Ex Strong Europe Tank Challenge

By: Sgt N.A. Patterson

After a couple months of usual routine while deployed on Op UNIFIER, 7 May brought a nice change for a couple of soldiers.  It was the day that WO Chuck McDougall and I departed for Grafenwohr, Germany to observe the Ex STRONG EUROPE TANK CHALLENGE (Ex SETC).

Ex SETC was hosted by the 7 Army Training Center in the Grafenwohr training area this year, and is a competition open to all NATO allies.  This year, 6 nations competed- U.S.A, Germany, Austria, Poland, France, and for the first time, Ukraine.  Each team was to provide their own tanks, integral maintenance & recovery support, ammo, and of course, fuel. The tank platforms included Leopard 2 A4, A5, A6 (Aus, Ger, Pol), Abrams M1 A3 (USA), Leclerc (France), and T64 (Ukraine).

SETC is comprised of multiple events that are designed to challenge all skills needed to be a good tanker. Events included offensive & defensive ranges, pistol shooting, range estimation, AFV recognition, all arms call for fire, CBRN, a first aid scenario in which teams have to repair track, and a precision driving course that has crushing a car built into it. Finally, there was a dismounted team obstacle course, tanker Olympics, and a fun shoot for all countries involved to pull triggers on different weapon platforms.

This was an excellent opportunity to watch each country demonstrate their crewman abilities, and with the first time Ukrainian team entered in this year’s competition, our eyes were exclusively set on the abilities and crewman skills their tankers brought to the table. Being the underdog, and having to compete against the world’s most modern tanks, the Ukrainian tankers held their own with T64’s and demonstrated that they deserved a seat at this prestigious table.

When the competition started is was clear to see that all teams had picked Ukraine as the underdog, however, Team Ukraine had other plans. With their hardened will and relentless motivation, they competed, represented their country, and proved they could be on the same level as the other countries. As the challenge progressed, it became obvious that other countries took notice of the Ukrainians as they showed agility and skills by posting the best time in the CBRN stand, where they had to conduct their lock down drills on the tank and recover a broken down tank. Their ability to estimate range with “mark 1 eyeball” and binos from distances between 1000-3000m had the majority of the target distances within 10 - 20 m.  On the pistol range they posted a time of 1.48 min for the shoot. This involved each crew conducting a prone, kneeling, standing shoot with the final shoot being from the turret of their tank. During the Offensive and Defensive ranges, their ability to hit targets at further ranges was hampered by their optics and lack of thermal capabilities of the T64. Not having a hunter killer sight for the commander, unlike every other tank competing, really put the Ukrainian team at a disadvantage.

The Competition ended with Austria taking first place dethroning the Germans who came in a close second. U.S.A. took third followed by France then Poland and the Ukrainian team in sixth place. The rivalry between Austria and Germany was hard core throughout the whole competition breaking away from the other teams. However, the score difference between third and sixth placed teams was nothing short of a runaway. The point spread was 50-100 pts so having the Ukrainian team placing sixth overall, using fifty year old against the day’s most modern tanks was not a defeat. The determination and crewman abilities were strong and they never backed down at all. This type of tenacity that the Ukrainian tankers performed at, demonstrated a high level of skill, comradery and confidence, that any and all crewman should envy. So for having all the odds stacked against them, they showed they can hold their own with the bigger countries and surprised a lot of people with their ability. This should hopefully not be a onetime event for the Ukrainians, for next year, the competition should again be stiff, exercising crewman skills and agility, but most important, Esprit de corps amongst all things armoured.

When all was said and done, it was a great opportunity for the two of us to attend such a prestigious competition - and who knows…….maybe next year it could be you as part of a Canadian team (if entered) competing against some of the finest tankers NATO has to offer.