How many brigades did Ukraine start with war with?

According to my count, at the start of the war, the Ukrainian Army had around 18 activated maneuver brigades and up to nine reserve brigades ready to be activated.[1] It appears that four or five of these brigades had three maneuver battalions per brigade while 13 or 14 of them had four or more maneuver battalions.[2] This then this gives them at least 74 or so maneuver battalions.[3] Added to that was some five regular airborne, air assault and air mobile brigades and two naval infantry brigades and other such forces which added at least another 30 maneuver battalions.[4] So the Ukrainian armed forces could deploy at least 104 maneuver battalions at the start of the war.  It was estimated at the time that they were about to be invaded by 150 Russian maneuver battalions or battalion tactical groups (BTGs).[5]

The Ukrainian Army started with war with at least 18 maneuver brigades mobilized that we have identified. It was primarily a mechanized infantry army. According to the list we have assembled below, Ukraine started with war with two regular and one active reserve tank brigades and two more reserve tank brigades that were not fully deployable in the first six weeks of the war. A tank brigade has four maneuver battalions, three tank and one mechanized infantry.[6] It also had an artillery and air defense battalion along with support troops. Ukraine started the war with at least 892 tanks, including 720 T-64s.[7]

The army had nine active mechanized brigades. It also had five reserve mechanized brigades of which three may have been deployed in the first six weeks of the war.[8] Each regular mechanized brigade had at least three mechanized infantry battalions and probably a tank battalion.[9] A tank battalion usually consisted of 31 T-64. They also had a collection of infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and armored personnel carriers (APCs). The infantry fighting vehicles were usually Soviet-era BMP-2 or BMP-2Ks. The BMP-2 was introduced in the early 1980s, weighs around 16 tons, carries 3 crew and 7 passengers, has 1.3” (33 millimeters) of armor and carries a stabilized 30mm autocannon, a 9P135m ATGM launcher able to fire Konkurs 9M113 (AT-5) or Kornet-M 9M133M (AT-5B) missiles, a 7.62mm coaxial machinegun and an AGS-30 grenade launcher. The BMP-2K is the command version of this vehicle, with six crew.

The armored personnel carriers were usually Soviet-era MT-LBs. This is a 1950s Soviet-era design made at the Kharkov Tractor Plant. It weighs around 12 tons, carries 2 crew and 11 passengers, has 14mm of armor and usually carries a 7.62mm machinegun. The Kharkiv Tractor Plant, which is over 90 years old, was still producing MT-LBs in the 2000s. It was a public company that became majority owned by the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2007. Control was regained by Ukraine in 2016 when it appeared that parts of the factory was going to be dismantled and transferred. In November 2018, Russia imposed sanctions on the factory and its new owners. The factory was reported destroyed by extensive shelling in late February 2022.

The inventory count of IFVs and APCs, according to open sources was 1,510 IFVs or which 890 are BMP-2s and BMP-2Ks and well over 2,000 APCs, which includes at least 2,090 MT-LBs.[10] They also have artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank weapons and the entire range and mix of weapons.

The Ukrainians has two mountain assault brigades which had three mountain assault battalions and perhaps a tank battalion. This includes the 16th Tank Battalion assigned to the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade.

Finally, they had six motorized and foot infantry brigades, four regular and two reserve. These had three infantry battalions and a tank company.

This is a total of 18 active brigades deploying at least 892 tanks.[11] This is still an armor moderate force with 5.3 tanks per thousand soldiers.[12]

List of Active Ukrainian Ground Forces Brigades[13]

Unit Name                                          Type

1st Tank Brigade                                 Regular

4th Tank Brigade                                 Reserve

17th Tank Brigade                               Regular

 

10th Mountain Assault Brigade           Regular

14th Mechanized Brigade                    Regular

24th Mechanized Brigade                    Regular

28th Mechanized Brigade                    Regular

30th Mechanized Brigade                    Regular

53rd Mechanized Brigade                    Regular

54th Mechanized Brigade                    Regular

56th Motorized Infantry Brigade         Regular

57th Motorized Infantry Brigade         Regular

58th Motorized Infantry Brigade         Regular

59th Motorized Infantry Brigade         Regular

72nd Mechanized Brigade                   Regular

92nd Mechanized Brigade                   Regular

93rd Mechanized Brigade                    Regular

128th Mountain Assault Brigade         Regular

 

List of Other Ukrainian Ground Forces Brigades[14]

