The Russian army probably just had its worst single day ever in tank losses, according to official Ukrainian estimates and international military monitoring groups.
Claimed Russian Federation (RF) tanks eliminated by Ukrainian units over a 24-hour period hit a new high on Oct. 3, with 44 tanks knocked out, catastrophically destroyed, or captured, a Monday statement from Ukraine’s Army General Staff (AGS) said.
Heavily armored and carrying a cannon capable of destroying any other vehicle on the battlefield, tanks are critical to both the RF army and the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) for combat effectiveness. Shortages of Ukrainian tanks helped tank-tipped Russian armored columns overrun much of south Ukraine without serious loss, in the early days of the war.
Data recently compiled by independent monitoring groups tied the AFU’s twin offensives currently in progress in the northern Kharkiv and southern Kherson sector with a dramatic spike in estimated RF tank losses, particularly in the last week.
From Sept. 28 to Oct. 5 the Russian army lost 123 tanks or, over that week, some 5 percent of the more than 2,400 Russian tanks written off by the Kremlin since start of the war, an Oct. 5 estimate by the research Icelandic Data Analyst said. This was a 45 percent increase in tanks lost by Russia over the previous week, the estimate said.
The independent military watch group Oryx, using open source data of destroyed or captured RF tanks from the start of the war, said on Oct. 4 that it had compiled photographic evidence of a recent and visible rise in RF tank losses, and at least 1,250 RF tanks fully confirmed eliminated from RF inventories since late February. The actual numbers are certain to be higher, Oryx reports say.
According to independent Ukrainian media and anecdotal reports posted by AFU soldiers on social media, as Ukrainian troops have attacked, Russian commanders have been forced to pull tanks from hide positions and commit them to battle against an AFU opponent heavily armed with NATO-standard anti-tank weapons, and skilled at calling in artillery fire on tanks sitting static in defense. In some cases, moderately damaged RF tanks still able to be evacuated to safety have been captured by advancing AFU troops.
Some retreating Russian tank operators have simply abandoned their vehicles, possibly because of the longstanding AFU tactic of targeting and destroying RF tanks as a top priority. On Oct. 2 a video appeared in social media showing Colonel Pavlo Fedosenko, commander of the AFU’s crack 92nd Mechanized Infantry Brigade, grinning and driving an apparently intact top-of-the-line Russian T-90A tank recently captured by his men.
According to Oryx and other watch groups, somewhere between one-third and one-half of the tanks lost by Russia in the last week have been top quality T-90s or modernized T-80s and T-72s.
But as Russian tank losses have mounted, vehicles sometimes twice as old as their operators have found their way to the front to be destroyed by AFU shells or missiles and added to the RF loss counts as well. Following the Oct. 3 confirmation of four obsolete, almost useless T-62 tanks knocked out in the Kherson sector, Oryx offered an eye-rolling Tweet on the RF’s increasing inability to field modern, combat-capable equipment: “I Mean, Come On.”
Estimates vary on how many tanks the Kremlin might still have in reserve to replace its losses. According to the Military Balance 2021 database, Russia had around 10,000 tanks of all types, of which about 3,000 were with combat units and 7,000 were in reserve. Even at the last week’s brutal pace of losses, that would give Russia more than five years’ worth of tanks to be lost at the front, before running out.
Russian social media and international military observers have called those deep reserve numbers into question, pointing to wide-reaching reports of Russian tank storage sites containing rusting hulks or out-of-date equipment. According to RF-based military social media, front-line RF troops are chronically and at times critically short on tanks, as well as men to operate them.
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