PANAGYURISHTE, BULGARIA — Somewhere in late February and early March of this year, Russia decided to take its T-54/55 museum tanks “out of mothballs” and send them to Ukraine. Videos and photos proving the transportation of the tanks from the Far East to Eastern Europe have appeared on the web.
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A few days ago, a new photo appeared from Ukraine. More precisely, the photo was taken, according to the claims, somewhere in the Zaporizhzhia region. A Russian soldier with both thumbs up poses in front of a T-55 chassis number 69.
How many T-54/55 tanks can Russia field? There is no exact information, but it is assumed that at least several hundred. It could be thousands. Still, the tank is one of the most produced in the world with over 100,000 produced. We can safely call them Stalin’s tanks since they came right after the end of the Second World War – in 1948. After 75 years of waiting, despite their episodic appearances in many conflicts, tanks will finally get their full-scale war.
No need to prove
The T54/55 tanks sent to Ukraine do not need to be proven. They will fail. Claims among some Russian media that these tanks will undergo some kind of modernization are probably not true. Simply because within a month of being spotted they appeared at the front in Ukraine. Totally insufficient time to do any sort of modernization on them.
They keep the commander’s outdated day and night sights, as well as the armor. Armor that has no way of countering modern Western anti-tank guns. At first glance, their defensive characteristics are even inferior to their later version – the T-55AMV.
In reality, at least the tank pictured does not differ from the type in which it left service in the 1990s. Apparently, this outdated tank will never touch the new systems of the 21st century. He will be sacrificed. But why?
The role of T54/55 in Ukraine
Quantity. Russia sends quantity to extend the front line. A tank, unlike its more modern brethren, has very little maintenance costs. This makes it perfectly suited to save money. You see, we’re not talking about efficiency, we’re talking about money. Because they are the basis of this decision from Moscow.
The main role of the T54/55 at the front will be to provide ground support to the Russian armed forces in the field. Increased amounts of frontal armor and low operating costs will be used as defensive points. We do not expect the T54/55 to be sent on an attack mission. In this state, it is better to defend than to attack Ukrainian positions armed with Javelins and at least ten other different models of ATGMs.
T54/55 gives the necessary time and money
Yes, here is the moment of the true reason for the presence of this tank in Ukraine – providing additional time and money. But what are they for? While the T54/55 is fighting and being destroyed at the front, tank factories, especially UralVagonZavod, will not be engaged in its maintenance and repair.
UralVagonZavod will be able to complete and safely engage in the production of the T-90M. Less attention will be paid to the repair and modernization of T-72 and T-80 tanks. They will simply be diverted to the other ram plants, providing the freedom for UralVagonZavod’s production lines to be tasked with producing the T-90M.
The Deputy Chairman of the Russian Security Council and former President of the Russian Federation Mr. Dmitry Medvedev announced almost a month ago that Russia is starting large-scale production of T-90M tanks. According to him, this product will exceed over 1,500 units per year. For this to happen, UralVagonZavod should not be involved in anything else.
Soviet multi-thousand tank production
Mr. Medvedev’s words were spoken just a few weeks ago. But we predicted that sooner or later someone would say them. Our analysis of the return of multi-thousand Soviet-era tank production was based on signals over the past 12 months that Moscow and UralVagonZavod have been giving the world, but no one read.
On March 3 this year, we wrote that Russia is returning to this concept. We have noticed that in recent years Moscow has invested many millions of USD in the modernization of the production facilities of UralVagonZavod. We’ve noticed two new plant renovations have come to light in the past year. One near Moscow, the other towards Rostov-on-Don. Both plants are designed to repair tanks returned from the war.
We also noticed that other plants for the production of heavy armored combat equipment, including tanks, began to receive and fulfill orders for the renewal of older series of tanks, such as the T-72, T-62, and T-80. With the arrival of T54/55 in Ukraine, the concept in Medvedev’s words closes the full picture of the idea. And it is simple: 1,500 T-90M tanks in one year. All is cleared for UralVagonZavod to begin the execution of this task.
T-54/55 in short
The history of the T-54/55 begins immediately after the Second World War. Few people know, but this tank was a decade ahead of any Western equivalent at the time. Operating on both sides of the Iron Curtain, the US and Russia competed to build the best tank.
Thus, in 1956, the Americans got access to the T-54/55 and established their backwardness. Their M48A2 was 10 tons heavier than the Soviet one and less heavily armed and protected. And while the US was wondering how to address the shortcomings of their M48A2 against the T-54/55, Moscow rolled off the production line its first T-62. And it turned out to be even better.
The backlog of T54/55
But the 54/55 series fell behind. In the 1980s, this tank was no longer suitable for combat. The T-63 outmatched it with its better armor. In fact, it was the T-62 that was the first tank in the world with armor protection and sensors. Over the years, the T-54/55 received some modifications, mostly for foreign orders. For example, the Al Zarrar, a Sino-Pakistani version of the T-55 is believed to be even better than the original Soviet tank.
The T-54/55 is still in service. Yes, in very few countries, but it is there. Ukraine also has it, which after the start of the war with Russia received the modernized Slovak M-55.
How many T54/55 tanks on both sides of the barrier will be buried remains to be seen. However, the larger number will certainly be from the Russian inventory. But this tank is not there to win the war. He’s there to buy time. A time that could prove crucial if the war continues into 2024.
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