Lessons from the War in Ukraine: The Vulnerability of Frontline Armor

According to Oryx website, which refers to the losses documented by both sides since the beginning of the conflict, the Russian armies have so far lost more than 550 heavy tanks, more than half of which were destroyed by anti-tank missiles, artillery strikes or by enemy tanks. The situation is essentially the same for armored combat vehicles (350 including 150 destroyed) and infantry combat vehicles (600 including 350 destroyed), which represents half of all front line armored vehicles deployed by the Russia around Ukraine before the fighting started. In fact, despite a supposedly flagrant numerical and technological advantage, the Russian armies have lost 25% of their total fleet of assault tanks in two months of conflict, and the results are comparable for the Ukrainian armies, even if the losses are proportionally smaller. If no statistics are yet available as to the exact causes of these destructions, the study of the documented photos concerning the armored vehicles identified as destroyed shows that a majority of them were destroyed by anti-tank weapons and artillery strikes. , despite their armor and the protection systems they had.

This vulnerability of armored vehicles, including heavy tanks, to modern weapon systems is not in itself a novelty. Already, during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, the Armenian forces had lost 255 tanks including 146 destroyed and 160 front line armored vehicles, or half of its armored fleet, in just 44 days of combat. We note, in this regard, an obvious coherence concerning the losses in these two conflicts, in quality as well as in quantity, once brought back on the same scale of duration and format of the armies. In fact, the vulnerability of armored vehicles observed in Ukraine is in no way a surprise, and does not seem to be linked to the offensive or defensive posture of the forces nor to the initial balance of power, but rather to the use of certain technologies and doctrines. . Indeed, the doctrine used by the Azerbaijani forces, although on the offensive during the Nagorno-Karabakh war, can be similar to that implemented by the Ukrainian forces against Russia, while the Armenian armies, in a defensive posture , for their part, employed doctrine and tactics inherited from the Soviet era, comparable to those implemented by the Russian forces in Ukraine.

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Azeris anti-tank missiles, stray munitions and drone-directed artillery strikes destroyed more than 500 Armenian frontline armor in the 44-day Nagorno-Karabakh war of 2020

This is therefore the second conflict which shows a significant vulnerability of front-line armored vehicles in the face of modern anti-tank weapons and artillery strikes directed by drone, as well as the vulnerability of the logistical lines supposed to supply these armored vehicles with ammunition and fuel necessary to the conduct of operations, since in both cases, a significant number of armored vehicles were abandoned by their crews after running out of fuel. And if the quality of the materials can be called into question, in comparison with the performance of modern armored vehicles used within the European and American armies for example, it however seems unlikely that these Western armored vehicles, if used within the same doctrine, obtained better results against the Ukrainian or Azerbaijani armies, the Leopard 2 or the Abrams not resisting modern anti-tank missiles much better than the T72 or T80, like the bitter experience of the Turkish forces in the face of the Kurdish fighters in 2019. The same applies to Western infantry fighting vehicles vis-à-vis their Russian counterparts. There is, however, in recent history, a significant counter-example to this vulnerability of front-line battle tanks and armored vehicles to modern anti-tank weapons.

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