Land Platforms

Ukraine captures 'Russian' T-64 MBT near Donetsk

30 June 2014
The Ukraine MoD published a picture of a T-64 main battle tank captured from rebel forces in east Ukraine. The MoD claimed that the vehicle had not come from captured Ukrainian stocks, but had instead come from Russian inventories. Source: Ukraine MoD

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence (MoD) published pictures on 29 June of a T-64BV main battle tank (MBT), captured in east Ukraine, that it claims has come from Russian military stocks.

"Based on a preliminary analysis of these samples of weapons and equipment, most likely we can speak of the Russian Federation as the country of origin of seized vehicles and weapons," an MoD statement read.

The T-64 in question was captured during an attack on the Ukrainian military near Artemivsk, in Donetsk region, the MoD stated, adding it "was not and is not" registered as part of the inventory of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

The MoD states that the "T-64BV under this serial number was issued in October 1987 at the Kharkov Tank Factory and sent to a military unit, which at that time [was] stationed in Russia. Currently, there is an opportunity to argue that [the tank]... until recently, was on the list [of the] 205th Infantry Brigade, which is stationed in the Russian city [of] Budenovskiy. These [serial] numbers are the tank hull number, the numbers of its units and batteries manufactured at a business in St Petersburg".

Images of T-64 MBTs (at first wrongly identified at T-72s) in rebel hands in east Ukraine first emerged on 12 June, which were claimed by both the MoD and NATO to have been shipped across the Russian border. NATO subsequently published satellite imagery on 14 June of MBTs at a Russian facility at Rostov-na-Donu apparently ready to be shipped into Ukraine.

The T-64B is the final production configuration of the T-64, including a new hull and new turret armour package, with the T-64BV version being fitted with explosive reactive armour (ERA). The MBT is armed with a 125 mm smoothbore 2A26M2 gun guided by an integrated fire-control system, has a crew of three and features a combat weight of 42.5 tonnes. Outwardly the tank appears similar to the T-72 (particularly when fitted with ERA), but there are several distinguishing differences, including the location of its infrared searchlight (on the left-side of the T-64s turret; on the right-side of the T-72s turret); its road wheels (solid on a T-64; indented on the T-72); and its exhaust.

ANALYSIS

It is unclear how many MBTs may currently be in rebel hands, at least three are known (prior to this capture), while unconfirmed reports indicate that their numbers may reach double figures.

The presence of MBTs operating in rebel hands is undoubtedly a highly unwelcome development for the Ukrainian military, however their practical utility may be limited. Unless supported by combined arms forces, MBTs can prove highly vulnerable to attack from airpower, infantry armed with anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs), and other MBTs. Additionally they require a significant supply chain to maintain in the field, and it is unlikely that the rebels are able to provide this adequately. At this point, the proliferation of man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and ATGWs appears to be the more pressing issue, with Ukrainian helicopter and armoured vehicle losses rapidly mounting - despite a recent ceasefire call.

Ukraine is currently the principal operator of T-64 MBTs, and as such it had been considered that the most likely source for the T-64s in rebel hands came from stocks seized from Ukrainian hands either in east Ukraine, or in Crimea (where a number of T-64s were known to be captured by Russian forces).

If the Ukrainian claims are accurate it provides further evidence that Russia is directly supplying rebels operating in east Ukraine.

Russia has previously also been identified as the likely source of a wide range of rebel equipment, including: BM-21 Grad artillery rocket launchers, 9K111 Fagot (AT-4 'Spigot') ATGW, Grom MANPADS, and a wide range of other small arms. For its part, Russia has consistently denied supporting rebels in east Ukraine with arms - although it has a track record for issuing disinformation with regards to its involvement in Ukraine.

In the Soviet Union, tank design and production was divided between the Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau (KMDB - in what is now Ukraine) and Uralvagonzavod in Nizhny Tagil (present-day Russia), with KMDB responsible for MBTs including the T-64 and T-80, and Uralvagonzavod the T-72, T-90, and others. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation opted to only retain its Uralvagonzavod-designed MBTs, and withdraw the T-64 from service.

Around 2,000 T-64s would have been taken out of service/placed into reserve by Russia and it is unclear how many now survive, in an operable condition or otherwise. Being considered a more capable design than the contemporary T-72, the Soviet Union never exported the T-64, and accordingly there are very few operators of the MBT remaining. It remains the Ukrainian military's principal MBT, Uzbekistan also maintains around 100 T-64s it inherited, with a first export order (to Congo) only secured in February. As such, if the MBT did indeed not come from Ukrainian stocks, then Russia would appear the most likely source.

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