Ukraine’s successful counterattack in Kharkiv was important in many ways.
The armed forces liberated a vast territory, inflicted serious damage to Russian formations there, and sent Russian morale plummeting, as Ukrainian spirit soared.
But it also brought a big haul of Russian vehicles and weapon systems, which will make a noticeable difference in the battles ahead, military analysts told the Kyiv Independent.
“That's certainly way more than whatever Ukraine has lost at this offensive,” said Kirill Mikhailov, an expert with the Russia investigative project, the Conflict Intelligence Team. “So finishing the offensive with a net positive of vehicles is like, wow.”
Russia being Ukraine’s top military donor is not just a meme. By sheer number of vehicles, Russia’s contribution is impressive. Since the large-scale invasion began, Ukraine has captured 392 Russian tanks, 178 armored fighting vehicles, 421 infantry fighting vehicles, and 400 trucks, vehicles, and jeeps, according to the open-source investigative project Oryx. Ukraine also got many different support, command, artillery, and anti-aircraft vehicles. Because Oryx only publishes visually confirmed data, those numbers may actually be higher.
The Kharkiv counteroffensive forms a significant percentage, with 563 vehicles reported captured in the country since Aug. 29. Click here to see a visual breakdown of all the equipment captured in this time period, compiled by data scientist Ragnar Gudmundsson.
According to combined daily lists by Oryx, from Sept. 1 to 23, Ukrainians captured over 100 tanks, close to 200 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, over 20 command & control vehicles, and dozens of artillery pieces. Close to 100 trucks and jeeps were also taken, along with some more specialized vehicles.
Oryx’s lists include the combined totals for the whole country. But Jakub Janovsky, a military analyst and member of the Oryx team, who compiles these lists, said that 75-80% of these were captured in Kharkiv.
“For Ukraine, it is a substantial boost that will help replace lost equipment and use the rest to equip some new units – definitely quite useful for offensive operations,” Janovsky said.
Spokespeople for the Ukrainian Armed Forces declined to provide exact numbers of captured weapons and vehicles to the Kyiv Independent.
In addition, huge stockpiles of ammunition were taken. While there are no confirmed numbers for how much was acquired, Janovsky’s best guess is that Ukraine may have claimed “hundreds” of anti-tank weapons and “tens of thousands” of artillery rounds.
It’s not clear how many vehicles will be used or cannibalized for parts (which will still aid the war effort.) And as the New York Times reported, the underground economy of captured Russian equipment is not always straightforward. A lot of captured equipment is exchanged for urgently needed supplies, as sending everything to Kyiv for inventorization can be fiddly and time-consuming when lives are on the line.
Russia lost over 200 tanks to destruction and capture during the Kharkiv operation. This was a heavy blow against the units in the area, including elements of Russia’s 1st Tank Army. Though they have now retreated towards Russia, it will not be easy for them to recover their losses, said Serhiy Zgurets, director of the consulting company Defense Express.
Ukraine has been asking Western allies for modern tanks for months but NATO countries have dragged their feet. The tanks Ukraine received from other countries, mainly from Poland, are older Soviet models.
Two-thirds of the 100 tanks captured in the first three weeks of September are T-72s. The rest are T-80s. Both are Soviet-era tanks with modern upgrades.
The specific versions include T-72B, T-72B3, T-72BA, T-80U, T-80BV and T-80BVMs. A handful of tanks on the list haven’t been identified exactly.
The T-72 family dates back to the late 1960s and has since served in dozens of countries around the world, including Ukraine, with a plethora of modifications and upgrades. Zgurets said the T-72s will be useful to fill out Ukraine’s tank fleet or used for parts.
Captured T-72B3s and T-72B3Ms were upgraded with Western technology in the 2010s. Indeed, Russian tanks used during the offensive have been shown to have parts made by French defense contractor Thales Group. The company has been accused of violating sanctions to sell military parts to Russia. Thales denied wrongdoing.
The T-80s, incorporating features from some earlier tanks, entered service in the 1970s and have also been in use through the modern day. Ukraine operates its own version developed from the T-80, the BM Oplot.
“The T-80U is probably the best Soviet tank,” said Mikhailov.
“And then we have the T-80BVMs, which are one of the best Russian tanks out there and they outclass, for example, the Ukrainian T-64s,” he added. “The most renowned tank in the Ukrainian army is currently a T-80BVM, the so-called Bunny.” Abandoned in March and captured by Ukrainians, Bunny laid waste to Russian vehicles and tanks, CNN reported.
Ukrainian tank experts, including the renowned Mykola Slamakha, consider the T-80BVM and T-90M to be the best Russian tanks in terms of survivability and effectiveness of fire. And Ukraine just happened to capture a T-90M intact.
