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In the three months of the war with Ukraine, the Russian armed forces failed to achieve decisive success in the first days and, weeks after the attack or during the so-called «battle for Donbass», and now the conflict has clearly entered a protracted stage. The outcome of the confrontation largely depends on the types of weapons, military and special equipment possessed by the sides, and it seems that very soon we may see a large-scale clash of Western (NATO) and Soviet (Russian) weapons systems in the Ukrainian theater of operations. In this article we describe what the RF Armed Forces and the AFU had at the beginning of the conflict, what they have lost, to what extent they have been able to replace their losses, what the current balance of forces is and what it is expected to take place in the medium term.

ALL CARDS
  • Balance of forces

  • Aircraft

  • Ground troops equipment

  • Naval equipment

  • Who has better weapons now and what's next

  • «A smart little twenty-first century army will defeat a twentieth century army, even if it is three times larger»

  • «So far both sides have been fighting mostly with Soviet weapons»

  • «Delivering HIMARS to Ukraine would reverse the situation, but the U.S. does not want an escalation»

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Balance of forces

According to the Military Balance 2022 published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) (available here for the Russian Armed Forces and here for the AFU), before the attack on Ukraine, Russia had an overwhelming advantage in all types of conventional weapons. Russian aviation had nearly 1,400 combat aircraft compared to 125 aircraft in Ukraine and just under 500 attack helicopters compared to 42 in Ukraine. Russian ground forces outnumbered the Ukrainians by a factor of three to seven in terms of military equipment: 13,000 tanks versus 2,100; 20,000 armored vehicles versus 3,000; 6,000 artillery systems versus 2,000. It is not correct to compare the naval forces of Russia and Ukraine: in fact, the Ukrainian fleet consisted of one large surface ship versus a dozen in the Russian Black Sea Fleet alone (not to mention submarines, which Ukraine does not have at all).

However, these are general figures. If we look at the forces and means directly involved in the war, the calculated ratio turns out to be not so impressive: the advantage of the Russian Armed Forces in tanks and armored vehicles is reduced to 1.3-1.4 to 1, in aircraft to 2.6 to 1, in helicopters to 4.5 to 1. As for artillery systems, the Ukrainians are even ahead. The overwhelming majority of armaments, military and special equipment (AMSE) of both armies were represented by Soviet models or their post-Soviet modifications.

Despite the Kremlin's regular complaints about Ukraine being flooded with weapons, in 2014-2021, Western countries avoided supplies of heavy weapons, limiting themselves to armored vehicles, radar equipment, patrol boats, and APCs. In fact, the only exception was the purchase of a large batch of Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 UAVs.

Aircraft

During the hostilities, Russia has lost at least 29 aircraft (including the most advanced Su-30SM multirole fighters and Su-34 frontline bombers), over 40 helicopters (including over a dozen Ka-52 Alligator strike and reconnaissance aircraft) and almost 80 UAVs. Given that the activity of Russian aviation has remained rather moderate during the entire period of the conflict, with only 100-150 sorties per day, and the intensity decreasing sharply after the cessation of fighting for Mariupol.

The Ukrainian Air Force has reportedly lost 25 aircraft, nine helicopters, and 25 UAVs. Adjusting for lower activity levels, weaker initial operational capabilities, and regular missile strikes against airfields and supply bases, it is surprising that Ukrainian aviation still retains combat effectiveness.

The Russian Air Force has never been able to ensure dominance in the skies over Ukraine; combat sorties are mostly limited to the frontline area due to unsuppressed air defense. In addition, the A-50 long-range radar detection and control aircraft are not in the air around the clock (unlike similar NATO aircraft), so there is no continuous radar control of Ukrainian airspace.

No less surprisingly, the Ukrainians, as far as can be judged, use drones much more effectively. And not so much for strikes (although there are almost 80 items on the reliable list of targets hit by the Bayraktar TB-2), as for tactical purposes - reconnaissance, target designation and fire correction.

At the same time, Russian drones have become «famous» for their original technological solutions, caused by either corruption or a lack of foreign-made components. It turned out that the Orlan-10 UAVs that fell into the hands of the Ukrainian military had been assembled using plastic bottles, and, instead of specialized optical equipment, sported a Canon camera wrapped with sticky tape and attached with glue.

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Ground troops equipment

One of the most striking and unexpected symbols of the war in Ukraine is a Russian tank being towed by a Ukrainian tractor. There are jokes online about «Ukraine's tractor troops,» but the scale of the disaster is truly astounding.

