Hundreds of Russian tanks are believed to have been destroyed since Moscow launched its offensive, and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace estimated on Monday that they had lost up to 580 tanks.
But Moscow’s problems go beyond the huge number of tanks it lost. Experts say battlefield images show Russian tanks suffering from a flaw that Western militaries have known for decades and refer to as the “jack-in-the-box effect”. They say Moscow should have seen the problem coming.
The problem is how to store tank ammunition. Unlike modern Western tanks, Russian tanks carry several shells inside their turrets. This makes them extremely vulnerable as even an indirect hit can set off a chain reaction that explodes the entire ammunition store of up to 40 shells.
The resulting shock wave could be enough to blow up a tank turret as high as a two-story building, as evidenced by a video recently posted on social media.
“What we’re seeing with Russian tanks is a design flaw,” said Sam Bendet, adviser to the Russian Studies Program at the Center for a New American Security.
“A successful hit.. ignites the ammo quickly causing a massive explosion, and the turret literally explodes.”
Nicholas Drummond, a defense industry analyst specializing in land warfare and a former officer in the British Army, said the glitch meant the tank crew – usually two men in the turret and a third driving the car – were sitting down.
“If you don’t get out within the first second, you’re toasted.”
The “Jack-in-the-Box” effect
Drummond said the ordnance blast causes problems for all of the armored vehicles Russia uses in Ukraine. And he gave the example of the BMD-4 infantry fighting vehicle, It is usually manned by up to three crew members and capable of carrying five other soldiers. He said that the BMD-4 was a “mobile coffin” “Just blurred” when hit by a missile.
But its tank design flaw must have been particularly troublesome to Moscow because the problems were telegraphed on a large scale.
He came to the attention of Western armies during the Gulf wars against Iraq in 1991 and 2003, when large numbers of Russian-made Iraqi army T-72 tanks suffered the same fate, as the turrets were blown out of their bodies by an anti-tank missile. strikes.
Russia has not learned lessons from Iraq, Drummond said, so many of its tanks in Ukraine showed similar design flaws in self-loading missile systems.
When Drummond said the T-90 series — the successor to the T-72 — entered service in 1992 and had its armor upgraded, but the missile’s loading system remained similar to that of its predecessor, leaving it vulnerable. The T-80, another Russian tank operating in the invasion of Ukraine, has a similar missile loading system.
There are some benefits to such a system. Bendet, at the Center for a New American Security, said Russia chose this system to save space and give tanks a lower profile, making them harder to hit in battle.
However, Western armies were pushed into action by the fate of the T-72 in Iraq.
“(Western armies) all learned from the Gulf War, and from seeing tanks killed during that time, that you have to break your ammunition into pieces,” Drummond said.
He referred to the US Army’s infantry fighting vehicles developed after the first war in Iraq.
“This turret has a turret on the top, and this turret doesn’t go into the crew compartment. It just sits on top and all the ammunition is inside that turret,” he said. “So if the turret gets hit and explodes, the crew is still safely downstairs. This is a very clever design.”
Other Western tanks, such as the M1 Abrams used by the United States and some Allied armies, are larger and do not have a circular ring. At Abrams, a tank’s fourth crew member retrieves shells from a sealed compartment and transfers them to the gun for firing.
The cabin has a door that crew members open and close between each shot the tank takes, meaning that if the tank is hit, only one shell is likely to be hit in the turret.
“A precise hit can damage the tank, but it doesn’t necessarily kill the crew,” Bendet said.
Drummond said Western armies used the missiles sometimes It burns under the high heat generated by an incoming missile, but does not explode.
hard to replace
However, the site only counts cases with visual evidence, so Russian losses may be much higher.
And these losses are not just about equipment. When Wallace, Britain’s defense minister, presented his estimate of 580 tanks missing to the House of Commons, he also said that more than 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed during its invasion.
It is difficult to know how many of these are from a tank crew, but what is beyond doubt is that it is not easy to replace the crews.
Aleski Rwinella, a former tank crew member in the Finnish Defense Forces, said that training a tank crew could take up to 12 months, “and that’s considered fast.”
Replacing hundreds of crews at this point in the war will be difficult for Russia – especially when the tanks expected to be used are so faulty.