Russian tanks might be stuck in the mud near Ukraine. Here's what we know

Can modern tanks defeat wet mud?
Christopher McFadden
A Russian T-72 tankJiriNovotny/iStock

Around a dozen Russian main battle tanks have reportedly been spotted stuck in deep mud during a recent military exercise. The tanks were training near the Ukrainian border in the Rostov region at the time. 

Reports come from a video posted on the 10th February 2022 by Liveuamap that was allegedly taken at the time the tanks were the subject of a rescue operation. The video shows about 12 tanks being rescued from deep mud by a man in civilian clothes using an excavator to recover them.

The tanks in question appear to be the latest variant on the T-72, the T72B3. These tanks are the most modern of the series that began modernization back in 2010 to improve their firepower, fire control systems, and new engines. This variant also includes increased armor plating to the front and sides of the hull, as well as, a wire cage armor to the rear of the tank to boost protection for the engine compartment against rocket-propelled grenade attacks. 

These improvements to the tank came after Russia's combat experience of fighting in Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria. The upgraded tanks come with a more powerful engine with 1,130 horsepower, as well as an improved armament system. Other improvements include a new aiming digital display system, as well as a rearview camera.

Tanks are not immune from getting stuck in the mud from time to time

If reports are correct, this is a very embarrassing development for Moscow. But, it is not unheard of, tanks, being very heavy things, can and will get stuck in the mud. 

Tanks have always had issues with certain terrain types in the past and modern tanks are designed to overcome some of those. One of the main issues is something called "low ground pressure". This is the pressure a tank exerts on the ground via its tracks. Tank tracks also have a more trapezoidal-shaped profile that helps them navigate the most difficult terrain types. 

Too much and the tank gets stuck, so tanks are designed to reduce this as much as reasonably practicable. This is usually achieved by giving tanks very long and very wide tracks compared to older tanks - like those from WW2. Modern tanks also have better ground clearance to reduce the chances of tanks getting mired in things like mud.

But even these improvements in modern battle tanks are not always foolproof - as appears to be the case with the leaked video of stuck Russian tanks. 

While tanks, with their powerful engines and caterpillar tracks, can often rescue themselves, there are times when this is just not possible. For this reason, most tank regiments come with a fleet of auxiliary vehicles to help out when need be. 

The United States Army, for example, has the M984 Wrecker. This multi-purpose support vehicle helps rescue stranded tanks but also helps bring in supplies to units it is attached to as well. 

The latest variant, the M984A4, is crewed by two, has a top speed of 62 mph (99.8 kph), a range of 300 miles (483 kph), and is lightly armored. Importantly for this article, they also come with a recovery winch that can haul over 30 tons which is usually enough for most combat situations. They also come with a crane that can haul 7 tons. 

This vehicle can retrieve objects weighing up to 25,000 pounds (11,340 kg), and it weighs less than 55,000 pounds (24,948 kg), meaning it can be hauled by C-130 Hercules transport planes.

This is enough pulling power to help assist tanks to get out of the stickiest of situations. 

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