The state’s defense capabilities largely depend on its military equipment. New combat vehicles are being developed each year to defend the country. The most successful inventions become true legends and inspire new generations of designers and engineers. The T-72, the most mass-produced modern Russian tank, and its modified version, the T-72B3, are classic examples.
Continuing the dynasty
The T-72B tank, the direct forerunner to the T-72B3, is a modified version of the T-72. The tank possesses a set of unique features that set it apart from all previously manufactured tanks of the T-72 family, including the Svir guided weapons complex, the 1K13 sight/target acquisition system, which directs guided missiles to their targets, and the active protection complex.
Adopted in November 1984, the T-72B tank became the most powerful model of the T-72 family wielded by the Soviet Army.
In the early 1990s, it became clear that even the latest modified versions of the T-72 were obsolete. Therefore Russian designers from the Ural Design Bureau of Transport Engineering developed a system of measures aiming at improving the tank’s main specifications. This was how its current modified version, the T-72B3, came into being.
On October 19, 2012, the Russian Defense Minister signed an order adopting the T-72B3 tank by the Russian Army.
The upgraded tank received a new fire control system featuring a multi-channel, round-the-clock gunner sight. The sight allows the tank to detect and identify a target at any time of day up to five kilometers away. The tank was also equipped with a digital ballistics calculator featuring meteorological and topographic sensors. The calculator automates the firing process and greatly improves accuracy. A new guided weapons complex increases the chances of destroying a target up to five kilometers away by a missile launched from the stationary tank. An automatic target acquisition system facilitates the work of a gunner firing at moving targets on the move. The upgraded tank also received more advanced active protection and digital communications systems.
The heavier tank is equipped with a diesel-turbine engine whose rated power exceeds that of the basic version by over 30%, and this helps improve the tank’s dynamics.
The upgraded T-72B3 can effectively compete with the best foreign tanks. But its enhanced specifications can also be used to train tank crews and to improve their skills. Therefore tank biathlon competitions are mostly conducted using this tank.
Sports for tanks
The T-72B3 is considered the standard for tank biathlons. Russia has been hosting these competitions for the best tank drivers and gun operators since 2013. The 2016 event involved 17 countries, with only the Chinese team using their own tanks. All other participants used the Russian-made T-72B3. The Russian team won, as in all previous years.
These competitions are called biathlons because their rules are similar to the classic ski biathlon. Tank crews are assigned penalty laps for poor shooting and navigation. Just like ski biathletes, participants should outpace their rivals and demonstrate impressive firing accuracy.
It takes professional mechanics and drivers to cross the obstacle course without losing speed and control of a tank. The tank specifications are no less important. The light T-72B3 tank’s 1,130 h.p. engine provides it with maneuverability and mobility.
Competitions take place in a simulated combat environment, with rugged terrain simulating all the obstacles that can be crossed by the T-72B3.
According to regulations, the first stage takes place in military districts (as of 2010, Russia has four military districts: Western, Eastern, Southern and Central). The best crews then compete in Alabino, near Moscow, with the winners advancing to the international stage.
The event consists of three stages: the individual crew race, the semifinals and the finals, in the form of a relay race, involving national teams from every country. Lots are cast before the games, determining the starting sequence, route numbers and the colors of team flags.
Stage No. 1
The individual race, the first stage of the event, involves three crews from each country driving their own tanks. The competitors drive three five-kilometer laps through ten natural and artificial obstacles, including a shallow ford, a slope, an anti-tank ditch, a band of fire and more.
The first-stage route also includes firing points. Each crew must fire their cannon, antiaircraft machine gun and twin-mounted machine gun from a stand-still.
Unlike the T-72B, the T-72B3 tank features a new version of the highly accurate 125-mm smoothbore cannon. This has reduced average shell-dispersion rates by 15%.The tank also has a target acquisition system.
Team scores include lap times and penalties for violations.
Stage No. 2
The second stage of the event (semifinals) involves the 12 best teams selected during the first round. This stage is a relay race, with crews from each team driving one vehicle and replacing each other after making four laps. As in the first stage, the competitors must cross obstacles and hit targets at firing points. There is no longer any standard target-shooting program, and lots are cast to select various types of targets and the target-shooting succession. During this stage, tank crews have to fire their cannons on the move, which makes it much harder to hit their targets.
After the second stage, the four top-scoring teams make it into the relay race finals. The event’s final stage is held according to the semifinal rules: the best crew wins the competition.
From theory to practice
As a rule, military equipment is presented at exhibitions, forums and congresses. Apart from static exhibitions, it is also demonstrated in action. The International Army Games and the tank biathlon are part of these events. The form in which they are held makes them innovative and intriguing, helping to raise interest among experts and civilians in military equipment, including armored vehicles.
Exchanging experience between experts from various countries and promoting advanced tank-crew training methods are an important aspect of the tank biathlon event. Uralvagonzavod employees are actively involved in these processes. In 2016, over 30 experts from the corporation serviced equipment and trained their foreign colleagues.
During the 2015 event, the Serbian team failed to cross a water obstacle but successfully forded it a year later, thanks to expert advice.
"We now cooperate closely with Uralvagonzavod experts and resolve any issue that arises in 5–10 minutes," said Colonel Dragan Boic, head of the Serbian delegation.
Involving tanks in these competitions provides an opportunity to check all their specifications, test new inventions and confirm their combat potential. This makes it possible to improve and upgrade the tanks, which can have a long service life, just like the T-72B3.
Svetlana Alikina Zhukov Sergei Pavel Karaulov Natalya Vetrova Yelena Kontuzova-Vantula Konstantin Yemtsev Pavel Shorokh
The project was based on material provided by the Uralvagonzavod corporation
Photo: Uralvagonzavod; RIA Novosti (Igor Russak, Yevgeny Biyatov, Vladimir Pirogov, Vladimir Astapkovich, Ilya Pitalyov, Kirill Kallinikov, Maxim Blinov, Vitaly Belousov)