The T-62 is an early Cold War tank. Despite its age, it is reportedly seeing active use again to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Russia continues to draw upon its large pre-war reserves of T-62s, which are deeply outdated on the battlefields of Ukraine, even in comparison to other Soviet-era vehicles fighting on both sides of the battle.
History of the T-62
The T-62 itself is a descendant of the T-54/T-55 series of tanks. After development in the 1950s, production of the T-62 began in 1961 and continued until 1975. While the T-55 and T-62 look very similar and can be difficult to distinguish, the newer tank has a slightly larger turret, and it was the first tank in the world to possess a smoothbore main gun.
The T-62 challenged the central role of heavy tanks in military thinking at the time of its construction, as the tank was far more maneuverable than older, heavier tanks but possessed similar armament. The development of the T-62 did not stop with the end of its production and the introduction of subsequent models such as the T-72. A modernized variant known as the T-62M, which was initially accepted into service in 1983 and included armor, a targeting system, and engine upgrades, was joined shortly thereafter by the T-62BV, which featured the addition of explosive reactive armor, as well as further engine upgrades.
The T-62’s main gun is a 155mm 2A20 cannon, which has a fire rate of three to five rounds per minute. With a crew of four, the T-62M has a maximum speed of 45 kilometers per hour and is propelled by a 620-horsepower engine. The T-62M is visually characterized by the large blocks of armor adjacent to its gun embrasure. Also equipped with one 7.62mm PKT coaxial machine gun and one 12.7mm DShK machine gun, the T-62 was inherited by many post-Soviet republics, and Soviet client states around the world.
Old tanks in Ukraine
In May, video footage of Russian T-62s moving by rail began to circulate. Speculation held that these tanks were on their way to Ukraine. Russia reportedly owned 2,500 of the tanks on the eve of the invasion, but they were all in reserve storage at that time. Before long, it became clear that the tanks observed on a train near the occupied Ukrainian city of Melitopol had arrived to take part in combat in southeastern Ukraine. There, they would help make up for heavy Russian combat losses.
Many of the Russian T-62s now deployed to Ukraine are not T-62BVs, and thus do not possess the explosive reactive armor that modern tanks rely on. This makes them very vulnerable to Ukraine’s modern tanks, or even to its less-modern but still more recent Soviet legacy armor. However, since then, only one Russian T-62M tank has been confirmed as destroyed in Ukraine by the open-source intelligence blog Oryx.
Russia was probably forced to haul out its reserves of T-62s to make up for significant armor losses endured by Russian troops in the first months of the invasion. But it is not yet clear that Russia will elevate its T-62s to a central role in its operations. Instead, the tanks are likely to support more modern armor still in operation. As such, they do not appear to be taking the massive losses that one might have expected.
Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill as well as in the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.