The Ukrainian army went to war with around 800 active T-64 tanks. In the 11 months since Russia widened its attack on Ukraine, the Ukrainians have lost around half of the 40-ton, three-person T-64s.
And in contrast to the other major tank types in Ukrainian service—the T-72 and T-80—there aren’t many outside sources for additional T-64s. Every T-64 the Ukrainian army loses is a T-64 it probably can’t replace.
That helps to explain why Kyiv has been lobbying its allies hard for NATO-style tanks. As the T-64s run out, the Ukrainian army must transition to new, more sustainable tank types.
The T-64 is unique among Soviet-style tanks. In the early 1960s, the Soviet army mostly used T-54/55s and newer T-62s. The former has a 100-millimeter main gun; the latter, a 115-millimeter main gun. Both types have a four-person crew including a loader.
Aiming for a generational leap in mobility and firepower, the Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau in northeastern Ukraine had been working on the T-64. The new tank replaced the smaller-diameter guns on the T-54/55/62 line with a new 125-millimeter gun.
The T-64 also included a fast but mechanically-complex autoloader in place of the loader, shrinking the crew to three. A new, 700-horsepower diesel engine and compact transmission replaced the bulker, but less powerful, powertrains on older tank types. Any weight the designers saved with new subsystems, they set aside for thicker armor.
The result was a fast, heavily-armed and thickly-armored tank that, on paper, at least matched contemporary Western tanks.
But the T-64 was complex, hard to build and expensive. So while some of the best Soviet formations re-equipped with the Ukrainian-made T-64, the Soviet army launched development of a cheaper alternative.
The resulting T-72 had a simpler but slower autoloader and a less complex transmission. As a bonus, the T-72 is made in Russia at the Uralvagonzavod factory in Nizhny Tagil.
From the T-64’s introduction in 1963, the Soviet Union had two parallel tank lines. The T-64 evolved into the T-80. The T-72 meanwhile evolved into the T-90. But the T-64 had Ukrainian DNA and, of course, was manufactured in Ukraine by some of the Soviet Union’s best engineers and skilled laborers.
While the T-80 factory was in Russia, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian army gradually standardized on the simpler, cheaper T-72 and T-90. The Ukrainian army for its part stuck with the T-64 and, to a lesser extent, a turbine-powered version of the T-80.
After five decades, the T-64s were on the verge of obsolescence. Their guns, engines and autoloaders still worked just fine, but their optics—including a passive infrared sight that required a matching infrared spotlight—were outdated and their armor was lacking.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 motivated the Ukrainian defense ministry to revamp the T-64 fleet. The new T-64BV variant boasts modern optics, including a passive infrared sight—no spotlight—plus tightly-fitting reactive armor blocks.
The T-64BV is perfectly capable of beating even the newest Russian tanks. In pitched fighting outside Chernihiv in the early weeks of the current, wider war, the Ukrainian army’s 1st Tank Brigade deployed its roughly 100 T-64BVs into the forests between Chernihiv and nearby Kyiv.
When Russian tanks rolled past, the T-64BV crews opened fire at point-blank range, counting on their faster autoloaders to give them an advantage over Russian crews. The 1st Tank Brigade ultimately won the battle of Chernihiv.
But Russia’s wider war on Ukraine eats tanks at a startling rate. The Russians have lost at least 1,500 tanks. The Ukrainians, at least 400. For both sides, that’s half as many tanks as they initially staged for the current war.
The Russian army has deep reserves of old but recoverable tanks, including thousands of T-62s, T-72s, T-80s and T-90s. The Ukrainian army’s own reserves are shallower. The tank parks in Kharkiv and Kyiv might hold 450 war-reserve T-64s, according to one recent count by an open-source intelligence analyst.
It’s anyone’s guess how many are good candidates for reactivation. Three or four decades of open storage can be hard on a tank.
Every other useable T-64 in the world belongs to Uzbekistan, Transnistria, the Democratic Republic of Congo … or Russia. It’s safe to assume Kyiv won’t be sourcing any T-64s from abroad.
And since Russian and allied forces have deployed very few T-64s in Ukraine, there aren’t many opportunities for the Ukrainians to capture intact examples. Where the Ukrainian army has captured more than 500 Russian and separatist tanks, just seven are T-64s.
At some point, potentially within a year, Ukraine will run out of T-64s. While the Kharkiv tank plant could manufacture a few new copies using long-stored components, it’s unlikely the plant could keep pace with losses that, so far, have averaged one T-64 every day or so.
The Ukrainian army must make a big tank transition. It’s unavoidable. While big consignments of Polish-built PT-91s—highly upgraded T-72s—could delay the inevitable, the day fast is approaching when the Ukrainians will have to re-equip their brigades with European and U.S. tank types. German Leopard 1s and 2s. British Challenger 2s. American M-1s.
The scale of Ukraine’s tank needs—1,500 or so active tanks plus a few hundred in the maintenance pipeline or training base—puts into context those 300 or so Leopards, Challenger 2s and M-1s Kyiv’s allies so far have pledged.
Three hundred tanks is far too few. Within a year, Ukraine might need another thousand.
#Ukraine #Run #T64 #Tanks