The Russian Armed Forces lost more than 700 tanks (including more than 200 of the most mass-produced T-72B3s), of which only 400 were destroyed or damaged in combat, while the rest joined the ranks of the Ukrainian army. Abandoned and captured vehicles account for up to half or more of the losses in other categories of armored vehicles. Known losses of the AFU are an order of magnitude lower.

A significant factor in Russia's loss of equipment is the extremely low level of coordination and cohesion of battalion tactical groups (BTGs). In theory, each BTG, composed of artillery, infantry, and tanks, should be able to solve the task of breaking through enemy defenses relatively quickly, but without air support, sufficient supplies, and often without communication with other units and formations, such units become easy prey for the enemy.

Other important factors are the presence of modern Western-made anti-tank weapons (NLAWs, Javelins) in the AFU and even the design characteristics of Russian tanks. The advanced auto-loading system of the T-72 implies placing the ammunition in a compartment next to the crew, which in case of a precise hit leaves practically no chance of escape. Western tanks are designed differently, with reliance on old-fashioned manual loading; crews are separated from the ammunition by bulkheads.

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Naval equipment

In the maritime dimension of the war with Russia, Ukraine initially had nothing to count on. The flagship of the Navy, the frigate Hetman Sagaidachny was sank by its crew, four other ships and boats went down in addition to it, and 13 fell into Russian hands. The Ukrainian Navy de facto no longer exists.

But quite unexpectedly, the Black Sea Fleet suffered much greater damage. The Ukrainians managed to sink the flagship and the most powerful ship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the guards missile cruiser Moskva. The details of the operation remain unclear (it is likely that the strike was not carried out by Ukrainian Neptun anti-ship missiles, as is commonly believed, but by other means), but the level of tactical training and coordination required for it is assessed by experts as exceptionally high.

The loss of the Moskva was not just a serious blow to the morale of the Russian sailors. Without the air defense facilities on the cruiser, a sector of the Black Sea that was extremely important for a possible landing operation to capture Odessa was left without cover. This, in particular, explains the attempts of the Russian Armed Forces to establish firm control over Snake Island, which involved significant losses (several boats, an air defense system, a landing ship).

After Turkey closed the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, it became impossible to replenish the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Now there are about 20 surface ships and submarines.

Who has better weapons now and what's next

According to visually confirmed evidence from open sources (available here in a convenient graphical format), the total losses of the Russian Armed Forces in equipment exceeded 4,100 units, compared with just over 1,100 for the AFU. In relative terms (in relation to the forces operating on the Ukrainian theater), it turns out that in most AMSE categories, the Russian forces suffered greater losses than the Ukrainians.

Much more importantly, the AFU has been replacing retired (often hopelessly obsolete) Soviet equipment with either upgraded made-for-export Soviet models (such as the Polish T-72M1R tanks) or Western weapons (such as the M113 APC or the M777 howitzer with guided missiles).

In terms of aircraft, Ukraine failed to agree on the deliveries of Soviet-made Slovakian and Bulgarian fighters. But if the war really drags on, we cannot rule out the appearance of modern fourth-generation Western fighters in Ukrainian skies. Although even one squadron of F-15s or F-16s so far looks like an impossible task for the AFU in terms of providing the necessary infrastructure, munitions, maintenance personnel and pilot training.

But Western allies have already arranged for deliveries of such UAVs as the Switchblade and Phoenix Ghost bomber ammunition, the new Bayraktar TB-2 and various tactical and reconnaissance drones (RQ-20 Puma, FlyEye).

In the category of armored vehicles, Ukraine has received (or will receive in the near future) Polish and Czech T-72 tanks of various modifications, the aforementioned American-made M113 armored personnel carriers, armored vehicles and BMPs of various types. All in all, deliveries of more than 900 units of equipment have been announced, which more than covers all AFU losses.

The Ukrainian Army will also get a wide spectrum of long-range artillery systems (270 units) complete with ammunition, and not only of Soviet production: M777 howitzers, German PzH 2000s and French CAESAR SPHs.

At the same time, certain restrictions of a political nature remain with respect to Ukraine. For example, Germany failed to reach an agreement with Switzerland on the re-export of shells for the Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. The proposal to transfer Leopard 1 tanks from the 1960s was rightly perceived in Kyiv as mockery.

Russia has nothing to rely on, except equipment in storage, whose combat effectiveness can only be guessed at. It is unlikely that the «parade» samples of «miracle weapons» like the Armata tank or the Coalition-SV SPG will appear on the battlefield. In addition, it is doubtful that the Russian military-industrial complex will be able to establish mass production or purchase large AMSE quantities abroad while under sanctions.

