The sporting world’s eyes are all on Rio, but the real action is heating up in Russia and Kazakhstan as the International Army Games gets under way.
It’s 12 days of mainly testosterone-fuelled competition for 121 teams from 19 countries as they battle each other in tanks, missile carriers, warplanes, warships and on the rifle range, where the Greek snipers represent the only NATO country in competition.
Medical teams, engineers and dog-handlers also get recognition in specialised events. More than 3000 military personnel and 350 combat vehicles are taking part. China is the second-largest participant, competing in 22 of the 23 events.
After Saturday’s Opening Ceremony, Russia is already dominating, leading in the first stages of all competitions except for the Airborne Platoon contest, where Kazakhstan is proving strong.
Here’s some of the best images so far, and more details on what to expect later this week.
The biggest event of the opening days, tank biathlon pits tank teams against each other through an obstacle course, during which they also have to take out various targets.
There are four tanks on the track at once, running three laps of the 7-9km course. Obstacles include an antitank trench and escarpment:
And a ford:
On the first lap, the three-man crew fires three rounds at “Tank” with the big gun. On the second, they fire an anti-aircraft machine gun at “Helicopter” and on the third, they fire coaxial machine guns at “grenade launcher”. It’s all action:
Easily the best-named competition. Let’s start with the firepower involved:
Operational-tactical fighter aviation: Su-27, Su-30, MiG-29
Operational-tactical ground attack aviation: Su-25
Army aviation: Ka-52, Mi-24 (Mi-35), Mi-28N, Mi-8
Military transport aviation: Il-76
Operational-tactical bomber aviation: Su-24, Su-34
Points are awarded for teamwork, manouevres and airstrike accuracy. Here’s an example of one of the flight paths, which has to be performed mostly at speeds in excess of 500km/h above 2500m:
With goals such as “Launching an UGM on a certain target after a pullup” and “Shooting from a gun on the intended target dive after a combat turn, the SU-27, SU-30 and MIG-29 teams fly in pairs and larger formations:
The MI-8 helicopters perform spectacular low-altitude runs. Crews get points for target accuracy and penalties for being too slow:
Even the giant Il-76 transport planes get in on the action, testing their ability to drop cargo accurately. But the real stars are the planes and bombs:
And the past couple of years have also seen the “fifth generation” PAK FA T-50 make a cameo appearance. As it closes in on final production stages, it had a long hitout a month ago in IAG qualifying in Crimea.
Keys to the sky
The anti-aircraft teams get to perform under pressure as they race to defeat a “simulated adversary attack with a simulation launch of AD guided missiles”.
Drivers compete to get to a suitable launch site:
The launcher loading challenge is also a time trial:
Combat units take aim at real aircraft and points are deducted for mistakes:
Although it’s in the “Clear Sky” event where most of the ground artillery action takes place:
Out on the open water in the Black and Caspian Seas, the navies get their turn. Th Sea Cup pits frigates, corvettes and small ships against each other in warfare, damage control and search and rescue operations.
Obviously, the most-watched is the business involving the big guns:
Warships get to take shots at “a small-sized naval ship target”, “an air target” and at floating mines:
Amongst all the bullets and bombs is the amazing displays put on by war dogs and their handlers:
Although there’s plenty of bullets too:
The dog gets its turn when it’s left in charge of a “violator” and has to detain said violator if they try to run away:
Dogs also have to find violators, and help his handler if the violator attacks. Points are deducted if the dog doesn’t bite the violator or is scared of gunfire.
And while there’s no doubt women present (although we haven’t seen any in the RDF imagery outside the opening ceremonies), it is by far the blokiest games event in the world. There are staged landing competitions:
There’s even an underwater welding event:
There is a point to all this.
Igor Sutyagin, Russian military expert at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, told Newsweek the games gave Russia a “real chance to see what potential adversaries or competitors will do”.
He said popularising the games was also an important recruitment strategy, helping to make military life look more attractive.
“The US makes Top Gun, whereas Russians broadcast these games,” he said.
The International Army Games finishes on August 13.
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