4,550 Russian tanks await upgrade by 2026 – Ukrainian analysts

Over 5-7 months, approximately 400 tanks disappeared from Russia’s primary tank reserves. Researchers from platforms like Resurgam, Military Seer, and Mortis Aeterna noted a significant monthly depletion of 44-75 units.  

UVZ workers enjoy concert while loading T-90 tanks for Russian Army
Video screenshot

These analysts raised the issue that while this rate of use can cover current losses, maintaining it during 2023 and the early stages of 2024 suggests a peak in tank modernization and renovation efforts.  

While the pace of unveiling, known as de-canning, has slightly slowed down compared to past years, research indicates that this slower rhythm primarily reflects the declining quality of the equipment being unveiled. This problem forces tank repair facilities to invest more time and resources per piece of equipment.

One-of-kind Soviet T-80UM2 tank equipped with Drozd APS destroyed
Photo credit: The War Zone

4,550 tanks total, but in doubt

Reports indicate significant congestion at major armor plants. Analysts posit that this is a clear sign of the overwhelming demands placed on these facilities. Alarming numbers suggest that up to 95% of primary tank reserve sites are filled to capacity, according to expert findings. 

The estimates reveal that 3,150 tanks stationed at the central bases of the reserve, coupled with around 1,300-1,500 tanks in standby zones and adjacent to the principal tank repair workshops, are still potentially viable for deconservation and restoration. 

Near St. Petersburg, hundreds of T-80 tanks await modernization
Photo credit: Reddit

Nevertheless, experts caution about the varied and often uncertain technical state of the 3,150 tanks housed at these bases. They note that there is no account for turret-less tanks or those disposed of in areas where they have been largely dismantled for parts and are unlikely to be useful even for spare part supply. Among these discarded tanks, those from the 1311th base seem to have the highest chances of recovery.

Russia generates, not produces

When it comes to assessing Russia’s tank production rates, a significant issue among Western analysts is the lack of clarity in terms. Often, the assertion made is that Russia is “producing” 100 tanks each month, but this is far from accurate. 

Putin tours Uralvagonzavod, dispatches T-90M tanks to the Army
Photo by Samil Ritdikov

As explained by Andrii Tarasenko, Russia currently can fabricate approximately 60 brand-new T-90M tanks annually from scratch. For instance, as of September 2023, UVZ is engaged in manufacturing the 192nd tank out of an order for 270 units, a contract that spans from 2017 to 2021. 

The British Ministry of Defense often refers to the figure of “100 tanks per month” in their updates. However, the choice of words here is crucial. They use the term “generate,” indicating that they are taking into account not only newly produced tanks but also ones that have been upgraded or decommissioned due to technical issues and haven’t undergone any refinements before their deployment.

Only 60 T-90M tanks per year

Ukraine claims Russia acquires 770 upgraded T-62s and T-90Ms
Photo credit: UVZ

As pointed out by renowned analyst Pavel Luzin of The Jamestown Foundation, often referred to as the “conditionally Western” voice, the production of tanks in Moscow, a term that includes both brand new constructions and major modernization endeavors, tops off at about 200 units annually, or 15 to 20 units built “from scratch” per month. 

A study hailing from Ukraine reports a monthly tank deconservation rate that ranges from about 44 to 75 units in the past five months alone. This figure, however, varies depending on the specific month and the date of the image reflecting this data. 

When we dive deeper into the details of tanks built “from scratch,” the discourse becomes far more intricate. Models such as the T-90M, T-80BVM, and T-72B3 that have undergone extensive upgrades are categorized as new. However, these are essentially major upgrades capitalizing on pre-existing spare hulls. Therefore, this category of “newly” modernized tanks and genuinely brand-new models amounts to around 200 units per year, or approximately 16 per month, as per Researcher Tarasenko’s estimate of 60 T-90M units annually. Authentic, ground-up manufacturing makes up only a sixth or less of this figure since the rest come from storage base reserves which also have limited availability.

Putin tours Uralvagonzavod, dispatches T-90M tanks to the Army
Photo by Samil Ritdikov

Production has reached its peak

When you delve into the myriad of research, studies, and data available and begin to recognize patterns and progression rates, it becomes clear that the capacity for producing new tanks has already reached a saturation point, irrespective of extensive financial resources.

Consider this: As per Andrii Tarasenko’s analysis in 2021, Moscow successfully manufactured 80 T-90M tanks. This achievement was underwritten by an existing stockpile of crucial components, some of which were procured through exports or long-term planning. As a result, critical Western components were no longer procured through ‘parallel imports.’ Instead, they were readily available thanks to a dedicated inventory, assembled to cater to the needs of 2022 through 2024/25 and contracted before February 24th.

T-90M tank production takes lead over T-72B3 overhauls in Russia
Video screenshot

As this stock continues to deplete due to the need for widespread modernization and mobilization from storage bases, the core issue shifts from circumventing sanctions to the duration needed to ensure said circumvention, along with the allocation of additional financial resources to guarantee it.

‘Optimistic (12-18 months)’ scenario

The rate of Russian tank losses has been escalating. In 2023, it was reported that Russia lost a visually confirmed total of 866 tanks. Taking into account an assumed off-record 30% more, this figure rises to an estimated 1125 tanks – averaging about 93 losses per month. 

4,550 Russian tanks await upgrade by 2026 - Ukrainian analysts
Photo credit: Drukarnia

With such a high attrition rate, Russia’s tank production and restoration efforts seem to be barely keeping up with front-line requirements. And, with the impending exhaustion of spare tanks from their reserves, the situation is likely set to worsen. The active participation of somewhere around 2,200 to 2,500 Russian tanks on Ukrainian soil substantiates this fact. 

To delve further into it, should the monthly loss of Russian tanks continue to hover around the figures of 160-170 units, it would then significantly impair their available combat capabilities. This balance between loss and production over 12-18 months could cause a crisis in the fighting capability of their units. Comparatively, despite having a standard schedule to maintain a reserve of 4,300 tanks (including newly created ones), the ground reality suggests that they might be able to uphold only ¼ of this number.

‘Moderate (18-24 months)’ scenario

4,550 Russian tanks await upgrade by 2026 - Ukrainian analysts
Photo credit: Drukarnia

Things are becoming increasingly intense as the main reserves in the storage bases are being depleted. Moscow is managing to restock their losses, making use of resources from storage bases, and restoration processes, as well as utilizing ‘cannibalized’ spare parts from other tanks. 

Based on the current trend [assuming it continues], Moscow could feasibly maintain these combat rates until the start of 2026 without any external assistance. This would mean no additional tank transfers or spare parts. After that point, there would be a necessity to resort to the production “from scratch” to replenish any incurred losses. It’s worth noting that the mode of production currently only meets one-fifth of the front line’s actual needs.

‘Pessimistic (over 26 months)’ scenario

4,550 Russian tanks await upgrade by 2026 - Ukrainian analysts
Photo credit: Drukaria

Iran, the DPRK, and possibly China are ramping up to provide heavy weaponry in the form of tanks directly to Moscow. This scenario requires comprehensive examination, considering a wide range of factors from the political will of these nations to the actual count and type of combat-ready tanks.  

Given the current circumstances, Ukrainian experts lean toward the “moderate” viewpoint. This perspective suggests that Moscow should, by 2026, be capable of maintaining the necessary combat efficiency of its tank divisions.

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