Tank biathlon: First comp in new paramilitary sport starts near Moscow

Tank biathlon: First comp in new paramilitary sport starts near Moscow
Russia is introducing ‘tank biathlon’, a new paramilitary sport about armor races and precision gunnery. The first international competition starts near Moscow on Monday. Several NATO countries, including the US, are expected to join the contest in 2014.

The concept of a direct tank crew competition recently introduced by the Russian Defense Ministry was born during an ordinary tank crew field firing exercise. What the military needs is a complex tank crew proficiency and gunnery skills test.

But while military drills are a serious and costly matter, tank biathlon is more about pure professionalism and sporting competitive spirit. The winner is champion, having ‘blown’ the competitors away.

The basic idea behind the tank contest is simple and repeats the rules of the classic biathlon: cover about 20km in shortest time while successfully hitting your targets.

RIA Novosti/Alexey Filippov

But since this is a military game, the targets are hit with everything a tank has in its arsenal: cannon, ranging machine gun and anti-aircraft machine-gun mounted on the tank’s turret. That means there are three firing sectors to use each weapon so a tank crew remains fire-ready throughout the event.

The first is main gun firing; the second is eliminating infantry targets with a 9mm machine gun; and the third is an assault of an ‘artillery battery’ with a 12.5mm anti-aircraft machine-gun. There are five targets at each stage. No tank leaves the range without hitting all targets. Those who missed have to cover penalty loops of 500 meters.

The targets are not static; they appear suddenly and for a limited time. The crew should not only hit each one, but sometimes make an immediate decision in which consequence to hit multiple targets: the most ‘dangerous’ should be eliminated first. The targets emerge at various distances, from 600 meters to up to 2km.

Still from YouTube video/katebogdan

This is not a competition of armored vehicles; it’s a definite team game where every man contributes to the final result.

The tank commander is the decision-maker. He discloses targets, keeps contact with the control station and coordinates actions of the crew.

The gunner hits targets while the driver’s task is not reduced to simple full-throttle acceleration as the tank repeatedly crosses a number of obstacles: a ford, some fences, a rut bridge, plus there are some high-speed sections as well as overtaking passages. So a driver’s exact maneuvering and course stability that influences the firing results means really a lot. If the driver makes mistakes and, for example, hits a pole while making a serpent maneuver – the crew gets an additional 10 seconds to its total time.

The jury follows the competition closely from a command point situated some 2.5km from the range. Video cameras on the range and UAVs in the air make the picture of the contest complete and the refereeing unbiased.

Still from YouTube video

Elimination games have already been conducted in the Central, South and Urals military districts of Russia, while national contests have been held in allied Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia. The final competition between the winning regional and national tank crews will take place at Moscow Region’s Alabino firing range on August 12-17 for the first time ever.

It is expected that the final contest will include several additional elements. One will be hitting targets imitating low-flying helicopters at ranges of 900 to 2,200 meters (possibly with guidable missiles Russian tanks are equipped with). The final round of the competition will also include firing the main gun in motion with the tank's turret turned perpendicular to the axis of movement considered to be one of the most difficult and spectacular elements.

Tank biathlon video posted online by the Russian Defense Ministry:


Russian-American tank competition in 2014?

The recent 2+2 meeting of the Russian Foreign and Defense ministers with their American counterparts has brought a number of positive results and among them some quite unexpected ones. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu made several proposals to the American side to further strengthen military cooperation and interaction and the US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave the green light to some. Among them is the participation of American tank crews (most probably American M1 Abrams main tanks) in the newly-invented Russian military contest.

“We have invited our American counterparts to participate in the tank biathlon competition in Russia,” Shoigu told reporters. “US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has accepted the invitation.”

Reportedly crews from other NATO countries are also likely to take part in the competition next year.

Shoigu stressed that the crews from the US and possibly Germany and Italy would be driving their own tanks. “Moreover, like our Italian counterparts said, they threaten the victory will be theirs,” Shoigu maintained.

Still from YouTube video/katebogdan

Russia’s Defense Minister also expects the competition to become a great promotion for national armored vehicles on the international arms market. “In future, we shall be doing everything possible to have foreign armed forces buy our tanks,” he promised.

Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Yury Borisov said on Saturday "We shall have an opportunity to organize a competition between wheel and track tanks," adding that since the previous year Italian Centauro wheel tanks have been undergoing tests in Russia (at the Kubinka tank development research center near Moscow).

The practical benefit from the competition would not only be a higher level of training for Russian tank crews, but also demonstrating advantages of the Russian armored vehicles,  Borisov said.

Shoigu shared that tank biathlon could become a paramilitary sport discipline. 

“I do hope that tank biathlon will become a new sport,” he said.

Still from YouTube video/katebogdan