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Russia runs out of tanks as war intensifies

Ukraine inflicted unprecedented damage on Russia’s armored forces in October, destroying over 400 Russian tanks, according to the General Staff.
One of the invading Russian tanks destroyed in the Russo-Ukrainian War (2014-present). Ukraine, March 2022 (Photo: Maks Levin)
One of the invading Russian tanks destroyed in the Russo-Ukrainian War (2014-present). Ukraine, March 2022 (Photo: Maks Levin)
Russia runs out of tanks as war intensifies

In October, the Russian army lost more tanks on the battlefield in Ukraine than in any other month since Russia’s all-out war against Ukraine began in February 2022.

According to the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Russian tank losses skyrocketed once Russia mounted a massive onslaught near Avdiivka in the Donetsk Oblast (eastern Ukraine) on 10 October 2022. This month alone, Ukraine destroyed or damaged 443 Russian tanks (while the average rate of losses is about 245 Russian tanks per month), according to the data provided by Ukraine’s General Staff.

According to the Colonel of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Oleksandr Shtupun, the Russian army has lost 400 armored vehicles on the eastern front in fighting near Avdiivka and Mariinka in the Donetsk Oblast since 10 October. Satellite imagery confirms the destruction of at least 109 Russian military vehicles, mostly infantry fighting vehicles and tanks.

Significantly increased Russian tank losses on the battlefield during the Avdiivka offensive are confirmed by several independent OSINT analysts, such as Oryx, a Dutch open-source intelligence monitoring group that documents Ukrainian and Russian military equipment losses based on photo and videographic evidence. Russian losses far exceed the rate of tank production and repair.

Russia’s pre-war tank potential

Russian all-out war against Ukraine requires a massive amount of resources, from artillery systems and ammunition to armored vehicles and tanks. Russia is unable to produce enough military equipment to keep up with the high intensity of the attritional war against Ukraine. Thus, to compensate for heavy losses on the battlefield, Russia must remove Soviet-era equipment from storage bases. However, even enormous Soviet stockpiles of armor are not infinite.

According to Ukraine’s General Staff, since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has lost over 5,000 tanks (as of 27 October 2023). With such a high level of losses, Russia may have less than 2,000 tanks left by the end of next year, according to the most conservative estimates.

In September 2023, the Institute Action Resilience (IAR), the French research institution, published a report on the armored potential of the Russian army. According to the IAR’s estimates, as of February 2022, the Russian army had 7,000 tanks of all types in storage bases, with Soviet-era T-72 main battle tanks (of all modifications) predominating.

The IAR’s estimates are confirmed by satellite imagery of all 22 tank storage bases in Russia (taken between April and November 2021 and February 2022). Such data refuted the estimates of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), according to which Russia could have up to 17,500 tanks in reserve before the full-scale Russian invasion began on 24 February 2022.

According to the IAR, the Russian army could have over 17,000 tanks at its disposal only if Russia had inherited all the tanks from the Soviet Union (USSR), which is not the case. After the collapse of the USSR, the Kazakh, Belarusian, and Ukrainian armies have inherited a significant number of Soviet tanks, according to the IAR’s estimates.

Therefore, for a more accurate assessment, the IAR relied on satellite images to determine how many tanks Russia may have. The IAR’s experts subtracted tanks with turrets or other structural elements being dismantled. Such tanks can hardly be restored. According to IAR, out of 7,000 tanks stationed at 22 storage bases all over Russia, over 5,000 tanks were stored in ten storage bases.

storage bases
Russian storage bases.
Map by IAR.

Several modifications of Soviet-era tanks have been stored in the open all over Russia for decades. According to the IAR, 5,400 tanks can be decommissioned and possibly restored. Based on satellite imagery, there were 2,055 T-72 tanks of all modifications, 1,009 unidentified tanks, 1,512 T-62 tanks, and 466 T-54/T-55 tanks in storage at storage bases across Russia in 2021.

Before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia also had a few thousand T-80 tanks in storage. The estimates are based solely on satellite imagery. In total, the researchers identified 750 T-80 tanks at the largest storage bases, where about 95% of all equipment in storage in Russia is located.

Depletion of Russian tank reserves

The Russian army is running out of tanks rapidly due to heavy losses in Ukraine.

According to the Military Balance, Russia had about 3,000 T-80 main battle tanks in storage as of 2021, a year before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began. Along with the T-72 tanks, the T-80s are the most widespread main battle tanks used by the Russian army during the all-out war against Ukraine.

