The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has accused Russia of using inflatable tanks in the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. According to a Facebook post on Thursday, some of the "rubber" tanks have since deflated.
"While our partners agree to supply tanks to Ukraine, the occupation army is also increasing the presence of 'tank units' in the Zaporizhzhia direction," a Facebook translation of the post reads.
"But apparently, the free air of the Cossack region is not suitable for the occupiers' 'rubber' products, so they are blown away without fulfilling their main mission. Like the bloated bravado of the Rosarmy."
The use of inflatable tanks by Russia goes back decades but eventually tailed off. Then in 2010, the company that makes the inflatables told The New York Times that they had suddenly increased their output.
The history of decoys in war, of course, goes back a lot further. Decoy tanks were used a significant amount in World War II. One team – known as the Ghost Squad – were tasked with deceiving the Nazis, using tactics such as inflatable tanks, sound effects, invented generals and fake radio traffic.
There are stories amongst the military, most likely too good to be true, that the Nazis set up one military base made entirely of wood in order to distract the Allies. According to the tale, the Allies knew about the dummy planes, but still sent over bombers, who dropped a lot of wooden bombs.
Though both sides did use decoy air fields and other inflatables, this particular story is likely just an urban legend. Apart from a number of other problems with it, fake air fields at the time would have been made much more cheaply using stretched fabric across plywood frames rather than wood.
So far, Ukraine has not taken the time during an intense war to fly a rubber balloon over to the tanks with the word "bomb" on it. However, they have used decoy tactics during the invasion. In August 2022, they reportedly used wooden replicas of US rocket weapons in an attempt to deceive the Russian invaders.