Video Above: What comes after the Abrams? Assistant Secretary of Army Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Talks Future of Tanks
Ukrainian fighters have destroyed more than 2,000 Russian tanks, 48,700 personnel and 4,300 Armored Personnel Vehicles since the beginning of the invasion roughly six months ago, a number which reflects the intensity and effectiveness of Ukrainian ambushes, anti-armor tactics and intense will to fight.
These statistics, published Sept. 2 by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, specify that as many as 12 Russian tanks and 21 APVs have been destroyed in just the past few days.
There are several key variables to consider here, as the Ukrainians have without question shown an ability to leverage anti-armor weapons with great effectiveness to blunt, slow down or simply destroy Russian mechanized attack. At the same time, Global Firepower reports that the Russian military operates as many as 12,000 tanks, a number suggesting there may be sufficient hardware and heavy armor available for Russia to sustain heavy attack. This 12,000 number may seem quite high, yet how many of them have been maintained, upgraded and kept war ready in recent years? There are numerous reports indicating that thousands of tanks in this large fleet may not be in an operational status, a fact which makes Ukraine’s destruction of 2,000 tanks extremely impactful.
Thousands of tanks in Russia’s arsenal are Cold War era T-72s, and the Soviet-built tanks may be proving less capable against dismounted anti-armor weapons when it comes to sensing, targeting, protections and mobility. The Russian likely operate more capable 1990s-era T-90 tanks as well, yet the large numbers of T-72s means the invading force is likely primarily operating 1970s-era tanks, as the T-72 first entered service in 1973. However, even if the Russians still possess thousands and thousands of tanks, however old, Kremlin leaders may be reluctant to keep sending them in large numbers given how vulnerable they have proven to be against anti-armor tactics.
An interesting report from Business Insider publishes pictures of Russian tanks with makeshift “cages” placed on top in an apparent effort to defend against and mitigate risk from top-down anti-armor attacks from Javelins, RPGs or other kinds of anti-tank weapons which have proven effective. However, observers pointed out that these cages were abandoned in many cases as they made it too difficult for Russian soldiers to escape a burning tank damaged by Ukrainian fire.
Certainly the Ukrainians have likely been using elevated terrain, buildings and other structures to attack from advantageous, and obscured or hidden positions to destroy incoming Russian vehicles. Ukrainian anti-armor success also suggests that perhaps Russian T-72s and T-90s lack the kind of modern sensors, targeting and active protection systems sufficient to mount a credible defense against Ukrainian anti-tank weapons. T-72s have been mass produced and exported to as many as 40 countries over the years, and Ukraine operates them as well, so the range, resolution and effectiveness of its targeting sensors is likely well known by Ukrainian attackers.
Having some familiarity with the operational capacity of T-72 tanks would provide quite an advantage, as Ukrainian fighters using anti-armor weapons might have an idea of how far away they need to be or how they might need to position themselves to launch successful attacks against Russian tanks and armored vehicles. Iraqi T-72s, for instance, were destroyed by US Abrams tanks during the Gulf War in the 1990s and Operation Iraqi Freedom more than a decade later, in part because the Abrams was able to see, track and destroy the T-72 from safer stand-off distances due to its high-fidelity sensors known to operate at farther ranges than T-72s.
Yet another key factor to consider is Ukraines fleet of T-72 tanks, which has grown considerably since the beginning of the war, in large measure due to Poland and Czech sending hundreds of tanks to Ukraine. While Ukrainian tanks themselves may be less impactful against Russian T-72s than anti-armor weapons, having them is likely to give Ukraine useful mechanized platforms to use for defense or counterattack to retake territory. Overall, 25,000 T-72s have been built, making it a well-known and understood weapons platform.
Destroying Russian Launchers
Russian rocket and missile attacks in the early months of the invasion of Ukraine killed hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainian children, families and non-combatants, yet these attacks seemed difficult to track, intercept or stop.
Both guided and unguided missiles and rockets, many of them capable of traveling several hundred miles, were fired in what appeared to be a deliberate campaign to terrorize and kill Ukrainian civilians and somehow erode or break their will to resist. This did not work, however these Russian attacks caused loss, trauma, devastation upon communities throughout Ukraine.
