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Russia Sends Cold War Era Tanks to Ukranian Front

T-55 tank
A Soviet T-55 in Arms museum in Poznan, Poland. Credit: Radomil / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

A convoy of Cold War era tanks were filmed in Russia being transported by rail towards the Ukrainian front, fuelling speculation that Moscow may be about to use the long outdated tanks in the war in Ukraine.

Introduced in the years after the Second World War, the T-54 and T-55 tank variants formed the backbone of the Soviet Union’s armored capabilities for decades. However, these variants, which are about 70 years old, are ancient history by modern military standards.

The use of outmoded equipment on the battlefields of Ukraine would not be unprecedented. Indeed, the Ukrainians have been supplied with a Slovenian version of the T-54/T-55 tank to combat Russia, as both sides struggle to keep up with the pace of production and supply demanded by the war.

Russia to use T-54/T-55 tanks?

Speculation surrounding Russia’s apparent decision to field the T-54/T-55 tanks in Ukraine was ignited by the discovery of open-source intelligence (OSINT) analysts of satellite images and social media videos appearing to show the transportation of such tanks from the 1295th Central Tank Repair and Storage Base in the Far Eastern Primorksy Krai region.

According to a report by Forbes, the independent Russia newspaper Volya Media received confirmation that Russian forces would indeed deploy the outdated tanks.

One Russian expert reportedly told a reporter from Volya Media that “They are expendable,” referring to the tanks.

According to that same report by Forbes, the Russian military intends to use the T-54/T-55 tanks as a stop-gap until Russian industry can meet the demand for more suitable contemporary tanks like the T-72B3s and T-90Ms as well as modernized variants of the older T-80Bs, T-72Bs and T-62Ms.

If the report is accurate, this will not come as very welcome news for the crews of the T-54/T-55 tanks who will be heading to the frontlines with an inadequate armor platform.

The Ukrainians have already had great success taking out modern Russian tank variants with man-portable anti-tank systems like the javelin, as well as with artillery and drone strikes. Without significant upgrades to their minimal base armor, it is hard to imagine how the T-54/T-55 tank variants will stand up to the rigors of contemporary warfare.

The Ukrainians also field outdated tanks

Although the Western powers have scrambled to supply Ukraine with modern tanks, including the German Leopard II, the British Challenger II, and the US M1A1 Abrams, Ukraine has likewise had to deploy older models on the battlefield as demand outstrips supply.

For example, Ukraine has received M-55 tanks supplied by the Slovenian military. Although the M-55 is a heavily upgraded model with enhanced armor and a NATO standard 105mm main gun, it is still ultimately a derivative of the Soviet T-54/T-55.

That being said, the Ukrainian war effort continues to benefit tremendously from Western aid, which does include a significant number of highly advanced modern platforms. Washington’s decision to provide the embattled country with Patriot missile defense systems was especially strongly welcomed by Kyiv.

As the war progresses and both sides suffer the consequences of attrition, the ability of Kyiv and Moscow to keep their forces supplied with military hardware and munitions will grow in critical importance.

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