A Blog by Jonathan Low


Feb 12, 2023

Russia Has Already Lost 12 Years Worth of Its Tank Production Capacity In Ukraine

Russia seems unconcerned about its troop losses in Ukraine. There are evidently plenty more compliant cannon fodder where the now dead Russian soldiery came from. 

But armored vehicles are another issue. Russia is losing so many tanks and other armor - especially in fruitless attacks over the past week - that it will take 12 years to replace what it has already lost. Which may be why the Ukrainians seems less concerned about Bakhmut, Vuhledar etc than they were a few weeks ago. JL 

Mark Sumner reports in Daily Kos:

Russia is going to have to stop doing what it’s been doing this week at Vuhledar and Avdiivka. All week losses have come from entire armored units blasted to smithereens along roads. Russia has done what Ukraine refused to do: attempt to assault fortified positions in conditions which armor was restricted to a few narrow roadways. Russia (is) replicating with its armored forces tactics it “mastered” with infantry, if at first everyone gets killed, just send more. Ukraine has no comparable losses from these battles. Russia is scared of incoming Western gear and of Ukraine training to use (it) in combined arms warfare. (But) it’s not clear Russia can do anything about it.


Here’s a Bakhmut update that brings things better in line with the latest information. 

Bakhmut close up. Open image in another tab for a larger view.

To the south of Bakhmut, Russian forces have not advanced as far as Russian sources have been claiming over the last three days. Not only are they not moving into Chasiv Yar, they’re still about a kilometer short of crossing the T0504 highway. However, artillery has reportedly taken out a bridge over a canal on that highway at the point marked, so this route is either completely closed, or at least very restricted in traffic when it comes to supplying Bakhmut.

To the north, Wagner forces have made their way through Blahodatne. While they have not succeeded in crossing the highway either there or to the west near Zaliznyanske, they have moved into Krasna Hora and are fighting in Paraskoiivka very near the intersection of all those roads. The M03 may remain open, and in the last day there have been scenes of Ukrainian armor moving on this road, but it’s extremely sketchy. It unlikely Russia has moved artillery into position to cover this road yet, but that will happen soon if Russia continues to hold current positions.

That leaves the road going west through Khromove as the primary, and perhaps only, paved road providing access to Bakhmut. That road is not threatened yet, but it’s worth noting that the other end of the pavement is down near Chasiv Yar. If that area becomes threatened, the other routes through Khromove all head onto unpaved roads. Some recent images show that the ground appears to be getting drier around Bakhmut and at points to the south, but it would still be tough to bet all the men and equipment currently in Bakhmut on the ability to make a quick break over dirt roads.

Right now, Ukraine seems pretty confident that both ends of this road, as well as the rest of the route up the road past Kalinina, are safely under control. Chasiv Yar may be the spot that Russia really wants in the effort to cut of Bakhmut, but that hasn’t happened.

UPDATE: Saturday, Feb 11, 2023 · 12:38:15 PM EST · Mark Sumner

Unbelievably, the Ukrainian military reports that the hottest area of fighting right now is … Vuhledar. Reportedly repeated attacks are being made right along the tracks where the previous attacks failed. It’s like Bakhmut, only even more costly and pointless.

Over the last week, as Russia supposedly opened a new offensive in Ukraine, there has been one number rising quickly — the number of Russian soldiers killed each day. With repeated disasters near Vuhledar, a failed attack based out of Kreminna, and what looks to be two full companies lost in a fruitless assault on Avdiivka, Russia has been throwing away its troops at a sustained rate far greater than it did at any point in 2022.

Reported Russian losses
Ukrainian estimates of Russian losses for Saturday

Four days ago, it was big news when Ukraine reported 1,030 Russian soldiers killed in a day, with most of those losses taking place near Vuhledar or Bakhmut. That marked Tuesday as the biggest day for Russian losses since the invasion began. Then Russia lost over 900 more on Wednesday, and 900 more on Thursday as another catastrophic advance at Vuhledar was followed by that failure at Kreminna. The Friday number was something of a decline, with “only” 750 Russian troops eliminated — a rate that, if it continued, would still see more than 270,000 losses in a year.

But then the astoundingly foolish assault on Avdiivka combined with more bad decisions at all of the above, and the end result is that on Saturday the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces reported that Russia had lost an absolutely staggering 1,140 men in one day.

There are estimates that Russia now has 320,000 troops in Ukraine. If they keep falling at the rate they were lost this week, all of them will be dead before the end of the year.

