Why Is Russia Reactivating Soviet-Period T-54 Tanks?

Russia is dusting off the cobwebs from navy deep storage services within the nation’s Far East, for the primary time railing un-upgraded Chilly Conflict T-54B tanks westward, presumably sure for Ukraine. Now, a video of the T-54s transported by rail has surfaced.

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This information was first revealed on Wednesday by an investigative report by Battle Intelligence Group, an unbiased investigative group from Russia. Fashioned in 2014 with a concentrate on exposing Russia’s initially covert conflict in Ukraine, its members had been pressured into exile after Moscow initiated its 2022 invasion.

The group posted nonetheless pictures of T-54s seen transiting via the city of Arsenyev, on the southeastern tip of Russia close to Vladivostok—the situation of the 1295th Central Tank Restore and Storage Base. Earlier in the summertime of 2022, this base additionally furnished T-62MV tanks that had been deployed into fight in Ukraine. Although comparable in look, the smaller T-54 could be distinguished by a visual hole between the entrance two highway wheels not seen in its successor.


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Primarily based on satellite tv for pc pictures, the investigative group estimated at the very least 191 tanks, however presumably many extra, had been withdrawn from the power between July and October 2022.

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You’ll be able to see the massive variety of apparently rusting tanks on this satellite tv for pc picture, although take note extra autos could also be housed in higher situation in hangars.

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Just like the T-62, the T-54 has a four-man crew as its gun is manually loaded, in contrast to the three-man crews of newer Soviet and Russian tanks just like the T-72. The T-54’s sensors and mechanical hearth management programs are crude by trendy requirements, limiting its potential to detect and hit enemies at longer distances. Moreover, restricted night-fighting functionality on T-54Bs and T-55s comes through a Luna infrared search mild, which dangers fatally illuminating the consumer to enemies. The T-54’s engine power-to-weight ratio can also be inferior to a lot heavier Western tanks, confining most pace to round 32 miles per hour.

Although formidably armored once they emerged within the late Forties and Fifties, T-54s are susceptible to all trendy anti-tank weapons. In return, their D-10T 100-millimeter rifled weapons would wrestle to penetrate the frontal armor of recent Soviet and Western tanks, which normally exceed 450- to 500-millimeter equivalents versus kinetic rounds, or much more towards shaped-charge HEAT rounds. By comparability, even Russia’s newer 3UBM11 100-millimeter sabot rounds with tungsten penetrators obtain solely 280-millimeters equal penetration at 2 kilometers, and the 3UBM8 HEAT spherical blasts via 350-millimeters at any vary.

To be honest, the gun’s shortcomings principally matter when dueling different tanks, a relatively uncommon type of fight in Ukraine. Outdoors of that, the T-54/55 nonetheless poses a lethal risk to infantry, its gun nonetheless threatens all armored autos quick of a tank like BMP or Bradley preventing autos, and its entrance turret armor ought to face up to most anti-tank busting weapons, together with the autocannons on IFVs.

Within the sorts of a small-unit infantry actions round entrenched positions widespread on this section of Russia’s conflict in Ukraine, hearth help from even a small variety of tanks could make an enormous distinction.

Certainly, Ukraine has already crushed Russia to re-introducing to T-55 tanks, as its all-volunteer 47th Assault Brigade makes use of 28 T-55-based M-55S tanks donated by Slovenia. However these are very closely upgraded with a 105-millimeter L7 gun efficient towards most Russian tanks, an uprated 600-horsepower engine, stabilized infrared day/night time sights, digital hearth management computer systems, laser-warning receivers, smoke grenade launchers, and blocks of explosive reactive armor (ERA) that may give it an opportunity to resist infantry anti-tank rockets and missiles.

ua 47th bde m55s

UA forty seventh bde M-55S

Wikimedia Commons

The Russian T-54B and T-54-3 recognized on the practice, against this, don’t seem a lot upgraded but. The T-54-3 (or Object 137Sh) differed from the rare early production models by the flush backside of its half-sphere turret, smoke-generating system and barely improved TSh-2-22 gunner’ sight. It was recognized within the pictures by its muzzle counterweight.

The later T-54B launched improved gun stabilization and restricted night-fighting functionality due to a ‘Luna’ infrared searchlight, however nonetheless lacks many enhancements launched on the T-55 launched in 1958.

Moscow might spend money on enhancing these autos by becoming blocks of ERA, or laminated BDD-type “eyebrow” armor already used on the T-62; by becoming new sights; or perhaps a fire-control system able to firing 9M117 Bastion (NATO codename AT-10 Stabber) laser-guided anti-tank missiles from the gun. This has a spread of three.4 miles and a HEAT warhead reaching 450-500 millimeters penetration, or a extra formidable 600 to 750 millimeters utilizing newer tandem-charge warhead variants.

Nonetheless, given useful resource constraints and the urgency to maneuver {hardware} to the frontline in Ukraine, pre-deployment upgrades could also be extra modest to save lots of time and price. Maybe the outdated tanks might go to Russia Donetsk and Luhanks separatist armies or provide second-line formations assigned defensive roles, maybe even as serving extra as “shifting tablet bins” quite than breakthrough tanks.

They could even be used for coaching, although that may be lower than supreme technique to put together working trendy tanks resulting from their totally different crew configuration and lack of recent programs.

Is Russia Working Out of Tanks?