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Without air superiority or an ability to invade Russia and destroy missile launchers on the ground, Ukraine’s only hope of stopping these missile attacks was likely left to a need for long-range, ground fired rockets. This tactical circumstance is likely why Ukrainian President Zelensky requested Multiple Launch Rocket Systems during the early days of the war. There are many reasons why these are relevant and critical for combat, yet Zelensky may have been specifically thinking of the need to destroy the “launchers.” If Russian missile and rocket launchers cannot be destroyed from the air, ground-fired weapons with the range to hit the launchers is critical. While Ukrainians have had artillery and received more from the West, much of which can hit targets out to 30km, the Ukrainians needed longer-range weapons to destroy those Russian launchers.
Now, MLRS and GPS-guided GMLRS have arrived and have been destroying tactically vital Russian targets for several months, hitting supply lines, troop concentrations, command and control facilities and … of course . Russian rocket and missile launchers. Having MLRS and GMLRS, many of which travel more than twice the range of 30km artillery, has opened up an ability for Ukrainian forces to hit critical Russian targets from safer, stand-off ranges able to actually reach launchers inside Russia. It is widely known that Ukraine has benefitted from NATO surveillance assets as well as its own ISR and intel gathering capability, so Ukrainians may have been aware of where some of these Russian launchers were … yet could not hit them. Now that they have longer-range rockets, they can be hit.
Statistics published Sept. 2 by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense provides evidence to support this, as recently published figures say Ukrainians have destroyed 1,126 Russian artillery systems, 153 anti-aircraft warfare systems and 289 MLRS.
Warzone destruction statistics from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense also lends evidence in support of recent Pentagon reports that air-defenses provided by the US and its allies are having a massive impact.
A recently published DoD report on the continued support to Ukraine cites a recent $182 million US Army contract with Raytheon to deliver new National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASMS). The move signals rapid support for the Pentagon’s emerging strategy to actually “produce” and deliver new weapons to Ukraine and therefore avoid depleting US military Prepositioned Stocks.
Emerging US efforts, as explained by UnderSecretary of Defense Colin Kahl, will involve the US working with industry to manufacture and send new weapons to Ukraine in support of a long-term fight. Kahl was clear that this initiative, outlined as part of Biden’s most recent $2.98 billion support package, is intended to sustain and empower Ukrainians forces long enough to match and even outlast Russian invaders. The long-term aid package is intended to send a message to the Kremlin that Russia will not be able to “outlast” Ukrainian defenses and use “time” as a weapon of war hoping to ultimately erode Ukraine’s ability to defend and fight. Kahl was clear that NATO and the West will simply not allow that to happen.
The delivery of NASMS represents the latest development in an ongoing effort to supply air defenses to Ukraine, senior Pentagon officials said. The support effort is drawing upon the existing abilities of the US military services’ ability to fast-track and accelerate weapons to war.
Video Above: Top Army Weapons Buyer Details Future Attack Technology
"Acquisition speed and agility is a top priority," Douglas R. Bush, the Army's assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, said in a Pentagon report. "The rapid award of this contract is another example of the Army's ability to accelerate the delivery of critical capabilities through our industry partners to our allies.”
War data provided by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense lends further credibility to the suggestion that Ukrainian air-defenses have been impactful. A Sept. 2 war data update reports that Ukrainian forces have destroyed as many as 234 aircraft, 205 helicopters and as many as 853 drones. This may help explain that, although Russia is reported by Global Firepower to possess 772 fighter aircraft compared to Ukraine’s 69. However, Russia has not achieved air superiority.
The fact that Ukraine has already shot down 235 Russian aircraft is quite telling, and may help explain why, early on in the war, Pentagon observers said Russian fighters were “risk averse” and reluctant to fly into areas over Ukrainian air defenses.
If Global Firepower is correct that Russia operates 772 fighter jets, and many of them may not even be operational, then Ukraine may have already destroyed one-third of them or more. Added to this success against fixed wing aircraft, Ukrainian fighters have also had great success using shoulder-fired Stinger missiles against helicopters, further crippling Russian air attacks. Global Firepower reports that Russia operates more than 1,500 helicopters, and the Ukrainians have reportedly shot down 205, according to the Ministry of Defense. This would suggest a few possibilities, either Russia actually operates fewer actual operational helicopters than Global Firepower suggests or is holding back more helicopters from attacking given the extent to which Ukrainians are destroying them.
Clearly, the ability to blunt, slow down or simply destroy Russian air attacks seems to be emerging as a massive element of Ukraine’s success thus far.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.