Ancient Russian T-62 Tanks Spotted Wearing Cage Armor In Ukraine

Similar armor appeared on some Russian tanks prior to the invasion, but proved ineffective at mitigating attacks from anti-tank missiles.

byDan Parsons| PUBLISHED Jun 6, 2022 4:56 PM
Ancient Russian T-62 Tanks Spotted Wearing Cage Armor In Ukraine
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Some of the T-62 tanks Russia pulled from mothballs and sent to Ukraine have been spotted on the battlefield sporting improvised armor 'cages' on top of their turrets. This suggests that Russian forces are well aware of how vulnerable these ancient armored vehicles are to Ukrainian anti-tank weapons

The T-62 medium tanks, reportedly spotted in the southern Kherson region, are fitted with what appears to be raised slat or cage armor, designed to mitigate top-attack profiles used by many anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), like U.S.-supplied Javelins, and the effects of drones dropping munitions on top of the vehicle.

These tanks also sport some sort of improvised shield or plate armor mounted vertically on the deck behind the turret. That plate also could be the tank’s engine hatch, raised to give the turret some protection from the rear.

With no additional slat armor bolted to the tank hulls, the Russian troops operating these tanks appear less worried about high-explosive anti-tank rounds from rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and other simpler anti-tank weapons than attacks from above.

The tanks appear to be wearing warehouse codes in white paint along the sides of their hulls, which begs the question of how much maintenance attention the vehicles received after being pulled from long-term storage and rushed to the front.

Photos of at least one broken down T-62 emerged shortly after a train full of T-62s was photographed in late May, arriving at the Melitopol railway station in southeastern Ukraine. Those tanks wore similar codes as those recently seen in Kherson Oblast with improvised armor.

Cage or slat armor of this type has already been seen on other Russian tanks assigned to units in Crimea and elsewhere in areas of occupied southern Ukraine. Even on more-modern tanks like the T-72 and T-80, cage armor is of questionable to no protective value against modern ATGMS like the ones Ukrainian forces have employed to such lethal effect since Russia’s unprovoked invasion. Russia is visually confirmed to have lost an average of seven or so tanks a day in the first 100 days of the war, and the actual number is likely far higher. Though not all of these losses were to ATGMs, Ukrainian artillery and drone attacks have also taken a punishing toll on Russian armor.

Examples of Russian improvised cage armor that has been used in Ukraine:

Russian MOD
Russian MOD

This type of cage armor is meant to protect the top of a tank’s turret — where the armored vehicles are most vulnerable — to the top-down blast of ATGMs like Javelin, the Swedish-British Next-generation Light Anti-tank Weapon (NLAW), or the Ukrainian-made Skif, also called the Stugna-P. Cage armor could decrease the effectiveness of certain top-attack munitions by interfering with the missile’s detonation sequence before its warhead hits the tank. That could reduce the probability of a kill, but metal slat armor alone is not likely to defeat modern ATGMs, and the T-62 is more lightly armored than newer tank designs, placing it at a disadvantage from the start. Ukraine also practiced firing anti-tank weapons at target Soviet-era tanks outfitted with precisely this type of armor before a single Russian tanks crossed the border in February. The results were devastating.

With the evidence in mind, the cage armor is likely more relevant for mitigating drone attacks from above than countering anti-tank guided missiles, and even the former is questionable.

A destroyed T-72 with its age armor still seen above its burning hull:

Production of the Russian T-62 began in 1962 as a response to the United Kingdom’s FV4201 Chieftain and the U.S. M60 Patton main battle tanks. They were last built in 1975. The War Zone reported on the implications of rushing such antiquated tanks into combat when first spotted in late May

In a recent interview with Moscow-based newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets, a Russian tank crew member said the cage armor, which he called “dynamic protection,” “sharply reduces the penetration ability of a projectile or anti-tank missile.” Still, the armor's added protection was offset by its operational inconvenience, tank captain Alexei Ukhachev said. 

“At first, we welded the body kits (metal grilles for protection against anti-tank missiles) to the tanks, and then they were all removed,” Ukhachev said, according to a Google translation of the article. “Firstly, it is inconvenient: the machine gun does not move, when the antenna closes on the grate, the radio station burns out, the connection disappears. And if there is some kind of fire, it will be simply unrealistic to get out of the tank there. Because when you get up to your full height, you rest. So they were all removed and thrown away.”

Ukhachev claims to have participated in a battle northwest of Donetsk in the early days of Russia’s “Special Military Operation.” His tank was hit by an ATGM but not destroyed. He and his crew were concussed and eventually evacuated to Moscow for medical treatment. He was later sent back to Ukraine, where on May 10 he was killed by a Ukrainian missile strike southeast of Kharkiv. 

Some of the T-62 tanks Russia pulled from mothballs and sent to Ukraine have been spotted on the battlefield in Kherson Oblast sporting improvised armor 'cages' on top of their turrets. This suggests that Russian forces are well aware of how vulnerable these ancient armored vehicles are to certain types of Ukrainian attacks.

