Kiev’s Losing War of Attrition

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Kiev's Losing War of Attrition

Originally written by Yurasumy and published at Politrussia.com; translated from Russian by J.Hawk

The Kiev regime suffered heavy equipment losses both during the Summer 2014 and the Winter 2015 battles around Donetsk Airport and Debaltsevo. The last large batches of armored vehicles (up to 200 vehicles total) were delivered right before the New Year at the Yavorovo training range and on January 5 at the 95th Brigade training range near Zhitomir. Tank repair plants have been busy restoring knocked out vehicles and stopped building new. Only in March did the deliveries to the army resume, but the pace was not the same as in 2014 when they were restoring comparatively “healthy” vehicles from storage.

Tanks

The T-64, the pride and joy of Ukraine’s defense industry, was the mainstay UAF tank before the war. Some of these vehicles (about 80) were modernized to the T-64BM Bulat and delivered to the 1st Tank Brigade. New electronics, engine, reactive armor gave the old tank new capabilities.

Many of Ukraine’s plants specialize themselves in restoring T-72s (the main one is the Lvov Armor Plant), which is why these tanks appeared at the front already last year.

But it’s obvious now that Kiev’s main problem is not the shortage of tank hulls (of which it still has about 2000) but the tanks’ “innards”. That’s why the UAF’s tank force is about the same as at the beginning of the war. About 450-500 vehicles, out of which 300-350 are operational.

But recently we’ve seen T-55s in the battle zone.

It’s evident they are there because of volunteer “clubbing”, but it’s symptomatic: heavy equipment is in very short supply. There isn’t enough for everyone. Since the beginning of 2015, the UAF received about 70 “new” tanks. That’s 8 months, 2/3 of the year. Moreover, literally on August 23 a large batch of tanks (25) was delivered.

While it seems like a decent number, but it turns out, according to the plant workers, that at least a third of these vehicles are not restored vehicles from storage, but overhauled damaged vehicles from the ATO zone. Several batches were like that:

March 3: 6 tanks from the Kharkov Tank Plant.

29 April: at least 4 tanks from Kharkov Tank Plant.

23 August: 9 Bulats from the Malyshev plant and a few T-64B from Kharkov.

That’s about 40% of all tanks “produced” in 2015 (at the minimum). All in all, it would seem that all the Kharkov Plant does is restoring knocked out vehicles (all the known batches came from there), as well as the Malyshev Plant to a certain extent. There are a number of reasons for this.

Each tank has an engine and barrel service life. The tanks were not new in the first place. Now they’ve been at war for 18 months which did not make them any newer, which means they mean a technical evaluation and a factory overhaul. If a tank had significant damage and was subject to an evaluation, it was sent to a tank plant. And then it was returned as “new” with a new engine and gun barrel after an overhaul.

The longer the war continues, the more “new old” tanks there will be. It would seem that the situation with restoring T-64s is extremely bad. The recent vehicles delivered from the old army and factory storage facilities were mainly T-72s and T-80s. With each month of the war, more and more tanks will require servicing, including replacing the gun barrels and overhauling the engines. With the army’s tank fleet at 400, and with each tank undergoing an overhaul once every two years, it means having to overhaul 200 vehicles per year just to maintain the fleet at its current level.

This process began already in 2015 and it will only get worse as time goes on. In other words, in 2016 the tank plants will be swamped by a wave of tanks badly in need of an overhaul from the front lines. Mobile repair units are still unable to perform that task.

So, what do we know so far. During the summer, the junta received 1 “new” tank every 2.5 days. Without counting the tanks restored after battle damage, it’s 1 tank every 4 days. The rate of delivery is continually declining. That’s natural, and the tendency ought to continue in the future.

As a whole, the junta’s military-industrial complex cannot provide the UAF with the authorized quantity of tanks.  Units are experiencing serious shortages (up to 30%) and no improvement can be expected. Rather, to the contrary, losses and wearing out will not allow the junta to maintain even its current 450 tanks in operating condition. Already today there are no more than 300 operational tanks. The remainder requires this or that repair, and the slow pace of repairs means that even the current inoperative tanks will be be overhauled before the summer of 2016. And that’s not counting continuing losses. It’s evident that the junta’s “tank peak” occurred during the 2015 winter campaign.

