Addendum: The tank reserves of the Russian armed forces and the production capacities of the military industry

(To Andrea Gaspardo)
10/05/22

A few days ago we had published the prima and second part of an analysis relating to the tactical-strategic scenarios of the Russo-Ukrainian War. Although both pieces have found, and continue to find, an excellent satisfaction among the public, several passages of the second part of the analysis, in particular those relating to the reserves of Russian military equipment (especially tanks) and the production capacities of the factories being part of the UralVagonZavod complex, they have provoked fierce criticism and more than one request for clarification. Well, with this further "addendum" we will return to this thorny issue trying to make it clearer.

Before starting our narration, however, I would like to quote two historical events which I think it is useful to always have in mind when talking in general about the issue of both material and human "reserves" of Russia, since this is a topic that presents itself punctually to any hot or cold conflict that opposes the West (or part of it) to Russia.

The first event takes us back to June 4, 1942, when during a secret visit to Finland on the occasion of the birthday of the country's founding father and strongman, Baron e Marshal of Finland Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim, il Führer und Reichskanzler of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler held an informal conversation with Mannerheim himself and with the president of Finland, Risto Heikki Ryti.

The following words (accidentally recorded by a Finnish sound engineer) relating to the Soviet Union's arms holdings on the eve of the operation Barbarossa they were recorded in the very course of that informal discussion:

Hitler: “A very serious danger, perhaps the most serious of all, the enormity of which we can only now judge. We ourselves did not understand how heavily armed this state (the Soviet Union) was "

Mannerheim: No, we didn't understand that

Hitler: No, neither do I.

Mannerheim: During the Winter War ... During the Winter War we hadn't even imagined it, of course

Hitler: Yes

Mannerheim: But even so, as they actually did ... and now we no longer have any doubts about what they had in their arsenals!

Hitler: Absolutely, that's it! They had at their disposal the most immense arsenal that people could imagine. Well, if someone had told me that a country .... If someone had told me that a state was going to start a war with 35.000 tanks, then I would have said "You are crazy!"

Ryti: 35.000?

Hitler: Yes, 35.000 tanks. We have destroyed over 34.000 so far. If someone had told me, I would have replied "You!". If you had been one of my generals and told me that any nation had 35.000 tanks at its disposal, I would have replied, “You, my dear sir, see things multiplied by two or by ten. You see ghosts! ”. This I would never have thought possible. I told you a while ago that we found huge factories, one of them in Kramatorskaya, for example. Two years ago there were only a couple of hundred wagons. We didn't know anything about it. Today there would be a factory where, during the first shift, a little more than 30.000 workers would work there, which would become a little more than 60.000 at the end of the day; in a single factory! A huge factory! Masses of workers who would have lived there like animals ...

Mannerheim: In the Donetsk area?

Hitler: Yes, in the Donetsk area

Mannerheim: Well, if you keep in mind that they had 20, indeed almost 25, years at their disposal to be able to arm themselves in complete freedom ...

Hitler: Unthinkable

Mannerheim: And they spent all their money on armaments

Hitler: Yes, only in armaments

Mannerheim: Only in armaments.

The other event takes us back to the days between 12 and 16 August of the same year, when the prime minister of his British majesty Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill flew together with the American diplomat William Averell Harriman and a large delegation in Moscow to confer directly with Stalin and the highest levels of Soviet power. The moment was very tense. On June 28, the Wehrmacht and the other Axis contingents present on the Eastern Front had launched the "Fall Blau" operation, with the aim of conquering the entire Caucasian area and, in the period between July 25 and 11 of August, the 6a army of General Friedrich Paulus had annihilated four Soviet armies during the battle of Kalch (the 1a and 4a armada and the 62a e 64a armata) arriving at the gates of the strategic city of Stalingrad, on the Volga River. Shortly before his meeting with Stalin, Churchill had the opportunity to discuss in depth the evolution of the crisis with his generals and admirals present in the delegation.

