Russia's inflatable decoy tanks are 'not credible' and need to be way better to trick Ukraine, expert says

fake vs real decoy tank russia
Side-by-side photos of a real Russian T-72 tank on the battlefield in August 2023, and a decoy one in September 2023.116th Mechanized Brigade of Ukraine/110th Mechanized Brigade of Ukraine/Insider
  • Russia is using inflatable tanks as decoys in Ukraine.

  • An expert told Insider that they can be effective, but not in the way Russia uses them.

  • The Russian decoys are too obvious and unlikely to trick Ukraine, he said.

A video taken by a Ukrainian drone near the front lines at first seemed to show a fearsome sight: a cluster of Russian T-72 tanks.

However — the imagery becomes a lot less intimidating once you realize that they are inflatable decoys and not real war machines.

It was an example of Russia messing up its tactics, according to a military expert who spoke to Insider.

Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a military commentator and retired British Army colonel, said it was a mistake to deploy the decoys so openly.

While the video shows some decoys hidden by trees, one is fully in the open and much easier to spot as a fake.

"In effect, they're completely wasting their time," de Bretton Gordon said, adding that decoys shouldn't "just be left out in the open like that."

Decoys — whether they're inflatable, wooden knockoffs, or high-quality lookalikes — can be highly effective on the battlefield, de Bretton Gordon continued.

They are mostly used to trick enemy forces into wasting ammo and potentially giving away their position. They are also a lot cheaper than real tanks and can be transported quickly, he said.

Dummy tanks have been used for almost as long as the real thing, and were pictured in use as long ago as World War I, like in this photo:

WW1 dummy tank decoy
A dummy tank made of reeds is used as a decoy during World War I.Corbis via Getty Images

But as technology has advanced, armies have had to become a lot smarter in how they are used, de Bretton Gordon said.

This is because new technology on the battlefield — like drones with powerful cameras and thermal imagery — has made it a lot easier to sniff out decoys, he added.

"Deception is a key part of the war, but it has to be thought through and credible," he added. "But the Russian deception with these blow-up tanks is not credible."

Gordon said Russia would need much more convincing decoys that do more than just look like a tank in still images.

"It needs to be able to move, it needs to have steel on it, it needs to emit something and give off heat or whatever, because the type of surveillance assets we have now are of such sophistication that the fakes will be spotted quickly," he said.

Russia is not the only side in the war using decoys.

Last year, Ukraine employed decoy versions of its treasured HIMARS artillery units which baited Russian forces into wasting valuable cruise missiles, Insider's Chris Panella previously reported.

A Ukrainian soldier also described to Insider how he tricked Russia into wasting a drone on a fake tank he built from empty boxes.

Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian government, told The Economist earlier this year: "You have to understand that this a war of innovation."

"The drones and satellites are more sophisticated and can see in greater detail. It's harder to fool the enemy who have cameras and live video. But high-quality decoys can work very well," he added.

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