IISS says a year of war has destroyed half of Russia's best tanks

Significant losses to Russian military power, particularly in its armoured fighting vehicles

A wrecked Russian tank near Dmytrivka village, about 25km from Kyiv, Ukraine. EPA
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Russia's military modernisation was stopped in its tracks by the launch of the war in Ukraine last February, according to the International Institute of Strategic Studies, which estimates that half of the country's most modern tanks have been destroyed.

“The composition of its armoured vehicle fleet has changed, with around 50 per cent of its pre-war fleet of T-72B3 and T-72B3M tanks, and many of its T-80s, assessed to have been lost,” the latest military balance report concluded. “As a result, Russia has had to bring older equipment into service as replacements.”

The defence and security specialists at IISS said that Russia was suffering from a lack of overwhelming power in the skies. “Russia’s failure to gain air superiority has meant its forces have had to engage targets in Ukraine from long range, with extensive use made of cruise missiles and other weapons. Air forces on both sides have suffered losses,” it said.

“Russia in 2022 lost about 6 per cent to 8 per cent of its active tactical combat aircraft inventory, but overall fleet size somewhat masks the loss to some individual types, including reductions reaching 10 per cent to 15 per cent for some pre-war active multi-role and ground-attack aircraft fleets, such as the Su-30SM Flanker H, Su-24M/M2 Fencer D, Su-25 SM/SM3 Frogfoot and Su-34 Fullback.”

On the other side of the battle lines, Ukraine too suffered air power losses and faced a new threat from drones supplied to the Kremlin from Iran.

“Ukraine had fewer combat aircraft before the war and losses have been proportionally higher; we assess it has lost around half of its pre-war active tactical combat aircraft inventory,” it said. “In late 2022, Russia turned to Iran for the supply of armed UAVs and direct-attack munitions. In turn this opens the possibility that Iran’s air force may begin to modernise with Russian-origin equipment.”

In an assessment of Russia's reforms to its armed forces after 2008, IISS last year highlighted the role of new equipment types and modernised platforms such as the T-72B3M in raising combat effectiveness.

John Chipman, the director general of IISS, said what Russia hoped would be a sprint to victory turned into a grinding war as Ukraine forces proved resilient and gained vital allied support. This would remain vital to the eventual outcome of the campaign. “The extent and level of continued western engagement will determine whether Kyiv is able to forestall further advances by Moscow's forces or even remove them from Ukrainian territory,” he said.

South Korea defence exports in demand

The London-based think tank said that “the invasion has given Nato renewed purpose; has impelled Finland and Sweden to apply to join the alliance; and has led states in Eastern Europe to sharpen their focus on defence.”

However, rampant inflation had eaten up much of the increased spending commitments, with European defence outlay increasing only by 0.8 per cent in real terms last year.

Russia's invasion has also led to Eastern European states updating their inventories with “more modern western military systems”. It noted how Poland had devoted dramatically more resources to military modernisation. Analysts said that South Korea is also emerging as a major defence supplier in Europe as countries turn to off-the-shelf orders to meet their needs.

Despite the general focus on Russia, it is China that has the attention of the US in the long term, added the IISS.

“China's military modernisation remains the principal area of concern for Washington,” it said. “China's defence spending increase of 7.0 per cent in the 2022 budget, over 2021 figures, is its largest in absolute terms.”

China's actions are causing regional states to follow suit, with Japan planning to boost its military capability with additional investments and new partnerships, said the report.

Updated: February 15, 2023, 3:30 PM