The Russian military has lost so many tanks since its invasion of Ukraine began one year ago that it is apparently calling up ancient armored vehicles to make up for its current battlefield losses, according to open-source intelligence.

Based on undated photographs analyzed by the Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a train carrying T-54 and T-55 tanks — which were first produced by the Soviet Union in 1948 — departed from the 1295th Central Tank Repair and Storage Base in the town of Arsenyev in the Primorsky Krai region in Russia’s far east. CIT is a Tblisi-based investigative organization that focuses on the Russian military.

The photos originated on the Russian social media network VK, although footage of the tanks being moved out of storage surfaced on outlets like DefenceBlog after CIT published its investigation on Tuesday.

Russia photo

While the Russian military has rolled out its 60-year-old T-62 tanks to make up for its heavy armor losses in Ukraine since last summer, CIT claims that the undated footage marks the first documented instance of the Russian military pulling the even older T-54 and T-55 tanks out of storage. 

It’s unclear exactly when the T-54 and T-55 tanks pulled out of storage were produced, but the T-55 series entered service for the Soviet Union in 1958, according to CIT.

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First developed in the aftermath of World War II to replace the wartime T-34 tank, the Soviet Union produced nearly 100,000 T-54 and T-55 tanks for Warsaw Pact countries in the decades following the conflict, making them the most widely-produced tank in the world at the time, according to defense analyst Nicholas Drummond.

While the Soviet Union’s T-54 and T-55s never directly faced off against their North Atlantic Treaty Organization counterparts during the course of the Cold War, 19FortyFive, a military and defense analysis website, notes that Syria deployed the T-54/55 during the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel, where they were crushed by U.S.-made M48 Patton and British-made Centurion armor.

While the T-54 and T-55 are relatively simple in their design, CIT cites the lack of rangefinders, ballistic computers and modern fire control systems, “primitive” sights, and poor gun stabilization as “key disadvantages” for the system.

That the Russian military is turning to decades-old tanks will come as no surprise to observers of the invasion of Ukraine: Western anti-tank weapons like the FGM-148 Javelin missile have devastated Russia’s armor fleet since the earliest days of the conflict. 

According to Oryx, another open-source intelligence organization documenting Russian losses in Ukraine, the Russian military has seen somewhere around 1,871 tanks destroyed, damaged, abandoned, or captured in the year since the initial invasion.

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