It turns out that in terms of equipment, the situation is slowly but inevitably changing in favor of the AFU, even if the Russian Armed Forces retain quantitative superiority. Moreover, Ukrainian «hardware» now enjoys logistical and organizational support according to NATO standards.

This means that the risk of the Kremlin using nuclear missiles, the only category in which Russia has parity with NATO (and even an advantage in tactical nuclear warheads), has increased.

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«A smart little twenty-first century army will defeat a twentieth century army, even if it is three times larger»

Yigal Levin, Ukrainian military analyst

Recently, NATO member states have been supplying more and more weapons to Ukraine. This raises the question of whether Russian equipment can stand up to NATO equipment. It would be possible if Russian soldiers were motivated and trained, and Russian commanders were skilled, resourceful, and competent. We see neither the former nor the latter. Although Russia exceeds Ukraine in the number of weapons, in the realities of the twenty-first century, quantity no longer decides anything. A small, intelligent 21st century army will defeat a 20th century army, even if it is twice or even three times larger in number.

Questions also arise as to why some countries are trying to hand over objectively obsolete weapons to Ukraine. For example, as regards Leopard 1, we must remember that Germany is not a militarized country, and they have no Leopard 2 or other systems ready to be shipped. They only have modern weapons for their own army. This is also true for other countries, including the US. The famous Patriot SAMs are not likely to be handed over, as the US, and NATO as a whole, have few of them, and they themselves need them to cover the skies.

However, in the situation in which Ukraine has found itself, nothing is symbolic or obsolete. Every helmet and every piece of body armor is indispensable and important. There is a shortage of everything from medicine and food to artillery and aircraft. Nor is it pointless to supply the AFU with complex systems that will take a long time to master. If the war is for the long haul, it is right to train personnel and fighters to operate the new systems.

The Ukrainian side has included in the list of weapons it wants supplied the supposedly unrealistic F-15 fighter jets, but bear in mind that the supply of tanks and artillery had been unrealistic until recently, and today Ukraine is already receiving the most up-to-date models.

Now Ukraine is in particular need of artillery and SAM systems, as well as drones of all kinds, from reconnaissance to combat. In addition, aviation is also needed. However, even if Ukraine receives an American F-15 fighter jet at some point in time, it will take months of training before it can be used, and potentially a year or more. It is hard to really name what Ukraine does not need right now. Armor, tanks, combat vehicles, etc. are also needed. We need to understand that this war is for the long haul, so restructuring and upgrading Ukraine's armaments is only a matter of time. So long as Putin's Russia exists, there will be a war with Ukraine. Its intensity may vary, but confrontation will continue.

«So far both sides have been fighting mostly with Soviet weapons»

Alexander Khramchikhin, Russian political scientist and military analyst

NATO countries have supplied Ukraine with a large number, maybe a total of tens of thousands of units, of what I would call individual weapons, i.e. small arms, RPGs (hand-held anti-tank grenade launchers), ATGMs (anti-tank missile systems), MANPADs (man-portable air defense systems). These weapons have already been supplied in large quantities, they are not better or worse than the Russian ones, they are just different. Some of the weaponry supplied is not Western, but former Soviet. How effective are those weapons? That's a difficult question. Ukraine had thousands of man-portable air defense systems even before the supplies. Russia has lost about 20 helicopters since the beginning of the «operation,» and I would not say it has helped much with so many air defense systems.

But the supplies certainly have some influence over the course of action - they allow Ukraine to fight longer. It has already been said many times that this is a war to the last Ukrainian, and the supplies help to conduct it in this spirit. However, this does not change the course of the war in Ukraine's favor. Today both sides are fighting with Soviet weapons for the most part. Yes, Russia has weapons that it produced in the post-Soviet period, mostly after 2010. They are of better quality than Soviet weapons, but there are not enough of them to fundamentally change the situation. We are talking about the T-72B3, BTR-82, BMP-3, etc. There is quite a lot of them in terms of nomenclature, but not so many in quantity.

Russia turned out to be ill-prepared for war in terms of its flawed political goal. It is not advertised anywhere, but there is no doubt it was akin to a second Crimea - as in 2014 we would be welcomed with open arms in 2022 all over Ukraine. As a result, the army did not go in to fight, but to «liberate the brotherly people from the Nazis.» In this sense, the army was not prepared for war either organizationally or psychologically.

As for Russia's arms shortage, there is something that has been said for decades, and which was obvious even before this war: Russia is severely lacking in drones, both reconnaissance and combat, and manned aviation. The number of manned aircraft is simply insufficient, because in the wars against Iraq and Yugoslavia the Americans and their allies used a greater number of aircraft in a smaller theater of operations and against a much weaker opponent. This is what Russia lacks quantitatively.

