Tank Biathlon 2017
It was in 2014 that Moscow played host to first International Military Games, an exercise devised to put men and machines military, through a rigorous test over multiple disciplines. Albino ranges provided the perfect stage for hosting such games and a number of enthusiastic militaries participated in order to showcase their might and training skills; a peacetime exercise affording an opportunity to send out a message to adversaries and friends alike. The games comprise of various military events competition spread across the three services, Tank Biathlon being one of them- an extreme test of crew training and resolve coupled with machine strength and ruggedness under tough conditions.
India has been fielding a team in the Tank Biathlon since 2014. During the last three competitions the Indian team participated on Russian provided equipment, tank T-72B3, a modern tank with limited engine output, thus putting the team at a relative disadvantage compared to competitors from Russia, China and Belarus et al. To its credit the team has stood 5th and 6th in the competitions it participated in earlier, despite the disadvantage. To provide a level playing field to the Indian team and give them an opportunity to perform better in 2017, the Indian Army Team participated with its own T-90 tanks. A Technical Support Team was also put together and formed part of the team right from the preparatory training at Babina Field Firing Ranges and accompanied the Biathlon Team during the competition at Russia.
The competition is conducted on a specially constructed circuit consisting of thirteen obstacles of eleven different types and firing bays for firing of main and secondary weapons. During different stages of the competition, the format is modified and distances to be covered and firing practices are varied. The format is so structured that the equipment is exploited to the hilt and pushed to its limits over a specially constructed circuit. It helps to draw out lessons to carryout improvements required in the tanks; which will hold us in good stead during operations.
The training of the team was carried out by a selected core group. The crews performed exceedingly well in Stage 1 (Individual Race). The team proved their mettle in all aspects to include driving, gunnery and crew integration. The timings achieved by the team indicated that the tanks had run at speeds exceeding 60 kmph, on a large portion of the circuit which is indicative of the levels of exploitation of the equipment during the competition, rarely seen during training and exercises in our country. The team was unfortunately disqualified in Stage 2 (Relay Race) of the competition due to non-completion of the race owing to equipment failure. The rules of the competition did not permit employment of a reserve tank. The team qualified for Stage 2 after a good performance in Stage 1, where they stood 4th out of the 19 participating teams. The Indian Army Team’s performance in Stage 1 of the competition was an immense improvement over the previous year, which was evident from the timings achieved. This could be attributable to participation with T-90 tanks.
Lessons Learnt from Equipment Exploitation
It is irrefutable that such International competitions, in addition to achieving military cooperation and diplomatic objectives, also contribute to enhancing professionalism in the army as the best practices of other armies can be witnessed and lessons drawn. The format of the competition ensures such exploitation of the tanks which pushes the equipment to its limits, thus helping the user and the manufacturer in identifying weakness in the equipment which can be addressed during further production or in subsequently produced models. This also brings to the fore, the necessity of a team engineer (akin to Formula 1 race) who can identify the stresses that various components undergo on different obstacles and their consequent effects. He can thus guide the team on obstacle negotiation skills for various obstacles so as to ensure maximum performance and also avoid mechanical failures by ensuring that the stresses do not cross the threshold limit of the concerned components. Participation in the Tank Biathlon competition on own tanks, suitably modified to meet the competition format requirements and incorporation of a team engineer (from the Ordnance Factory Board) to assist the team in formulating the competition strategy seems to be the best way forward. Issue of Breakdown
Both humans and machines are driven to their limits during operations and competitions such as these. The Tank Biathlon competition brings forth this man-machine interface well. For a nation which has not seen mechanised warfare since 1971 and has been shy of employing ‘A’ vehicle platforms in sub-conventional operations, such events have a large number of lessons to take home from. The disqualification of the team caused quite a few ripples in our media about concerns of the quality of Indian manufactured tanks. It has been learnt that the failure that occurred on both Indian tanks was experienced by Belarus during the competition earlier and by the Russian team in 2016. It has taken three to four years for a tank designing and producing nation to realise the cause of such a failure and their teams are now looking at solutions for the same. Quality control issues of Indian manufactured equipment have been long a cause of concern. It will therefore be well the worth for all concerned especially Ordnance Factories to give the aspect of quality control the attention it deserves, so that we do not lag behind when pitched against equipment provided by OEM during competitions and more importantly do not suffer in operations.
Future at the Military Games. The Tank Biathlon event is a great forum to showcase equipment resilience and crew expertise from India. With the Chinese participating and teams from Pakistan present as observers, it is an opportunity afforded to us, to show our mettle and it should be taken advantage of. Indian teams have always done us proud, the equipment failure this time notwithstanding. We must continue to participate in the future with our resolve stronger than before.