Now that Ukraine’s counter-offensive is picking up speed, more equipment losses are being documented.
Since the onset of Russia’s invasion, main battle tanks (MBTs) have played a crucial role for both sides. Russia’s armored corps has deployed a range of Soviet-era tanks to the front lines, while Ukraine has relied on legacy Soviet tanks in addition to Western MBTs that continue to be delivered to Kyiv.
Over the weekend, video footage showing the destruction of a Ukrainian T-72EA and a PT-91 Twardy widely circulated on social media.
The open-source intelligence Twitter handle @UAWeapons published a video of the incident, noting that it was the first confirmed loss of the Twardy MBT donated to Kyiv by Poland. In the 30-second clip, a tank appears to be engulfed in flames. As the camera moves, a second armored vehicle also is depicted engulfed in flames.
Tanks have ruled the battlespace in Ukraine
When Kyiv’s counter-offensive officially commenced early last month, the Ukrainian armed forces stood up roughly two dozen new tank brigades. Nearly half of these new brigades are equipped with Western tanks, fighting vehicles, and artillery. The U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies pledged several advanced MBTs to support Kyiv’s defensive efforts in the war. In addition to the American-made M1A1 Abrams, British Challengers, and German Leopards were committed to Ukraine.
While these more sophisticated MBTs will certainly aid the counter-offensive, Kyiv still has to rely on its legacy supply of Soviet-era tanks to outfit its remaining brigades. Since the war broke out back in February 2022, Ukrainian soldiers have also successfully captured abandoned Soviet tanks that were left behind by their enemy.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited massive quantities of armaments including the T-72 MBT. According to Military Watch Magazine, Kyiv possessed roughly 100 T-72s when the war commenced around eighteen months ago. This number quickly increased, however, largely due to the swaths of MBTs ill-equipped Russian soldiers left behind.
Some analysts estimate that Kyiv captured 300 T-72s alone, in addition to the other Soviet-era models they also captured. Comparably, Russia has likely lost half of its T-72 fleet since the start of its invasion.
Introducing the T-72 and the PT-91 MBTS
Derived partly from the T-62, the T-72 MBT has evolved over the years to become a crucial component of Russia’s armored corps.
The “Ural” was a product of a design competition in the 1960s, tasked with developing an improved variant of the T-62. Ultimately, the T-72 was selected as the cost-effective alternative to the new variant. The MBT officially entered service with the Soviet Union by 1973 and thousands of these tanks were produced up until the collapse of the USSR. In fact, the Ural represented the most commonly used tank by Warsaw Pact countries around this time period and has been exported widely, including to Iran, Iraq, Finland, India, and Syria.
Poland’s PT-91 are essentially revamped T-72A models. Equipped with newer engines, transmission, fire controls, optics, and Polish-made Erawa reactive armor, the PT-91 is a formidable asset to Ukraine’s forces. While this tank appears very similar to the T-72, it is faster and offers better protection against high-explosive rounds. As the counter-offensive advances, the destruction of more Ukrainian T-72 and PT-91 tanks is very probable.
This is the first confirmed loss of the PT-91 donated by Poland. pic.twitter.com/fKXp577ZHx
— ???????? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) July 9, 2023
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.