A destroyed Russian tank is seen as Ukrainian serviceman rides a tractor and tows a Russian military vehicle near the village of Dolyna in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in September 2023.
Russia is generating 100+ tanks a month, largely replacing its battlefield losses, UK intel said.That rate is likely only possible if it’s taking old tanks out of storage, experts told BI.Old tanks are weaker and Ukraine has destroyed many of them, but they still tie up resources.
A UK intelligence claim that Russia is generating more than 100 tanks a month likely means it is relying on older models kept in storage, but it can’t keep pulling them out forever, experts told Business Insider.
The UK Ministry of Defence said late last month that Russia has lost up to 365 main battle tanks since October, but can “probably generate at least 100 MBTs a month,” meaning it’s able to replace its battlefield losses.
But William Alberque, who runs the arms control program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said that this figure is likely only possible if Russia is taking older tanks out of storage.
It wouldn’t be able to produce new tanks at this rate, he said.
Alberque added that Russia will not be able to rely on this method in the long term, as that stock is ultimately limited.
Nicholas Drummond, a defense analyst, agreed, telling BI that Russia is relying on older models as its ability to produce new ones is limited.
He said that some of the tanks will be “almost museum quality machinery.”
An abandoned Russian T-62 tank in southern Ukraine, October 2022.
DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images
Russia has been using decades-old tank models during its invasion of Ukraine, like the T-62s that first entered service in the 1960s.
But Drummond is skeptical that Russia can even make battle-ready 100 of the older tanks a month.
He said the number was “not credible” based on what is known about Russian tank production, both making new tanks and refurbishing old ones.
The UK Ministry of Defence did not respond to BI’s request for comment on its figure.
Ramping up production
Russia has seemingly been increasing its output of new tanks, while still relying on older models.
As of February 2023, it was estimated that Russia was making about 20 new tanks a month.
George Barros, a Russia expert at the Institute for the Study of War, told BI that open-source information pointed to Russia making up to 35 tanks a month by September, but it’s not clear where that figure is now.
He said reaching 100 would be in line with Russia’s stated goal for last year, when it said it wanted to make 1,500 tanks, about 125 a month.
Destroyed Russian tank near the village of Dmytrivka, Kyiv region, Ukraine on March 15, 2023.
Oleksii Chumachenko/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Russia had to turn to older tanks, with upgrades, after Ukraine destroyed many of its newer models early in its invasion.
It’s been able to use the older vehicles effectively, but in support roles normally done by infantry fighting vehicles, experts said.
Even so, getting out older tank models “smacks of absolute desperation,” Alberque said,
These tanks are not likely to be a big help for Russia in its attacks because they are not very powerful, he said.
“If I’m getting a bunch of T-62s and T-64s and told to attack a Ukrainian position, then no, that doesn’t make me more reckless. It makes me hopeless,” he said.
But another expert said these older tanks can still create a problem for Ukraine.
“Every time the Russians attack in waves, they have to spend ordinance defeating that attack, and their supplies are running low,” Rajan Menon, a director at the US think tank Defense Priorities, told BI.
Ukraine has lost fewer tanks than Russia, according to weapons trackers and experts, but Russia “can throw more soldiers, men, and machines into the fight,” Menon said.
And while Ukraine is increasing its weapon production, it’s not able to do so for tanks, giving Russia the advantage.
According to Menon, Russia can simply bring more and more equipment and soldiers to the front line, and force Ukraine to expend scarce resources. And that’s especially a problem now, he said, with future aid from the US in doubt.