Based on the information provided by the allied intelligence services, Churchill did not follow that the backbone of Soviet military power was now broken and that the Soviet Union had not long left before the inevitable capitulation. Surprising everyone, Stalin instead gave proof of optimism and indeed proclaimed that at the beginning of winter his forces would go to the counterattack, nullifying all the enemy's plans. It is to be imagined that, listening to him and looking at him, the British statesman thought: “Counterattack? And with what, comrade? ”, Before turning to his generals and admirals who, shaking their heads slightly, silently reaffirmed all their negative assessments of the Soviet leader's boldness.

Three months later, in the Stalingrad area, the Soviets launched the operation Uranus and between 19 and 23 November they managed to encircle 6a army, part of the 4a armored army and the 3a and 4a Romanian army starting one of the greatest "battles of annihilation" in history.

Today, in 2022, at the height of the Russo-Ukrainian War, the specter of these two events mentioned above continues to hover in public speeches, on television as in the bar, with singular overlaps so much that more than one, including myself, is asking if the saying is not true "The lessons of history are useless".

The Armed Forces of the Russian Federation were established on May 7, 1992 as a wreck of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union, inheriting the largest share of equipment on land, at sea and in the air, as well as the totality of the space infrastructure. As also stated in my previous analysis that generated so much debate, one of the distinctive elements of Soviet military doctrines before and after Russian has always been the particular emphasis placed on the massive use of armored vehicles, especially tanks, as already had to note Adolf Hitler at his own expense during the Second World War.

Nobody really knows how many armored vehicles the Soviet Union had in service and many of the figures that travel on the Internet still tend to take into account only the vehicles in active service and not also those placed in reserve, since the USSR already had the tendency to stock a good share of the means produced by its defense industries to be able to sell them at a later time or to be able to use them in the event of a great war against NATO or China.

We must not forget that, apart from the vehicles in service with the Soviet Armed Forces proper, the Communist Empire could count on a whole series of other military bodies, such as the MVD troops, which also had important equipment of all types of vehicles. In any case, taking into consideration the data provided at the end of the 80s by the RAND Corporation and considering both the numbers relating to the vehicles in service and those of the reserve, it seems that, at the time of its disintegration, the USSR had no less 120.000 tanks huddled by at least another 200.000 armored vehicles of all types, not to mention all other categories of armaments.

The Soviet obsession with the accumulation of war material had its origin in the traumatic experience of the Second World War when the country had had to fight on its own territory the largest large-scale conventional war in its history and, despite coming out victorious, had suffered between 27 and 40 million deaths as well as economic damage that would have taken 20 years to be completely reabsorbed.

This is why throughout the period between 1945 and 1991, in terms of military policy, the Kremlin leadership subordinated any other decision to the maintenance of two inviolable "totems". First, the USSR would never again fight a war on its territory. According to, it would always have maintained, net of nuclear arsenals, also an overwhelming conventional power capable of defeating any alliance of hostile countries that wanted to threaten its security and national interests.

Although in terms of potential brute force pure and simple, these objectives were achieved and maintained throughout the period in question, the final result was that, the hardening of the political system and the total unsustainability of both the economic and bureaucratic systems that, finally, the Soviet Union met the classic end of the "warrior who is crushed by the weight of his own armor".

The new Russia that arose from the ashes of the Soviet Union was inherited as a military instrument absolutely disproportionate with respect to his foreign policy posture and his economic capabilities. Not only that, having inherited from the "Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe" the obligation to considerably reduce the numerical consistency of its conventional arsenals, Russia was faced with difficult choices throughout the 90s, a period made even more difficult by the flare-up of very violent wars here and there through throughout the former Soviet Empire, especially in the turbulent Caucasian area (Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia, Chechnya) which forced Moscow to partially revise its military posture on the spot.

A question that grips both military analysts and the simply curious is: how many tanks and other military vehicles have been destroyed in compliance with the aforementioned CFE treaty?