 

3rd Tank Brigade                                 Reserve[15]

5th Tank Brigade                                 Reserve

 

11th Motorized Infantry Brigade         Reserve

15th Mechanized Brigade                    Reserve

33rd Mechanized Brigade                    Reserve

 

60th Mechanized Brigade                    Reserve

61st Jager Infantry Brigade                 Reserve[16]

62nd Mechanized Brigade                   Reserve

63rd Mechanized Brigade                    Reserve

 

It is uncertain if the 60th, 61st, 62nd or 63rd brigades were active in the first six weeks of the war. Pretty certain the 11th, 15th and 33rd were not. The 3rd Tank Brigade did not arrive in the area of Izyum, near Kharkiv until mid-April. The 5th Tank Brigade was only partly manned and held in the area of Odesa for the first part of the war. The 14th Tank Brigade (reserve) is not listed as it is currently still inactive.

Other separate maneuver battalions include:[17]

12th Tank Battalion

54th Reconnaissance Battalion

74th Reconnaissance Battalion

130th Reconnaissance Battalion

131st Reconnaissance Battalion

143rd Reconnaissance Battalion

 

The Ukrainian Army consists of eleven artillery brigades, with two of them reserve. Most brigades consist of four artillery battalions and an additional antitank battalion with the 26th, 40th, 45th and 55th Artillery Brigades. The 44th Artillery Brigade had only three artillery battalions and an antitank battalion. They are:

15th Artillery Recon Brigade

19th Missile Brigade

26th Artillery Brigade

27th Rocket Artillery Brigade

40th Artillery Brigade

43rd Artillery Brigade

44th Artillery Brigade

55th Artillery Brigade

107th Rocket Artillery Brigade

 

Reserve:[18]

38th Artillery Brigade

45th Artillery Brigade

 

There are three other services that provide ground forces, the Navy, the Air Assault Forces and the Special Forces. The Air Assault Forces consists of five mobilized airborne, air assault and air mobile brigades, two reserve brigades, and their support units. Most brigades consist of three battalions and a tank company. It was reported to have a strength of 20,000 in February 2022. These forces include:

25th Airborne “Sicheshalska” Brigade

79th Air Assault Brigade

80th Air Assault Brigade

81st Airmobile Brigade

95th Air Assault Brigade

 

Reserves:[19]

45th Air Assault Brigade[20]

46th Air Mobile Brigade

 

The Ukrainian Air Assault Forces also include:

132nd Separate Reconnaissance Battalion

148th Howitzer Self-Propelled Battalion

 

Each brigade is between 1,000 to 2,200 people, ideally including three infantry battalions, three artillery battalions, a tank company and a reconnaissance company.[21]

The Air Assault Forces add up to another 16 maneuver battalions to the Ukrainian Army, if the brigades were fully up the strength (which may not have been the case).

The Special Operation Forces are 4,000 strong and includes two units that may add two or more battalions to the maneuver forces.:

3rd Special Purpose Regiment “Prince Sviatoslav the Brave”

8th Special Purpose Regiment “Iziaslav Mstislavich”

 

The Ukrainian Navy also provided amphibious ground forces, which also had significant combat capabilities:

35th Naval Infantry Brigade (Odesa)

  • 2nd Tank Battalion with T-80BVs.[22]

36th Naval Infantry Brigade (Mykolaiv)

  • 1st Tank Battalion with T-80BVs.[23]

These two Marine or naval infantry brigades consists of three infantry battalions, a tank battalion, an artillery brigade with three artillery battalions, an air defense battalion and other supporting units including a reconnaissance company and a sniper rifle company. Other naval ground units of significance include the 406th Artillery Brigade (Mykolaiv) of four field artillery battalions, the 140th Reconnaissance Battalion, and the 32nd Rocket Artillery Regiment.

Active militia units that were developed during the first war (2014-2015) include:

Donbas Battalion – demobilized September 2016

Dnipro Battalion

Azov Regiment – active in 2022

 

The Donbas Battalion, or the 2nd Battalion of Special Assignment “Donbas” was created in 2014 as is part of the National Guard of Ukraine. It was originally formed by Russian-speaking Ukrainians from Donbas. The battalion was demobilized in September 2016 and the majority of their personnel went into the reserves. They formed a public organization called the Internal Corps of the Donbas Battalion which has operated from October 2016 to the present. They are no longer a combat unit.

