Russia To ‘Modernize’ 800 Vintage T-62 Tanks Due To Ukraine Losses: Report

The Russian military is reportedly set to receive some 800 refurbished and possibly upgraded T-62 tanks in the next three years to try to help make up for severe losses it has already sustained in its ongoing all-out invasion of Ukraine. Many of the nearly antique T-62s have already been pulled out of deep storage and sent to Ukraine, where they have shown to be of debatable utility.

If the situation is as it is reported to be, the decision to reactivate hundreds of these remarkably old Cold War-era tanks offers fresh evidence that western sanctions and other factors are hobbling Russia’s arms industry. It also provides more evidence as to the poor state of Russia’s more advanced armor, with many hundreds of tanks destroyed, damaged, or captured and others sidelined due to being worn out or without high-tech replacement parts after nearly nine months of continuous combat.

Andrey Gurulyov, a retired Russian general turned politician, who is currently a deputy of the lower house of Russia’s parliament, or Duma, reportedly explained the situation during a recent publicized tour of the 103 Armored Repair Plant in the country’s Far Eastern Transbaikal Krai region. The 103 Armored Repair Plant is a subsidiary of the Russian state-owned conglomerate Uralvagonzavod, which is, among other things, the country’s main tank producer. Video from Gurulyov’s visit, seen below, does show employees at the plant working on T-62s.

Gurulyov reportedly said that the T-62s in question would be modernized with new thermal and night vision optics and additional armor and other defensive features, particularly to help protect against anti-tank guided missiles like the U.S.-made Javelin. He does not appear to have provided any granular specifics about these planned upgrades. There was no mention of updating the tank’s armament, which consists of a 115mm main gun, a co-axial 7.62x54mm machine gun, and a 12.7mm machine gun on top of the turret.

Russia certainly has many hundreds of T-62s in storage that it inherited from the Soviet Union, the vast majority of which are understood to be T-62M subtypes. The first T-62s entered Soviet service in 1961. In the 1980s, the Soviets had put thousands of these tanks through a broad modernization program that included adding more powerful engines, upgraded fire control systems, and new defenses. In terms of new defensive features, a number of different subvariants emerged, including ones with Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armor (ERA) packages and first-generation Drozd active protection systems.

A T-62MV tank with Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armor. Vitaly Kuzmin

As noted earlier on, the Russian Army has already returned many T-62s to service and sent them to Ukraine. Russia sent a number of refurbished T-62s to the Syrian military to help it make up for its losses in the civil conflict in that country between around 2017 and 2018, as well.

The T-62s that Russian forces have been using in Ukraine appear to be a mixture of T-62M variants, readily recognizable by the additional passive applique armor on their turrets, and T-62MV versions with Kontakt-1 ERA. Some of these tanks have also received add-on cage-like armor on top of the turret that provides little additional protection against anti-tank missiles and other anti-armor weapons. This field expedient armor, commonly referred to now derisively as “cope cages,” has been seen on other more modern types of Russian tanks operating in Ukraine, too.

Gurulyov reportedly said during his trip to the 103 Armored Repair Plant that the T-62 has acquitted itself well in Ukraine, despite evidence to the contrary. Of course, it’s not entirely clear how much of the tank’s apparent poor performance is due to the vehicle and its capabilities versus the quality of the crews and reported poor morale in general of Russia’s forces. In addition to multiple pictures and videos showing destroyed T-62s, Ukrainian forces have been observed capturing dozens of working examples, many of which look to have been abandoned by retreating Russian troops.

It is worth noting that T-62s, while thoroughly obsolete for modern tank-on-tank combat, could still potentially provide valuable armored fire support assets for engaging lighter armored and unarmored vehicles, fortifications, and troops in the open. Despite a reinvigorated debate about whether tanks and other heavy armored vehicles are still relevant on modern battlefields at all due to improving infantry anti-tank weapons, drones, and other threats, both sides of the conflict in Ukraine have been using them actively and continue to do so. Ukrainian forces have been making good use of what western militaries have declared to be obsolete armored vehicles in their recent successful offenses in the southern and eastern ends of the country.

Regardless, that Russia may now be looking at a larger plan to invest in upgrading and returning hundreds of T-62 to active service over a period of years points to larger supply chain and industrial capacity issues the country is facing. It was already apparent months ago that western sanctions were having a crippling impact on Russian defense enterprises. More advanced Russian weapon systems, including its most modern tank designs like the T-90M, rely heavily on western subsystems and other components, especially when it comes to electronics.

Other factors have likely exacerbated the sanction-induced supply chain and industrial capacity limitations. The Russian military is in the process of drafting thousands of people to fight in Ukraine as part of a partial mobilization effort, which can only decrease the country’s available domestic workforce. On top of that, hundreds of thousands of Russians are reportedly fleeing or attempting to flee the country to avoid that draft.

In addition, the apparent need on the part of the Russian military to dig very deep into stockpiles of T-62s and other very dated vehicles, weapons, and other materiel, provides additional evidence of the country’s stagging losses in Ukraine to date. The independent open-source intelligence group Oryx has painstakingly cataloged visual evidence of at least 7022 Russian tanks and other vehicles that have been destroyed, abandoned, captured, or otherwise put out of action in the course of the almost eight-month-old conflict. Those figures notably include hundreds of older model T-72 and T-64 tanks, which are younger than the T-62s, but are still very dated.

There have been other unconfirmed reports recently that Russia may have acquired older T-72A tanks from its ally Belarus to help make up for losses, too. All of this suggests that Russian authorities have already been eating through a significant portion of the country’s viable reserve stocks of more modern vehicles. Though Russia’s military has tens of thousands of tanks and other armored vehicles in deep storage on paper, the reality is that the bulk of them are unserviceable.

What Russia will look like at all in three years, when the 103 Armored Repair Plan is supposed to have finished work on the last of the 800 T-62s, is something of an open question now. It very much remains to be seen how many of these tanks get returned to service and in what configuration. Still, even thinking about starting this process now might be a sign that the current Russian government is settling in for the long haul in Ukraine.

No matter what the outcome of the current conflict might be, the Russian military is facing a future where it will need to undergo a major recapitalization process. However useful T-62s might still be on the battlefield, planning to bring hundreds back into service now can only highlight how limited Russia’s current options are in this regard.

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Joseph Trevithick Avatar

Joseph Trevithick

Deputy Editor

Joseph has been a member of The War Zone team since early 2017. Prior to that, he was an Associate Editor at War Is Boring, and his byline has appeared in other publications, including Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defense Journal, Reuters, We Are the Mighty, and Task & Purpose.