It is actually difficult to answer because such a treaty actually poses for Russia only limits relating to the numerical consistency of the vehicles that must be deployed on this side of the Ural Mountains, and not to the total number of vehicles that are available to Moscow! However, given that most of the large "storage bases" are located in Siberia, it is easy to understand how, right from the start, Moscow was tempted to play the game of three cards and to adhere to the dictates of the treaty in a very "loose" manner. .

The reasons for this choice were essentially three:

- first: during the 90s and early 00s the Russian economy was in such a serious situation that it could not afford the costs of dismantling the mammoth stocks of arms inherited from the USSR. Not only that, dismantling tens of thousands of tanks and other armored vehicles would have even entailed a net economic loss because contrary to what one might think, it is not at all easy to recycle steel allocated for military use;

- second: the means stored constituted in any case a potential source of valuable currency since in those years the demand for Russian weapons was constantly increasing in all areas of conflict, especially in the Third World;

- third: the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union had made the territories of the former Communist Empire a boiling cauldron crossed by various conflicts that always involved Russia, directly or indirectly, moreover it was not completely the possibility that Russia was involved in a major conventional conflict with one of the other large or medium powers that faced its periphery (United States-NATO, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, China, Japan) has disappeared.

For all these reasons it was better for the Russians to keep large reserves available that could be "fungible" when needed and to proceed with the dismantling and recycling process as slowly as possible. Mind you, this does not only concern tanks and other armored vehicles but all weapon systems that can be classified as "conventional".

Let's now jump to the present day. Since the Russo-Ukrainian War entered its phase of total conventional warfare (February 24, 2022), two questions continue to buzz in the minds of most and, on closer inspection, are the same ones that buzzed in the minds of Hitler, Mannerheim and Churchill at the time of the Second World War and, exactly as in their case, are today approached by specialists and the general public with the same degree of lightness and disbelief, which sometimes borders on carelessness and stupidity: How much are the Russian reserves and does the country have the production capacity to make up for the losses suffered so far?

Having already talked in detail about the composition of "human reserves" in the course of my previous analysis and having no intention of returning to the subject, believing that I have already articulated and exhaustively examined it, I now go directly to the crux of the matter that so many eyebrows have made straight up: tanks and other armored vehicles!

For a quick look at what has been written on the subject in this period as for example (but it is only one of the many, given that the data that is repeated are ALWAYS the same) in this article appeared in the prestigious magazine Forbes (v.link) we see that according to the most common opinion, Russia would line up 12.420 tanks and 36.000 other armored vehicles (counting both front-line and stored vehicles). Unfortunately, however, this assessment is optimistic (for us) and is based on assumptions that have proved totally wrong. In fact, in the period immediately following 2010, some authoritative institutions of the Western world such as the RAND Corporation, Janes el 'International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) published a series of documents relating to the equipment supplied to the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and it was precisely at that moment that the "theory" according to which Russia would have at its disposal just over 12.000 tanks was accepted as a sort of "truth", as well as the idea that the armored and mechanized forces had adopted a standardization system based on 3 models of tanks: the T-72, the T-80 and the T-90. Yet ever since Twenty past four they changed the cards and made the previous reports drawn up by RAND, Janes and IISS no longer valid.

The first was the resumption of the rearmament plan wanted by President Putin which, between 2012 and 2020, led to the production and introduction into service of at least 2500 brand new T-72 and T-90 tanks in addition to the reactivation and modernization of an even higher number previously placed in storage.

The second one it was the outbreak of the conflict in Donbass, in 2014, which led to a direct involvement of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation both through the deployment of their units on the ground and through the provision of arsenals to transform the so-called Unified Forces of Novorossiya into a coherent military instrument capable of "marching on its legs". To achieve this, the Russians had to train and equip the Donbassians in all respects, and this obviously also included the supply of tanks. Hence, an increasing number of T-72 tanks took the direction of the Donbass front, but alongside them soon other "steel horses" that the world believed had long since disappeared: the T -64.

