Russia and Ukraine lost more than 2600 tanks, are tanks still useful in modern combat?

Future of tank
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Since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war on February 24, the Russian and Ukrainian armies have paid a considerable price, especially the loss of tanks on both sides. According to CNN Both Russia and Ukraine lost more than 2600 tanks in the ongoing war.

In the last month, images of ruined Russian and Ukrainian “tanks” and wrecked convoys have filled social media feeds. According to report released by the CNN data science team both Russia and Ukraine lost more than 2600 tanks in the ongoing war. Russia lost approx 676 out of 9,780 tanks which is 6.9% of its total inventory while Ukraine lost approx 1,969 tanks out of 2,172 which is 91% of its total inventory.

After seeing the position of Tanks in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, many raised question that is the tank is still formidable weapon in modern combat. If you are following the incredible defense of Ukraine by her heroic citizens, then you might be tempted to think that tank warfare is dead. After all, Ukrainians are popping $4.5 million Russian tanks with $78,000 Javelins daily. So what is the future of Tank?

Destroyed Ukrainian T-64BV by Russian army
Destroyed Ukrainian T-64BV by Russian army

Main Battle Tank has dominated ground conflict for almost the last half-century of wars, it is a very costly machine in many aspects. MBTs take a lot of resources to deploy, operate, and procure due to their heavy armor and weight. They are often not very strategically mobile, requiring shipping on ships as opposed to aircraft.

Since the birth of tanks during world war I, tanks have once become a decisive weapon to change the situation of land warfare, and once formed an absolute dimensionality reduction attack on infantry units. However, all weapons will usher in the corresponding nemesis, with the performance of individual anti-tank weapons improved and popularized, the dominant position of tanks has been greatly impacted; and in modern combat its so easy to attack helicopter, UCAV, and ATGM to destroy a tank in just one blow.

In recent years, it was reported by several sources that the British army and US marine corps are planning to eliminate all tanks from their inventory. However, two Asian power India and China still investing huge money in modern tanks.

Tank in modern combat

In the Chechen war, the Russian 81st motor infantry regiment, a meritorious unit of the great patriotic war, was devastated by the Chechen bandits in grozny, and the anti-armor weapons such as rocket launchers hidden on the upper floors of the building were dealt a head-to-tail blow, resulting in heavy losses and unable to move in an instant. In the face of the enemy’s siege from multiple heights and angles, the weak points of the Russian tanks were constantly hit, and the regiment’s 96 infantry fighting vehicles and 31 main battle tanks were either destroyed or discarded by the crew.

The modern infantry fighting vehicle has greatly restricted the supremacy of tanks in land warfare. The challenge from the air has undoubtedly put the future of tanks into a trough. The strength of the Iraqi army before the gulf war should not be underestimated, especially the number and quality of tanks in its army were very impressive, and its technical level was better than many countries. Before the war, some people analyzed that if the US ground force engaged, it may suffer at least more than 100,000 casualties!

US Army M1A2 Abrams tanks
US Army M1A2 Abrams tanks in Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2005

However, the real ground battle lasted only 100 hours, and nearly 300 apache helicopter gunships destroyed more than 500 Iraqi tanks and a large number of military vehicles and artillery, and even cooperated with the US third Panzer division to almost completely annihilate an Iraqi republican guard armored division in a few hours! An Apache attack helicopter can carry 16 Hellfire anti-tank missiles and can control many of them at the same time, and can destroyed 7 tank in a single shortie.

Nagorno-Karabakh war

The Nagorno-Karabakh war that broke out in 2020 between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey’s Tb-2 drone and its israeli-made Harop loitering munition quickly became popular in the low-level war, which is said to have destroyed hundreds of targets in just 45 days, including 88 tanks, 51 infantry fighting vehicles, air defence system, and self-propelled guns.

Russia-Ukrainian war

In the ongoing Russia-Ukrainian war, the Russian army’s initial fast and accurate strike once made it occupy a great initiative, and the Ukrainian air force almost achieved nothing, but the Tb-2 UAV introduced by the Ukrainian army from turkey became one of the few weapons that the Ukrainian army could effectively attack the Russian army. The drone is said to have destroyed 2 mobile air defense systems, 2 towed howitzers, and more than a dozen military vehicles, and since turkey may continue to provide Tb-2s to Ukraine, no one can guarantee that Russian tanks will not be hunted by them.

Compared with attack helicopters, UCAV is cheaper, more convenient to use, and naturally easier to collectively dispatch. The Tb-2 that made a big splash in the two wars has a limited volume and bomb load, and the speed and range are also low, thats why Turkey is planning to supply Bayraktar Akıncı HALE UCAV. Therefore, many people once again said that tanks will be quickly eliminated like traditional cavalry.

In December 2016, the British “Jane’s defense weekly” website said that the british army will form a new strike brigade, the core of its construction is to use the Ajax infantry fighting vehicle series combat platform to gradually replace the original challenger-2 main battle tanks, and at that time, the number of British main battle tanks was already pitifully small, not only far lower than Russia but even inferior to some small countries, so that it was ridiculed as the number of generals exceeding the number of tank equipment.

Although the challenger-2 main battle tank also performed well, the British army planned to completely eliminate it

In August 2020, the British ministry of defence said that the British army began planning to phase out all 227 main battle tanks and 300 MCV-80 infantry fighting vehicles. This dismantling was almost equal to the size of 2 armored divisions. You know, the United Kingdom is not only the origin of the tank, but also the challenger-2 main battle tank once had the longest distance kill record in actual combat, and almost none of them were destroyed by the other side in actual combat.

