Well, I managed to get away from the Ukraine War for a while, but the recent debate in the news about sending western Main Battle Tanks to the Ukrainian armed forces keeps jumping out at me. Therefore, I decided to weigh in a little as to why it’s important to send survivable MBTs to the Ukrainian Army.
It’s pretty simple. The cast-off Soviet era junk that Ukraine is using at the moment is just that, junk. It really says something that I truly believe that the sixty-year old M60 Patton design would be a major upgrade for the Ukrainian Army, especially if supplied with an upgraded 120mm gun and modern electronics. However, I also believe the old 105 gun would work just fine against what the Russian Army is using in Ukraine. There are reports of the creaky T62 design being fielded by Russia; this is simply unbelievable. If the Ukrainian Army does receive the capable German Leopard 2 tank in usable quantities, the Russian Army can forget about meaningful armored operations unless they attack with a ten-to-one ratio.
However, that’s probably their plan.
I have been confounded on many levels by the Ukraine War, specifically by the lousy training of Russian soldiers, the completely unreformed and atrocious behavior of its troops, and the piss-poor planning and performance of its officer corps at every level. Also, it seems that the Russian Air Force is incapable of meaningful combat operations in Ukrainian airspace. About all they can manage is to shoot cruise missiles at Ukrainian apartment blocks from the safe airspace in Belarus or Russia itself. Lousy. Perfectly lousy, and criminal.
Less surprising has been the underperformance of the Russian Army’s tanks and their shoddy logistics. I won’t talk about the logistics, the Russians have always been terrible with supply issues.
No, today I want to talk about their tanks.
The Soviets knew their tanks were prone to self-destructing if hit by anti-tank munitions. They’ve known this since the T-54 design in the 1950’s. It’s called the jack-in-the-box syndrome. If you penetrate the armor on a Russian tank, the stored munitions on board explode immediately. The crew cooks, and the turret flies from the tank. Hence the macabre jack-in-the-box description. Visit any former battlefield where Soviet designed tanks were used, and you’ll find chunks of armor, sometimes the crew, and usually a turret laying on the ground a considerable distance away.
It is simply inexcusable that the Russians have never fixed this problem. No, they essentially refined the flawed T-54 over and over again until they reached the final Soviet design, the T-90.
The T-90 sucks, too. Witness the many images of it totally destroyed on the battlefield in Ukraine. No wonder the Ukrainians want better tanks- their crews die just like the Russians in an inferior design. Russian tanks are great for putting down protestors or cowing populations in the third world, but they don’t fare well against determined and skillful infantry or well-equipped modern armored forces.
Wow, all the crappy features of Russian tanks. So many. First, the T54 had no “turret basket,” or a feature that allowed the crew to swivel with the turret. Heaven help a gunner who didn’t get out of the way of the breach block as the turret turned. Then, an “improvement,” an auto-loader for the T-64, had a tendency to auto-load wayward arms. The Soviets messed around with turbine engines, different suspension systems, and reactive armor. They ended up switching back to diesel engines, and in the process created a logistical nightmare of subvariants, all of which needed different parts.
However, they never got around to adequately protecting the stored munitions on any of their designs.
The Chechens in the nineties, many of them with previous Soviet service, knew this. They knew the T-80 was vulnerable on its thinly armored sides to light anti-tank weapons like the venerable RPG-7.
Armored like crazy in the front, the T-80 was vulnerable to strikes to its sides. Just aim for the road wheels as the vehicle passes, and BOOM.
For pity’s sake. You’d think the Russians, who have built more tanks than anyone, would be wise to this obvious flaw.
Nope. Statistics are unreliable in the middle of a shooting war, but an estimate based from numerous open sources indicates that as of this fall, the Russian Army has lost about 1,300 tanks. Some sources estimate that this is half of their total available machines. Google this figure. I think it’s realistic.
You have to ask the question. Does the Russian government give two shits about their soldiers?
The question answers itself. They obviously don’t. To date, approximately 115,000 Russian troops have died in Ukraine over one year of war. This is a conservative number. For modern warfare, this is a staggering statistic. If you assume a WW2 3:1 ratio of wounded to killed, this means almost one-half million Russian casualties.
Unbelievable. Since 1945, nothing appears to have changed. Use Punishment Battalions (convict soldiers) to soak up munitions, then strike the enemy with sheer mass in frontal assaults. Smother the fire with corpses. Rely on cheap, inferior designs. Enforce military discipline using only the most brutish and violent techniques. Torment and terrorize occupied territories. Send in the secret police- and give them carte blanche to further Russian aims.
This is the reality of the battlefield in Ukraine.
The Russian government is not just guilty of atrocities against Ukraine, they are criminally wasteful with the lives of their citizens as well.
Look no further than their tanks, they are deathtraps.
It remains to be seen what happens with their first true armored design change, the T14 Armata, when it is finally used in combat. Is it a true peer tank with Western designs? It’s a fair question. If the Ukrainians get decent tanks soon, they may hold them as a mobile reserve to face a possible T14 led onslaught.
If there are sufficient numbers of them, I suspect the Russians are holding the T14 back for an offensive this late winter or spring. Then we may see the world’s first modern peer-on-peer design armored battle. Challengers or Leopards versus the T14.
Time will tell.