Artillery vehicle

Unpacking the Arms Force of Russia and Ukraine: Tank Force, Artillery Platforms and Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMS)

Video above: What will the Russian attack on Ukraine look like? Tanks? Even hypersonic?

By Kris Osborn – President and Editor-in-Chief, Warrior Maven

As Russian missiles hit airfields and key military targets across Ukraine and Russian armored ground vehicles advance from Belarus towards the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, many will likely wonder what kind of defense Ukrainian ground forces could employ. to counterattack?

Interestingly but unsurprisingly, the Ukrainian military largely operates Soviet-era Russian-built equipment. The extent to which Soviet-era tanks, armored personnel carriers and howitzers have been improved in recent years may not be fully known, but the biggest difference between the Ukrainian and Russian ground armies can just be numbers. Global Firepower’s 2021 ratings indicate that Russia operates up to 12,000 tanks, while the same cites Ukraine as operating only a few hundred.

Ukrainian Armored Force

The Ukrainian tank force is largely made up of Cold War-era T-72s, T-80s and T-84s. The newest tank, the T-84, is described by Global Firepower as an upgraded Ukrainian variant of the Soviet-era Russian T-80. The T-84 is listed as having emerged in 1999, and Ukraine is listed as operating about a third of the number of armored vehicles compared to the Russian force of 30,000. The fact that the Ukrainian T-84 dates back to 1999 is not of particular concern, as weapons, thermal sights, computing, ammunition, and other technology may have been significantly upgraded. The U.S. Army’s Abrams tank, for example, may have originated as a platform from the 1980s, but years of upgrades have turned it into an almost entirely new vehicle capable of rivaling or even surpass, the best tanks in the world.


Reservoir versus Russia-Ukraine reservoir equation

The real issue with any Russia-Ukraine tank vs. tank equation, regardless of the relative sophistication of the tanks themselves, is simply one of numbers. Massive formations of Russian tanks, if their weapon ranges and targeting accuracy were comparable or superior to those of Ukrainian tanks, would likely overwhelm and destroy Ukrainian tanks. The Russian tank force consists of T-72s, improved T-80s and T-90s and possibly even a small number of new high-tech T-14 Armata tanks.

Russian main battle tank T-14 Armata

Russian main battle tank T-14 Armata

Self-propelled and towed artillery platforms

Besides tanks, the Ukrainians could seek to slow down or damage incoming Russian armored vehicles with its self-propelled and towed artillery platforms. Ukrainian artillery, however, is quite old and seems to have a limited range. The most recent Ukrainian system, the 1963 model, appeared in the 1960s and is listed as having a firing range of around 13 miles. Although it is highly likely to have been improved since its introduction decades ago, the weapon can operate with a distinct range disadvantage compared to Russian long-range artillery systems.

If so, more modern Russian mobile artillery could be positioned to destroy Ukrainian formations from protected ranges. Global Firepower does not list the lineup of Russia’s newest artillery system, the 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV self-propelled artillery platform, but it is said to have emerged in 2018 and has a high rate of fire with digital controls. This Russian artillery vehicle is probably much more modern and capable than the rival Ukrainian systems and, depending on how many of them are operational, could have a decisive impact and should surpass the Ukrainian artillery systems of the 1960s.

Self-propelled artillery platform 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV,

There is also a significant Ukrainian numerical deficit in force size, as Russia operates over 7,600 towed artillery pieces compared to Ukraine’s 2,000 towed artillery weapons.

A major Russian ground war advance, it would seem, would be positioned to massively outmatch any type of Ukrainian defense, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean that Ukrainian defenses would be entirely useless as they are likely to employ more types of defense. blitz or getaway operations. seek to control, disrupt or block key passages, intersections or choke points to advance Russian forces.

Video above: Russian tactics and doctrine expert Scott Rutter discusses the conflict between Russia and Ukraine

Nevertheless, while Russian forces are reportedly closing in on Kiev and other critical areas of Ukraine, it remains to be seen if there will be any large-scale armored clashes between advancing Russian forces and Ukrainian defenses. Do Ukrainian ground forces stand a chance of stopping or even slowing down a full-scale Russian invasion?

Armored fighting vehicles

Russia reportedly uses around three times as many armored fighting vehicles as the Ukrainian military, and many Russian systems are listed as much more modern. Global Firepower’s 2022 military force assessment indicates that Ukraine operates around 12,000 armored vehicles, compared to Russia’s 30,000.


T-14 object 148 main battle tank on the Armata heavy unified tracked platform.

The size difference alone is likely to be overwhelming for Ukrainian forces if they seek to combat an approaching mechanized force of Russian armored vehicles, but Ukrainian armored vehicles may also suffer from a technological deficit. Many Russian armored vehicles, such as its T-14 Armata tank and the KAMAZ SBA-60K2 Bulat armored personnel carrier, are listed as having emerged in the past 7-10 years or so. The Russian Bulat APC is listed as a 6X6 armored personnel carrier emerging in 2013, a vehicle likely supplemented by the very modern Russian 8X8 BTR-90 APC from 2004. The Russian military may not yet be using a large number of T-14s. Armata tanks, the platform appeared as recently as 2016. Russian T-90s would have appeared in the 90s, but they were probably significantly improved.

Ukraine operates several Soviet-era armored personnel carriers, including the 1980s BTR-80 APC, a system supplemented by Ukraine’s improved BTR-84 variant.

Russia appears to not only have vastly superior numbers of armored vehicles, but also operate much newer systems, putting them in a position to likely overwhelm Ukrainian ground forces. Ukraine’s most modern “light tank” infantry fighting vehicle is the 1987 BMP-3, a Soviet-era design also owned by the Russian military. Russia, however, complements its BMP-3 light tanks with the modern BMPT (Terminator) 2011 heavy armored support vehicle.

Surface-to-air missiles (SAMS)

The Russian ground force also operates mobile, state-of-the-art SA-21 S-400 surface-to-air missiles which first appeared in 2007 and have since been upgraded. As mobile weapons, these SAMS allow advancing Russian forces to track and destroy enemy aircraft. Ukraine’s air defenses, on the other hand, are listed by Global Firepower as Soviet-era SA-15 Gauntlet systems built in the 1980s.


The Russian S-400 “Triumf”, also known by its NATO codename SA-21 “Growler”, produced by the Almaz-Antey Central Design Bureau. (Photo courtesy of NOSINT)

According to CNN’s Mathew Chance, Ukrainian officials reported that a Ukrainian fighter jet had already been destroyed by mobile Russian SAM systems.

If there were to be this kind of apparent heavy armor mismatch, the attacking Russian forces might need to dismount and engage in what is called CQB, or Close-Quarter Battle. It certainly seems possible that there could be elements of building-to-building, house-to-house warfare between approaching Russian units and dismounted Ukrainian infantry seeking cover of buildings and urban areas as areas from which to mount a surprise hit-and-run. attacks against advancing Russian armored units.

Kris Osborn is defense editor for the National Interest and president of Warrior Maven – the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a highly trained expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air military anchor and specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military pundit on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, President of Warrior Maven

Kris Osborn Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization