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    Reviving Cold War Tanks: Russia’s Strategy in the Ukrainian Conflict

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    T-54 or T-55 starboard forward corner.- Soviet or Czech mfg, unless Chinese T-59?… DSC_0375” by wbaiv is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Russia has resorted to reactivating its Soviet-era T-54 tanks, perhaps the most vivid testament to the attrition it has suffered in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. According to satellite imagery, approximately 191 of these relics were transported from Russia’s far eastern storage facilities to, potentially, the Ukrainian frontlines between July and October 2022.

    Cambodian Civil War-era T-54 or Type 59” by Kyle Simourd is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The T-54, which rolled out in the 1940s, presents an outmoded contrast to contemporary main battle tanks. Its armament and protection are relics of a bygone era when tank-on-tank duels were the norm. These tanks are not only mechanically archaic but vulnerably exposed to the advanced anti-tank weaponry prevalent on today’s battlefield. “Though formidably armored when they emerged… T-54s are vulnerable to all modern anti-tank weapons,” reported Sébastien Roblin, elucidating the tanks’ anachronistic position in modern warfare.

    T-54” by 270862 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

    Despite their shortcomings, there remains a niche utility for these aged steel beasts. Not necessarily as front-line combatants where they would be outmatched, but as supporting units in close support and infantry actions where their firepower can still be decisive. The T-54’s main gun, while unable to penetrate modern tank armor, remains a significant threat to less protected vehicles and fortifications. As Roblin points out, “the T-54/55 still poses a deadly threat to infantry…and its front turret armor should withstand most weapons not designed to bust tanks.”

    Destroyed T-54, near Mostar, Bosnia, 2000” by benjetpascal01 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The decision to reintegrate T-54s into service reveals the pressures on Russia’s military resources. Documented by Oryx, a military analysis website, Russia’s tank losses have been staggering, with 1,121 tanks destroyed and 656 captured or abandoned since the start of the conflict in 2022. This depletion has forced Russia to plumb the depths of its arsenal, bringing to light the dwindling modernity of its forces as the conflict endures.

    T-90M” by Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation is licensed under CC BY 4.0

    Yet, there’s also speculation on the long-term game Russia is playing with its armored warfare strategy. While Uralvagonzavod, Russia’s tank-manufacturing behemoth, continues to churn out modern T-90Ms and up-armored T-72B3s, these are not rolling off the production lines fast enough to replenish the frontline losses.

    T-54” by 270862 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

    The reappearance of the T-54 also reflects a certain strategic creativity, with some of these tanks being repurposed as ad hoc artillery. Nonetheless, in the exigencies of war, utility is found in the most unlikely of places, and these old warhorses are being pushed to their mechanical limits.

    related images you might be interested.

    T-54” by 270862 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
    T-54” by 270862 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
    Israeli Tiran-4 Tank (Captured Soviet T-54) During 25th Independence Day Celebration, 1973” by Israel Press and Photo Agency (I.P.P.A.) photographer is licensed under CC BY 4.0
    Vietnam War 1972 – Xe tăng T-54 Bắc Việt mắc lầy trên đường mòn HCM” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY 2.0
    Soviet T-54 Main Battle Tank” by Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D. is licensed under CC CC0 1.0
    UA captured T-72B3 mod 2016” by 93rd ‘Kholodnyi Yar’ Mechanized Brigade is licensed under CC BY 4.0
    T-72B3 – TankBiathlon2013-10” by Vitaly V. Kuzmin is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
    Destroyed T-90M of Russian Army 3” by АрміяInform is licensed under CC BY 4.0
    Destroyed T-90M of Russian Army 2” by АрміяInform is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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