July 12, 2009: Russia is cutting its tank force again, from 22,000 to about 6,000. Sixty percent of these 6,000 will be in storage. The remaining 16,000 tanks will be scrapped. Twenty years ago, the situation was quite different. At the end of the Cold War in 1991, Russia had about 53,000 tanks in service (about 40 percent of them relics from the 1950s, or earlier). Over the last two decades, some 30,000 tanks were scrapped. Back in 1991, about half of the tanks were of questionable serviceability and usefulness, but that still left the Russians with 25,000 modern tanks, ready to roll west. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, 80 percent of the five million troops were sent home, and, in the next decade, only a few hundred new tanks were purchased.
The current tank fleet has about 260 T-90s and 1,200 T-80s (a third in storage). These are roughly equal to early model U.S. M-1s. Most of the current Russian tanks are late model T-72s, some of them upgraded with excellent electronics (fire controls systems and thermal sights).
For the last decade, no matter how many tanks the Russians say they had, only a few thousand are ready to roll, and go into combat. In effect, Russia has lost the use of some 90 percent of its tanks since 1991. Back then, nearly all those 53,000 were assigned to a combat division. OK, most of those were reserve divisions, but if most of the reservists showed up in wartime, they would know how to get most of their tanks operational. That reserve system collapsed along with the Soviet Union, so now, the Russians have faced the fact that they can only get about 5,000 tanks operational on short notice. That's a big drop from the 1980s.
The Russian tank fleet is outnumbered by what NATO has available, and is only slightly larger than China's. As much as Russian commanders dislike this, they have finally faced the facts, and decided to retain only as many tanks as they can actually maintain and operate.