- Russia’s tanks are still a formidable force in Ukraine, a new report has claimed, despite their age.
- Though they aren’t breaking through at the front line, they play significant support roles, it said.
- There are three main ways Russian armor has adapted in the conflict, the report said.
Much has been made of Russia’s need to bring decades-old tanks out of storage to send to Ukraine, amid major battlefield losses. But a new report describes how Russia is making effective use of its aging tanks and armor, even as the vehicles are barely able to push forward at the front line in Ukraine.
The report, based on multiple interviews with Ukrainian officers in the field, outlined areas where Russia has adapted after its bungled initial invasion last year.
Ever since their humiliating losses earlier in the war, Russian forces have stopped trying to use armor to break through Ukraine’s ranks directly, the UK-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) wrote in a report released Friday. Instead, Russian tanks nowadays effectively provide backup for artillery, long-range firepower, and quick raids.
“The Russian use of of armor has evolved significantly during the conflict,” the authors wrote, adding: “While the introduction of older tanks such as the T62 and T55 to the field has been mocked online, these vehicles are largely being used in the role of the fire support function offered by BMPs and other infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs).”
Being able to fire from more than a mile away, when in places where anti-tank guided weapons are thin, the tanks “pose a serious battlefield threat,” the authors said.
And although an “inefficient form of artillery,” they write, tanks are notably less vulnerable, so can be used in a supplemental way where air defense is poor.
Russia has also been using its tanks — primarily its T80BV — for nighttime raids during Ukrainian troop rotations, the report said, with the aim “to rapidly approach the target sector, fire as many rounds as possible within a short space of time and withdraw.”
And some Russian modifications and tactics have also made it harder to detect and hit Russian armor with anti-tank guided missiles, the authors wrote. Anti-thermal materials are now being used, as well as engaging in attacks at dusk and dawn — a moment known as “thermal crossover” — when the tank is at a temperature nearest to the ambient temperature, the report explained.
In recent months much has been written about Russia’s military weaknesses, which exposed deadly gaps in a previously much-feared force. The Washington, DC, think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies said in February that Russia had likely lost more than 2,000 tanks since the start of the war, while its air force is hampered by strong Ukrainian air defenses, and morale in its army is legendarily poor.
But the RUSI report sounds a note of caution over other areas — such as bridge-building, engineering and electronic warfare — where Russia’s army has shown high competence, and warned about areas, like tank wafare, where Russia’s military has shown itself able to adapt.