Vladimir Putin’s forces are running out of tanks

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Destroyed Russian battle tanks and armoured vehicles beside a road in Irpin - Getty Images Europe
Destroyed Russian battle tanks and armoured vehicles beside a road in Irpin - Getty Images Europe

Despite Russia’s recent military successes in the Donbas, Moscow’s war cupboard is evidently running bare.

In a further blow to Vladimir Putin, it also seems likely the US is about to supply Kyiv with some of its most sophisticated weapons in a bid to increase the range and lethality of Ukraine’s forces.

Russia is having to pull out of deep storage 60-year-old tanks to replace the hundreds already lost on the battlefield.

It is turning to ageing fleets of tanks to fill gaps in the ranks in no small part due to the successful employment by brave and innovative Ukrainian anti-tank teams of Western-supplied weaponry.

The US Javelin and Anglo-Swedish NLAW (Next-generation Light Anti-tank Weapon) missiles have depleted Moscow’s arsenal of armoured vehicles to such an extent Russia has turned to tanks designed over 60 years ago.

Images on social media in recent days have shown ageing T-62 tanks on rail cars heading to the frontline in Ukraine.

T-62 tanks designed over 60 years ago head to the Ukrainian frontline to replace the hundreds already lost on the battlefield
T-62 tanks designed over 60 years ago head to the Ukrainian frontline to replace the hundreds already lost on the battlefield
60-year old Russian tanks
60-year old Russian tanks

That Putin has had to turn to a piece of equipment that on most metrics - bar quantity - would be judged obsolete, speaks to the impact the dogged Ukrainian resistance has had on Moscow’s equipment stocks.

That situation will only worsen as Western economic sanctions bite into Russia’s military industrial sector.

The latest British military intelligence assessment says Russia’s Southern Grouping of Forces, likely tasked with occupying the portion of Ukraine’s coastline taken since Feb 24, will receive the vehicles.

‘T-62s particularly vulnerable to anti-tank weapons’

The MoD said: “The T-62s will almost certainly be particularly vulnerable to anti-tank weapons and their presence on the battlefield highlights Russia’s shortage of modern, combat-ready equipment.”

The T-62, a 41-ton tank with a 115mm main gun, was produced in the Soviet Union from 1961 to 1975. It was largely replaced as Moscow’s main battle tank when the T-72 entered service in 1969.

Thousands of T-62s have been in storage for years, often simply parked up in bases with no protection from the elements. Many were gifted to the Syrian army.

Although some equipment, such as extra armour or modern sights, has been added and upgraded over the years, the basic vehicle is very tired.

Ukrainian forces are unlikely to need to expend sophisticated and scarce Javelin or NLAW missiles to destroy them; older anti-tank missiles and even simple rocket-propelled grenades are likely to have a serious impact.

The Anglo-Swedish NLAW missiles have been key in decimating Moscow’s arsenal of armoured vehicles - AP
The Anglo-Swedish NLAW missiles have been key in decimating Moscow’s arsenal of armoured vehicles - AP

The arrival of the T-62s on the battlefield will also place Russia’s already stretched logistics system under increased strain.

Spare parts are likely to be few in number and not in pristine condition. That the main gun is 115mm, a different calibre from the other tanks in Moscow’s service that use 125mm rounds, will also create problems.

Having to cater for “mixed fleets” of vehicles is a logistician’s nightmare.

As the battle moves, the requirement to send the correct parts and ammunition to units operating different natures of equipment will be an unwelcome additional consideration for logistic planners.