It’s worth noting that those Russian losses haven’t come in the form we’ve become familiar with after watching months of activity near Bakhmut — small companies of men sent across fields or along streets betweened ruined buildings with little to no armor support. All week long the losses have come in the form of entire armored units blasted to smithereens along roadways. In part this has come because Russia has done what Ukraine refused to do: attempt to assault fortified positions in conditions that meant armor was restricted to traveling along a few narrow roadways. In part it’s because Russia seems to be replicating with its armored forces the tactics that it had “mastered” with infantry — if at first everyone gets killed, just send more. 

Ukrainian serviceman near Bakhmut
Ukrainian serviceman near Bakhmut. 10 Feb 2023.

The result of this is that each of these days has come not just with astounding losses of men, but almost equally staggering losses of equipment. Since Tuesday, Ukrainian forces have destroyed 36 Russian tanks. Twenty five tanks were lost in two days. These are unsustainable levels of loss.

Granted, what Russia has seen this week falls well short of  the numbers lost in the largest battles of World War II. Over the course of the war, they lost a nearly unbelievable 80,000 tanks. But that was when they were building tanks at a rate of better than 20,000 a year. Their current capacity is estimated at only 200–250 tanks per year.

Here’s another way of thinking of it: In World War II, Russia went through about four years worth of tank production capacity during the four years of the war. In Ukraine, they’ve already burned through over 12 years of production capacity, and that’s assuming the high end of production estimates. If Russia stopped right now, it would take them until 2036 to get their tank number back to where it was the day they rolled into Ukraine.

And there’s another big difference. What happened at Vuhledar and Avdiivka wasn’t a tank-on-tank / man-on-man clash. Ukraine has no comparable losses from these battles. It’s hard to even think of them as battles. They were just instances of Russia slowly driving lines of vehicles and herding terrified men, down long muddy roads, and waiting as artillery picks off those who didn’t already manage to hit a mine. They are entirely one-sided losses.

Line of destroyed Russian vehicles at Vuhledar
A line of Russian vehicles at Vuhledar. 9 Feb 2023

At the outset of the invasion, estimates of Russian tanks available—from freshly minted T-90M back to Vietnam era T-62 sitting in fields—were put at around 8,000. But that doesn’t mean Russia had 8,000 tanks ready to go to the front. Many of those tanks were damaged, or had systems so outdated they needed mandatory updates before being brought into the fight. Russia can manage to refit old tanks at a rate of about 600 a year.

Put it all together, assuming that sanctions or shortages don’t interfere, and Russia is estimated to be capable of sending about 20 new tanks and 50 refitted older tanks into Ukraine each month.

If the estimates from the Ukrainian armed forces are correct, Russia is losing an average of 270 tanks each month. Even the verified numbers from Oryx show a rate of loss over 140 tanks per month. Here’s what those losses look like if we take the levels over the first 12 months of fighting and project them out through the end of 2023.

Projected Russian tank losses based on numbers from Ukrainian armed forces and confirmed lost from Oryx

There’s a lot of fudging in this chart. The losses of Russian tanks have been in no sense smooth over this whole period, with big peaks coming during the initial Russian invasion, then again during Ukraine’s counterattack into Kharkiv. The chart also makes it seem as if Russian losses started in January, simply because that’s where I stuck the zero. But you get the idea. Russia has been losing tanks at a high rate since the invasion began, and projecting those rates into the future indicates that Russian losses by the end of the year could be over 6,200 tanks — and that’s if the increased rate seen so far in 2023 doesn’t continue.

Now, factor in Russia’s supposed 8,000 tank stockpile, add 20 new tanks each month along with 50 remanufactured older tanks, drop that on top of losses, and how do things look?

Russia’s stockpile of tanks projected through the end of 2023 using numbers from Ukrainian armed forces and Oryx.

If the losses confirmed by Oryx are the only tanks Russia is losing, then their actual “burn rate” is relatively small. Something like 70 tanks a month. But if the Ukrainian military is accurate in estimating tanks destroyed, Russia is bleeding tanks from their stockpile at a rate of around 200 a month. By the end of this year, fewer than 3,000 will remain out of that 8,000 at the outset.

