The Tankoviy kostyum (original translation; Tankovij kostjum, in Cyrillics; Танковый костюм (literally meaning; Tanker's costume, abbreaviated ТК), alternatively known as Костюм танкиста (Kostjum tankista/Kostyum tankista, meaning; Costume of tankers) was once a battledress of Soviet and, nowadays, of Russian origin.. It was originally intended for all Soviet tankers (vehicle crews/operators) in general during the Cold war era, as their standard and indispensible combat as well as working uniform.
As its official designation clearly points, it was deliberately designated as a costume (a suit - exactly like the infantryman's KZS) rather than a coverall (kombinezon, like the infantryman's KLMK, as an example), simply due to the fact that it was a two-piece battledress - consisting of pants/trousers and shirt/jacket (in contrast to above mentioned KLMK, which was exclusively one-piece and which was exactly due to that officially designated as being a coverall rather than a suit/costume), but was still not an actual uniform (just like the KZS), since it was only a combat/working suit, intended to be just worn above their standard-issue M-69 service and everyday uniform, used by all Soviet Armed Forces servicemen and personnel.
This tanker's suit evolved directly from the previous, Red Army's tanker coverall, known exactly as the Tankoviy kombinezon (Танковый комбинезон - Tanker's coverall), which originated back from late 1930s and was commonly used through the entire World War II up until the early 1970s (with some minor changes to the cut after the war). At first glance, it was very similar to it, mainly since both were made completely from black-colored textile and both featured integrated suit-alike belt with metallic buckle around waist.
However, there were actually severe differences - firstly, the previously used coverall was a one-piece (exactly why it was designated as being kombinezon/coverall, rather than kostyum/costume - roughly the same as in KLMK case), in contrast to this one, which was a two-piece (like KZS), as already mentioned. Moreover, the material (textile type) was also different, since the coverall version was made out of canvas, while the later suit version is exclusively made from cotton.
The coverall version featured only two pockets (single one on shirt and a single one on trousers), while this suit features four altogether (two chest ones on shirt, and additional two thigh ones, on trousers) Also, the suit finally saw introduction of the special, winter model (featuring fur-filled trousers and jacket, in place of shirt), which was never found in the old coverall (coverall was simply worn with popular white or khaki Bekeša/Bekesha wool-made coats during winter). Furthermore, this suit is easily distinguished from the previously used coverall by another easily noticeable detail, as it always featured a distinctive stylized yellow T-62 (nowadays T-90) tank featured on a dark rhomboid background, a patch sewn onto the shirt's right chest, indicating armor troops/units.
Also, this suit existed in two models (both which featured summer together with winter variants). Although literally same in design even to smallest possible details, the earlier model (made from 1972 until 1983) featured black appearance, while the later one (produced from 1983 until 1993) was severely brighter, featuring a distinctive khaki appearance.
In contrast to most other Soviet-made equipment (which was continuted to be extensively used even after the fall of the USSR), the Tankoviy kostyum in its both mentioned models (black & khaki) was produced and used mainly by Soviet (and to very small-scale later Russian) tankers, that is, through the second half until the end of the Cold war era (from 1972 until 1993). It was then officially phased out from service in then newly-formed Russian army in 1993 and firstly replaced with essentially the same suit but now featuring camouflage patterns (the TTsKO and the new VSR and later Flora pattern) and then completely replaced simply with common infantryman's uniforms in those same camouflages (today also in newest, EMR digital pattern).
However, beginning as of 2017 and new modernization program of the Russian army, the slightly redesigned Tankoviy kostyum is nowadays returned to both production and service, now appearing in dark blue (the so-called Navy blue) pattern and featuring few trivial changes to the cut.
Although common and still relatively easy to acquire in most former Soviet states, the original Soviet versions (black and khaki) are nowadays relatively rare and hard to obtain in rest of the Europe and world, since they are not in production almost thirty years and since the were used exclusively by the Soviet army (apart from the current Russian army version).
