Medvedev’s dream crushed: Russia falls short of 1,500 tanks target

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On March 23 last year, Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chair of the Security Council of the Russian Federation,  announced that “we will build a thousand and a half tanks this year alone.” The news spread around the world at a time when the Russian army was already achieving success in the Ukrainian direction in Avdiivka. Many analysts even predicted that the goal was possible, given the existing Soviet tank industry, which was churning out 4,000 tanks a year. 

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But today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union. From the tank industry of that time, the largest and most important tank factories have remained. With limited capacity today, they can only focus on modernizing the old T-72, T-80, and T-90 chassis with new components, which are already locally produced, not imported. 

Yes, Russia can meet domestic demand for domestically produced tanks amid losses in Ukraine any day. The plants in Omsk and Nizhny Tagil are quite sufficient. However, they are not able to load their production capacities to a degree that would guarantee the production of this impressive number, even by today’s standards of tanks.

There are deliveries, but few

Medvedev will not see 1,500 tanks produced in a year. Currently, Russia is focusing more on modernization. Even without the war with Ukraine, his statement would still be met with skepticism. 

There are facts to support these claims. For example, it is known that within two months, Uralvagonzavod delivered three batches of T-90M tanks to the Russian army. This tank is the main product of this plant, and as Russian President Vladimir Putin likes to say, “the best tank in the world.” We do not have specific information on how many tanks were delivered in total in these three batches, but we do know that Moscow announced 23 T-90M tanks in the latest delivery. 

Even assuming that these are completely new tanks [unlikely, but still] and considering that 25 is the average number per batch, let’s say that in these two months, the Russian army received 75 tanks. Hypothetically, this means that UVZ can supply the Russian army with about 450-480 tanks per year. That’s nearly a third of Medvedev’s dream of 1,500 tanks. And this is under conditions that are difficult to believe currently exist in Russia.

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The plant in Omsk, the second largest and most important, cannot reach the capacity of UVZ. But let’s assume a scenario in which the Omsk plant uses capacity in the good old days and produces 450 – 480 tanks per year. Together with UVZ in the best case, without war, 960 tanks at the maximum limit are possible. I.e., if we remove the “war in Ukraine” from the equation, Medvedev’s words give no guarantee of credibility at all. 

But, we must also turn the other side of the coin. The words of some Western experts and senior politicians, including generals from the Pentagon, also do not guarantee credibility. We have listened in recent months to how Russia is running out of ammunition, how supplies are cut off, how 30,000 people work at the Uralvagonzavod, and how only 20 tanks a month are produced. The facts simply do not support such claims. Here, for example, from May 1 to May 15, it can be categorically proven that the Russian army received 34 T-90M tanks [10-11 tanks based on the count of a passing train composition with tanks and 23 confirmed by the Ministry of Defense of Russia]. 

Perhaps Britain’s Ministry of Defense intelligence comes closest to reality. Although they have no direct observations of Russian production, and most of the time they quote Ukrainian sources, which are also not a guarantee of reliability, London believes that 100 tanks a month are about the strength of the entire Russian tank industry at the moment. More or less, judging by the Russian losses and supplies of tanks of all modifications, this value is more correct than the others. 

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Russia has huge stocks of old Soviet tank chassis and finished tanks. Satellite images of open depots counted over 3,500 tanks available. It remains unclear how many are in closed Russian warehouses where satellite cameras cannot penetrate. But it is this information that is more important because Medvedev’s statement that Russia will produce 1,500 tanks should be taken more as “will deliver 1,500 tanks”

There is a difference between manufacturing and upgrading. If we talk about the first, most likely about 30 brand new tanks can be produced from Omsk and Nizhny Tagil. We’re talking from the first chassis nut to the canvas cover of a 125mm gun, and these 30 tanks in peacetime conditions. Because today Russia mainly modernizes T-80 and T-90 tanks, it does not produce them from scratch. 

A year has passed since Medvedev’s speech. Russia and Ukraine continue to lose tank resources on the battlefield. With a busy tank industry in Russia, and according to information from Russian sources, there is no evidence that Moscow has exceeded 1,000 units of newly refurbished tanks, let alone produced. Rather, the number is closer to the middle of these 1,000 units, but not more.

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