Tanks and their crews from around the world descended on Alabino, Russia, to kick off the 2014 Tank Biathlon World Championship Monday. The biathlon is part competition, part show of international co-operation and part show of military might. The biathlon itself is mostly about racing and shooting, much like its Olympic namesake.
ITAR-Tass reported the rules are simple: “Crews must navigate a distance of up to 20 kilometers [12.5 miles] evading various obstacles, crossing rivers and bridges and shoot at a set of targets. Tanks that miss a target get a penalty lap.”
More particularly, RIA Novosti said those obstacles include a “slalom section, river shallows, a steep hill, a pontoon bridge and an escarpment.” The biathlon runs through Aug. 16 and is separated into three stages of three heats each. Russian aircraft and “infantry combat vehicles” will also make appearances during the course of the biathlon.
Twelve countries are participating: Angola, Armenia, Belarus, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, Serbia and Venezuela. All but China are using Russian T-72B tanks painted in bright colors to distinguish themselves from their international competitors. Russian crews provided six weeks of training for their international counterparts.
Check out some highlights via RT, or their full coverage of the first day’s events here:
Noticeably absent are any countries in NATO, which pulled out because of Russia’s alleged involvement in the Ukrainian crisis. NATO officials accuse Russia of aiding and supplying weapons to pro-Russian separatists seeking to break off from the post-Maidan, pro-European government in Kiev. NATO sent observers instead.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu founded the competition last year. Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Armenia, which are all part of the Commonwealth of Independent States trade bloc competed. Russia invited the United States, Italy and Germany to this year's competition before their relationship soured.
While the tanks, jets and helicopters in Alabino are all there for fun and games, Russia is conducting far more serious, large-scale military exercises near the Ukrainian border, the Defense Ministry said.