The Tokyo Olympic Games should be in full swing this week, but due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, the games were delayed a year until next summer. However, not every international competition has been scuttled—and this week the first of the Chinese delegation arrived in Russia ready to participate. Yet, it wasn’t athletes who traveled from Beijing but rather the main battle tanks (MBT) from the Peoples Liberation Army.

DefenseBlog reported that Chinese troops and equipment included the advanced Type 96 MBT arrived at the Zabaikalsk unloading station after starting their journey from Manzhouli, northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

The tanks and crews will take part in the International Army Games 2020, which is scheduled to run from August 23 to September 5, with events taking place in multiple countries including Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka. While events were initially planned to be held in eleven countries, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic the competitions have been scaled back yet unlike with the Olympics, organizers are determined to see these games go on.

“This year, we planned to hold thirty competitions on the territory of eleven countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, Russia, Uzbekistan and Sri Lanka),” said the head of the Russian Armed Forces’ main combat training department, Col. Gen. Ivan Buvaltsev as reported by Tass. “As certain the co-organizers were unable to hold some competitions on their territory due to the novel coronavirus infection, the geography of the games has shrunk, regretfully.”

Six competitions will be held on the territory of four foreign countries: Warrior of Peace will be held in Armenia. Sea Cup will be held in Azerbaijan. Belarus will host Polar Star and Sniper Frontier while Uzbekistan will be the site of the Military Medical Relay Race and Road Patrol. The remaining twenty-four competitions will be held on the territory of Russia. 

The International Army Games 2020 coincides with the International Military-Technical Forum “Army 2020” arms fair, which is being held at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Center of the Russian Armed Forces in Kubinka outside Moscow. Both the games and the arms fair are attaching participants from around the world, but no major participation from any NATO nations or other western powers.

The games, which are organized by the Ministry of Defense of Russia, were first staged in August 2015 and involved close to thirty countries. While not exactly like traditional “war games,” it includes dozens of competitions that are held over two weeks and involves events between dispatch units, engineering units, anti-aircraft, artillery and notably the tank biathlon—which has become the de facto equivalent to running a marathon at the Olympic Games.

Held each summer, the International Army Games has grown in size and has attracted more international competitors. In 2017, the games held competitions in five countries including China, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Kazakhstan.  

China has been a regular competitor in the International Army Games and in addition to sending its Type 96 MBTs to Russia, the PLA is sending soldiers who will participate in six competitions including scouting competition and airborne troops competition. 

The ZTZ-96 could be considered China’s first modern main battle tank. It grew out of a program to modernize the older ZTZ-88 tank, which was a stopgap design between the older Type 59s for the 1980s. The first ZTZ-96 was adopted in 1999

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. 

Image: Flikr / The U.S. Army

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