Western arms manufacturers might want to use the large number of destroyed Russian tanks/APCs to market their products and gain some new users. Unlike phones however, weapons are purchased based off three major categories instead of just which one is the best in the battlefield. It is difficult to procure assets from both sides and integrate them seemlessly as only few countries like the Indians, Poles, Greeks, Turks that have mastered this. Lets dive into the factors. The only thing that will truly affect the sales of Russian weapons are sanctions and just how tight they are.
Factor 1: Cost
On an average, all western systems cost more than Russian systems. This boils down to the Soviet idea where they preferred to build a lot more cheaper systems versus going all in on battle winners in a much smaller quantity. Hence the sheer numbers always mattered to them and their designs were optimized for being good enough for a few days of war and then being discarded instead of repaired. The Soviets maintained vast stocks of spare engines and spare parts near the frontlines where older engines would be scrapped instead of repaired once a fault appears.
The OG Quality vs Quantity, although the late spec Sherman which had an on-par gun albiet slightly worse armor.
My article on Tiger tank: HERE
The West learned the same lesson from WW2 fighting against qualitatively superior German tanks at the start of the war. They did however upgrade their vehicles to better match German designs while having a strong focus on producability too. However, late in the Cold War they switched to qualitative superiority with a little less focus on quantity compared to the Soviets. Systems like HIMARS and F-35 are the epitome of this thought process where numerous older platforms are replaced by exponentially more capable newer systems. The issue here is that the new systems on a per unit basis are costly.
For example the Vietnamese ordered 64 T-90 tanks at almost $4 million each a few years back compared to almost $7 million paid by the Kuwaitis for their M1 Abrams. Leopard 2A7 also costs around the $6 million figure for a new purchaser and the Brits are spending upwards of $8.5 million just to upgrade existing tanks to the Challenger 3 standard. So, for a country with not so deep pockets, do you want 10 M1 Abrams, ~12 Leopard 2A7 or prefer to get an entire squadron worth of ~18 T-90s for a rough $70 million budget?
Obviously a T-90 is an inferior tank compared to the Abrams and Leopard 2s of this world but is it inferior enough to justify the 1.5x the pricing for the western tanks? No, it is not. A T-90, with a well trained crew, proper tactics and infantry support can hold its own and in limited conflicts having 18 T-90s in service to deploy ~10 on the front line and rest in maintenance or training makes more sense than deploying 6 of the Abrams if we assume same availability rate for the total fleets we discussed above (10 for Abrams and 18 for T-90).
Here is my T-90 article: HERE
And here is my T-90M articke: HERE
Factor 2: Politics and Aid
Most of the Israeli purchases from the US are financed via US aid to the country. Pakistan also received a lot of aid in the past which allowed them to operate great platforms like new F-16s, M47 Patton tanks and AH-1 Cobras. Once the aid dried up or was reduced, they switched to getting Ukrainian excess T-80UDs and local assebly of Chinese designs in the recent past. Hence, weapons procurement is a deeply political matter. There are countries that have a history of selling systems with no strings attached for example France and there are others that have a deep political connection to such sales like the US and China.
Now serving someone else!!
The Turks were removed from the F-35 program after selecting S400 (which makes sense and is a 100% right decision) but I am highlighting how countries like to protect their eco-systems. The Russians refused to allow the Indians from mounting modified Arjun turrets on its in-service T-72 hulls but allowed if the hulls were new built/purchased. Thus there are deeper politics involved with any sales made. There has also been a historical negligience of Indians when it comes to American platforms which has changed for support assets like P-8I, C-17s, MH-60R and C-130J and will continue to change. For a sizable country looking to create an image and influence in its neighborhood, these kind of political pushes can derail revitilization of its image in a world that is becoming increasingly multi-polar.
India is a great example of doing the best of get the best asset with the least strings attached or the best suited to its own political agenda. Post independence India relied on British and French platforms, the US aid flowing to Pakistan pushed India in the Soviet sphere of influence, using Soviet aid and trade agreements to get the cream of Soviet hardware available on the market. They got T-72s, MiG-29s followed by Flankers, Foxtrot and Kilo class submarines and gear for numerous surface platforms. The rise of China meant rekindled relations with the US and a flurry of American purchases as a show of support and a balancing act for growing Russia-China relationship.
Here is my Su-30 article: HERE
Factor 3: Tactics and Training
While it may seem easy to think, well get a Leopard 2A7 and win everything that happens on the land. The answer is no, combined arms warfare is name of the game. To field one tank, you need
- a platoon of infantry clearing area around it,
- a team of trained mechanics to keep the tank running
- a few helos to fly around and take care of enemy tanks/infantry strong points
- an AD system to keep enemy aviation away
- a few squadrons of fighters and AEWACs to guard the airspace and maintain air superiority.
Indian combined arms with a T-90SK with AH-64E Apache
The key here is that one tank doesnt make much sense, its an entire strategy and a massive collection of sister regiments and squadrons working together to ensure that objectives are met. The Ukrainians have arguably used inferior assets from the start, the bulk of their fleet is T-64s which are much older than everything the Russians field supplemented by local T-72AMTs, donated T-72M1s and a handful local T-80s. The Russians fielded the cream of their fleets including the T-72 Obr 2016, T-80BVMs and T-90Ms supplemented by older T-72s, T-80s and T-90s. It is important that the Ukrainians have won due to their processes being harder drilled and stronger.
Unless you strengthen your processes, having the best will not result in battle victories. The average trooper needs to be trained properly to ensure the features offered by the assets you posses are utilized effectively and professional armies know this. A well trained T-90 crew might spot a Leopard 2A7 first and kill it and battlefield has shown such scenarios time and again. You wouldnt want to get the best of one category like a Leopard 2A7 and then compromise on trucks instead of APCs. You want to maximise the baseline portection and capability across the board versus limited excellance by managing the budgets to get the best you can afford.
Secondly, once you have assets and trainings from one of the camps, switching over takes a long time and building the desired experience level will take even longer. A T-72 operator will be motivated to get T-90s because a lot of the changes and tech are evolutionary and easy to deploy and maintain. Guns and ammunition are easy to use across the fleets. Also if you didnt notice NATO uses 155mm, Russia uses 152mm for its biggest modern artillery pieces. The western tanks have 120mm guns and the Russians have 125mm guns so it makes sense to stick to one specification and build on it.
The Polish PT-16, switching to NATO 120mm
TL:DR: Buying weapons is not opening Amazon.com, looking for the highest rated tank, entering your address and just order it. You need to consider who you are, where you envision yourself to be as a country and then identify what makes sense. The financial aspect is important as well and so is the idea that this system must work with a multitude of things you already have. The only thing that will truly affect the sales of Russian weapons are sanctions and just how tight they are.
Leave a Reply