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Italy and Germany are also international "biathalon" style competition

"Did you hear the one about the Russians inviting the Americans to their tank competition?"

"No?  Yea, they said, 'Tanks, but no tanks.'"

I. Russia Extends Tank-Shaped Olive Branch to U.S.

Armored vehicle jokes aside, Russian President Vladimir Putin really did invite the U.S. to participate in a friendly tank competition, which Russia dubs a "tank biathlon".  The invite was extended to Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during "two-on-two" talks with their Russian counterparts Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu last Firday.

Shoigu -- Russia's Defense Minister -- repeated the invitation later at a press conference.  And he announced that the Americans have reportedly agreed to participate.  Russian news agency RIA Novosti reports:

'We've invited our American colleagues to participate ... and our invitation was accepted by US Secretary of Defense [Chuck] Hagel,' Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Saturday.

Russia has already held two past tank biathlons in its Chechnya and the Stavropol Caucasus territories.  

T-72 Biathlon
T-72s compete in a previous installment of the "tank biathlon." [Image Source: ITAR-TASS]

It is currently holding a third one this week, running through the 17th, in the Alabino district of Moscow.  Russian news service ITAR-TASS describes these events writing:

Tank biathlon is a competition, where crews have to exercise and develop their best professional skills, such as teamwork, ability to hit the target in the shortest possible time, the skill of driving a tank. At the same time, the general timing depends not only on the speed of driving the route, but also on the obligatory hitting all the five targets and clear, without penalties, crossing various obstacles.

In the tank biathlon, every tank runs almost 20 kilometres at a maximum possible speed, while firing from all weapons the targets, which are rising in different directions and distances. On the course, a tank has to pass repeatedly a ford, fences, a rut bridge, high-speed sections and overtaking passages. At all the times, the crew remains constantly in the firing position.

Fighting vehicle enthusiasts may be disappointed to find out that Russia is only using its older T-72 tanks in the competition.  The T-72 has been largely replaced by the T-90 (orig. named the T-72BU), a more modern successor that was commissioned in 1993.  The T-72 and T-90 both pack the same smoothbore 125 mm cannon for use in attacks on buildings or tank-to-tank warfare.  The T-72 and T-90 are both made by UralVagonZavod "scientific industrial corp." PLC, commonly shortened to "UVZ".

The T-72's successor, the T-90 was not in the competition. [Image Soure: RIA Novosti]

This year's competition was a multinational event, but consisted solely of former Soviet states, with entrants from Russia, Armenia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in the third and final leg of the competition.

II. Tanks (a Lot)

If the Americans indeed show up in 2014, they won't be alone -- Germany and Italy were also reportedly invited.  

Germany will likely use its Leopard 2 tanks -- perhaps even the latest A7+ variant, designed by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH & Comp. KG (shortened to "KMW"), which features the Leopard 2's trademark 120 mm smoothebore cannon and improved mobility for fighting against ground troops.

Italy would likely field its Ariete tank, which was commissioned in 1995.  The tank features a 120 mm smoothebore cannon.  It is produced by a consortium of Fiat S.p.A.'s (BIT:F) Industrial Vehicles Corp. (IVECO) subsidiary and Finmeccanica S.p.A.'s (BIT:FNC) OTO Melara subsidiary.

The M1A2 SEP Abrams [Image Source: Inetres]

The U.S. meanwhile would field its M1A2 SEP Abrams tank, which is made by General Dynamics Corp. (GD).  The M1A2 features a 120 mm smoothebore cannon and is slightly faster than the T-90 with a top cruising speed of 68 km/h (versus 65 km/h for the T-90).  The SEP (standard enhancements package) variant was first produced in 2004, and is under ongoing active development.

Russia and U.S. relations have been icy ever since Russia agreed to grant a year long asylum to U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) leaker Edward Snowden, a move which prompted President Obama to cancel his planned August visit to Russia.