The Dnipro Battalion, or the Dnipro-1 Regiment, reports to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine as a Special Tasks Patrol Police. It also was created in 2014 and hired Romanians and Georgian military advisors to train their troops. It is still supposedly active, but we have not heard anything from it during this war.

The Azov Battalion, which then became the Azov Regiment, is still active and was heavily involved in defending Mariupol from February through April of 2022. They provided a large battalion-sized force for Mariupol and has forces deployed elsewhere in Ukraine in 2022 including at Brovary near Kyiv and a new unit raised in Kharkiv. It was formed in May 2014 and was incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine in November 2014. It has ties to far-right wing groups, connections to neo-fascist ideologies and has made use of symbols borrowed from Nazism. Russian designated them a terrorist organization in August 2022. It was based in Mariupol. Most of members are drawn from Russian speaking regions of Ukraine. It also has a number of foreign fighters.

 

—–footnotes———–

[1] The 2022 IISS listing had 4 tank brigades, 9 mechanized brigades, 2 mountain brigades, 4 motorized infantry brigades and one light infantry brigade. This is total of 20 maneuver brigades, which does not match the listing below.

[2] As of 2017, the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade, the, 24th, 28th, 30th, and 72nd Mechanized Brigades were reported with three mechanized battalions and an unnamed tank battalion. As of 2017 the 17th Tank Brigade is reported with three tank battalions and an unnamed mechanized battalion. As of 2017, the 53rd Mechanized Brigade is reported with three mechanized battalions, an unnamed tank battalion, and the 24th Motorized Infantry Battalion “Aidar”. As of 2017, the 54th Mechanized Brigade is reported with three mechanized battalions, an unnamed tank battalion and the 25th Motorized Infantry Battalion “Kyivan Rus” and the 46h Motorized Infantry Battalion “Donbas-Ukraine.” As of 2017, the 92nd Mechanized Brigade is reported with thee mechanized battalions, an unnamed tank battalion and the 22nd Motorized Infantry Battalion “Kharkiv.” As of 2017, the 93rd Mechanized Brigade is reported with three mechanized battalions, an unnamed tank battalion and the 20nd Motorized Infantry Battalion “Dnipro.” As of 2018 the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade was reported with the 16th Tank Battalion. As of 2019 the 61st Jaeger Infantry Brigade was reported with an unnamed tank battalion. We suspect some of these are “on-paper” organizations or errors in the sources.

[3] A maneuver brigade or battalion is an infantry, mechanized infantry, armor or cavalry unit. It is not an artillery unit, helicopter unit, or air defense unit. These are the units that make up the front line combat units of an army. The count of total maneuver battalions is 67 battalions, plus the 12th and 16th Tank Battalions and the five separate reconnaissance battalions for a total of 74 plus any fifth or sixth battalion under these brigades. It is uncertain if the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade had a fourth battalion (a tank battalion), and is not counted as such.

Some brigades may have more than four battalions. the 14th (1st Motorized Battalion), the 28th (5th Reserve Battalion formed February 2022), the 30th (2nd Motorized Battalion), the 53rd (24th Mechanized Battalion “Aidar”, 43rd Mechanized Battalion), the 54th (25th Separate Motorized Battalion, 45th Separate Assault Battalion), the 72nd (12th Motorized Battalion), the 92nd (22nd Separate Mechanized Battalion), the 93rd (20th Separate Motorized Battalion, 49th Motorized Battalion ‘Carpathian Sich’), and the 128th (15th Separate Mountain Assault Battalion) brigades. For the 128th Brigade, this is in addition to the 16th Tank Battalion that we do count part of the 128th. In some cases, these were battalions added in 2014-2015 and were possibly later disbanded. In some cases, they are battalions that have been added since the current war has started. The Ukrainian brigades have grown in size as the war has continued. This would potentially add up to another 12 battalions to count of Ukrainian battalions.

The 24th Separate Assault Battalion ‘Aidar” with the 53rd Mechanized Brigade is referenced in a video posted on twitter on 18 January 2023: see: Dan on Twitter: “80. Moving quickly south of Optyne. Earlier in January,?️released (likely earlier filmed) of 24th Separate Assault Battalion ‘Aidar’, 53rd Mechanised Bde taking out a Russian at the former fruit processing plant at 48.547679, 38.017045 h/t @azyakancokkacan https://t.co/VMIeTHoFhS” / Twitter.