Coincidentally, in March 2020, the U.S. Marine corps also proposed to phase out all 450 M1 series main battle tanks and their transport units in service in the next decade, replacing with Haimas self-propelled rocket launchers, multi-purpose drones, and unmanned speedboats correspondingly. The U.S. Marine corps has conducted several rapid action exercises between unmanned platforms and stealth fighters in recent years, and the traditional landing exercises of heavily armored combat units are becoming less and less frequent.

Although Britain and the United States undoubtedly have advantages in many military technology fields and thinking, their decision to eliminate all tanks is also determined by the special circumstances they face. Not only has Britain lost most of its colonies, but other battlefields have only emerged as a follow-up to the US. Army, and the elite and fast-moving light infantry can complete the task, and the strength of the number one hypothetical opponent is far from being comparable to that of the soviet union, and the heavy armored troops are naturally useless.

In Britain’s view, due to its geographical location, US, EU, NATO it’s hard to attack Britain from the land way. In this way, the main battle tank naturally only has symbolic significance, considering the poor performance of British arms sales, so the existing challenger-2 seems to have only one way to eliminate.

The U.S. Marine corps believes that the m1a2 main battle tank is too heavy, and even a large transport aircraft such as the C-17 can only carry one, and its range also low. When shipping by sea, it can only rely on large ships to load and then transport them to the beachhead by amphibious landing craft. These two approaches are fine against opponents like the Iraqi or Afghan level, but the future hypothetical enemy of the U.S. Military is clearly much stronger, even enough to completely defeat the U.S. Military in a land battle.

The U.S. Marine corps believes that its main future battlefield will be a certain island reef in the southwest pacific direction, which is not suitable for main battle tank activities, so it is difficult for main battle tanks to effectively enter the depth of the island. Considering the efficiency of the other side’s fire coverage and local air superiority, the US landing craft carrying the main battle tank will obviously not have the opportunity to calmly and slowly approach the landing site, so the hundreds of tanks have undoubtedly become “Chicken ribs”.

The unique advantages of tanks are still irreplaceable

Although there will be calls for the elimination of tanks after each local war, even within the US military, there are generals who have proved the role of tanks irreplaceable with actual combat cases, and these generals said that it was impossible to defeat Iraqi without MBT, and the performance of local guerrillas in the face of infantry fighting vehicles and tanks was completely different. The future opponents cannot be underestimated in terms of the number and quality of tanks, and if the US ground troops are over-armed, they will suffer a big loss.

Modern warfare is a contest of systems, not a comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of a certain weapon itself. The role of tanks is to provide continuous and always-accompanying fire support for infantry and other units in ground combat. In contrast, attack helicopters tend to return after firing, which can cause a sharp decline in strike efficiency.

Although the UAV has been in the air for a long time, but the bomb load capacity is low, the speed is slow, and it relies heavily on the rear remote control, if the other side’s anti-aircraft firepower and electronic countermeasure efficiency are good enough, then the UAV will be destroyed or completely out of control. When a fixed-wing attack aircraft is supported, how many aircraft does the command have to determine that they are suitable for dispatch? What tasks are prioritized? Front-line troops often have to wait a long time, during which time they can suffer devastating losses.

Ukrainian Tb2 UAV shot down by Russia
Ukrainian Tb2 UAV shot down by Russia

Since the beginning of the new century, the background of the theory of the uselessness of tanks has mostly been analyzed from the perspective of some recent wars (especially Ukraine russia war) with serious imbalances in strength, and the weak parties in such wars are not even qualified to become a modern army, not only lack modern technical equipment and corresponding systems, but even basic heavy weapons fire support is difficult to achieve. But this does not mean that the strong side can always encounter such opponents, so the previous assumption that air power will determine everything may not be realized, so the traditional high-intensity land combat is likely to appear at any time.

Taking offensive battles as an example, without support from Tank it’s hard to advance for infantry only with IFV.  If the offensive of the other side is blocked, then the other side may gather artillery to bombard the assembly point of its own troops for a long time. Conversely, if the tank quickly opens the opening, then other units can effectively advance deep into the enemy’s defense by cooperating with each other.

Middle East war

Tanks and IFV are continuously improved with latest tech, the fourth middle east war when Egypt used anti-tank missiles to seriously damage the Israeli armored forces, Israel response quickly improved the defence system of Merkava, so that the Israeli tank troops in the fifth middle east war again showed their might.

In thev Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Armenia’s technology and experience were not good, and the Tb-2 show its mighty. The same drone faced heavy losses in Syria against Russian army, in the Russian-Ukrainian war, the Russian army has shot down all Tb-2 UAVs of Ukraine. The most important thing is that most of the tanks and other armored vehicles lost by Russia and Ukraine were abandoned by the personnel of both sides, rather than real losses.

Indian and Chinese tanks face off
Indian and Chinese tanks face off

Conclusion

Despite the trend away from using tanks widely in active combat, tanks remain an important tactical and psychological element of national strength. They’re big, they’re scary, and when we see a tank we know the battle is getting serious.

By the time both Tank and anti-tank weapons are getting new weapons to dominate the battlefield. In the end, its all depend on the geo location and who is using it.

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