Russia struggles to replace lost tanks as war enters second year: IISS

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Russia has lost around half its best tanks in the year since it invaded Ukraine and is struggling to replace them, a leading research center said on Wednesday, as Kyiv prepares to take delivery of modern battle tanks from the West.

But Moscow has preserved its air force largely intact and may deploy it more actively in the next phase of the war, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said.

In its annual Military Balance report, a key reference tool for defense experts, the IISS said loss rates for some of Russia's most modern classes of tank were as high as 50 percent, forcing it to rely on older Soviet-era models.

“They’re producing and reactivating nowhere near enough to compensate for those loss rates. Their current armored fleet at the front is about half the size it was at the start of the war,” Henry Boyd, research fellow at the IISS, told Reuters.

He estimated Russia's tank losses at between 2,000 and 2,300, and Ukraine's at up to 700.

Ukraine has secured promises of around 100 modern Western tanks, including the U.S. Abrams, the German Leopard and the British Challenger, whose capabilities far exceed the older Russian models.

“That may well then translate through to less aggressive and less confident (Russian) tank actions as crews are more concerned about the threat level presented to them,” Boyd said.

IISS aerospace expert Douglas Barrie said Russia had preserved its air force mostly unscathed, operating at a distance because of effective Ukrainian air defenses and an undersupply of tactical short-range air-to-surface missiles.

But he said Russia may look to use air power more actively, and potentially take more risks to hit any concentrations of Ukrainian forces on the ground.

“One of the challenges from a Ukrainian perspective is if they do either have to repel a significant Russian ground force or mass their own forces ... you leave yourself vulnerable to air attack. At that point the Russians might decide they’re going to take greater losses just to inflict yet greater losses on the other side,” he said.

A year into the war, Russia has been beaten back from much of the territory it initially captured but still partly occupies four regions of south and eastern Ukraine. Kyiv has been warning for weeks of a looming new Russian offensive.

On Wednesday, Russia said it had broken through two fortified Ukrainian defense lines on the eastern front.

Barrie said Western sanctions were hampering Russia's ability to replenish its stocks of guided weapons that rely on imported microprocessors.

He also said the pace of development of Russia's latest generation of nuclear weapons was slow, despite President Vladimir Putin's boasts about Moscow's capabilities and his repeated veiled threats to resort to nuclear arms to defend what he regards as Russian territory.

Ben Barry, land warfare expert at the ISS, said he was skeptical that Russia could make major progress.

“My assessment is it’s going to find it difficult to concentrate enough credible and competent force to push the Ukrainians back much,” he said.

At the same time, he said, “it’s not clear to me that Kyiv has enough combat power to rapidly eject Russian forces... We can expect another bloody year.”

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