In truth, the T-64s were alive and well because they represented the standard tanks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which had also produced new and updated versions as much as possible to keep up with the times. For this reason it was believed that the T-64s deployed with the Unified Forces of Novorossiya were Ukrainian specimens captured and put back into service among the ranks of the enemies (and it is in fact true that, from 2014 until the current war, the Donbassians have seized all the opportunity to get your hands on as many Ukrainian T-64s as possible). However, in the flood of photographs and videos from the Donbass area, an alternate reality soon began to take hold, as military analysts began to realize that numerous Donbassian T-64s were not "war prey" captured from the Ukrainians. but, on the contrary, Russian specimens belonging to the reserve stocks that had been reconditioned and put back into service during those agitated historical events (v.link).

The fact that Russia still had the T-64s at its disposal took everyone by surprise as it was now considered "established" that all the T-64s in the reserve had been dismantled, but that was not the case! Like the other tank models in service with both the Russian Armed Forces and the Unified Forces of Novorossiya, the T-64s are also making their contribution to military operations and so far the loss of 16 has been confirmed beyond doubt. specimens of this model of chariot.

But how many T-64s are still available in Russia's depot bases? Difficult to say, but various sources consulted in this regard give a range between 2000 and 4000. It is very likely that, with the passage of time, both the massive reactivation of the specimens in storage and the capture of an increasing number of Ukrainian vehicles. , will increase both in number and in importance the contribution of the T-64 to the armed forces of Moscow and Donbass.

The third, was Russia's involvement in the Syrian Civil War in support of President Assad's loyalist forces. On the eve of the outbreak of hostilities, the Syrian Army had at its disposal a total force of over 10.000 armored vehicles of all types, among which there were over 5000 tanks (100 PT-76, 2250 T-54/55, 1100 T -62 and 1600 T-72). By September 2015, four and a half years after the start of the conflict, the once proud Syrian armored forces were reduced to their own shadow, with confirmed casualties amounting to at least 4000 armored vehicles of all kinds. The T-72s in particular had suffered more than the others and only 300 of the original 1600 were still in service (loss rate of 81%!). Immediately after its entry into the war, Russia worked to rebuild the battered Syrian units also thanks to a maxi injection of new vehicles among which about 700 T-72 (belonging to the T-72B, T-72B or br. 1989, T-72BM and T-72B3) and 200 T-90A “Vladimir”. However, what impressed military analysts the most was the unexpected arrival of hundreds of T-62s belonging to the T-62M and T-62MV versions and even T-55 of the T-55AM and T-55AMV versions.

Exactly as had happened with the T-64s in the Donbass, the appearance of the newly supplied T-62s and T-55s also brought down all the certainties previously acquired by analysts. In fact, it was thought that, after decades of counter-guerrilla campaigns in the Caucasus and the brief but decisive participation in the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, the Russian T-62s and T-55s had been definitively retired and headed for the blowtorch; their appearance on the Syrian front as soon as they were reactivated from their depot bases located in Buryatia showed that only the first intuition was correct. Not only that, during the exercise Vostok 2018 (the largest military exercise in Russia since 1981, since the USSR still existed) a certain number of T-62s and T-55s were reactivated precisely to test the speed of mobilization of the reserve forces in the event of the outbreak of a large-scale conflict, such as the current Russo-Ukrainian War.

To say exactly how many T-55s and T-62s are still available to Russia in its depot bases is extremely difficult because although at the time of the disintegration of the USSR, the Soviet Armed Forces still had about 63.000 T-54 / 55s and 13.000 T-62s of all versions, many ended up in the arsenals of other ex-Soviet countries, many others were sold in every corner of the world, and still others were effectively dismantled over time. In any case, crossing different sources, it seems that in the Russian equipment reserve there are still between 2800 and 3000 T-55 and between 2000 and 2500 T-62, but these are numbers on which it is not possible to be certain at all. 100%.

