik/Vladimir Astapkovich/Kremlin via Reuters via third party)
(Sputnik/Vladimir Astapkovich/Kremlin via Reuters via third party)

Russia has taken Soviet-era tanks from the 1940s and 1950s out of storage for its war in Ukraine in the latest sign that the invasion is floundering, according to researchers from the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT).

The weapons, T-54 tanks and either late T-54 or early T-55 tanks, are being sent on a train westward from Russia's Far East, according to photographs the CIT shared Wednesday. The trains are traveling from the 1295th Central Tank Repair and Storage Base in Arsenyev in Russia’s Primorsky region.

The apparent effort to rely on outdated tanks comes as Moscow is scrambling to replace thousands of weapons lost on the battlefield a year into the war. Russia has been reaching back into its supplies of old gear and weapons for months now, attempting to refurbish troops with weapons that might help them seize more territory in Ukraine. But the available artillery Russia has in stock is not up to snuff—and may only spell more trouble for Moscow's war effort, according to open-source intelligence site Oryx.

While the addition of other tanks, even older versions like the T-54 and T-55 tanks, may be somewhat helpful given Moscow's dramatic losses, there are some serious deficits in the older tanks that might not do Russian troops many favors.

“We consider the lack of rangefinders and ballistic computers (not to mention fire control systems) to be the key disadvantages of these series, as well as primitive sights and (in T-54s) an inferior gun stabilization system,” the CIT said. “This clearly indicates severe issues with military vehicle supply in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

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The T-54s and T-55s aren’t the only problems Russia has been having with tanks. Since the early days of the war, Russian soldiers have been grappling with Russian tanks’ so-called “jack-in-the-box effect,” in which the top parts of the tanks can easily blow up due to the way ammunition is stowed away. Russian tanks have been this way since the Gulf wars, and although the tanks have been updated since then, their ammunition loading system has not been changed, CNN reported.

Russia’s need for tanks appears to be growing by the day. In total, Moscow has lost over 1,800 tanks since the start of the invasion last year, according to Oryx. By the Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces’ tally, 3,557 Russian tanks have been lost since the start of the war.

Just in the last 24 hours, the Armed Forces of Ukraine destroyed a Russian tank, as well as two units of armored vehicles, two reconnaissance drones, and an ammunition depot on the Kinburn spit in Ukraine, Nataliia Humeniuk, the head of the United Coordinating Press Center of Defence Forces of the South of Ukraine, said.

“The Russian Army has already reached the point at which it is no longer able to replace lost equipment with armament that is at least roughly equivalent to the combat worth of the equipment lost,” Oryx said Wednesday.

Part of the problem is that Russia’s manufacturing and preparation of other tanks is not going well, according to a recent British intelligence assessment.

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The plan to develop T-14 Armata tanks has run into “delays” as well as a “reduction in planned fleet size, and reports of manufacturing problems,” the British government said in an intelligence assessment published in January. As of January, the production of the tanks was likely in the low tens, the intelligence report stated.

There are signs that Russia’s Ministry of Defense is scrounging around to supply other outdated equipment to the front as well. Russia took out old BTR-50s, armored personnel carriers built between the 1950s and 1970s, from storage in recent weeks, according to reports. Russia has also called up old T-62 tanks from 1961.

As Moscow continues to send personnel to Ukraine, it will likely continue to lean on old stores of equipment to make up for gaps in supply, which may further hinder its war effort, Oryx assessed.

“In order to continue to supply its freshly drafted or recruited forces, the Russian MoD will undoubtedly be forced to look into yet more forgotten corners of military storage depots to keep the gears of its army from grinding to a halt,” Oryx said. “The resulting decay of combat efficiency is likely to accelerate as poor equipment and complicated logistics lead to an uptick in casualties, the requirement for additional arms increases again, and consequently the need to reactivate even more obscure remnants of the Soviet ghost exacerbates.”

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