Early (black) model
The original (black) model of Tankoviy kostyum made its first appearance in both production and service of tankers from Soviet Army in 1972, following a regulation through decree No. 92 issued directly from Soviet Ministry of Defense on 27th April of the same year - simultaneously replacing the previously used (also black, but one-piece) tanker coverall (the Tankoviy kombinezon), which was originally worn and used back from late 1930s and WWII period (with few trivial changes to the cut in further decades).
Furthermore, following a Defense Ministry decree No. 211 starting from 16th September 1974, the usage of Tankoviy kostyum and all of its accessories was also regulated for two other branches of the Army (for SPG and SPAAG crewmen), as well as for members of Soviet Navy, that is, for tankers of Soviet marines, which were operating PT-76 light amphibious tanks back from 1951 and were previously also using the regular one-piece black coveralls.
However, due to slow process of swapping the old equipment with new within the Soviet army, the new suit was not widely adopted up until 1975 at least and was continued to be regularly paired with almost the same accessories (headwear and footwear), as found in the previously used coverall. In case of headwear, it was paired with then newest version of distinctive TSh-4M (Tankoviy shlem, Modernizirovanniy, meaning; Tanker's helmet, Modernized) helmet, featuring a built-in headset, consisting of R-124 intercom (which consisted of twin laryngophones, headphones and a plug - for connecting into the R-123 standard tank radio), which originally appeared back during early 1950s as direct result of introduction of the first Soviet main battle tank- the famous T-55, which was also their first tank featuring a radio-set.
Although, apart from the sole helmet, it could be also paired with newly received wool-made black beret, featuring a frontally worn metallic red star (for everyday use and when not operating vehicles), a feature never found in the previously used coverall. In context of underwear, it was continuted to be regularly worn with a basic uniform underneath, in its case, the standard issue M-69 - a greenish, cotton-made service as well as combat uniform which was worn and used by literally all Soviet Army servicemen.
In case of footwear, it was still paired with distinctive and even then very popular Sapogi leather-made jackboots, which were back then issued to and used by almost all Soviet Armed Forces personnel (even for battledress/combat uniforms).
As in case of previously mentioned coverall, the new suit was also made out of all-out black textile pattern and also featured a integrated cotton (suit-alike) belt with a metallic buckle (which now featured metallic rings on its holes). Reason why it continued to feature such dark appearance was the fact that such color was most suitable for tankers, as it easily helped to conceal any spots of fuel, grease/lubricants, engine oil as well as gunpowder from fired shell cases, which is naturally expected to spoil their uniform at daily basis. Due to exactly the same reason the World War II German (Wehrmacht) tankers (the Panzertruppen - Armor troops) wore their all-out black wool uniforms, same as their opposing Red Army tankers of the period.
However, the newly introduced suit now consisted of two pieces (shirt and trousers), due to which it was renamed from coverall to costume, as mentioned before. Each of those two elements featured two frontal, closed pockets with peaked pocket covers. It also made introduction of the winter variant, which featured a fur-filled trousers and a jacket instead of shirt.
The jacket was multi-layered internally (one of these layers also being fur-lining), while externally it also featured distinctive dark-grey or black detachable fur-lining on the collar and featured vertical, open side pockets. The buckling of all suit components was done via both classic plastic buttoning knobs as well as zip buttoning, which were sewn on both trousers and shirt/jacket's sleeves as well as on pockets.
Summer versions featured integrated belt on the trousers while the winter ones had it on the jacket. Because of that and due to being heavier, the winter trousers included belt loops instead, intended for pulling through the standard Soviet army brownish leather belt with metallic buckle (featuring a red star decorated with hammer and sickle) or the standard Soviet officer's belt with a double buckling piece.  In case of tanker's equipment, those belts served only for carrying the usual Soviet canvas magazine pouch on it (intended for three AKM or AK-74 spare magazines).
Although the Soviet tankers were officially always issued with an AKS-74U automatic carbine as their standard firearm and thus, the belonging pouch containing three spare magazines along with it, they almost never preferred to actually wear nor the rifle nor the pouch on them (along with any other equipment - map case, gas mask bag and other), simply due to the fact that literally anything worn on them could seriously hinder them while getting in and out of the tanks through the hatches above, which were also severely narrow. This was especially important if they had to quickly bail out when the tank was hit and burning, where literally every second could mean the difference between life and death.
