Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) reports that T-62 tanks — designed and built for the Soviet army in the 1960s — are coming out of storage and being prepared for frontline service in the Ukraine War. This news might actually be worse for Russia than it looks at first glance.
“The Russian military has continued to respond to heavy armoured vehicle losses,” MOD tweeted Monday, “by deploying 60-year-old T-62 main battle tanks (MBT).”
Here’s where it gets worse.
MOD’s latest estimate of Russian mobilization also claims that Russian BTR-50 armored personnel carriers, first fielded in 1954, have been de-mothballed and seen in combat in recent days. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military — which has been fighting from the start with its own Soviet-era T-62s — will soon receive its first batches of fully-modern, German-built Leopard II, British Challenger II, and US M-1 Abrams MBTs.
Here’s where it gets even worse.
Imagine a demolition derby involving, on the one side, Ford sedans from the 1960s and, on the other side, full-size modern SUVs with crumple zones and airbags and all the rest. Those big ’60s sedans are going to score some impressive hits but you’d much rather be behind the wheel of one of those SUVs. Particularly if you want to walk away from a combat zone… er, from a derby crash.
I’m exaggerating for effect but not by much.
And yet things get still worse from there.
In the ’60s, the Soviets designed and fielded two new models of MBT.
The first model was the T-62, designed in the 1950s (!) as an upgrade to the postwar T-55 MBT and then fielded in 1961, the year before The Rolling Stones got together. Its 115mm main gun was larger than Western tanks had at the time, but the T-62 still had considerable design weaknesses — a cramped crew compartment and vulnerable fuel and ammunition storage, among others — that had Soviet planners looking very soon for something newer and better.
The second model, the T-64, was first brought into service in 1966 — when your Friendly Neighborhood VodkaPundit was a wee lad of negative three years old. The T-64 was the Soviet heavyweight contender, with a bigger main gun, heavier armor, and more power for moving around the battlefield. The T-64 also introduced an autoloader mechanism, removing the need for a human loader for the big 125mm main gun, thus reducing the crew to three.
The T-64 was more capable and more expensive. It was produced in fewer numbers and reserved for the Soviet’s hard-hitting tank divisions. The T-62, being less capable and less expensive, was produced in much greater numbers. Because it was less capable, the T-62 saw its service in the Soviet army mostly limited to the infantry support role in rifle and motor-rifle divisions.
The T-62 was deemed obsolete in the 1970s — five decades ago — and retired into storage.
The last 2,000 T-64s in Russian service weren’t fully retired until about 10 years ago. Pulled out of retirement to replace battlefield losses of more-modern T-72, T-80, and T-90 MBTs, T-64s been seen fighting — and getting blown up — in Ukraine since at least last summer.
It’s unknown how many of Russia’s thousands of mothballed T-64s could be made serviceable again. But if Moscow is now hitting their even older inventory of retired T-62s, it’s easier to believe Kyiv’s claims of exceedingly high combat losses of armored vehicles.
Here’s where it gets less bad for Russia.
None of this means “Russia is losing!” or “Ukraine is winning!” Bloody-minded tactics, throwing away lives and old equipment without a care, can work. We’re seeing just that right now in Bakhmut. Russia’s Wagner Group mercenary organization has sent untold thousands of convict-recruits to their deaths for incremental gains — but they are making gains. While Kyiv denies it, the day they’ll have to withdraw from Bakhmut is almost certainly near.
In other words, Russia can still win this war, and may remain the odds-on favorite. But with every museum relic sent to frontline service against Ukraine’s army — which is being modernized by the West — and by a higher price in blood, Russians will pay for Vladimir Putin’s deadly folly.
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