The crisis in Ukraine has led to Russia losing more than half of its armoured fighting vehicles including tanks, and a significant erosion in its active tactical combat aircraft inventory, says a recent report published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), an authority on global security, political risk and military conflict with offices across the world. The 2023 edition of The Military Balance, released just before the first anniversary of Russia’s ‘special military operations’ in Ukraine in February last year, looks at the impact of that ongoing war not just on the two main protagonists, but also on Europe and NATO. It also examines how China’s massive military modernisation drive has led to similar spikes in military spending in the region and various new strategic alignments.
In its key findings, the report says that Russia’s military suffered significant losses, including some of its most modern equipment, particularly in its armoured fighting vehicles. The composition of Russia’s “armoured vehicle fleet has changed, with around 50 per cent of its pre-war fleet of T-72B3 and T-72B3M tanks, and many of its T-80s, assessed to have been lost,” forcing Moscow to deploy older equipment as replacements, it noted.
While the air forces of both sides suffered losses, “Russia’s failure to gain air superiority has meant its forces have had to engage targets in Ukraine from long range, with extensive use made of cruise missiles and other weapons.” According to the report, “Russia in 2022 lost some 6–8 per cent of its active tactical combat aircraft inventory, but overall fleet size somewhat masks the loss to some individual types, including reductions reaching 10-15 per cent for some pre-war active multirole and ground-attack aircraft fleets, such as the Su-30SM Flanker H, Su-24M/M2 Fencer D, Su-25 SM/SM3 Frogfoot and Su-34 Fullback.”
On the other hand, “Ukraine had fewer combat aircraft before the war and losses have been proportionally higher; we assess it has lost around half of its pre-war active tactical combat aircraft inventory. In late 2022, Russia turned to Iran for the supply of armed UAVs and direct-attack munitions. In turn this opens the possibility that Iran’s air force may begin to modernise with Russian-origin equipment,” the report said.
Similarly, “personnel losses in the early phases of the 2022 invasion have been compensated for by mobilisation, but this has meant an influx of less experienced personnel,” it said.
Thanks mainly to Western assistance, Ukraine’s artillery and armoured vehicle fleets –mostly of Soviet vintage, have begun a process of transformation, and this is also spurring the transition of East European land inventories away from Soviet-era equipment. The invasion has also given NATO renewed purpose, with Finland and Sweden too applying to join the Alliance. Poland and other nations have accelerated their military modernisation, and South Korea has emerged as a major defence supplier in Europe, the report noted.
In other significant outcomes, around 20 European countries Europe “announced either immediate uplifts to defence spending or a stronger commitment to longer term spending goals.” However, despite the growing security challenges, soaring inflation saw global spending contract by 2.1 per cent in real terms in 2022, the second consecutive year of real decline. But although the rate of growth has slowed markedly from 3.5 per cent in 2021 to 0.8 per cent in 2022, European defence spending increased in real terms for the eighth consecutive year, it said.
“However, despite the spike in defence budgets, soaring inflation has wiped off billions from the real value of these investments and caused global defence spending to contract in real terms for the second consecutive year in 2022. “Using 2015 as a base year, the effective purchasing power of global defence spending has been eroded by almost US$ 850bn cumulatively since 2017,” it said.
Meanwhile, China’s rapid military modernisation remains the principal area of concern for Washington, with China’s defence spending increase of 7.0 per cent in the 2022 budget, over 2021 figures, being the largest in absolute terms.
“While the new aircraft carrier attracted headlines, its investments in additional and more complex naval vessels continues apace while its air force is also improving its capabilities: numbers of J-20A combat aircraft have increased further and China has begun to field advanced military aircraft with domestically produced jet-engines,” the report said.
Concerns over China’s military rise has also hastened military modernisation plans and strategic alliances by regional states. The modernisation of South Korean armed forces is also due to the increasingly belligerent acts of North Korea, the report said. Japan, which is investing more in its military capability, is also forging new strategic partnerships with countries like the UK. Australia, meanwhile, “continues to work with the UK and US on its plans to introduce a nuclear-powered submarine capability.”
“As inflation abates, policymakers will have greater scope to pursue procurement priorities, but will still need to balance threat drivers against lingering fiscal challenges,” the report concludes.