[4] Each of the five regular airborne brigades have three maneuver battalions, plus there is one independent maneuver battalions (132nd Recon), the two naval infantry brigades have four maneuver battalions plus there was an independent recon battalion (140th Recon), the special forces can be counted as two more battalions, plus there is the Georgian battalion, the Chechen battalion, the Azov Battalion and perhaps others.

[5] The Russian battalion tactical group or BTG is a reinforced maneuver battalion. They are described in more depth in the next chapter. Because a BTG often includes a tank company, then they are not always the equivalent of a Ukrainian maneuver battalion as the tank battalions with the mechanized brigades are counted separately, when they were often divided out with one tank company with a maneuver mechanized battalion.

A later count in January 2023 by Sasho Todorov of battalions from his reconstructed order of battle gave the Russians up to 130 BTGs and maneuver battalions and the LPR and DPR a total of 37 maneuver battalions.

[6] In 2017, the 1st Tank Brigade is reported with three tank battalions with 56 T-64BM “Bulat”

[7] 410 T-64BV, 210 T-64BV mod 2017, 100 T-64BM Bulat, around 133 T-72s and between 34 to 134 T-80BV and 5 T-84Us. See: Wikipedia: “List of Equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine” and David Axe, Forbes, 15 December 2021, “Ukraine’s Tanks Could be Better Than Russia’s. It Might Not Matter” at Ukraine’s Tanks Could Be Better Than Russia’s. It Might Not Matter. (forbes.com). Global Security “Ukraine – Ground Forces Equipment” at  Ground Forces Equipment – Ukraine (globalsecurity.org) is showing 620 T-64s, 100 T-64 BM Bulat, 133 T-72s, no T-80s and 5 T-84 Oplat.

The T-64 was built at the Kharkiv Tank Factory. In the 2021 IISS listing for Ukraine it was reported to have only 34 T-80s. Other sources report about 100 T-80BVs were restored to service in 2015. We do have a report from personal conversations that the 1st Tank Battalion of the Naval Infantry was armed with only 22 T-80s, because of a shortage of the tank.

[8] The 60th, 62nd and 63rd Brigades.

[9] This exact organization of the army in February 2022 has yet to be revealed. This is our best guess based upon multiple sources.

[10] Counts are from Wikipedia: “List of Equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine,” which is primarily based upon the 2021 IISS listing. The Wikipedia listing is being updated to include equipment received since the war started.

[11] The actual count of deployed tanks works out to be: nine tank battalions with tank brigades (9 x 31 = 279), nine tank battalions with mechanized brigades (9 x 31 = 279), 12th and 16th tank battalions (2 x 31 = 62), four tank companies with the motorized infantry brigades (4 x 10 = 40), five tank companies with air assault divisions (5 x 10 = 50), 1st Tank Battalion with the naval infantry (22 tanks) and 2nd Tank Battalion with the Naval Infantry (31). This is a total of 763 tanks out of estimated 892 tanks available.

It is possible that the 5th Tank Brigade had around 30 T-72s and the 3rd Tank Brigade had around 100 T-72s. Uncertain if the 10th Mountain Assault Brigade had a tank battalion and is not counted as such. Some of the other reserve units may have also had tanks assigned to them at the start of the war. The same with some National Guard units like the 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade.

[12] 892 tanks versus 169,000 people. According to definitions created by Trevor Dupuy, force can be considered armor-heavy in the proportion of tanks exceeds 6 per 1,000 troops. See, Col. T.N. Dupuy, Attrition: Forecasting Battle Casualties an Equipment Loses in Modern War (NOVA Publications, Falls Church, VA., 1995), page 89.

[13] This listing is assembled from various secondary sources, so is far from definitive. It is drawn from a tweet by Paris Paroinen @Inkvisiit dated 22 June. The Ukrainian Military Pages at Ground Forces (ukrmilitary.com) provides a listing for December 31, 2021 that matches the listing of these 27 brigades. That listing also includes in the Reserve Corps a 66rd Mechanized Brigade, a 68th Jaeger Brigade, 71st Jaeger Brigade, 110th Mechanized Brigade, and 115th Mechanized Brigade that are not listed elsewhere. It does not list the 11th Motorized Infantry Brigade, the 15th Mechanized Brigade, 33rd Mechanized Brigade and 62nd Mechanized Brigade. All four of these brigades are listed in Wikipedia: “Mechanized Infantry (Ukraine).’ In the Wikipedia article “Ukrainian Ground Forces” does list 25 of the 27 brigades listed here, omitting listings for 4th Tank Brigade and 11th Motorized Infantry Brigade. The Military Land website provides a listing of all Ukrainians brigades and many smaller units at Armed Forces | MilitaryLand.net.