Moreover, tendency not to wear anything else on them (beside the sole suits) while operating their combat vehicles was also present due to one more important reason - to avoid any equipment being accidentally snagged into large mechanism of the automatic reloader located inside the tanks (which was present starting from T-64 and which was always located right in between the two seats - commander's and gunner's, and was divided from them only by short railing), what could even be of life danger, in more extreme cases.
This also logically explains why the Soviet and today Russian tankers are rarely seen with a firearm, less indeed with a magazine pouch or any other equipment on their belts while operating combat vehicles, as they always preferred to actually stash the pouch together with the rifle inside the vehicle and then take it out and put onto them only if staying or fighting outside the vehicle (in other words, only if the vehicle is temporarily unmanned, abandoned, disabled or destroyed).
However, exactly due to these issues, both the summer (shirt) as well as the winter (jacket) versions of the suit included an internal pistol pocket (another featured not found in the previously used coverall), intended for standard-issue PM (Pistolet Makarova), which ensured that it could be always carried.
Purely due to differentation reasons, the summer variant of the suit is sometimes abbreaviated as the ТКЛ (TKL, meaning Tankoviy Kostyum Letniy, translated as; Tanker's Costume Summer), while the winter one as the ТК3 (TKZ, meaning; Tankoviy Kostyum Zimniy, translated as; Tanker's Costume Winter). Another easily noticeable and already mentioned feature is the fact that for some reason, only the summer versions came with distinctive stylized yellow T-62 tank featured on a dark rhomboid background, a patch always sewn onto the shirt's right chest.
Winter versions never featured any kind of patches, except sometimes rank insignia on shoulders, while the summer versions always included the shoulder rank insignia as well as official armor troops patch on the upper left sleeve. On the other hand however, only the winter pants included external marking depicting a red star decorated with hammer and sicke, along with inscription BC (VS, from Cyrillics, abbreviation for Вооружённые Силы, translated as Voorjžjunnij Sili/Vooryzyuhenniy Sili and meaning - Armed Forces), located on the upper left trouser leg.
Interestingly, the trousers also featured laces on both leg endings, as a new feature which served for tightening of trouser legs to prevent them from dragging or falling out from boot. This was somewhat odd feature, since the Soviet tankers exclusively wore the, already mentioned, Sapogi jackboots, which were going almost as far as up to the knees. So, due to these boot's high profile, it was actually very hard (if not literally impossible) for trouser leg to even slightly drag out, less indeed fall out from boot, regardless of the fact whether the trouser legs were tied or not. Therefore, the role of these laces was to tighten the trousers legs only if they were not sticked into the boots (however, that kind of was wearing was rarely practiced).
Internally, both shirt (or jacket) and pants/trousers always featured a distinctive white markings printed, in which the size, serial number of production, year and place of manufacturing as well as the cleaning regulations were found.
The first or earlier (black) model of the suit was in serial production and official usage by Soviet tankers for eleven years (from 1972 until 1983) and was thus used in all of their tanks of the period; from T-55 and T-62 through T-64 and T-72 up until T-80, when it was replaced with literally the same model, but only of different color (appearance). However, the original (black) model was neverthless unofficially continuted to be occassionally used and even produced as far as late 1980s, which was contributed to generally very slow process of swapping the old equipment and uniforms with new ones in the Soviet armed forces. This was actually pretty regular for such a huge force (counting more than few million men in active service and as fivefold as that in addition/reserve) as the Soviet army was.
Apart from tanks, the Tankoviy kostyum was also issued to crewmen of all Soviet ICV's (infantry combat vehicles); the BMP-1, BMP-2 and BMP-3. Furthermore, it was also regularly issued to all crewmen of their SPG's - the 2S1 Gvozdika, 2S3 Akatsiya, 2S4 Tyulpan, 2S5 Giatsint and 2S7 Pion and even to crewmen of short/medium range mobile anti-aircraft systems (SPAAG) of the period (the ones which were assigned directly to armored and mechanized units), the ZSU-23-4 Shilka, 9K31 Strela-1, 9K33 Osa, 9K35 Strela-10, 2K22 Tunguska, 2K11 Krug, 2K12 Kub, 9K37 Buk and 9K330 Tor.