Certainly, Russia has an advantage over the Ukrainian air force, which is even smaller in number and much older – Ukraine does not have a single non-Soviet aircraft. But even this advantage is insufficient for Russia to solve all the tasks assigned to the ground forces.

On the battlefield we do not see the most effective weapons that are demonstrated at the May 9 parades, because all of those have simply not been accepted for service. The Kurgans and Boomerangs will probably never be accepted. The Armata, obviously, will be, but serious testing has yet to be completed. Of course, all this equipment will not be used in military operations unless the war drags on for a long time, but at least not in the near future. However, modern equipment is crucial. I believe that both the quantity and the quality of weapons are important. But even more important is how they are mastered by personnel. It is a difficult combination.

Some weapons are being taken out of storage and sent to Ukraine. Similarly, all Western systems that have been promised to Ukraine will be removed from storage. It's Cold War-era equipment, such as American M113 armored personnel carriers that fought in Vietnam.

Not everything in the reserves is combat-ready, this too must be understood, but only the top military leadership of each side knows what the condition of the equipment is. How long will those reserves last? It's a difficult question, to which there is probably no answer. But we should not assume that Western reserves are unlimited, and Russia's reserves are limited. The potential is roughly the same.


«Delivering HIMARS to Ukraine would reverse the situation, but the U.S. does not want an escalation»

Konrad Muzyka, Polish independent military analyst

At the very beginning of the war, Kyiv's complaints to its allies about arms deliveries were justified - Ukraine needed as much equipment as possible and as quickly as possible to prevent Russia from advancing too deeply. In this context, Ukrainians expected more deliveries of heavy equipment such as artillery systems, not so much of the ATGMs, simply because quite a few of them had already been delivered. Often arms deliveries do take a long time. However, after seeing how much the conflict had escalated and how much worse the situation had become since the end of February, the allied countries doubled down on their deliveries.

Some say that some countries are trying to «unload» obsolete weapons like Leopard 1 tanks on Ukraine, but I disagree. I would not call it unloading. I think there was some concern in the militaries of certain countries that giving away AMSE to Ukraine would make those countries vulnerable if Russia attacked NATO. The Leopard 1 is a combat-ready tank that had been kept in storage until recently. There is a reason it was kept in storage instead of being cut to pieces. Poland had similar concerns: its government was initially against sending AMSE to Ukraine because, since Poland is a front-line country, the weapons might be needed in a future war with Russia.

Poland began supplying weapons to Ukraine from the outset of the conflict, but it was never reported. Some of the equipment was not as impressive as the S-300 or battle tanks, but the deliveries still took place. Warsaw was against sending more advanced AMSE because it was concerned about a possible Russian response. Warsaw wanted the deliveries to be made on behalf of NATO, not by individual countries. I believe that's why the Poles waited before stepping up the supplies until they realized that there would be no serious response from Russia.

However, the fact is that despite the deliveries Ukraine still needs armaments. Ukraine's needs are vast, and every item will be useful on the battlefield; however, it must be taken into account that some types of equipment are not easy to use, while others require lengthy training. For example, sending howitzers, which require relatively little training, is completely different from sending F-15 fighters, which require long training and serious logistical support. On top of that, it should be remembered that the Ukrainian Air Force is a Soviet legacy. They work only with Soviet-made equipment, so switching from that equipment to American-made equipment, which is different in every respect, will require training and time.

Speaking of infrastructure, even if NATO brings combat aircraft to Ukraine, there will still be risks due to Russian long-range missile defenses. Ideally, those forces would need to operate out of neighboring countries. The only game changer is the deployment of HIMARS MLRS, which would allow Ukraine to hit Russian targets located far behind the lines. HIMARS has a range of 300 km, so it can hit Russian logistics facilities, military bases, troop staging areas and command posts. But currently it seems that the United States is reluctant to supply this system because it would cause too much escalation.

As for Russian equipment and casualties, the 1:3 disproportion is very simple. If the advancing side is not properly equipped and trained, it will always suffer heavy losses. Or to put it another way, according to classical military theory, one should maintain a 3:1 ratio when conducting offensive operations, because the attacker will always bleed more than the defender and will suffer more casualties. So, it's no surprise that Russia has been losing more equipment. Plus, if there's a standoff between an older generation tank like the T-72B3 and a modern ATMS, the former will hardly win the fight due to advances in anti-tank weapons.

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