Mar 12, 2023
Russia’s tank shortage is worse than some observers previously thought. The Kremlin’s stocks of its most numerous tank, the Cold War-vintage T-72, are running out fast.
The worsening T-72 shortfall helps to explain why the Russians increasingly are equipping their newly-mobilized battalions with obsolete T-62 and T-80B tanks.
When it comes to assessing the Russian tank arsenal, one of the best independent sources is a Twitter user with the handle @partizan_oleg.
Drawing on unclassified data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and other sources, including the Oryx blog’s painstaking count of visually-confirmed vehicle losses in the current phase of the Russia-Ukraine war, @partizan_oleg estimates how many tanks the Russians have left after more than a year of hard fighting.
Their assessment of T-72 stocks has changed—for the worse. In a mid-February count, @partizan_oleg assumed Russia went to war with nearly 2,000 of the 50-ton, three-person T-72s with their 125-millimeter smoothbore main guns.
In the first 12 months of fighting, the Ukrainians destroyed or captured nearly 1,200 T-72s or likely T-72s that Oryx could confirm. Since there undoubtedly have been tank losses that didn’t leave video or photographic evidence, the Oryx count is an undercount. If Oryx confirmed 80 percent of losses, then the Russians actually have written off 1,500 T-72s.
But per @partizan_oleg’s earlier count, the Russians had 6,900 old T-72s in storage, around a third of which might’ve been recoverable after decades of corrosive exposure to rain, snow and cycles of hot and cold.
The problem, for the Kremlin, is that @partizan_oleg’s February count was off. Double-checking their numbers on Tuesday, @partizan_oleg realized that, in fact, the Russians probably only have 1,500, not 6,900, old T-72s in storage. “And many of them are probably not in good shape,” they pointed out.
The recount was pretty straightforward. @partizan_oleg started with the number of T-72 hulls that Soviet industry produced in a 23-year production run between 1968 and 1991—18,000—and started subtracting tanks the Soviets and Russians either lost in combat or exported to foreign customers.
That’s how they arrived at the much lower number of war-reserve T-72s. The big variable, @partizan_oleg acknowledged, is that their production data might not include the very first T-72 model, the crude T-72 “Ural.” It’s unclear how many Urals the Uralvagonzavod factory in Sverdlovsk Oblast may have produced then stored. Perhaps hundreds. Perhaps a couple thousand.
But even after adding some very old Urals to @partizan_oleg’s T-72 survey, a stark conclusion is unavoidable. The Russians have lost potentially two-thirds of the T-72s that are in active service or in recoverable storage.
So it makes a lot more sense why the Kremlin is pulling out of storage T-62 tanks that are even older than any T-72 is, as well as T-80Bs that are roughly contemporaneous with early T-72s. Russian industry can produce just a handful of new tanks every month—far too few to make good monthly losses in the triple digits.
All that is to say, the Russians are running out of tanks. And quickly.
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It’s always a pleasure to hear about something the mafiosi are running out of.