By mid-March, the Oryx navy evaluation web site had documented media confirming Russia has misplaced 1,121 tanks destroyed and 656 captured or deserted since hostilities started in 2022. That’s extra tanks misplaced than the mixed lively tank fleets within the armies of Germany, France, the UK, Spain and Italy.

These losses have principally fallen upon the stock of modernized T-72B-series and T-80B and T-80U tanks, forcing Russia to not solely fall again on older variants of these autos, however re-introduce the retired (but moderately upgraded) T-62M tank.

The dangerous information from Ukraine’s standpoint is that Russia has 1000’s of retired Soviet tanks in storage, primarily T-54/55s and T-62s. Nonetheless, the poor situation of many such tanks means solely a fraction could be reactivated shortly and affordably into operational service, if they are often in any respect. That absolutely explains why T-62Ms (some retired comparatively not too long ago after operational use within the 2008 Russo-Georgia conflict) had been re-introduced regardless of Russia retaining some shares of T-72s and T-80s, too.

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Russia’s Uralvagonzavod manufacturing facility can also be delivering newly constructed T-90M and up-armored T-72B3 mannequin 2022 tanks, although these can’t be constructed quick sufficient to interchange losses. Total, the takeaway is that Russia is probably going removed from working out of tanks, however that because the conflict drags on, the standard/modernity of its tank fleet is declining and restoring saved tanks might require increasingly money and time.

T-54: The Ubiquitous Chilly Conflict Warrior

The T-54 and really comparable T-55 (fortified towards nuclear/chemical threats) are probably the most extensively constructed tanks in historical past, with round 100,000 constructed within the Soviet Union, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, exceeding manufacturing of Soviet T-34 and U.S. Sherman tanks from World Conflict II. They’re recognized for his or her distinctive ‘lumpy’ spherical turret armor.

When launched after World Conflict II, the T-54 marked an essential qualitative enchancment to Soviet medium tank armor and firepower. Throughout avenue preventing within the 1956 Hungarian revolution, a T-54 captured by Hungarian fighters in Budapest was delivered to the British embassy, the place analysts had been shocked by armor with an efficient thickness equal to eight inches of metal on the turret entrance—resulting in accelerated fielding of a extra highly effective L7 105-millimeter tank gun and beefier M60 and Chieftain tanks.

The next 40-ton T-55 mannequin launched nuclear/organic/chemical programs to permit the crew to outlive on an irradiated nuclear battlefield, a ‘turret basket’ that rotates crew within the turret, expanded and gasoline and ammunition capability, an uprated 581-horsepower diesel engine, gun stabilization for correct taking pictures on the transfer, and an early night-fighting sight.

The sort remained the mainstay of the Soviet Union’s allies and export purchasers even after the Pink Military inducted the same, however lengthened T-62 tank with a 115-millimeter smoothbore gun, after which T-64, T-72, and T-80 sequence tanks with autoloading 125-millimeter weapons and three-man crews.

The T-54/55’s hull was additionally tailored to be used in numerous help autos: command tanks, BTS-series armored restoration autos, three different-types of armored bridge layers, IMR fight engineering autos, BMR mine-roller systems, TO-54/55 flamethrowers tanks, and ZSU-57 anti-aircraft autos with twin 57-millimeter autocannons.

The ever-present Soviet automobile was utilized in numerous wars throughout the globe (generally on either side)—notably impacting the Arab-Israeli, India-Pakistan, and Iran-Iraq conflicts, in addition to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (the place a T-55 turned topic of the conflict drama The Beast), the North Vietnam’s seize of Saigon in 1975, and the massive mechanized battle of Cuito Cuanavale, when Cuban and Angolan T-55s battled the South African military.

vietnam north vietnamese t54 tanks on a victory parade through the streets of saigon, april 1975

Photos from Historical past//Getty Photographs

Even within the Nineties via as we speak, they performed main roles in conflicts within the Balkans, Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia—abandoning a whole lot of destroyed hulls of their wake.

The T-54A was additionally reverse-engineered by China, ensuing within the Sort 59 tank, of which 10,000 had been constructed and extensively exported, with fight use by Congo, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar, Pakistan and Vietnam. Notorious for his or her function crushing protests at Tiananmen Sq. in June 1989, Sort 59s stay in restricted service as we speak with the Folks’s Liberation Military upgraded with L7-style 105-millimeter weapons and hearth management.

beijing after the tian an men square repression

Jacques Langevin//Getty Photographs

Many nations nonetheless keep lively T-54/55 fleets, or preserve the kind in storage. Regardless of their obsolescence pitted towards trendy missiles and armored autos, they continue to be low-cost and efficient going through insurgent armies or state militaries that lack sufficient longer-range anti-tank weapons.

It was maybe inevitable that Russia’s large and extended invasion of Ukraine, which has voraciously consumed armored autos of all types, would ultimately see the venerable kind drawn into it. It’s nonetheless stunning that Russia is compelled to reintroduce its early-Chilly Conflict tank—even when on a restricted scale—after a long time of mass-producing extra trendy designs. That displays the massive toll this conflict of selection is exacting upon Russia’s navy.

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Sébastien Roblin has written on the technical, historic, and political facets of worldwide safety and battle for publications together with 19FortyFive, The Nationwide Curiosity, MSNBC, Forbes.com, Inside Unmanned Programs and Conflict is Boring. He holds a Grasp’s diploma from Georgetown College and served with the Peace Corps in China. You’ll be able to comply with his articles on Twitter