The pride of Russian military hardware is on show at a defense ministry expo in Moscow, as the Kremlin seeks to convince Russians that it can compensate for vast equipment losses in Ukraine.
Display models included the new T-14 Armata tank – only recently introduced to the fighting in Ukraine but withdraws from Ukraine – fearing the tank will be destroyed as well as prized Russian hardware captured on the battlefield.
“The production of armored vehicles has doubled since the start of the special military operation,” said Vladimir Artyakov, deputy CEO of Russia’s vast defense conglomerate Rostec, ahead of the expo.
“Today, the tanks of the T-72, T-80, and T-90 families continue to be modified taking into account the combat experience and wishes of the tankers participating in the special military operation,” said Alexander Potapov, general director of Uralvagonzavod, the largest tank factory in Russia.
But Russia’s military-industrial complex is facing a severe test to meet the needs created by catastrophic losses in Ukraine.
Open-source (Osint) investigators have visually confirmed, Russia has also lost considerable war materiel: including 5,346 tanks, 10,435 armored combat vehicles, 7,245 artillery systems and 351 various aircraft, 345 helicopters as well as 10,100 drones. The exact extent of these losses shows how intense the conflict in the region is.
Russian losses peaked in the opening weeks of the war and saw columns of burned armor lining the road to Kyiv. But attrition rates have remained high in both manpower and equipment throughout 18 months of fighting.
Second World War-era T-55 tanks have been seen in action, which Ukrainian and Western analysts have taken as a sign of desperation.
Russian officials have expressed confidence that domestic industry can fill the gaps. “We will make 500 tanks alone this year,” said former president Dmitry Medvedev in March as he announced plans to scale up production.
Those figures are disputed. An investigation by the independent Russian outlet Novaya Gazeta reported the production capacity of Uralvagonzavod at 200-250 tanks a year, citing sources at the plant, with just one other smaller facility in Siberia also manufacturing tanks.
But Russia has other means at its disposal. The Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US military think tank, estimated that Moscow has 2,000 older tanks in storage that can be refurbished to make them battle-ready.
“This may enable them to resurrect around 90 older battle tanks per month,” the group estimated – giving a figure that would bring Russia close to matching reported losses. Ukrainian estimates for the production of refurbished tanks are significantly lower at around 200 a year.
Russia does have the historic experience to call upon. The Soviet Union lost 80,000 tanks during the Second World War by some estimates but was able to harness industrial capacity for mass production and continued to field an unrivaled mechanized force.
The Soviet industrial base was far larger than Russia’s today – including plants in Ukraine. But Ukrainians remain wary of enemy capabilities.
“Western policymakers made a grave mistake lauding Russia’s strategic failure,” says Mykola Bielieskov, a military strategist at the National Institute for Strategic Studies, a think tank in Kyiv.
“Russia is definitely going to adjust,” he added, citing “sombre” reports about Russia’s “ability to increase production and compensate for losses.”
An additional complication for the Kremlin is a suffocating sanctions regime that the Soviet Union did not face, with Russia now cut off from Western military suppliers.
“A tank is a system of systems,” says Dr Kristian Gustafson, a military intelligence specialist at Brunel University. “The optics, fire control, computers, is all specialist, highly-integrated stuff that relies on laboratories in Germany and France.”
Russia has been able to bypass sanctions, according to multiple investigations that found Western components in a range of Russian weapons systems thought to have been produced after the imposition of sanctions.
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