Putin’s strategic scrap yards. Why is Russia sending old T-62 tanks to Ukraine?

The decision to mobilize Russia, which was called “partial” in propaganda, caused understandable anxiety. In theory, it means using the country’s reserves, accumulated over decades in the event of war, including the somewhat mythical “thousands” of tanks in stock. Can Vladimir Putin really count on such powerful support?

How many tanks does Russia have at its disposal? Estimated data, published incl. by “The Military Review”, indicate approx. 3 thousand. machines in linear units and 10 thousand. in reserve. Averaged losses of Russians based on several sources are about 1100-1400 tanks, and therefore roughly 40 percent. output states.

10 thousand “reserve” machines is an impressive number, but does not explain much. All due to the fact that the tanks intended to replenish losses are not only equipment of various types, but also in very different technical condition.

The amendment should also be applied to the scourge of corruption and theft, as a result of which some of the equipment remaining in reserve was stripped of everything that is valuable and at the same time necessary for combat, such as optics, means of communication or night vision.

Russian strategic reserves

Current estimates of Russian reserves indicate around 7,000. T-72 tanks, 3 thousand. T-80 and 200 T-90. Each of them comes in several variants, differing in technology and combat capabilities.

The new Russian tank T-90M Prypy-3
Photo source: ©

The new Russian tank T-90M Prypy-3

Without great risk, it should be assumed (as evidenced by the list of documented losses) that most of the equipment directed to Ukraine at the beginning of the war was represented by relatively new types of weaponsremaining in line service.

However, currently available data on Russian reserves are incomplete. This is due to the fact that the oldest type of tank included in them is the T-72. Meanwhile, the Russians still used during the war in Georgia in 2008 tanks of older types. What happened to them?

Not only new equipment

The answer to this question – and at the same time the actual state of Russian reserves – can be found in older sources, such as The Military Balance from 2014. 5,000) and T-55 / T-54 (2,800).

This equipment did not suddenly dissolve into thin air – even if we assume that the oldest items are sold or recycled from year to year, some of them are still available and can be used in combat.

Russia is modernizing old tanks

This is evidenced by publicly available reports published by Russian armaments companies such as UralWagonZawod, working on new versions of guns and ammunition for Russian T-62 tanks. For years, Russia has not only kept this equipment ready, but – as far as possible – modernized it, adapting it to the needs of the modern battlefield.

But why are they directed to Ukraine? 50-year-old T-62 (sometimes clearly incomplete), and not newer types of machines, theoretically available in thousands of pieces?

The answer to this is the way the Russians stock up on their strategic reserves. Due to the size of the warehouses, they are visible in satellite imagerywhich allows to estimate the number and, above all, the real value of the equipment stored there.

A significant amount of old equipment was mobilized for the Wostok 2018 exercise
Photo source: © | Kman

A significant amount of old equipment was mobilized for the Wostok 2018 exercise

This one is very different. Some tanks are stored in good conditions, provided by hangars with adjustable humidity or tarpaulins, under which dry air is forced. However, thousands of copies are – to varying degrees of conservation – directly “under the cloud”.

Old tanks ready

Paradoxically, among the machines stored in good conditions, there are many older tanks, such as the T-62 (mainly the more modern M / MW versions). This is due to, inter alia, from the fact that as part of great maneuvers – like Wostok 2018 – this equipment was restored to full fitness in order to practice mobilization with its use and use it during exercises.

This is one of the reasons why older tanks come to Ukraine. Old machines are simply in a higher readiness and condition than theoretically newer and more capable equipment. It seems reasonable to ask what condition the newer tanks are in?

Photo 111 of the Central Tank Reserve Base
Photo source: © Ukrainian Military Center

Photo 111 of the Central Tank Reserve Base

Reserves visible in the photos

An attempt to answer – based on the analysis of satellite images – was made by the non-governmental organization “Ukrainian Military Center”. She managed to locate and describe about 7 thousand. Russian tanks, constituting a strategic reserve.

About 900 of them were found fit to fight, 1100 needed to be conserved, and 2.5 thousand. renovation, requiring the delivery of machines to repair plants. More than 2,300 tanks – and therefore almost a third of the located reserves – are still fiction. They are hulls with various degrees of disassembly, sometimes without towers, representing the value of scrap metal.

Slovenian M-55S tank
Photo source: © Public domain

Slovenian M-55S tank

Every tank counts

Russia still has significant stocks of armored weapons despite the losses it has suffered. While much of the equipment needs to be brought back into service, stored reserves allow it replenishment of incurred lossesand even – which, however, takes time – to form (or supplement stocks) as part of the mobilization of new units.

Although they will not be the most modern tanks, it is worth remembering that Ukraine has comparable equipment, against which very few BM Opłot (Opłot-M) or Polish PT-91 Twardy. In this context, any help – even the old M-55S tanks (T-55 version) offered by Slovenia, which are taken with a pinch of salt by many commentators – can turn out to be worth their weight in gold.

Łukasz Michalik, journalist of Wirtualna Polska

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