 Light AFVs

The Kiev regime’s weakest spot is the provision of light armor. While there are tanks and a tank reserve (thanks to their high survivability on the battlefield), light armor is an expendable good. Its losses are far more painful and harder to compensate. Therefore the junta was FORCED to drag everything out of storage, including obsolete equipment, and throw it into battle.

Even the British AT105 Saxon bought under Yanukovych were assigned to the… highly mobile brigades, alongside the MTLBs hastily modified into light IFVs through the addition of a twin 23mm cannon.

The shortage of BMPs is affecting the army badly. That vehicle rendered the best service during the war. It’s sufficiently powerful, maneuverable, and the best protected of light AFVs. As good as it is, the heavy losses during the summer campaign (several hundred) and over 100 vehicles around Debaltsevo has been too much for the junta to replace so far.

And it will never be able to replace them…

Only 50 BMPs were delivered under the 2015 contract (post-Debaltsevo). 42 were delivered in early January, before the fighting. According to the Zhitomir Armor Plant (the main “manufacturer” of this type of vehicle) the main problem is the shortage of engines (only about 200 vehicles were taken out of storage since the war started).

The situation with BTR production/overhaul is the same. New BTR-3 and BTR-4 are being manufactured in sample quantities. The shortage of BTR-80s forced the UAF to bring the BTR-70 and even the BTR-60 back into service. Far more of these “old types” were delivered than the -80s this year. The UAF received no more than 100 BTRs of all types this year.

We’re not even talking about new BMDs and BTR-Ds which were exterminated already during last year’s summer campaign. There simply aren’t any left.

As we can see, the most combat-suitable vehicles are being issued in small batches and can’t replace frontline losses, so it’s no wonder that everything that’s armored to some extent and is capable of moving personnel is being pressed into service.

I already discussed the Saxons in the 25th Airmobile. That’s not an exception. And other “Ukrainian” armored cars which were initially destined for the National Guard, Border Service, the MVD, are being sent by the dozen to the highly mobile formations.

Incidentally, why haven’t I added up units like these in my initial assessment of the junta forces? Because all of these units have very low combat effectiveness and are mainly used for PR purposes. The Donbass Battalion has a few T-72s (there’s word about 4 such vehicles), a few BMP-1s, BMP-2s, BTR-60s, BRDM-2. But in actuality these are not centralized deliveries paid for by the budget but activity by the volunteers who have not been forbidden to play at war (apparently the T-55 shown on the internet got to the front lines through a similar process). While during the summer of 2014 this unit was more or less effective against largely unarmed militia, today this is simply a poorly armed subunit with low resilience. So does it make sense to count them?

The situation with armored vehicles is getting worse. Transitioning to light armored cars is not an answer. It’s because there is no other answer. These light armored cars cannot survive a field battle against an army equipped with BMPs and BTRs. These are simply “battle taxis” to the battlefield, then the infantry is on its own.

The Saxon in the British Army was initially armed with a 7.62mm MG. It was removed because the vehicles fell over due to the high center of gravity. The UAF, in addition to a similar MG, also set up a mount for a 12.7mm MG.

Further deliveries of “new” BMPs and BTRs, even according to the most optimistic forecasts, will be no larger than the recent ones and most likely smaller, which pretty much ends Kiev’s plans to equip its forces with light armor. That’s why, in addition to units which transitioned from BMPs and BTRs to wheeled armored cars, the army now has purely motorized units, with nothing but trucks…

Artillery

The listing of the “new” equipment here is very telling. It’s telling in the sense of which systems are being introduced into service and which are not.

