PULASKI REPORT: Capabilities to replenish losses of Ukrainian armoured forces

PULASKI REPORT: Capabilities to replenish losses of Ukrainian armoured forces

Ukraine’s Armed Forces have been battling the Russian invasion on land, at sea, in the air and in cyberspace since February 24 2022. Despite the disparity of forces that is obvious to all analysts, Ukraine did not collapse in the first weeks of the war, and over time has even been tempted to regain some of the territories lost in the initial phases of the conflict. Contrary to the theories trending at one time – and in some places even today – about the end of the tank as an effective tool of war, armoured weapons play a substantial role on both sides on the Ukrainian front, second only to artillery in fact. The indiscriminate use of tanks, on a scale of up to several thousand, also leads to relatively high losses, incurred from artillery fire, infantry anti-tank weapons, drone bombs, mines and, of course, from the shells of other tanks. Unfortunately, this also applies to Ukraine’s Armed Forces. While they can count on extensive support from the Western world, the possibilities of providing it are slowly being exhausted in this regard, generating the need to look for new options.

The forces of the sides

It is difficult to accurately estimate the allocated forces of both sides on the eve of the war. The core of the Ukrainian Land Forces consisted of 14 mechanised brigades and two armoured brigades. Unlike the Land Forces of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, however, they do not report to divisional, corps or army commands, but to regional operational commands: Western (Rivne Command), Northern (Chernichiv), Southern (Odessa) and Eastern (Dnipro). These forces were supplemented by operational compounds and central subordination units (in peacetime): four artillery and rocket brigades, four ground forces aviation brigades, three mountain brigades, airborne troops (with the famous 25. Airborne Brigade at the head; in addition, six air assault brigades, actually motorised), Special Forces (a separate type of army), Territorial Defence (which also includes the International Legion of Territorial Defence since February 27) and the National Guard (a dozen brigades and regiments, including the Azov Regiment are subordinate to the Interior Ministry), as well as many smaller subdivisions, and so on.

It is worth mentioning that after 2014 Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) were trained by specialists of the armed forces of several NATO countries, including the Polish Armed Forces. The maximum potential of the AFU was estimated before the outbreak of war at about 310,000 soldiers, having at their disposal more than 1,000 tanks (mainly T-64BW, less frequently modernised variants of this tank, or various versions of T-72 and T-80), about 2,000 tracked infantry fighting vehicles (mainly BMP-1 and BMP-2) and more than 2,000 other armoured vehicles (of which only approx. 470 were relatively modern BTR-3 and BTR-4 wheeled combat vehicles), about 1,000 self-propelled guns and about 1,500 towed guns, about 90 Toczka-U tactical ballistic missile launchers, about 500 field multiple rocket launchers etc. Unfortunately, a good part of this power existed only on paper, while in fact some of the technology was inoperative. Since 2014, the situation of the AFU has certainly been saved by supplies of weapons from the West, especially anti-tank and anti-aircraft in recent months.

Russian forces are even more difficult to assess. The initial phase of the war mainly involved operational and tactical compounds belonging to the military districts: Western and Southern, but also units of several brigades from the Central and Eastern (and the presence of armaments specific to the Arctic Forces was also noted). Counting clockwise, these were respectively: 35th Combined Arms Army (Eastern Military District), 36th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District), 41st Combined Arms Army (Central Military District), 2nd Guards Combined Arms Army (Central Military District), 1st Guards Tank Army (Western Military District), 6th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District), 20th Guards 6th Combined Arms Army (Western Military District), 8th Guards Combined Arms Army (Southern Military District), 49th Combined Arms Army (Southern military District) and 58th Combined Arms Army (Southern Military District). Each of them has allocated two-three motorised, mechanised or armoured brigades for the operation, the exception being the 1st Guards Tank Army with two armoured divisions, a motorized division, and an independent armoured brigade and an independent mechanised brigade. Additionally, several artillery brigades, anti-aircraft brigades and regiments as well as reconnaissance and logistics units, etc. should be included. On the scale of the entire Russian forces, one should add to these forces the semi-regular troops formed with Russia’s help in 2014 in the so-called Donetsk (DNR) and Luhansk (LNR) People’s Republics, forces from the autonomous Chechen Republic (the so-called the Kadyrovtsys), etc. The most common method of calculating Russia’s forces is the number of so-called battalion battle groups (BBG), which Russia was expected to assemble to attack Ukraine, ranging from 60 to about 130.

Interestingly, the smallest and largest estimates do not necessarily diverge – many of the groupings taken for “real” battalion battle groups were in fact reinforced battalions, large rallying units (weaker than the “real” BBG), and so on. Many of them had too few tanks or infantry fighting vehicles, artillery, other support troops, etc. This was especially true of the DRL and LNR forces. Units of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus have so far not taken part in the invasion, but they are effectively drawing some Ukrainian forces away from operations on the eastern or southern front. The total size of the Russian forces probably reached about 200,000 troops (including the DNR and LNR), having a numerical advantage in terms of combat equipment (apart from aviation, however, it is difficult to describe it as crushing), also in terms of quality – the majority of the Russian forces were combat vehicles similar to the Ukrainian ones, but often much more deeply and in greater numbers modernised, and there was no shortage of armaments and equipment of new designs. Globally, the Russian Federation was supposed to have about 2,800 tanks in active service and about 10,000-13,000 tanks in storage (as well as about 5,000 and 16,000 IFV, about 6,000 and 16,000 other armoured vehicles, etc., respectively), but realistically, due to neglect resulting from the decomposition of the Soviet organisational system after 1991, corruption and other reasons, Russia actually had fewer tanks (as well as other armoured vehicles) on the eve of the war.

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