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Russia removed nearly half of Soviet-era tanks from key military storage for deployment in Ukraine

According to an article from The Moscow Times on August 8, 2023, Russia removed approximately half of the tanks and armored vehicles from the Vagzhanovo military equipment storage facility located in eastern Siberia. Analysis of satellite imagery indicates a reduction of over 41% in the number of military vehicles present at the site since the onset of the conflict with Ukraine in February 2022.
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Russia removed almost half of the T-62 tanks from its Vagzhanovo military storage (Picture source Yandex and Vitaly Kuzmin)

Before the conflict, the Vagzhanovo depot reportedly housed around 3,840 Soviet-era tanks and armored vehicles. However, as of May 2023, roughly 2,270 of these vehicles remain stored at the location. Out of the removed armored vehicles, 32% left the base following the announcement of mobilization towards the end of 2022.

Experts in the military field have identified the tanks stored at the Vagzhanovo base, based on published photos, as T-62 tanks manufactured in the USSR from 1962 to 1975.

The development of the Soviet-made T-62 MBT started in the 1950s and the first tank entered into service with the Russian army in 1962. it was first seen in public during a parade held in Moscow in May 1965. Production of the T-62 tanks continued in the Soviet Union until 1975 by which time about 20,000 tanks had been completed. It was produced for export in Czechoslovakia between 1973 and 1978 with approximately 1,500 built. It was also produced in North Korea for home and export markets.

Since the T-62 was accepted for service in 1962 it has been modernized featuring more mobility, firepower, and protection. The T-62M version was one of the most produced versions by the Russian defense industry, it is also now widely used by Russian troops deployed in Ukraine.

The Vagzhanovo military equipment depot, situated outside the capital of Ulan-Ude in eastern Siberia, is one of nearly twenty similar sites identified through open-source data, covering an area of over 13 square kilometers. The facility also includes 10 hangars with the capacity to accommodate up to 400 armored vehicles.

The Russian Ministry of Defense categorizes its military equipment into four classifications: valuable equipment stored in specialized heated and ventilated spaces, equipment in unheated hangars, storage beneath awnings, and open storage. However, a substantial portion of the observed armored equipment at Vagzhanovo was stored outdoors.

Images from November 2022 reveal that roughly half of the vehicles at the Vagzhanovo base lacked turrets or exhibited visible damage. Similar indications were noted in around half of the remaining equipment by May 2023. This observation suggests that some of the removed vehicles might have been sent for refurbishment with new components and equipment, or could potentially be repurposed as sources for spare parts.

According to a military expert, Russia maintains at least 15 tank repair plants across the country dedicated to reactivation and modernization. This process involves inspections of tanks, potential engine and transmission replacements, confirmation of operational lifespan, and installation of modern instruments, sights, and communication systems. Subsequently, these tanks are repurposed as infantry support combat vehicles rather than traditional tanks, with varying calibers that include older types of ammunition stored in warehouses.

In a previous event in October 2022, orders were issued to upgrade 800 T-62 tanks with additional protection, modern engines, optoelectronic systems, and thermal imagers, as Russia has increasingly deployed aging tanks to the battlefield to offset equipment losses.  The majority of outdated tanks actually deployed to the frontlines goes without upgrades and often function as self-propelled artillery, resulting in significant losses for the Russian Armed Forces.

Initially, Russia had plans to dismantle around 10,000 sovier-era tanks, which were later revised to 4,000. However, the number of contracts for tank dismantlement decreased over time. In 2022, the Ministry of Defense ceased entering into contracts for the disposal of military equipment. 

Open-source intelligence (OSINT) sources indicate that Russia has experienced notable depletion in its armored vehicle inventory. As of May 31, 2023, these sources report that over 2,000 tanks were lost from the original reserve of 3,000 combat-ready vehicles deployed during the Ukrainian invasion.

In response to these losses, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has called for an escalation in tank production to sustain Russian forces engaged in Ukraine.

Simultaneously, media reports suggest that Russia is importing back parts for tanks and missiles that were previously sold to India and Myanmar. This is potentially aimed at enhancing older weaponry and equipment intended for utilization in Ukraine. Among the reimported equipment are numerous sighting telescopes and cameras for integration into tanks. Analysts speculate that these could be employed to modernize Russia's existing T-72 tanks, which are presently in storage.


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