Russia has destroyed more than half of Ukrainian armored vehicles, if Russian figures are correct.
But are they really accurate?
Russia claims the destruction of more than 50% of Ukrainian military equipment in several categories, including tanks and artillery. If these numbers are correct, the Ukrainian military should have ceased to exist as an effective combat organization. Yet the fact that Ukrainian armed forces continue to thwart the invasion is proof that Russia either mistakenly – or deliberately – overestimated the damage Russian forces inflicted.
On April 2, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that since the “special military operation” which began on February 24, Russian forces have destroyed 125 planes, 88 helicopters, 381 unmanned aerial vehicles, 1,888 tanks and other armored fighting vehicles, 205 multiple launch rocket systems, 793 field artillery guns and mortars, and 1,771 “special military motorized vehicles” (probably trucks and other utility vehicles).
Calculating Ukraine’s pre-war weapons inventory can be a bit tricky, depending on how various items are categorized. But Ukraine had more than 3,300 armored vehicles before the war, officials say Military report 2021 published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. This includes 858 tanks, 547 armored reconnaissance vehicles, 1,184 infantry fighting vehicles, 622 armored personnel carriers, 30 air-drop combat vehicles and 50 armored utility vehicles.
If Russia destroyed 1,888, that would represent a loss rate of 57%. Typically, 30% casualties render a unit ineffective, not only due to equipment and personnel losses, but also the impact on morale. An army that loses two-thirds of its tanks and other heavy weapons would be considered functionally eliminated until it receives rest and replacements.
Ukraine has actually lost 680 vehicles as of April 4, according to data compiled by defense analytics site Oryx, which uses open-source intelligence — specifically photos posted on social media — to tally destroyed equipment. on both sides. This includes 93 tanks, 76 infantry fighting vehicles, 64 armored fighting vehicles such as reconnaissance and anti-tank missile platforms and 31 armored personnel carriers, as well as nearly 60 engineer and utility vehicles such than HMMWVs which might not be considered armored vehicles.
This suggests that Ukraine lost around 5-10% of its armored vehicles, instead of the 50% reported by Russia.
Russia also claims to have destroyed 205 of the 354 multiple rocket launchers Ukraine possessed in 2021. Again, this equates to 57% casualties, or nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s rocket launcher arsenal. In addition, Russia claims to have eliminated 793 field artillery pieces and heavy mortars. Yet the IISS lists Ukraine as having 1,462 artillery pieces in 2021, including 607 self-propelled howitzers (plus up to 83 more mothballs), 515 towed howitzers and 340 120-millimeter mortars. This equates to around 54% casualties, which would be consistent with other Russian casualty counts.
Russia claims to have destroyed 125 Ukrainian planes and 88 helicopters. Yet FlightGlobal’s 2022 World Air Force Directory lists the Ukrainian Armed Forces as possessing 98 combat aircraft (as well as 61 training aircraft), around 30 transport aircraft and a few reconnaissance and maritime patrol aircraft, as well as 112 combat helicopters. If Moscow’s figures are correct, then Ukraine has lost almost 60% of its planes and two-thirds of its helicopters. Yet Ukrainian fighters are still contesting the skies, and Ukrainian helicopters recently attacked a fuel depot inside Russia.
As for Russian losses, the Russian army lost 2,453 armored vehicles (including 425 tanks), 186 artillery pieces, 20 planes and 38 helicopters, according to Oryx. However, Oryx admits that, because its analysis is limited to photographic evidence of Russian and Ukrainian casualties, “the amount of destroyed equipment is significantly higher than that recorded here”.
Indeed, any number of casualties – especially in the midst of a war – should be treated with caution. This is partly due to government propaganda, and Ukraine has been particularly adept at making its case known. This is partly due to social media, which often lacks context.
But throughout history, the biggest problem has been the proverbial fog of war. Was this enemy tank really destroyed or just damaged enough to be towed and repaired? Did our air force shoot down three enemy planes, or only one claimed by three different pilots?
For example, during the Battle of Britain in 1940, the Germans were baffled by the way Royal Air Force fighters continued to intercept German raids day after day, despite the fact that the Luftwaffe had shot down so many British planes. But it turned out that the Luftwaffe claimed triple the number of British fighters actually destroyed. Then there was the infamous U.S. “body count” during the Vietnam War, which overestimated the number of Communist soldiers who had been killed, and helps explain why U.S. officials continued to believe that there was “light at the end of the tunnel”.
The ultimate question is whether the Kremlin itself thinks the Russian casualty count is accurate. If they do – and the invasion of Russia was marked by wishful thinking and overconfidence – then Russian President Vladmir Putin might very well believe that Ukraine’s military capacity has been decimated and that the Victory is within reach if only Russia stays the course.
But the real numbers suggest that Russia is far from winning.
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