15 July 2009

Russia Scraps Most Tanks

Russia is down to 6,000 tanks, 60% in storage, from 53,000 at the height of the Cold War in 1991.

The current tank fleet has about 260 T-90s and 1,200 T-80s (a third in storage). These are roughly equal to early model U.S. M-1s. Most of the current Russian tanks are late model T-72s, some of them upgraded with excellent electronics (fire controls systems and thermal sights).

NATO military requirements were driven to a great extent by the scale of the Russian military, so this may allow the U.S. and Europe to trade guns for butter.


Michael Malak said...

Tanks are for WWII and hung around only because generals fight the previous war. A number of advances made tanks obsolete: DU, UAVs, GPS-guided Tomahawks, etc. Plus the change from fixed to mobile placement of military assets.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I don't agree. There is a place for tanks. But, the optimal use for them today is not what people assumed that it was during the Cold War.

A great deal of effort went into tank v. tank warfare. But, in current military practice, they appear to be more useful to gain superiority over combants with small arms and light vehicles as a means of penetrating obstacles like machine gun nests, civilian class physical barriers like buildings and walls, poison gas, and as one of the more mine resistant vehicles in the military.

Effective anti-tank warfare takes resources more sophisticated than many opposition forces have at their disposal in asymmetric warfare.

Michael Malak said...

But tanks' Achilles' heel is their weight -- they are suited for permanent forward basing rather than power projection, which is usually what is needed in situations of asymetric warfare.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

We have been in Afghanistan for more than seven and a half years and in Iraq for more than six years. We were in Vietnam for more than a decade.

Delivering a tank by ship is like ordering something from a mail order catalog, it takes six to eight weeks to arrive, in more or less unlimited quantities. It is less convenient, but not impossible to deliver tanks if a port and friendly roads and rare are not available: C-17 can ship on tank per trip; a C-5 which requires a proper airport, can ship two. Those planes can often make two or three trips per day. Each dedicated C-17 run can get about 100 tanks to a land locked location in eight weeks. The kind of tank strategy I suggest doesn't require a lot of tanks either, perhaps one or two per company of soliders (about four dozen per brigade combat team).

Permanent forward basing also isn't that problematic. Getting permission to put in a usually unused airstrip and a warehouse with a bunch of military equipment and vehicles and a few dozen guards who stay on base except to buy base supplies isn't that hard, and short of that, one can simply have ships full of tanks float around the blue sea with skelton crews. We have a sufficient excess of supply of tanks to make that a non-issue. This can trim a few weeks off deployment times by ship for the critical first installment.

But, power projection is almost the opposite of asymmetric warfare. Power projection is all about discouraging sovereign leaders from taking rash action with the conventional military forces; asymmetric warfare often involves loosely organized guerilla groups that aren't intimidated by showings of conventional force.

Medium weight weapons that can be shipped by C-130 and respond rapidly to situations are needed too. The Stryker mobile gun system fills that niche in lieu of tanks, and a transportable six rocket multiple rocket launcher (which is smaller than the usual Bradley fighting vehicle derivative) does that for artillery, along with towed howitzers using Excalibur guided artillery shells. But, those systems basically need to hold out for just eight to twelve weeks until the big guns arrive.

Dave Barnes said...

The question the Russians should be asking themselves is: Do we have enough tanks (and people and other weapons) to stand up to the Chinese.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Do the Chinese really want the barren Siberian waste?