Fourth event, apparently minor compared to the others, was the rearmament of the Russian Navy Infantry Corps which, despite having been reduced to 12.000 men compared to 32.000 in the Soviet era, has seen in recent years proportionately strengthen its firepower with the assignment of a battalion of tanks to each of the brigades that make up the corps. The new battalions line up T-72B, T-72B3, T-72B3 obr tanks. 2016, T-80BV and T-80BVM however during the exercises held in recent years, the Russian marines have also "revived" from the deposits another "old glory" of the Soviet period, namely the PT-76 amphibious tank .

Present in the Soviet arsenals in no less than 10.000 units, the PT-76s also fell under the shadow of the reductions of the post-Cold War period but, just like all the other models mentioned above, they have not completely disappeared and it seems that Russia still has about 500 available, maintained, as already mentioned above, as potential backups for the Marine Infantry Corps.

Our speech, however, would not be complete if we did not speak now of the so-called "Holy Trinity" which, on the front line as in the reserve, represents the pillar of the Russian armored force and which is made up of the T-72, T-80 and T- tanks. 90.

Introduced for the first time in 1973 and produced to date in no less than 30.000 units and adopted by over 40 countries in the world, the T-72 is by far the largest tank in service with the Russian Armed Forces, both for it concerns the front-line departments as well as those of the reserve and, according to the majority of the estimates at our disposal, it is available in a number between 9.000 and 11.000 units.

Entered into service in 1976 and nicknamed "the flying chariot" due to the power of its engine, the T-80 was born as a development of the T-64 and was the last "armored champion" developed and produced in large numbers by the Soviet Union before its fall. Although its production formally ceased in 2001, the T-80 has continued to be upgraded and plays in both the front-line forces and the Russian reserve in a number between 7000 and 8000 units depending on the sources consulted.

Finally, born as a further development of the T-72, the T-90 represents the most powerful tank (with the exception of the still "immature" T-14 Armata) produced by Russia both for national needs and for the market of 'export. Produced to date in 8500 units, it is believed that the T-90s available to the Armed Forces of Russia are between 5500 and 6200 according to estimates.

We have thus finished reviewing all the models of tanks in service at both the front-line and reserve departments of Moscow and, adding all the data mentioned above, it is clear that the numbers certainly exceed the 12.420 of the Forbes article. reported above and, in the worst case scenario (for us) they can even reach 35.200 units guaranteeing Russia the possession on paper of the most impressive armored force in the world.

It is obvious that in order to be deployed again at the front, these vehicles need at least a revision when not a complete restructuring and a part will simply be "cannibalized", however as anyone can understand, even if the number of vehicles deployable in battle were to drop at 15-20.000, the margins that Russia would have on its side are enormous in any case.

To make a brutal comparison; Italy has 200 wagons in service Ram, and I don't even know if the Leopard 1 and the M60 Patton places out of service are still usable. And mind you, in these pages we have talked about tanks, but the exact same speech can be made for other armored vehicles, artillery, anti-aircraft systems, aircraft, etc ...

The fact that a large country like Russia, which has always been obsessed with the possibility of being drawn into a war on two fronts, keeps large quantities of armaments in reserve, even decidedly dated, makes perfect sense if such arsenals they can guarantee you, in the event of a great war, to "take time" and reorganize. Any comment from this point of view is superfluous.

Before concluding our narrative, it is now necessary to dedicate a few words to the thorny question of the production capacities of the Russian plants that many have "indignant".

As already mentioned in my previous analysis, the author of these words is Jens Wehner, veteran tanker, military historian and curator at the Panzermuseum of Dresden. Interviewed by Austrian researcher and popularizer Bernhard Kast about Russia's tank production capabilities especially in relation to the T-72, Wehner said: “The consolidated practice of the Russians is to keep stocks of materials in their factories that can guarantee the continuation of production output for a whole year even in the presence of a complete blockade of supplies. Each of the large Russian factories has the capacity to produce 800 T-72 tanks per week, which becomes 3.200 in a month for a single plant and 16.000 if we count the work of all the plants in the event of a total war situation, and this simply making the ordinary organization of the two production shifts more effective, without even introducing the third daily shift as it was during the Second World War ".

