Russian Tanks Having a Difficult Time in Ukraine – Ukrainian social media is replete with photos and videos of knocked-out Russia’s tanks. But is this the normal course of the war for Russia to endure destroyed armored vehicles or does this show Ukrainian fighters have gained the initiative and tipped the balance against Russian armor?
The Ukrainians are using Javelin anti-tank missiles and Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones to destroy Russian tanks. Russia has a large advantage in tanks over the Ukrainians, but the home country may not be taking out enough enemy tanks to make a difference.
Russia Has a Huge Force of Armor
Russia began the war with 2,840 tanks – that is three times the number of tanks that Ukraine has, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. If you count infantry fighting vehicles and other armored personnel carriers, Russia has 15,857 armored fighting vehicles. Russia can stand to lose hundreds of tanks and personnel carriers and still prosecute the war.
Russian Tanks Are Being Eliminated
This war of attrition favors the Russians due to their advantage in numbers, but the Ukrainians are fighting a spirited battle against Russian armor. Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States, confirmed on February 27 that Ukraine has knocked out 102 Russian tanks, as well as 536 armored personnel carriers. On February 28, that number of destroyed Russian tanks went up to 146, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. Sky News reported on March 1 that Ukraine had killed 198 tanks.
Ukrainian Morale Spikes With Each Russian Tank Knocked Out
So, you can see, if these numbers are correct (and they are unverified), the Ukrainians are slowly attritting Russian armored forces. Moreover, any time the Ukrainians destroy a tank, it raises their morale. This video shows the destruction of Russian armored vehicles outside of Gostomel, a northwest suburb of Kyiv. It appears that the Ukrainians are destroying more tanks with stand-off missiles rather than engaging in tank-on-tank battle.
In the early part of the war, Russian attack formations from the north along the Kyiv avenue of approach were uncoordinated and erratic. Some Russian tanks traveled past their logistic support and ran out of fuel.
40-mile Long Convoy Could Be Decisive Against Kyiv
The Russians have since adjusted tactics and re-grouped with logistics vehicles included in armored columns. A 40-mile convoy of tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, and support trucks are heading for the capital. The massive column is 10 to 20 miles away from Kyiv as of March 1. This vast force is likely to surround Kyiv and then eventually stage a synchronized attack on the capital.
As expected, the Ukrainians have made good use of Javelin anti-tank missiles. But what was unexpected is their use of drones with air-to-ground missiles that have destroyed tanks in different areas of Ukraine.
Drones Have Dealt the Russians a Surprise
The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicle is proving itself by taking out Russian tanks. The Bayraktar can fly as high as 25,000 feet with a loiter time of 27 hours. This video shows about a dozen dismounted Russian soldiers grouped around a tank. The tank is then destroyed mightily by a missile from a Bayraktar drone. These unmanned attacks are encouraging but Ukraine only has 20 Bayraktars in service.
Donations of Anti-Tank Weapons May Be Delayed
Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries are sending over a thousand anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainians, but can they get to the battlefield quickly? Transport by aircraft is dangerous and the Russians either threaten to capture various airfields or have shelled them to damage runways.
So, Ukraine will likely have to wait for re-supply of anti-tank systems that will likely be transported by truck from Poland. It is not clear how long this will take. The tank defending missiles may not get to Kyiv before it is surrounded, and no re-supply would be available to Kyiv after the Russians accomplish this mission.
Overall, Ukraine is fighting gallantly against Russian armor. But the Russians paused and re-grouped and are now traveling with fuel trucks and not getting too far ahead of logistics chains. Even with drones and Javelins, the Ukrainians are not eliminating enough armor fast enough to account for Russian reinforcements. Donations of anti-tank missiles by NATO countries may not get to the battlefield fast enough to make a difference before Kyiv is encircled.
Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.