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Russian Prototypes, Cope-cages and Missing Artillery

 The Russian two day invasion of Ukraine has now been going on for nearly a month and we can take some quick lessons about their equipment and performance. Much has been written about the failures of Russian operational planning, logistics, communications and leadership. These failures have led to staggering losses.

Cope-cage on a well barbecued Russian tank

The most distinctive piece of Russian equipment of this invasion has the been top-attack cage armor, aka. cope-cage aka. emotional support armor. The sometimes crudely made slat armor constructions started to appear on Russian tanks during the summer of 2021. While their purpose was initially a mystery, they were soon considered to be a desperate attempt to mitigate the effects of drone launched munitions like MAM-L and to even lesser extent top attack anti-tank missiles like Javelin and NLAW. 

The vast amounts of knocked out Russian armor show that the cages are certainly not a surefire way to protect tanks from top attacks. We can't rule out that they might have worked on some occasions as our data is suffering from a reverse survivor bias: we only see the destroyed ones. But it's safe to say that the morale boosting effect of these "barbecue racks" has evaporated.

The latest developmental vehicles like T-14 Armata and T-90M main battle tanks have been absent from the battlefield. Instead of the latest tanks, Russia has sent several older experimental vehicles like the T-80UK and T-80UM-2 main battle tanks to Ukraine. These vehicles have now all been either destroyed or captured by the Ukrainian army. There is absolutely no research value in using outdated prototypes in modern combat, but it looks like the relatively low mileage and well maintained vehicles were used to plug the gaps in the Russian tank roster. There have been reports of Russian unit commanders committing suicides due to the abysmal state of their storaged vehicles.

T-80BM-2 Prototype met its fate in Ukraine

The biggest strength of the Russian army was considered to be its artillery. They have a lot of it and it's deployed down to battalion tactical groups.While the artillery has been present, it's not been employed in a very efficient manner. The individual artillery and MLRS batteries deployed to the BTGs are tied to supporting that particular BTG and can't relay fire support to units around it during the more active and mobile phases of a battle. The extremely limited amount of officers available to direct artillery fire and the total lack of competent NCO:s forces the BTG commander to employ the artillery batteries organic fire control assets to direct the fire missions. In the worst case scenario this leaves 2/3 of the BTG without indirect fires and when the battery fire control team is lost the entire artillery is in disarray. 

Recently captured Russian MSTA-S SPG from a disarrayed battery that was overrun by the Ukrainian army. 

Only when the fronts have stabilized the Russian artillery has been able to use its fire en masse. And even in these situations the artillery fire missions have been inflexible and innaccure, more akin to terror bombing than a true tactical asset supporting the infantry. 

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