Which leads to a whole new set of questions. How many of those tanks are really fit for battle, even if they are hauled in for an update? Some number of these tanks are going to be so stripped down, so lacking in basic gear, so damaged, so subjection to both corruption (in the form of theft) and corruption (in the form of rust) that they can’t be salvaged. How many? And perhaps most importantly, just how many tanks can Russia burn in Ukraine if that means leaving the rest of its borders undefended? Now repeat this exercise for infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers, and artillery, and helicopters, and people.

The war in Ukraine has become largely a war of attrition. Russia seems to want it this way. And there are reasons that might work for them. Ukraine went into the war with around 2,000 tanks. Oryx confirms 434 of those lost, but the actual number, as with Russia, is certainly higher. How many tanks is Ukraine making each month? None. Ukraine’s tank factory, which had been cranking out the modern T-84, has been more or less silent since 2014, as many of the parts it used were made down in Crimea. Ukraine can’t build any tanks right now, and it doesn’t have piles of old tanks to refit. Instead, Ukraine has to depend on tanks coming in from the West, and on refitted Soviet-era tanks from its allies. Those are absolutely not infinite sources. That formula also repeats on almost every large piece of equipment in the war.

But if Russia is counting on Ukraine running out of some vital component of war first, it’s going to have to stop doing what it’s been doing this week at Vuhledar and Avdiivka.

Amid all the claims that Russia is preparing a new offensive here, there, and everywhere, there is one nation that doesn’t believe it. That nation happens to be Ukraine. As the Kyiv Post reports on Saturday, Ukrainian intelligence says that Russia is already being as offensive as it can, and that concerns over some new mass attack are unwarranted. 

Andriy Chernyak, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, claimed rumors and reports of a pending massive attack were misplaced.

He told Kyiv Post: "While information is spreading about a large-scale Russian offensive planned for Feb. 24, Ukraine's military intelligence reports that Russia has already launched a full-scale offensive on Feb. 24 last year, which is still ongoing.”

That may sound like little more than a pun, Chernyak indicated that, in the estimate of Ukrainian intelligence, Russia doesn’t have the resources or capability of conducting some new mass assault. Instead, they’ll continue doing what they’ve been doing for months — making smaller attacks along the line, hoping to identify locations where Ukrainian defenses are weak, hoping to make tactical gains.

He added: “However, according to our information, Russian command does not have enough resources for large-scale offensive actions.

Because it must be said … Bakhmut holds. Yesterday’s map of positions appears to be still good — though it may be a bit generous to Russia. Russian claims to have already cut off the highway west of Bakhmut appear to be more aspirational than real, and Ukraine continues to hold positions in the city with no apparent concern about their ability to get supplies in or troops out.

Those red arrows are places Russia was trying to attack, but it doesn’t see that they gained much, if any ground, on Friday.

Russian sources are drawing new maps this morning with many, many more red arrows, insisting that the encirclement of Bakhmut is nearly complete. They have Russian forces in Chasiv Yar (they’re not) as well as occupying Orikhovo-Vasylivka (also nope). Actual movement on the ground appears to be minimal. Ukraine is not only still operating all the way out at the eastern end of Bakhmut, they’re counterattacking Wagner positions in the surrounding area.

Even Russia does find a place where they can advance, it doesn’t mean they’re going to spring across Ukraine and pounce on Kyiv. Their logistical issues have not evaporated. They’re still incapable of sustaining a large force far away from an occupied railhead. They’ve also still failed to generate anything that looks like combined arms tactics, limiting their advance to grinding artillery tactics. That might change when the weather supports greater flexibility for armored movements, but unsupported tank advances have long been the best way to dispose of tanks.

Ukraine is also not prepared at the moment. They took Kharkiv on a drive and just keep driving strategy that ran to a near halt when it met stiff resistance around Lyman. Right now, they’re buckled down by the same constraints that are limiting Russian movements, and Ukraine has also not yet demonstrated large-scale combined tactics in the field. The best thing Ukraine has done all winter comes in not giving into the desire to order an all on assault on Svatove or Kreminna, resulting in the kind of defeats Russia is currently experiencing.

Right now, both militaries may be massing forces in different locations, but neither seems capable of conducting a coordinated large scale attack — including the part where you have to sustain those forces after they punch a hole in enemy lines. Claims that Ukraine is about to mount a major assault on Zaporizhzhia seem especially tenuous in light of all the defensive work Russia has been doing in that region.

It’s understandable that Russia is scared of incoming Western gear and of the forces Ukraine is training on effective tactics to use that equipment in combined arms warfare. They should be scared. It’s not clear that Russia can do anything about it.


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