October 2, 2013:
On September 18th Russian prosecutors announced that they had arrested three army officers and accused them of stealing seven tons of fuel. To make matter worse, this was not a gang operation but three officers each operating independently and stealing diesel from large tanker trucks sent to support the first annual tank “biathlon” (gunnery and driving competition). This was held a month ago and got a lot of publicity. Despite all that attention, these three officers thought they could divert about $5,000 worth (wholesale price) of diesel fuel to the black market. Such fuel thefts are not unusual in the army, and most perpetrators are not caught. But these three guys got bold, or stupid, and tried to flitch the fuel at a high-profile event. The actual theft occurred last July as fuel and other resources were stockpiled for the biathlon. Such criminality is all too common and Russian corruption investigators believe that about 20 percent of the military budget is lost to corruption and outright theft. Despite more frequent arrests and prosecution of offenders, the stealing continues.
Meanwhile, the four day Tank Biathlon was a success. The 2014 event will feature tank crews and tanks from the United States, Germany, and Italy, making the event international. 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. The international competition will need some modifications to reflect the different weapons and equipment. For example, few Western tanks can fire guided missiles out there main gun barrels.
Such competitions are costly, especially when they involve all similar units in the army, navy, or air force. 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, United Kingdom, 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.