ISW: Russian forces may be deploying T-54/55 tanks from long-term storage to Ukraine to compensate for significant armored vehicle losses

Photo t.me/informnapalm

The Georgia-based open-source Conflict Intelligence Team research group reported on March 22 that Russian forces transported a train loaded with T-54/55 tanks from Primorsky Krai towards western Russia, and social media sources speculated that Russian forces may deploy them to Ukraine.

Dutch open-source group Oryx assessed as of March 22 that Russian forces have lost at least 57 T-90, 448 T-80, 1,025 T-72, 53 T-64, and 73 T-62 tanks in highly attritional fighting in Ukraine.

 photo t.me/informnapalm

Russian armored vehicle losses are currently constraining the Russian military’s ability to conduct effective mechanized maneuver warfare in stalling offensives in Ukraine, and Russian forces may be deploying T-54/55 tanks from storage to Ukraine to augment these offensive operations and prepare for anticipated mechanized Ukrainian counteroffensives. The Soviet Union produced tens of thousands of T-54/55 tanks after the Second World War, and the Russian military may be turning to extensive Soviet reserves of these tanks to solve its significant armored vehicle shortages. 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. T-54/55 tanks lack the armor capabilities of more modern armored equipment, however, and originally carried a smaller main gun, although the Russian military may have modernized some vehicles. 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. Russian forces are unlikely to achieve preferable resource attrition rates on the grounds that T-54/55 are cheaper than anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) ammunition, as some have argued—each tank loss is the loss of a tank crew as well as the tank, after all, and it is not clear how effective these tanks will be against Ukrainian armored vehicles, whereas they are highly vulnerable to many anti-tank systems available to Ukraine, not all of which are expensive. 

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