Footage has emerged showing T-54/55 main battle tanks on trains heading to western Russia.
T-54/55 Heading to Ukraine
This isn’t the first time the Russian forces had to unearth obsolete weapon systems to support their failing campaign in Ukraine.
The T-54/55 is the most produced tank in history, with over 100,000 variants of the type produced by the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, and China.
Despite the age of the weapon system, several militaries around the world still operate the T-54/55.
Unlike the current main battle tanks in use with the Russian forces, the T-54/55 has a crew of four instead of three and doesn’t have an autoloader.
The tank sports a 100mm main gun with 43 rounds and two machine guns. To be clear, these are obsolete weapon systems with minimal chances of survival on a modern battlefield.
The failure to field a large number of modern tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers is one of the main reasons behind the Russian military’s inability to conduct large-scale maneuver warfare of the kind necessary to achieve an operational breakthrough on the ground. Another significant reason is the poor training plaguing Russian units.
Why the T-54/55?
If the Russian military leadership ends up deploying the T-54/55 tank in Ukraine, it will probably do so to replenish the casualties the Russian tank fleet has suffered.
In its daily casualty estimates, the Ukrainian military assesses that the Russian forces have lost more than 3,500 tanks since February 24, 2022. Independent estimates provide more conservative figures.
For example, the credible Oryx open-source intelligence outlet assesses that the Russian forces have lost almost 1,900 tanks, including 57 T-90, 448 T-80, 1,025 T-72, 53 T-64, 73 T-62, and 215 of unknown types.
However, the Russian military leadership might also think that deploying older tanks will help attrite the Ukrainian anti-tank resources, thus indirectly increasing the survival rates of its more modern tanks. That rationale is dubious.
To be sure, depending on the operational circumstances, Ukrainian troops will likely be forced to expend expensive anti-tank weapons, such as FGM-148 Javelin and Next Generation Light Anti-Tank Weapons (NLAWs), against T-54/55 tanks.
But the Ukrainian forces could also fire older anti-tank weapons against the T-54/55 tanks and save their more advanced munitions for the modern Russian tanks.
“The Russian military may also be deciding to field the tanks because parts to repair the T-54/55 tanks are abundantly available and substantially cheaper,” the Institute for the Study of War assessed in a recent operational update on the war.
“The Russian military will likely experience greater numbers of casualties by fielding these older tank systems in Ukraine. The deployment of inferior equipment to replenish the Russian military’s ability to conduct mechanized maneuver warfare may prompt a further degradation of Russian manpower in Ukraine,” the D.C.-based think tank added.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.