As far as “new” weapons are concerned, already toward the end of winter of 2015 we’ve seen old D-48 and D-44 85mm AT guns which were long in reserve returned into service. Newer 100mm MT-12 AT guns are still being introduced, but their numbers in storage facilities are dwindling while the growing army of the junta needs more weapons. That’s why the “Stalin-era old stuff” was taken out of storage and sent to war. Although these weapons are obsolete in every sense of the word, and moreover the matter of supplying them with effective munitions is a separate question.

The experience of the Winter 2015 battles shows that it is difficult to use AT guns effectively in modern war. Their low maneuverability and weak protection against return fire makes them very vulnerable. An example of that was the destruction of the 95th Brigade’s AT gun battery in the winter fighting near Avdeevka. Having knocked out one opposing armored vehicle, the MT-12 battery revealed its positions and was annihilated by artillery fire and a flank attack by the assault group resulting in the loss of all the battery’s weapons and over 21 soldiers killed. I learned of that incident from a surviving participant.

 Self-propelled Howitzers

122mm 2S1 Gvozdika by default became UAF’s main SP howitzer. Their condition as of 2014 was relatively good and there were sufficient numbers in storage, so that’s no surprise.

Of interest is something else. There are no reports since January 2015 of returning 152mm 2S3 Akatsiya SP howitzers, which up to the war represented the bulk of UAF brigades’ firepower. Many of these guns were lost in 2014 and 2015 winter battles, and there’s nothing else to bring into service (except through repairing existing weapons).

The 2S1, naturally, cannot fully replace the 2S3. Their combat power is not comparable. The 2S1 is a light, amphibious (theoretically) SP howitzer of 122mm caliber. Its chief attribute is mobility. It is irreplaceable in raids. But in a positional battle the weakness of its protection and relatively weak firepower makes this SP howitzer less effective.

Heavy SP howitzers

On August 23 in Chuguyev the UAF received another battery (5 vehicles) of the super-heavy 203mm  2S7 Pion SP howitzers. Considering there are still enough of these weapons in storage, one can assume another such battery will be delivered by the end of the year, or slightly later.

Here the situation is consistently serious, which forced the junta to de-facto adopt 4-gun batteries. According to artillerymen themselves, up to 1/3 of existing SP howitzer barrels are worn out and inoperative.

When evaluating the combat power of the SP artillery force, one has to understand that its numbers have not increased during the last 6 months. The nature of summer campaign battles caused a rapid rise of casualties among the artillery. That’s a very important factor in positional warfare. It’s evident from recent battles that the UAF’s resilience is heavily dependent on artillery support. Having lost that support, junta’s infantry usually abandons its positions.

I don’t believe the UAF will be able to improve its artillery situation due to sharply increased losses since July which affected mainly that branch of service, and the inability to quickly replace them.

MRLs

Since the start of the war the MRL regiments received only one Uragan battalion (assigned to the 27th Regiment from Sumy). That happened during the spring of 2015. We haven’t heard lately of the Smerch being used. Judging by information from “spies”, the main problem here is ammunition. There isn’t much left, and it’s saved for decisive battles.

There are also problems with Uragan munitions. In late fall some 25% of its munitions failed to explode. Therefore right now the use of rocket artillery is at a minimal level. In contrast to the level of activity of Novorossia’s rocket artillery.

When it comes to the BM-21 Grad, the situation is consistently severe. There aren’t enough of them left. It’s mainly due to the losses in the Summer 2014 campaign. Since then they’ve been relatively absent from the front lines, starting with the fall. Very few vehicles have been brought into line from storage.

Overall, junta’s artillery has been severely degraded in terms of both numbers and quality. The civil war of the summer campaign has become a war of artillery duels and bombardments of opposing positions. Junta’s losing artillery war is causing unjustifiably heavy losses and, as a consequence, will inevitably bring about a military defeat.

General Conclusions

One has to admit that junta’s equipment fleet is considerably smaller than on the eve of the winter campaign. Examining possible scenarios and outcomes, one can safely say that the junta’s army was best equipped in January 2015. From now on its equipment levels will only decline. Why?

We’ll discuss that in one of the future articles examining the course of combat operations and current losses of the warring sides.

 

 

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