One of the most enduring sights from early in Russia's war in Ukraine was wrecked Russian tanks, which were destroyed or captured by the hundreds as Russian forces tried to press toward Kyiv. The "woeful" performance of Russia's tanks, especially the T-72 workhorse of the Russian military, has raised fresh questions about whether tanks, which critics call "ponderous, expensive and fundamentally ill-suited to modern combat," have a future in warfare, the Economist reports. Many European countries have massively cut back on tanks and the Marine Corps has phased out all of its active-duty tank units.
The Ukraine conflict has highlighted two of the biggest threat to tanks: Anti-tank guided missiles, including the US-made Javelin, which Ukrainian forces have deployed with devastating effect, and armed drones. But analysts say the outcome for tanks has been unusually bad because of disorganization on the Russian side, which has seen tanks trying to operate without air support or reconnaissance on the ground, causing many Russian units to wander into ambushes. The T-72 and other Russian tanks also suffer from what some experts call the "jack-in-the-box effect," CNN
reports. Russian tanks store multiple shells in their turrets, meaning a hit can cause a chain reaction and a massive explosion, killing the crew and blowing the turret sky-high.
Tanks are also becoming more expensive, at up to $20 million for a high-end one. But experts say militaries will always need something that can punch through enemy lines. They predict that in future warfare, tanks might become hubs for autonomous ground vehicles. "Tanks will not die out; they will evolve instead," the Economist predicts. The Russian military, however, has lost so many tanks in Ukraine that it has had to dig into its stocks of older ones, including T-62s, which have been considered obsolete since the 1970s, reports Bloomberg. (Read more tanks stories.)