There was buzz when Ukrainians confirmed their capture of the first intact example of a T-90M Proryv, Russia’s most modern main battle tank. Experts said that it will allow Ukraine and Western countries to analyze its capabilities and learn about the Russian military.
“Everyone would love to get their hands on it, especially in the West, because it's Russia's most modern tank, and not too much is known really about its capabilities,” said Mikhailov.
Janovsky was more restrained in his assessment, saying: “I assume that Americans already had all the design schematics, so this could be mostly about finding how well/poorly various features were implemented, looking at materials used, looking for imported components that might not yet be hit by export controls, and looking for any vulnerabilities.”
Zgurets said that the interesting part of the T-90M is its unified tactical control system, designed to enable integrated command and control of troops. The Russian armed forces are using this system to improve automation during battle, he said.
The “nakidka” cover that was found on the captured unit is meant to protect it against thermal cameras and radar.
According to Oryx, Russia has deployed T-90s in Ukraine but until recently, their numbers were fairly low.
“They have been quite useful, quite powerful. But the problem is that there aren't too many of them. And of course, they are not new,” said Mikhailov.
Indeed, T-90s were essentially designed as up-gunned T-72s with more technology added. The T-90M is one of the most recent versions. According to the annual reference guide Military Balance 2021, Russians had just 10 T-90Ms in operation.
Infantry vehicles and carriers
In the first three weeks of September, Ukraine captured over 100 BMP infantry fighting vehicles, about three-quarters of which were BMP-2s. There were also older BMP-1s and the more advanced BMP-3s.
The original BMP-1 was a revolutionary design in its time, a midpoint between an armored personnel carrier (APC) and a light tank, helping popularize the role of infantry fighting vehicles worldwide. However, it had numerous flaws that Russia tried to address in the BMP-2, which improved the main weapon and missile launcher and rearranged the way troops sit inside the vehicle. The BMP-3 changes the layout yet again and is even heavier, with more powerful weapons.
“For battlefield use, I would rate infantry fighting vehicles (BMPs, etc) as the most important, tanks second, artillery after that,” said Janovsky. “Relatively speaking, Ukraine has a reasonable number of tanks, but it needs more IFVs — especially to equip their new units.”
“(BMP-2s) are pretty decent vehicles when it comes to the current situation on the battlefield,” Mikhailov added. He said that it doesn’t look like Russia is pulling many BMP-2s out of storage, which might mean that it doesn’t have that many of them — or that they are being cannibalized or there are other issues preventing their use on the battlefields of Ukraine.
Janovsky noted that Russia is replacing lost BMP-2s and 3s with older models — BMP-1s and MT-LBs, multipurpose vehicles that can serve as transport, tug/tractor, or mount weapons.
Between Sept. 1-23, Ukraine also captured 43 BTRs, which are wheeled APCs. These include the Soviet BTR-80s and the better-armed BTR-82s.
Command vehicles, artillery, and other
During this timeframe, Ukraine also captured a number of vehicles used for command and control, observation, staff, etc. These include 14 examples of R-149MA1 and eight R-149MA3 command vehicles. The unified tactical control system is integrated into them, according to InformNapalm. Ukraine also captured fire control and observation vehicles like 1V12s, 1V14s, and one rarer 1V1003.
These vehicles may contain intelligence as they are often stationed at or function as command posts.
“When it comes to command-staff vehicles, what’s interesting is the software, the algorithms that simplify combat actions,” said Zgurets. This can be useful to develop ways to combat them. However, he added, Ukrainian forces have been getting their hands on these kinds of vehicles since the earliest phases of the war.
Western intelligence gains haven't stopped there. Ukrainian forces captured an intact jamming pod, part of the SAP 518-SM Regata electronic warfare suite from a Russian Su-30SM jet. This allows intelligence analysts to look at the electronics within, see how it's made and whether it contains any useful data.
The fire control vehicles can also go with the self-propelled artillery that the Russian forces have abandoned. Ukraine has captured three dozen 152-millimeter artillery pieces of various sorts and more than a dozen Grad multiple rocket launchers.
Janovsky said that the artillery could be used to replace some Ukrainian losses. "But since Ukraine has a shortage of Soviet-standard artillery ammo, captured ammo is likely to be a lot more useful to Ukraine.”
More aid from the West?
The Kharkiv operation can also help Ukraine’s arsenal by proving to Western supporters that military aid is not in vain, making them willing to keep it flowing.
“The fact that the counteroffensive operation was so successful… showed Western countries that Ukraine can defend its territory and it needs certain types of weapons,” said Alina Frolova, a defense expert with the Ukrainian think tank Center for Defense Strategies.
“I think this will substantially increase the speed of delivery of certain weapons to Ukraine,” she added.
Note from the author:
Hi, this is Igor Kossov, I hope you enjoyed reading my article.
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