At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited 7 large complexes (plus a number of smaller ones) for the production of tanks and other armored vehicles. It is necessary to specify that, in homage to the "Russian / Soviet gigantism", each of these complexes consisted of a plurality of factories grouped into real "industrial cities".

These realities were: UralVagonZavod (located in Nizhny Tagil), Kirovsky Zavod-LKZ (located in Saint Petersburg), Omsktransmash (located in Omsk), Krasnoye Sormovo (located in Nizhny Novgorod), Uralmash (located in Yekaterinburg) , the ChTZ-Uraltrak (located in Chelyabinsk) and finally the VgTZ-Volgogradsky Zavod (located in Volgograd).

Nowadays the UralVagonZavod maintains its strong military vocation and it is precisely there that the new production T-72s and T-90s are built while the other 6 complexes have differentiated their productions also for the benefit of the civil sector, however they have also maintained their military assembly lines and are equipped to carry out maintenance and reconstruction work on the vehicles assigned to the reserve, as well as being able to carry out updates on specific models of tanks or other armored vehicles selected for each of the large complexes (for example Omsktransmash specializes in the maintenance and updating of T-80s).

Russia has at its disposal the facilities, industrial capabilities and resources to be able to support its war effort during the present Russian-Ukrainian War.

Regarding the allegations that the UralVagonZavod complex is stopped due to sanctions that would prevent Russia from obtaining spare parts for the production of its armored vehicles, I personally believe that they are an insult to human intelligence. Russia has been producing the T-72 since 1969 and the T-90 since 1992 and both tank models are entirely nationally designed and manufactured. It is true that, to ensure that their military industries make the leap into the decisive sector of electronics applied to the development of aiming systems (fire-control system, FCS, in English) especially for night fighting, on the occasion of Eurosatory 2012 la joint stock company Rosoboronexport of Russia and the French Thales Optronics Company signed a contract for the licensed production and repair of the Thales Catherine-FC thermal imaging cameras and later the Thales Catherine-XP at the Volzhsky Optical and Mechanical Plant in Vologda. This contract proved to be of fundamental importance for Russia because in addition to giving the country the possibility to integrate advanced western sensors in its wagons destined for foreign customers such as Algeria and India, it has also allowed Russian industries to bridge the technological gap. existing with Western countries thanks to the subsequent development of national pointing systems such as: "Essa", "Plisa", "Sosna-U" and "Kalina" which equip the most updated versions of Russian tanks such as the T-72B3M, the T -80BV and the T-90M. But even if, by hypothesis, such targeting systems were really no longer available, this would still not be a problem because Russia would in any case have the option of mass-producing, for example the T-72s, equipping them with conduct systems. more dated shooting, such as those of the second generation (obtaining means that in Russian military jargon are defined as "monkey models"). Of course, this choice would not be optimal, but it would have the advantage of being able to guarantee the deployment of a large number of vehicles in a short time and at reduced prices, exactly as mentioned above by Wehner.

We have therefore come to the end of our narrative. We have tried to make an overall assessment of the equipment availability of the Russian Armed Forces as well as of the industrial capacity that Russia has both to be able to operate the potential reserves and to cover the losses suffered so far, in the present war, with means of new production. The elements in our possession regarding the evolution on this specific issue lead us to say that, since the beginning of the war, the Russians have been actively engaged in recovering as many assets as possible from their depot bases and at the same time are maintaining a moderate production rate sufficient to make up for losses. This, combined with the fact that, to date, the confirmed number of losses concerning Russian and Donbassian tanks in the light of available photographic evidence has reached 635 (of which 16 T-64, 381 T-72, 123 T-80, 20 T-90s and 95s of an unidentifiable type), however, gives Russia a significant advantage over Ukraine.

Photo: Russian Federation MoD