Sources: ITAR-TASS [1], [2], RIA Novosti

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By bug77 on 8/14/2013 3:12:57 PM , Rating: 2
I've read somewhere that tanks are becoming less and less economically viable. You can destroy a tank with a $1,000 rocket fired from a RPG today. Airplanes are having a field day against tanks (not to mention drones).
From that point of view, it's a bit awkward seeing a country (any country) making a big fuss about their tanks. They're not going away soon, but it's not the 1940s anymore either.

RE: Typical
By DanNeely on 8/14/2013 3:27:48 PM , Rating: 4
They've been saying the same thing since the first Panzerfausts, PIATs, and Bazooka's entered the battlefield ~70 years ago.

SAM Missile, manufactures have been making similar claims about the death of aircraft for almost as long.

The reason why both groups claims have always been bunk is called combined arms. Your tanks infantry support keeps the enemy RPGers/etc from getting close, sneaking into blind spots, etc while the tanks destroy hardpoints and other armored vehicles. It's only when someone forgets this and tries to send their tanks in unsupported, like the Israelis did in the early part of the Yom Kippur War that missileers are able to massacre tanks.

RE: Typical
By Amiga500 on 8/14/2013 3:30:48 PM , Rating: 2
A more recent example would be the Israelis in Lebanon in 2006.

RE: Typical
By bug77 on 8/15/2013 6:07:57 AM , Rating: 2
In their infancy, AT weapons were also expensive. But they seem to be getting cheaper faster than tanks. Regardless, we both agree tanks will not go away soon. My point is by now tanks are more of a standard issue weapon, not an awe-inspiring, battle turning one. When confronted with an inferior enemy (e.g. the Iraqi army), they'll have it for breakfast. But in more equal situations you're not guaranteed a win just because you have the better tank.

RE: Typical
By gamerk2 on 8/14/2013 3:28:35 PM , Rating: 2
Remember tanks were NEVER designed to operate alone; they were basically used as mobile squad support, similar to Calvary. Tanks not backed by infantry have always been soft targets. Tanks break through, infantry moves in and clears/holds the position.

RE: Typical
By boeush on 8/14/2013 8:30:19 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't count tanks out just yet.

Active camouflage:

Missile/smartbomb countermeasures:

RE: Typical
By BRB29 on 8/15/2013 9:00:37 AM , Rating: 1
An RPG normally wouldn't be able to take out a tank unless it hits specific weak spots. Tanks have 50cal gunners and infantry protecting them. An M16 can shoot accurately much further than an RPG.

Tanks are weak against air attacks but many tanks can pack anti air missiles to stop low speed aircrafts. Infantry can easily take out low flying drones.

Of course, there are only a handful of countries with modern jets and enough of them to be a threat to tanks. We're not fighting with any of them. Look at how much it cost for a modern fighter jet. Then add maintenance cost, pilot training, command centers, tactical air command centers, etc... We have yet to fight a country that have an adequate Air Force since WW2.

Modern tank armor can take actually deflect AT rounds. An RPG taking out a modern tank is a dream. Most US tanks taken out were done by mines, RPGs can only hit weak spots if they are able to get close. Usually the most they can do is disable, not destroy.

There are AT weapons that can take out a modern tank in 1-2 shots. Fortunately, they are not cheap, widely available and needs training to effectively use. Basically, RPGs are mostly ineffective as long as there are infantry with the tanks.

Tanks are very essential today mainly because the enemies cannot afford anything to effectively destroy them.

RE: Typical
By Ammohunt on 8/16/2013 1:29:57 PM , Rating: 3
You should Qualify an American tank. RPG's are no threat to M1 tanks; you might disable one with a lucky hit but to get a kill is next to near impossible. The tanks that were lost in the first gulf war were due primarily to friendly fire from the Depleted Uranium penitrators used. And even with that rarely were their causalities. On the other hand M1's were scoring turret separations on nearly every Iraqi Russian tank...that was 20 years ago...

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