[14] The 3rd Tank Brigade was first mentioned in action on 11 April 2022 near Izyum (https://twitter.com/Militarylandnet/status/1513609624410284042).

The 5th Tank Brigade was first mentioned in combat at the end of August 2022 near Kherson (https://twitter.com/UAWeapons/status/1564713937073049602), but we do believe it was deployed near Odesa and partly activated before then.

The 60th Mechanized Brigade was first referenced with a missing serviceman on 4 April 2022 near Kherson (https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=1003960436914465&set=g.679413519875806). This does not mean the brigade was deployed there as the serviceman could have been with another unit, including a TDF unit.

The 61st Jager Infantry Brigade was first mentioned in action on 24 June 2022 near Kherson (https://www.facebook.com/61opbr/videos/815760919408467). At this point, it has been reorganized as a mechanized brigade.

The 62nd Mechanized Brigade was first mentioned in action on 14 October 2022 near Donets (https://www.victims.memorial/people/serhii-byba).

The 63rd Mechanized Brigade was first mentioned in action on 30 April 2022 near Kherson (https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=120597320604131&set=pb.100079508485716.-2207520000).

We have found no references in 2022 to the 11th, 15th or 33rd Mechanized Brigades being in action.

On the other hand, the Ukrainians stood up the 110th and 115th Mechanized Brigades by April, which were new combat formations created after the war started. According to Militaryland.net the 110th has been active since 10 April 2022 while the 115th has been active since 1 March 2022. The 115th Mechanized Brigade’s Facebook page was created 31 July 2020 although the name was not changed to the brigade’s name until 4 August 2022. The first posting to that page was from well before the war started, although they appear to be mostly political.

This is all preliminary work, and we are sure more specific data will be available over time.

[15] This brigade may not have been active in the first six weeks of the war. See David Axe, “Ukraine had Mobilized its Tank Reserves. They’re Already on the Attack,” Forbes, April 18, 2022 at Ukraine Has Mobilized Its Tank Reserves. They’re Already On The Attack. (forbes.com).

[16] This brigade was converted to a mechanized brigade in 2022.

[17] Other units that may now be active include: Separate Presidential Brigade (with five battalions), 1st Special Purpose Brigade active as of 4 March, 2022, 65th Mechanized Brigade active as of 1 April 2022, 66th Mechanized Brigade active as of 18 April 2022, 68th Jager Infantry Brigade active as of 8 April 2022, 110th Mechanized Brigade active as of 10 April 2022, 115th Mechanized Brigade active as of 1 March 2022, the 129th Reconnaissance Battalion, 71st Jager Infantry Brigade active as of 24 February 2022, and 77th Airmobile Brigade.

Also listed on the Military Land website are ten separate rifle battalions (4th, 6th, 12th, 14th, 19th, 23rd, 41st, 42nd, 45th and 214th). Do not know the status of them.

Also six battalions were formed as part of the 7th Center of Volunteer Corps activated as of 27 March 2022.

[18] The 45th Artillery Brigade appears to have been activated in late February and initially was deployed near Kyiv starting 4 March 2022. See:  In Ukraine time to kill, not die, — interview with the commander of the 45th brigade Oleg Faidyuk — News Agency Aloud/Vgolos.

The prisoner of war from the 38th Artillery Brigade was interviewed in the Russian video released 30 May 2022.

[19] The 45th Air Assault Brigade was first mentioned in action on 17 May 2022 near Zaporizhzhia (https://twitter.com/Newsweek/status/1526653455103930369).

The 46th Air Mobile Brigade was first mentioned in action on mid-July as Kherson based upon an email with a Ukrainian service member.

[20] According to MilitaryLand.net, this unit was demobilized December 31, 2020.

[21] See the 2017 organization chart for the Ukrainian Airborne Force.

[22] See MilitaryLand.net at: https://twitter.com/militarylandnet/status/1579919692525080577.

[23] The Naval Infantry tank battalions had 31 tanks. In the case of the 36th Naval Infantry Brigade before the start of the war had only 22 tanks because it had T-80s and Ukraine was struggling to get enough serviceable. Source is a Ukrainian Naval Infantry officer contacted in January 2023.

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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
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Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
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His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
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Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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