Russian-state news outlets are claiming that local manufacturer Uralvagonzavod will resume production of new T-80 main battle tanks (MBTs) in the near future.
According to the company’s CEO Alexander Potapov, churning out new tanks from scratch is “the task at hand,” adding that Uralvagonzavod is “now actively interacting, working, exploring these issues with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, because this requires, accordingly, new capacities.”
The last time a T-80 was produced was more than three decades ago, making this claim extremely dubious.
Additionally, Moscow is suffering from widescale sanctions imposed by the international community and diminishing resources amidst its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, making this assertion even more unlikely.
A brief overview of the T-80
The Kremlin has leaned heavily on its fleet of T-80 MBTs since the onset of its invasion back in February 2022. The Soviet-era MBT was designed initially to replace aging variants. Although the T-80 has a similar look to the older T-72, the more modern tank’s design is largely derived from the T-64 which was developed by the Morozov Design Bureau even earlier.
Since the T-80’s entry to service in the mid-1970’s, it has remained a critical component of the USSR and now Russia’s armored corps.
Over the years, the tank has undergone several facelifts so that it could keep up with competitors. The T-80U is the latest iteration in this tank family, fitted with a range of sophisticated add-ons including the advanced 9M119 Refleks anti-tank guided missile system that is designed to strike MBTs which feature explosive reactive armor (ERA) in addition to low-flying targets like helicopters.
How has the T-80 performed in Ukraine? Watch the video
Although the T-80U and some of its predecessors appear to be quite formidable, they have not performed as well as the Kremlin expected. In fact, the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated previously that at least two-thirds of Moscow’s T-80 inventory has been obliterated over the last year and a half of warfare in Ukraine. This week, one of these tanks was destroyed by the Ukrainian army in Luhansk Oblast and the scene was caught on video. The open-source intelligence tracker @UAWeapons published the footage on Twitter.
In the short clip, three FPV loitering munitions appear to strike the T-80. Videos like this have been widely circulated on social media since the onset of the invasion, displaying the weakness of Russia’s tanks when confronted by Kyiv’s anti-tank weaponry.
While Western-shipped rocket launchers and missile systems like the FGM-148 Javelin and HIMARS have proven to be effective tank-killers, lethal unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have also played a huge role in decimating Moscow’s tank fleet.
Loitering munitions are especially deadly for larger targets like armored vehicles, since the weapon can linger passively around targets before striking. Also referred to as suicide or kamikaze drones, loitering munitions have been used extensively by both sides in the war.
Obviously, Moscow’s tank fleet is suffering greatly. Analysts and open-source intelligence groups predict that more than half of Russia’s existing MBT’s prior to February 2022 have either been destroyed, captured or abandoned in Ukraine.
A resumption in T-80 production would be ideal for Russian forces, however, the prospects of this actually happening remain low.
— ???????? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) September 11, 2023
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.