Since launching its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago, the Kremlin has lost thousands of main battle tanks (MBTs) – and the production of vehicles can’t possibly replace those destroyed. As a result, the Russian military has continued to respond by deploying 60-year-old T-62s, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced in its latest defense intelligence update, which was posted on social media Monday morning.
“There is a realistic possibility that even units of the 1st Guard Tank Army (1GTA), supposedly Russia’s premier tank force, will be re-equipped with T-62s to make up previous losses. 1 GTS had previously due to receive the next-generation T-14 Armata MBT from 2021,” the MoD’s update reported.
This would seem to counter previous reports that Russia was ready to deploy the T-14s. Perhaps, Moscow would simply rather lose old tanks than new ones.
Old Tanks Without New Tricks
The British intelligence update noted that since last summer, the Kremlin has taken approximately 800 T-62s from storage and some have received upgraded sighting systems, which are likely to improve their effectiveness at night. However, it won’t greatly enhance the overall capabilities of the Cold War-era tank that first entered service in 1961.
It may give Russia numbers on paper, but that won’t translate to actual military capabilities on the battlefield – and it is likely that many of those tanks will be destroyed as soon as they roll into action.
David Axe, writing for Forbes, was among those quite critical of Russia’s deployment of the antiquated hardware, even suggesting, “Russia’s Tank Plan: Take a 60-Year-Old T-62, Install New Optics, Send It To Ukraine To Get Blown Up.”
Despite the addition of new optics and some added reactive armor, a six decades old tank would certainly seem ill-suited to modern combat. Such vehicles could be expected to be found in a museum or private collection, rather than on the frontlines of any war.
In fact, the tank has been employed in a number of conflicts, including the Syrian Civil War, the Second Libyan Civil War, and the Yemeni Civil War. Yet, in all those cases it was largely employed against forces that lacked capable anti-tank weapons.
In Ukraine, the tanks will face more modern Ukrainian T-72s, and likely in the coming weeks German-made Leopard 2s; as well as Western-produced man-portable anti-tank weapons that were developed to take out even advanced MBTs.
It isn’t just the old tanks that are seemingly being pressed into service in Ukraine. The British MoD also reported, “In recent days, Russian BTR-50 armoured personnel carriers, first fielded in 1954, have also been identified deployed in Ukraine for the first time.”
The BTR-50 tracked amphibious armored personnel carrier (APC) is equipped with homogeneous, cold-rolled, welded steel armor – considered very thin by modern standards at just 13mm at the front, 10mm on the sides and top, and 7mm at the rear.
It cannot protect against large shell fragments or .50 caliber machine gun rounds, while even 7.62mm small arms fire could likely penetrate the sides. Riding in a BTR-50 might be preferable to a long walk to the frontlines, but when it comes under fire, few soldiers would likely want to be inside what is little more than a metal coffin.
Ukraine has also been employing older MBTs and APCs, though it has converted those platforms into engineering vehicles including “armored recovery vehicles,” which can aid in the recovery of damaged/disabled tanks, and clear roads.
This could be described as an ingenious use of old hardware, where the Russian plans seem utterly perplexing.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.