Russian troops struggle to properly outfit their tanks with Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), which the UK Ministry of Defense says contributes to “severe wear and tear” in combat.
Russia is deadlocked against Ukrainian defenders, with the US estimating they have suffered 70,000 to 80,000 casualties in just six months.
According to the latest British Defense Intelligence report: “The heavy attrition of Russian main battle tanks in Ukraine is most likely partly due to Russia’s failure to place and properly use explosive reactive armor [ERA].
“When used correctly, ERA reduces the effectiveness of incoming projectiles before they hit the tank. This suggests that the Russian armed forces have failed to correct a culture of poor ERA use dating back to the First Chechen War in 1994.
“It is very likely that many Russian tank crews lack the training to maintain ERA, resulting in either the explosive elements being mismatched or omitted altogether.
“These shortcomings likely contribute to the widespread incidents of tower ejections well documented in eyewitness videos from Ukraine.”
Russian T-72 tanks during the International Army Games at the International Military Technical Forum ‘Army 2022’ at the Alabino Polygon on August 16, 2022 in Patriot Park, outside Moscow, Russia. According to the United Kingdom, failure to properly attach Explosive Reactive Armor is partly responsible for the heavy Russian tank losses in Ukraine. Contributor/GETTY
The intelligence report added that the inability to adjust ERA was just one example of “the failure of Russian commanders to enforce low-level combat discipline.”
Taken together, this is “probably a major factor in the poor performance of the Russian Armed Forces”.
ERA is designed to explode outward when a tank is hit by a high power projectile to offset the incoming blast and reduce its power.
It is particularly effective against shaped charges, a way of constructing an explosive device that concentrates its power into a very small point in hopes of penetrating armor.
Mike Martin, a Visiting War Studies Fellow at King’s College London, told Newsweek this is “just the latest example” of Russia struggling with its “largely recruited army” that generally “doesn’t want to fight”.
He explained: “Conscripted armies don’t lend themselves to technical proficiency because you don’t get drafted for very long, so things that take time and skills to develop – by the time you’ve developed them, you’ve completed your year of service and you are gone.
“That’s why professional armies are good at highly technical forms of warfare, and conscript armies are only really good at war of attrition, which the Russians practice, because you don’t need a lot of training to be cannon fodder.”
Martin added that even if you have ERA properly equipped, “you will not be defended against a Javelin,” a type of anti-tank missile donated in large numbers to Ukraine by Western powers.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said a “dormitory” in Kharkiv was hit by a Russian missile, causing a large number of civilian casualties.
He commented: “The building was completely destroyed. We determine the exact number of dead and injured.
“A heinous and cynical attack on civilians that has no justification and demonstrates the powerlessness of the attacker.”
Also on Wednesday, Ukraine’s military said at least 24 Russian planes and 14 helicopters had evacuated bases in Crimea after a series of explosions hit key Russian positions – including the Saki airbase – and caused widespread damage.