How Many Tanks Have Been Lost in Ukraine

How Many Tanks Have Been Lost in Ukraine

Back in April 2022., Russia claimed to have destroyed 2 037 Ukrainian tanks. In May 2022., Ukraine claimed to have destroyed 30% of Russia’s modern tanks. Russia had some 3 000 T-80s and 400 T-90s before the war, which will have meant a loss of 1 000 tanks.

Both of these claims are ridiculous. Russian invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February 2022. and the claim was made on 10 April – some 46 days into the war. This will have meant that Ukrainians had lost, on average, 44 tanks per day. Ukraine had 2 550 tanks before the war, so they will have run out of tanks in two months – and definitely no more than a year, even with captures and foreign supplies being included. By now – 345 days into the invasion as of writing of this sentence – Ukraine will have lost 15 277 tanks by linear progression. By percentages, Ukraine should have had no more than few (or none) tanks left out of their prewar stocks. Even supplies of tanks by foreign countries will not have changed the picture much – Poland, by far the biggest supplier, has sent “only” 260 T-72 tanks to Ukraine, and possibly another 74 will soon follow. Even accounting for the fact that many of the destroyed tanks may have been recovered and repaired – something not necessarily possible when talking about Soviet-model tanks – Ukraine still seems to have far more tanks than it should.

Eurasian times, on 28 March – that is, 32 days after the start of the war – stated that Ukraine had lost 74 tanks and captured 117, increasing their tank count from 2 550 to 2 593. These numbers at least sound realistic, as Ukraine will have been losing some two tanks per day. Losses have been heavy indeed, as it seems that even if Ukraine does have tanks, it does not have crews for them. Already by August, Ukrainian tank brigades had been spread thin.

As for Russia, it is likewise unlikely they had lost one third of their modern tanks by 29 May. Loss of 30% of modern tanks, as said, will have meant that Russia had lost 1 020 tanks in 94 days, or 11 tanks per day. This is more realistic than Russian claim about Ukrainian losses, yet still suspect. These figures will have meant a loss of 3 795 tanks by linear progression, or 30% of tanks every three months. Former figure will have meant a loss of all of Russia’s modern tanks and then some, and even the latter figure will have seen Russia left with only 67 modern tanks in total. While Russian losses had been heavy, as evidenced by usage of T-62 tanks on the front lines, they probably haven’t been that heavy. Russians had seized some 37 tanks.

Claim about Russia having lost more than 1 400 tanks in Ukraine by 10 November 2022 is a lot easier to swallow. This figure does not include only modern tanks, and is also spread over a longer timeframe – 228 days, which will have meant that Russia had been losing some 6 tanks per day on average. This means that by this time, Russia will have lost 2 070 tanks by linear progression, or some 1 800 tanks by percentages. Russia had started the war with 3 417 functional tanks, so while a loss of about a half to nearly two-thirds of this force is still suspect, it is not impossible. Still, one should remember the nature of kill claims in war: most are phantoms. Both Western Allies and Soviets massively overstated numbers of Tiger tanks destroyed in combat, with late-war Panzer IV models often “posing” as Tigers. During the Korean war, US F-86 Sabre pilots likewise overstated kill claims, leading to a mythological 10:1 exchange rate against the Soviet MiG-15. In reality, the exchange ratio was closer to 1,3:1 in favor of Sabre, if it was in its favor at all. For this reason, it is possible that real number of tanks Russia had lost by November may have been below a thousand. This number is merely my guess, and is not substantiated by anything other than historical experience: but it shows how careful one has to be when making claims about losses.

According to Oryx, Russia had lost 1673 tanks and Ukraine had lost 459 tanks. Considering the above, these numbers seem at least plausible. They may be underestimates, as Oryx only covers confirmed and verified losses – Conflict Intelligence Team stated that Oryx only records 70% of all the losses. Going by this, true losses would be 2 390 tanks lost by Russia and 655 tanks lost by Ukraine. Still, Russia may have 2 000 potentially restorable tanks so it is unlikely to run out.

Why So Many

So why have so many tanks been lost?

One reason are modern anti-tank weapons. Weapons such as Javelin and NLAW are designed to attack the weaker top armor of the tank, and are also fitted with tandem warheads designed to defeat ERA (explosive armor) sometimes fitted to tanks as defense against cumulative projectiles. Ukraine had received close to a hundred thousand antitank weapons in aid. New weapons had also appeared, such as anti-tank kamikaze drones.

All of this requires new tactics to handle, yet Russian forces have too many tanks and not enough everything else. Lack of infantry and air patrols means that Russian units are far too easy to ambush. Logistical issues – also caused in part by these same flaws, as logistical columns are vulnerable to an attack – mean that many tanks that could have been saved and possibly even repaired are instead being abandoned.

War in Ukraine has demonstrated that tanks are vulnerable, but there is no indication of them being dead.

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