Russia is pulling old, obsolete tanks out of storage because it is losing so many in its war with Ukraine, intelligence suggests

·3 min read
A destroyed tank likely belonging to Russia / pro-Russian forces lies amidst rubble in the north of the ruined city of Mariupol on March 23, 2022.
A destroyed tank likely belonging to Russia / pro-Russian forces lies amidst rubble in the north of the ruined city of Mariupol on March 23, 2022.Maximilian Clarke/Getty Images
  • Russia is believed to have lost almost 1,000 tanks in its war with Ukraine, a senior US defense official said Thursday.

  • Earlier this week, Ukraine said Russia appeared to be pulling old T-62 tanks out of storage.

  • The UK stated Friday that these old assets would be "particularly vulnerable" to anti-tank weapons.

Russian armor losses have been substantial in the country's brutal war against neighboring Ukraine, and the latest intelligence indicates it is having to pull old T-62 tanks out of storage to replace more modern equipment lost in battle.

Ukraine's defense ministry said in a Monday update that "as a result of losses during hostilities," the Russian military has been "forced to withdraw from storage T-62 tanks to recruit reserve battalion tactical groups that are being formed to be sent to Ukraine."

A Soviet-era T-62 tank
A Soviet-era T-62 tankGetty Images

And on Friday, the British defense ministry posted an intelligence update reporting that "Russia has likely moved 50-year-old T-62 tanks from deep storage," noting that the move "highlights Russia's shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment."

The UK also said that these Soviet armor assets "will almost certainly be particularly vulnerable to anti-tank weapons," such as anti-tank guided missiles like the Javelins provided by the US or next generation light anti-tank weapons (NLAWs) from the UK that have been devastating even Russia's more modern tanks over the past three months.

A destroyed Russian tank along the side of the road in Ukraine.
A destroyed Russian tank along the side of the road in Ukraine.Nicola Marfisi/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Russian T-62 tank is a main battle tank that was introduced into the Soviet military in the early 1960s. The Soviets produced over 20,000 of these tanks, which were once quite capable but have since become obsolete and outmatched by advancements in military technology, such as the T-72 tanks that replaced them and the follow-on T-80.

As Russia's losses mount in Ukraine, the country is apparently having to take steps to field mothballed systems. Open-source intelligence seems to support more official observations.

A senior US defense official told reporters in a background briefing Thursday that the US estimates that Russia has lost nearly 1,000 tanks since it launched a large-scale invasion, what Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a "special military operation," on February 24.

Despite initial expectations that Russia would steamroll the defending Ukrainian forces, the invasion has encountered serious setbacks as a result of missteps in the face of tough Ukrainian resistance.

A destroyed Russian main battle tank rusts next to the main highway into the city on May 20, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine
A destroyed Russian main battle tank rusts next to the main highway into the city on May 20, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

"We do believe that the Russian military has suffered a ... not insignificant amount of attrition," the official said, according to Voice of America, noting that Russia loses soldiers every day.

That said, the official added that "they still have a significant amount... of their capability left to them," the official explained. How much of Russia's remaining capability is modern and ready for high-end combat remains to be seen.

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