A relatively common misconception regarding the Soviet tanker suits is that they were made fire-resistant (like the Nomex-made Bundeswehr Panzerkombi and the USA CVC tanker coveralls, as an example). This is mostly erroneous belief, as the Tankoviy kostyum together with its predecessor (the Tankoviy kombinezon) in its basic versions (both summer and winter) were always made from the usual cotton, reinforced with additional polyester fibers - for better durability and firmness of the suit (just like the common infantry uniforms) and were thus, never intended to provide fire-resistant features.
However, there really was a special, fireproof version of the suit, usually abbreviated as ТКО - Танковый Костюм Огнеупорный/Огнезащитный (Tankoviy Kostyum Ogneuporniy/Ognezashitniy, the latter simply meaning - Fireproof/Fire-resistant) in both in black and later khaki versions, which firstly appeared even before the original appearance of Tankoviy kostyum in 1972. It featured classic fire-resistant nylon layers above the usual cotton, different pocket composition and included gloves as well as hood along with a distinctive face-protective fireproof mask (by design similar to the one issued with KLMK coverall). For some reason however, it was very rarely issued and used (only for specific purposes).
Apart from it, the only Soviet fireproof tanker's piece was the 1930s Red Army black leather tanker's jacket, which was already during 1940s and WWII period officially surpassed by already mentioned one-piece cotton-made coveralls.
Late (khaki) model
Following a 1982 decree issued from Soviet Ministry of Defense, the Soviet Armed Forces faced another modernization program, which, among new technology, equipment and weaponry, also included new uniforms and appearance of various branches and units.
As a result, the following year (1983) Soviet infantry, marines (the MPR) and paratroopers (the VDV) in the first place, received the all out-new and unique uniform, which is nowadays in the West often colloquially designated as M-88 (although it appeared earlier than that) and which now consisted of camouflage/battledress version together with non-camouflage, standard service/everyday version. The battledress version was actually their very first actual camouflage uniform, as it included the ТЦКО (Три-Цветная Камуфлированная Одежда - TTsKO, meaning, Tricvetnaja Kamufliorvannaja Odežda/Tritsvetnaya Kamuflirovannaya Odezhda, translated as Three-tone camouflage clothing) pattern, which finally and soon largely replaced the previously used KLMK and KZS two-tone camouflage coveralls (although both of those were continued to be produced and officially used to this day, but much less than before the appearance of the new TTsKO pattern, that is, the M-88 uniform.)
However, the biggest change was in the introduction of the everyday/service version of M-88 (often popularly nicknamed Afganka, due to being originally introduced to personnel involved in Soviet-Afghan war), which was made in distinctive khaki pattern and which finally replaced the previous and already obsolete M-69 uniform (which was until then, often used even as battledress).
Exactly due to changes regarding uniforms and appearance of personnel, in the same year the Soviet tankers also received new, but essentially the same suit model as the previous one, whose sole difference was exactly its appearance - since it was now also made in severely brighter and immediately recognizable khaki pattern, instead of the usual black (as found in the previous model). This was done purely due to standardization reasons and nothing else practical, that is, just in order to match the appearance of tankers with newly-introduced infantryman's Afganka everyday/service uniforms, since both were now made in khaki pattern, as mentioned.
Everything else considering the new tanker's suit model (from its sole design to all suit components and features) remained literally the same as in the previous version (retaining even the smallest details, like the stylized T-62 patch on the shirt's right chest). Along with new model of the existing suit, they also received the updated model of the existing headset (their TSh-4M helmet), which now featured square and much larger (more bulged-out) ear covers (due to having additional noise-reducing layers built-in) as well as six head-protective longitudial lines on the overhead (two additional at the sides, which replaced the previous vertically-diagonal ones, as found in previous model of the headset).
