Mark covered today how Russia is resorting to pull T55s out of storage to fill Russia’s tank deficiencies on the front lines. The first prototypes for the T55 were completed in late 1945, essentially making it a WW2 design—it is an old, old tank.
Obviously, advances in armor, engines, communications, armament will make any tank first designed in WW2 archaic. But one aspect of the T55’s archaic design will stand out to anyone unfortunate enough to find themselves engaged in combat in one of these vehicles: range finding.
Every tank has a “gunner’s sight’ that contains a range finder, that will tell the gunner how far away the target is, so they can obtain a fire solution. That is, the gunner needs to know how high to elevate the gun to hit his target.
Modern tanks like the Leopard 2’s ENES or the T90M’s SOSNA-U have laser range finders that can almost instantly provide fire solutions on any target at vast ranges.
Late era cold war tanks like modernized T72s and older model T80s have optical range finders like the 1PN96MT-02—it is both less accurate and a slower way to obtain a fire solution, and the maximum range is considerably less.
Optics also experience advancements from 1945 — 1980, so newer model optical range finders were considerably better than older ones.
- Leopard 2: EMES Laser Range Finder 10,000m
- T90/T80: SOSNA-U Laser range finder 6500m
- T80/T72: 1PN96MT-02 Optical range finder 3000m
- T64/T62: TSｈ-2B-41 Optical Range Finder 2500m
- T55/T54: TPKU-2B Optical range finder 1000m
So basically, if a Leopard 2 is on a hill with extensive LOS (line of sight) extending 10km, it could theoretically hit a column of approaching tanks from 10km (6 miles). A T90 could shoot back once it’s within 6.5km (4 miles).
if you’re unfortunately enough to be on a T55 charging at a platoon of Leopard 2s, you’d have to travel 9 kms through enemy fire to get within 1km before you could even shoot back with a prayer of hitting anything.
So to put it mildly, if you’re in a tank battle in 2023 in a T55, you better make sure your will has been updated.
Ironically, the whole reason that Russia is being forced to send T55s into battle is very likely BECAUSE of range finders. Or more precisely, a lack of them.
Forbes reported on how a lack of range finders is causing huge problems for the Russian army. Due to a lack of modern range finders, Russia is outfitting T72s and T80s with inferior 1970s era range finders like the 1PN96MT-02. Some T72s are rolling out with even older TSｈ-2B-41s.
US intelligence believes that Russia will run out of range finders before they run out of tanks. Russian arms industry took a huge step backwards in the early 00’s when Putin instituted reforms to try to keep the crumbling Russian military starved for cash together.
Many Russian military arms producers who were kept in business with government support were cut off and went out of business. Russia began importing western goods to replace these, as it was less expensive than producing them domestically.
Among industries that were impacted include specialized steel alloy production (used in tank armor and gun barrels), electronic parts and microchips (used in everything), and specialized optics—like those used in optical range finders or binoculars.
Specialized military lenses require incredible precision and care in production, and years of development. Most companies in Russia that could produce ones needed in optical range finders went out of business in the early 00’s, and only a handful of Russian domestic manufacturers can still produce laser range finders, and production is lagging desparately behind demand.
Expansion of production is dififcult, because many of these manufacturers rely on western equipment to produce these goods—and with sanctions, obtaining spare parts to keep factories running is a challenge, let alone ramping up production.
Range finders are in particular high demand because of (as with everything) endemic Russian corruption.
Range finders are expensive and compact pieces of equipment. Which means, if a tank goes in long term storage, it’s the first thing that gets stolen and sold on the black market. Apparently, among Russian tanks in long term storage, almost all of them have been stripped of range finders and need to be outfitted with new ones.
And that explains the presence of T55s on the battlefield.
Russia had 10,000 T72s and T80s in reserve at the outset of the war. But it did NOT have 10,000 modern range finders, or anywhere close to that number. With Russian tank losses in the thousands, Russia has been scrambling to find range finders to outfit its reserve tanks, and by Dec. 2022, it was using 1970s era technology to get the tanks in the field.
A handful of T62s and T55s in long term storage were so old when they got put away that apparently, the range finders weren’t stolen (or some ancient range finders were still in storage somewhere). Thus, with minimal maintenance, Russia could still get them in the field.
And so they have.
Corruption has destroyed the military readiness of the Russian army in innumerous ways. Russia’s vaunted reserve of tanks is among the casualties of corruption.