The T-62 medium tanks, reportedly spotted in the southern Kherson region, are fitted with what appears to be raised slat or cage armor, designed to mitigate top-attack profiles used by many anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), like U.S.-supplied Javelins, and the effects of drones dropping munitions on top of the vehicle.

These tanks also sport some sort of improvised shield or plate armor mounted vertically on the deck behind the turret. That plate also could be the tank’s engine hatch, raised to give the turret some protection from the rear.

The tanks appear to be wearing warehouse codes in white paint along the sides of their hulls, which begs the question of how much maintenance attention the vehicles received after being pulled from long-term storage and rushed to Eastern Ukraine.

Photos of at least one broken down T-62 emerged shortly after a train full of T-62s was photographed in late May, arriving at the Melitopol railway station in southeastern Ukraine. Those tanks wore similar codes as those recently seen in Kherson Oblast with improvised armor.

Cage or slat armor of this type has already been seen on other Russian tanks assigned to units in Crimea and elsewhere in areas of occupied southern Ukraine. Even on more-modern tanks like the T-72 and T-80, cage armor is of very questionable to no protective value against advanced ATGMS like the ones Ukrainian forces have employed to such lethal effect since Russia kicked-off its invasion. Russia is visually confirmed to have lost an average of seven or so tanks a day in the first 100 days of the war, and the actual number is likely far higher. Though not all of these losses were to ATGMs, Ukrainian artillery and drone attacks have also taken a punishing toll on Russian armor.

Examples of Russian improvised cage armor that has been used in Ukraine:

Russian MOD
Russian MOD

This type of cage armor is meant to protect the top of a tank’s turret — where the armored vehicles are most vulnerable — to the top-down blast of ATGMs like Javelin and the Swedish-British Next-generation Light Anti-tank Weapon (NLAW), among others. The idea is that cage armor could decrease the effectiveness of certain top-attack munitions by interfering with the missile’s detonation sequence in some instances. That could reduce the probability of a kill, but metal slat armor alone is not likely to defeat modern ATGMs, and the T-62 is more lightly armored than newer tank designs, placing it at a disadvantage from the start. Ukraine also practiced firing anti-tank weapons at target Soviet-era tanks outfitted with precisely this type of armor before a single Russian tank crossed the border in February. The results were devastating with the armor having no effect.

With the evidence in mind, the cage armor is likely more relevant for mitigating drone attacks from above than countering anti-tank guided missiles, and even the former is questionable.

A destroyed T-72 with its age armor still seen above its burning hull:

Production of the Russian T-62 began in 1962 as a response to the United Kingdom’s FV4201 Chieftain and the U.S. M60 Patton main battle tanks. They were last built in 1975. The War Zone reported on the implications of rushing such antiquated tanks into combat when first spotted in late May

In a recent interview with Moscow-based newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets, a Russian tank crew member said the cage armor, which he called “dynamic protection,” “sharply reduces the penetration ability of a projectile or anti-tank missile.” Still, the armor's theorized protection was offset by its operational inconvenience, tank captain Alexei Ukhachev said. 

“At first, we welded the body kits (metal grilles for protection against anti-tank missiles) to the tanks, and then they were all removed,” Ukhachev said, according to a Google translation of the article. “Firstly, it is inconvenient: the machine gun does not move, when the antenna closes on the grate, the radio station burns out, the connection disappears. And if there is some kind of fire, it will be simply unrealistic to get out of the tank there. Because when you get up to your full height, you rest. So they were all removed and thrown away.”

Ukhachev claims to have participated in a battle northwest of Donetsk in the early days of Russia’s “Special Military Operation.” His tank was hit by an ATGM but not destroyed. He and his crew were concussed and eventually evacuated to Moscow for medical treatment. He was later sent back to Ukraine, where on May 10 he was killed by a Ukrainian missile strike southeast of Kharkiv. 

It is telling that Russia would send Cold War-era T-62s into a combat environment that has already chewed through some of its most-modern designs. It is unlikely Russia would reactivate the borderline museum pieces if it weren’t running low on serviceable tanks. Putting T-62s on or near the frontlines in Ukraine also poses a logistical challenge. The tanks fire 115mm ammunition, whereas the more-modern T-72 and T-90 tanks mount 125mm main guns, so a second caliber of ammo in sufficient supply needs to accompany the T-62s into the field. That being said, the tanks themselves are very simple by modern standards and are relatively easy to keep running, although their material condition after decades of storage is unknown and is probably fair at best.

So far, the elderly tanks have only shown up in Russian-occupied territory. That could mean they are being spared frontline duty, and are instead being used to secure territory already gained. At least some of them are also likely operated by irregular separatist forces that the Russians have historically chosen to arm with outdated military equipment.

Regardless of who is operating them, where, and why, the T-62s are the most vulnerable tanks Russia has deployed to the conflict, which has been absolutely brutal to more advanced tanks. With that in mind, the cage armor we are seeing attached to the T-62 turrets is unlikely to have any major effect beyond psychological on the battlefield.

Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com

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