‘Cope Cages’ on Busted Tanks Are a Symbol of Russia’s Military Failures

The Russian military used improvised slat armor on its tanks in an attempt to protect them from getting blown up. It’s not going well.
Photo of tanks shown off at a Russian army exhibition in 2021. Anonymous photo posted to  Russian social media.
Photo of tanks shown off at a Russian army exhibition in 2021. Anonymous photo posted to Russian social media.

The Russian military has thousands of tanks, and all of them are vulnerable to Ukranians wielding Javelins and other anti-armor weapons. Before the escalation of its war in Ukraine, Russia tried to get ahead of the problem by welding improvised slats to the top of some of its tanks. Dubbed “cope cages” by outside observers, the strange additions to Russian tanks don’t appear to be helping stop the penetrating power of Ukrainian munitions.

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The first cope cages were spotted on Russian T-80 tanks rolling into Crimea in November 2021. A TikTok video from the time showed a T-80 struggling through some mud. Its turret was covered with a strange metal slat roof that looked like a garden table. Pictures of the strange tanks started circulating among users of National Security and war Twitter. The cages were not uniformly designed, and people speculated that the Russian military was experimenting to see what worked. The experiment hasn’t worked out.

Over at The Drive, Thomas Newdick noted that the cope cages were probably a response to the destruction of tanks in the recent conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia. During the war, Azeri forces devastated Armenian equipment using weapons now in the hands of Ukraine. A month after the tanks were spotted in Crimea, Ukraine posted a training video on its Facebook page showing Javelin-wielding troops destroying stationary tanks coated in cope cages.

It’s hard to get an accurate count on just how many tanks Russia has lost. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, Russia has lost around 1,500 armored vehicles of various types  as of this writing. But that number is probably inflated and independent OSINT analysts think the number is around 800 tanks.  

As Russian forces lost tanks, observers on the internet began to meme the cope cages. OSINT accounts shared photos of cope-caged tanks smoldering on the field. Users photoshopped cope cages onto Putin’s head. Pictures circulating showing cope cages protecting the tiny brains of Russian military staff. A minor editing war broke out on the Wikipedia page of the T-90 over whether to call “improvised slat armor” a “cope cage.” As of this writing, the page contains a reference to the phenomenon.

The cope cage, like St. Javelin and the Ghost of Kyiv, is another meme of the war in Ukraine—a gauge of a certain kind of feeling about the shockingly effective Ukrainian opposition to the Russian military.