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During a war, one may expect tank counts for both sides to go decrease (i.e. as they engage in combat and are destroyed).

MSNBC reports Forbes stating:

The Ukrainian army has more tanks now than when the war began

with the rationale being:

because it keeps capturing them from Russia

Imperfect data

Combat statistics aren't always accurate. For example, statistics reported from the Land forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine include the note:

Підрахунок ускладнюється високою інтенсивністю бойових дій.

which translates to

The calculation is complicated by the high intensity of hostilities.

Some data collectors have even opted only to report on statistics backed by photographic evidence. For example Oryx only accounts for destroyed/damaged/captured equipment where photographic evidence is available.

Is it true?

From what is known publicly, is it true (or likely true) that Ukraine has more tanks now - 31 days into the Russian invasion of Ukraine - than it had on 24 February 2022 when the war began?

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  • 2
    Meh, I think a good number of vehicles counted as captured were abandoned with mechanical breakdowns. (I've seen a few that were in good order though.) But "has" is somewhat relative for stuff in "no man's land", even if some Ukrainians took selfies with what appears to be intact vehicles. Also, is the claim about main battle tanks, or including IFVs? I know a number of paratrooper platoons abandoned all their heavy stuff (BMDs) because they could not get resupplied, in the early fighting.
    – Fizz
    Mar 26 at 7:32
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    What counts as "having"? I would guess a good number of captured vehicles is no longer in usable state. Possession of an inoperable vehicle does not redeem the loss of an operable vehicle of your own. So we would need to know the condition of each of those reputably captured vehicles (which I consider impossible to come by at this point), or we would need a current tally of operable units in the Ukranian army (classified, I'd guess)... Do Ukranian tanks currently in repairs no longer count has "being had"? What about tanks purchased since the invasion begun? So many questions... ;-)
    – DevSolar
    Mar 28 at 8:26
  • Perhaps a more precise question would ask "has Ukraine captured more Russian tanks than it lost of its own", and that would need some qualification on the condition of a vehicle to count as "captured" instead of "destroyed and the wreck recovered". And you would have to provide a specific date, because otherwise the "correct" answer would have to be updated continuously... which is a community-specific reason to vote-to-close, sorry. Interesting question though. ;-)
    – DevSolar
    Mar 28 at 8:29
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    @DevSolar write-offs definitely shouldn't count. It should count if abandoned or out of fuel and needs towing for minor repairs or maintenance. Afterwards it gets 'grey'. Russian tanks are worth about $0.5-10m USD, so tanks requiring minor maintenance or repairs should also count, as long as they could be conducted for a relatively small sum (e.g. <10-20% tank value), and in a reasonable time (e.g. < ~2 months). Totally agree with your point that it's very subjective. Also worth noting that the fact it comes down to a definition is almost an answer in itself.
    – stevec
    Mar 28 at 8:41
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    @DevSolar FWIW I believe the relevant criteria (and what is implied in the reporting) is whether Ukraine has more tanks in operation than at the start of the war, and that that increase is due (in large part) to capture/recovery of Russian tanks. Perhaps this is worth putting into the question
    – Dave
    Mar 28 at 16:04

1 Answer 1

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Summary: This finding has been widely reported, but almost all of the sources are looking at the same primary data source, which is unreliable. That source is "open-source-intelligence analysts who scrutinize photos and videos on social media." They document "only vehicles and equipment that have been proven to be destroyed by photographic or video recording. Therefore, the destroyed equipment is undoubtedly more than what has passed here." Based on this uncertainty, I would say the claim is plausible but far from certain.


The original Forbes article says that "Ukraine has lost at least 74 tanks. ... But Ukraine has captured at least 117 Russian tanks. ... the Ukrainian army might actually have more tanks now than a month ago." The reporter is not 100% standing behind his conclusion, because his evidence does not warrant that. Both numbers are a lower bound of what is possible. The Ukrainian captured tanks only "includes destroyed vehicles and equipment of which photo or videographic evidence is available." I am not clear what the source is for Ukrainian lost tanks. The Forbes article also discusses how the Ukrainians are going to have difficulties using the captured Russian tanks. If you have a tank that you cannot drive or use, should that count as having a tank? I am not going to go into semantics.

This Mirror article, this MSN article and this Newsweek article seem to be just be rewrites of the Forbes article. This Coffee or Die article has a little bit of new reporting, but is just relying on the same sources.

A Wall Street Journal piece on a similar topic notes that, "Neither side has said how many tanks it has lost." If they did say, I would be skeptical of those claimed numbers.

This Sky News article, discusses some of the likely biases in the data. We have to rely on government numbers and pictures that are uploaded to the internet. Both of which are untrustworthy for their own reasons.

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