T-80
The latest upgraded version of a Russian T-80 main battle tank.
Credit: mil.ru

All Russian T-80 tanks are located at three storage bases:

  • the 22nd storage base;
  • the 111th storage base;
  • military base no. 6018

As of 2021, there were at least 730 T-80 main battle tanks of various modifications at the 22nd storage base, 422 tanks at the 111th storage base, and 158 tanks at the military base no. 6018. In total, there were 1310 T-80 tanks at three storage bases in 2021, according to Viyskovyi Vishchun, the Ukrainian OSINT monitoring group.

Satellite imagery does not allow for determining the model of all tanks at the 22nd storage base. However, photographs from the storage sites of the 22nd base posted by Russian soldiers on social media allowed OSINT experts to determine models of certain tanks. Approximately 80% of the tanks at the 22nd storage base are T-80 main battle tanks.

Russian tank T-80U
A Russian soldier and T-80U tanks in the background.
Credit: Viyskovyi Vishchun.

In July 2023, there were around 470 T-80 main battle tanks left at the 22nd storage base. The rest of the tanks were allegedly decommissioned (around 260 tanks). In October 2023, almost all T-80 main battle tanks were removed from storage at the 22nd base, according to Viyskovyi Vishchun.

Before the Russian all-out war against Ukraine began, 422 T-80 main battle tanks of various modifications were stored at the 111th base. However, around 60 tanks were dismantled for spare parts in 2021-2022, the Viyskovyi Vishchun reported.

Russian storage base
Russian 111th storage base in 2021.
Credit: Viyskovyi Vishchun.

As of 2023, there were about 50 T-80B/BV tanks left at the 111th storage base in poor technical condition, the Viyskovyi Vishchun reported based on satellite images.

According to IAR, out of 158 T-80 tanks stored at the Russian storage base no. 6018 in 2021, only 20-30 tanks remain at the base as of October 2023. Almost all of them have been removed from storage. However, since most of the tanks are covered, it is difficult to confirm that those are T-80 tanks.

In total, around 320-410 T-80 main battle tanks remain at Russian storage bases as of October 2023. Not all the tanks taken out of storage were immediately sent to Ukraine, though, according to the Viyskovyi Vishchun. Many of them were dismantled to provide spare parts.

The main T-80 repair plant, Omsktransmash, which is located in Omsk (Russia’s Far East), began accepting tanks for repair en masse in the fall of 2022 after the successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv Oblast (eastern Ukraine), where Russia sustained heavy losses of military equipment.

Omsktransmash 2021
Russian tanks on the territory of Omsktransmash plant in 2021.
Credit: Viyskovyi Vishchun.

In total, about 400 T-80 tanks were present at the plant’s sites in the spring of 2023, according to the Viyskovyi Vishchun. The same number was recorded in October 2023. Some tanks are in hangars and cannot be counted. In 2021, a year before the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began, there were around 1160 T-80 tanks at Omsktransmash, according to the Viyskovyi Vishchun.

Omsktansmash 2023
Tanks on the territory of Omsktransmash plant in October 2023.
Credit: Viyskovyi Vishchun.

According to the Military Balance, as of 2021, Russia had 1500 serviceable T-80 tanks. How many of those tanks have already perished in Russia’s war against Ukraine is unclear. Oryx visually confirmed that at least 650 Russian T-80 tanks have been destroyed in Ukraine since February 2022. However, not all losses can be visually confirmed.

As of October 2023, Russia has around 800 T-80 tanks left at various storage sites (mainly on the territory of the Omsktransmash plant), 360 of which have already been decommissioned, according to the Viyskovyi Vishchun. Some of these tanks will be dismantled for spare parts needed to repair other tanks that can be sent to the battlefield.

It is unclear how many of the 7,000 tanks (of all modifications) Russia had before its full-scale invasion of Ukraine can drive and fire, and how many will be dismantled for spare parts. It is also unclear how many of these tanks are already destroyed in Ukraine.

According to Oryx, since the beginning of its all-out war against Ukraine, Russia has lost at least 2461 (of which 1589 tanks were destroyed, 137 were damaged, 158 were abandoned, and 550 were captured by Ukraine’s Armed Forces). According to Ukraine’s General Staff, Russia has already lost 5,145 tanks in Ukraine (as of 27 October 2023).

Russia is ramping up production of main battle tanks but lags behind the losses the Russian army sustains on the battlefield in Ukraine. According to the Director of the Ukrainian Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies, Valentyn Badrak, Russia can produce about 150 new tanks a year.

The production of modern versions of Russian tanks, such as the T-90 Proryv (Breakthrough) main battle tanks, relies heavily on Western-made components that Russia has been illegally importing to circumvent sanctions imposed on its defense industry since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The scale of this production can hardly reach the pre-war level.

Thus, the day that Russia runs out of Soviet armored vehicles and tanks could become the day that Russia’s war against Ukraine is suspended. In that case, Russia will have to replenish its losses to be able to launch a new round of invasion. Either way, that day is not coming anytime soon.

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