Russia

Are tanks to blame for Russian failures in Ukraine?

We examine why Russia has lost so many tanks and whether they are now obsolete in modern-day warfare.

Some of the most striking images of the Ukraine conflict have been the multiple Russian tanks that have been destroyed, abandoned or broken down. 

The centrepiece of the Russian military for decades, their tanks were supposed to be imperious but it has been reported that hundreds of their tanks have now been destroyed.

But why and how have the Russians lost so many tanks and are they now obsolete in modern-day warfare?

It has been widely reported that a lot of these losses could be attributed to the success of the UK's NLAW (next-generation light anti-armour weapon) and US-produced Javelin anti-tank weapons.

Last week, Ukraine's armed forces reported that Russia had now lost more than 680 tanks

However, the military and intelligence blog, Oryx, which created a detailed list of destroyed and captured vehicles – adding to their figures only when photographic or videographic evidence became available – credited Russia with losing more than 460 tanks.

Both sources conclude that hundreds have been lost, leading to further questioning on whether the weapons systems being sent by the UK and others are so good they render the Russian tanks useless.

Land warfare defence analyst Nicholas Drummond believes there are many factors to the failings and that, in fact, the tank is still crucial in warfare and can still be used successfully.

Watch: UK to send more anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, PM says.

Russian tactical and logistical failings

The former British Army officer Mr Drummond highlights the tactical failings being attributed to the loss of Russian tanks.

"Part of the problem is that instead of attacking across a single line of advance, they use multiple axes," he said.

"So, you know, 20 different lines of approach and that is impossible to support logistically. If you have one main thrust, à la Blitzkrieg, then, of course, that's very easy to support."

He went on: "The correct way to use a tank is to have focused line of march, a focused objective, one objective at a time, and to make sure that that's fully resourced with the right number of troops, logistical back-up and so on, but also you have to use artillery and air support."

Last week, according to a Western official, Russian forces abandoned "a lot" of tanks, vehicles, and artillery in a "hasty" withdrawal from northern Ukraine.

The official added that Vladimir Putin's operations had been "disastrous" and the abandonment of vehicles may be a sign of a "collapse of the will to fight".

More evidence of logistical failings came when images and videos reportedly showed Russian tanks running out of fuel on Ukrainian highways and even abandoned tanks being towed from the mud.

Tanks are still needed

Mr Drummond insists that tanks are still needed and not obsolete in conflict. 

"You need to support infantry with indirect fire, artillery, but also the direct firepower that tanks offer," he said.

"And that's why they're so important still. And that's why infantry need them.

"And if you say tanks are obsolete, you are saying that all armoured vehicles are obsolete."

He made reference to British soldiers killed in Iraq, who were not provided with enough protection by a Snatch Land Rover. 

"If we are not going to use tanks, how are we going to protect our troops?" he asked.