September 5, 2014:
Russia was won the second annual World Tank Biathlon held in August. This victory was largely the result of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Competing this year were crews from Armenia, Belarus, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kuwait. Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia and Serbia. Everyone competed using Russian T-72B tanks except for the Chinese who brought their similar Type 96A tanks. There was supposed to be more competition this year. After the 2013 games it was announced that the United States, Germany, and Italy would show up in 2014 and other NATO nations were considering it. That did not happen because of Russian aggression against Ukraine this this year, not to mention Russia’s recent threat to use nukes against the West if the Ukraine aggression was interfered with.
In the Biathlon crews compete by performing actual tasks a tank crew would be called on to carry out in combat. The competition is held on a course that is twenty kilometers long and the winners are those who get through it the quickest. As a tank goes through the course they must halt when a target appears and fire one of their three weapons (main gun, machine-gun, or long range missile fired from main gun barrel). Each time a tank misses a target it must hustle through a five-hundred meter penalty loop. Part of the course is an obstacle course where crews are graded on time and accuracy (not hitting certain obstacles). The crews are ranked according to their scores and those that do the best are rewarded in one way or another. In 2013 it was believed that the competition would need some modifications to reflect the different weapons and equipment. For example, few Western tanks can fire guided missiles out there main gun barrels. That turned not to be a non-issue as only Russian allies showed by for the 2014 games.
Competitions like this are costly, especially when they involve all units from distant countries. But in the West such competitions were found to be worth the additional cost and effort. They are a big boost to morale as well because of the competitive element, and this is especially true for the teams (and the unit they are from) who win overall. Russia has picked up on this and has made these elaborate and expensive training/testing methods part of their military reforms.
What the Russians are doing with their Tank Biathlon is reviving a Cold War era tank competition that was international but only involved NATO tank crews. From 1963 to 1991, Canadian forces in Europe sponsored a tank gunnery competition for NATO troops stationed in Europe. The competition ceased because the Cold War ended and Canadian forces withdrew from Europe in 1993. The most frequent competitors were Canada, Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands, West Germany, and the United States. The winner got to keep the Canadian Army Trophy until the next competition. The competition evolved over the years and its final format was very similar to the one the Russians are now using.
Russia has invited many foreign nations to compete. This includes nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union as well as China and NATO countries. International participation will be expensive (moving tanks to Russia for the competition) and in these times of shrinking military budgets, a difficult, but not impossible sell. Tank crews worldwide have a keen interest in knowing which nation does indeed have the most skilled crews. Russia solved the expense issue by offering countries that use the T-72 tank the opportunity to use Russian T-72s. Most of the 2014 participants took advantage of that offer.