As mentioned before, although the new khaki suits were originally and officially adopted by all Soviet army tankers back in 1983, the process of swapping the previous (black) suits was relatively slow, so the black suits were still in both production and usage for the further five years - up until 1988 at least, when they were finally and completely phased out in favor to the khaki model. This indeed slow process of new uniforms and equipment distrubution among personnel was in fact much usual for the Soviet armed forces and should not surprise at all, as the Soviet army was a truly huge force (which counted more than few million active personnel back in the time and much more in reserve) so it was pretty normal that it took at least few good years to replenish every single solider with newly introduced gear, uniforms and equipment. It was thus, not unusual to spot some Soviet tankers still wearing the older/black suits in 1986/87, despite the fact that they officially started switching those with khaki ones back in 1983.
The changing of the color (from black into khaki) of the tanker's suit during 1980s marked the final change of appearance of Soviet and previously Red Army tankers after almost fifty years, since they officially wore the all-out black suits/coveralls from late 1930s until early 1980s (although, the Red Army tankers often unofficially wore either light-grey, brown or dark-blue colored coveralls during WWII, but that was exclusively an alternative which appeared due to severe shortages of the black-colored textile).
Interestingly, regardless of the fact that the suit appearance was changed (in both winter and summer versions), their main headwear (the mentioned TSh-4M) nonetheless remained produced exclusively in black appearance until the very end of USSR and still continutes as such to this day (although the khaki-made TSh-4M helmets did exist, however, those were produced briefly and in small quantities, as they were being intended only for tankers serving in Afghanistan).
In contrast to the mentioned infantry camouflage patterns and uniforms, (which were continued to be extensively used by the newly formed Russian and most other post-Soviet armies as far as early 2010s), the khaki model of tanker's suit was almost immediately discontinuted from both usage and production after the breakup of USSR and was firstly replaced with another model of the existing suit (now featuring TTsKO or, then new, VSR camouflage pattern). Soon later, those models too were completely phased-out in favor to common infantryman's uniform (from 1998 also featured in then new, Flora camouflage pattern), thus largely eliminating the difference in appearance of tankers and infantry (except the headwear) in Russian Armed Forces (up until 2011), which was always present in the Soviet army.
This means that the khaki model was formally produced and used for further ten years (almost as same as the previous, black version), since it appeared back in 1983 but was already during 1993 officially phased-out from service and production and replaced with camouflage pattern suits and then uniforms.
The khaki model, however, had seen much more usage in various conflicts - being extensively used by Soviet tankers in Afghanistan during 1980s (although the black version was firstly also used, but very briefly) and even, to a much smaller scale, unofficially by later Russian army tankers during First Chechen war of middle 1990s (as seen on the photos to the right).
Regardless of that fact it is still relatively easy to find in post-Soviet states (mostly Russia and Ukraine), it is very hard to acquire in other parts of Europe and world, simply due to the fact it was used exclusively by Soviet and Russian army and since it is not in production for more than twenty years.
Modern (blue) model
As of early 2010s, the Russian Armed Forces faced their newest modernization program pursued under policies of the current Defense minister Sergej Šojgu (Sergey Shoygu, on English alphabet) and General staff chief Valerij Gerasimov (Valery Gerasimov). This modernization, among other new technology, weaponry and equipment, firstly saw introduction of the new parade uniforms for all branches (similar to the ones worn by the old Russian Empire officers), as well as the new Ratnik (literally; Warrior) program, which, among many other features, introduced the all-out new EMR pattern (the Russian first digital camouflage uniform) as a replacement for the Flora pattern (itself a replacement for previously used VSR), which was officially used from 1998 until 2011 as the standard camouflage of the Armed Forces.
For Russian tankers, this modernization program, ironically, marked the returning of these originally Soviet tanker suits beginning as of 2017 (after more than twenty years of disuse) in both usage and production and generally ended their usage of standard infantryman's camouflage uniforms (either TTsKO, VSR or Flora), which were also extensively used by them since 1993 until then.
However, the current Russian army version of the Tankoviy kostyum now exist only in dark blue (the so-called Navy blue) appearance (at first glance very similar to the Soviet early/black model, which is why it is often incorrectly refered to as being black) and it features slightly redesigned patch, which now depicts a styllized T-90 tank (instead of previous T-62) but which remains located on the same place (chest) and enclosed by the same rhomboid background.
Also, the suit now does not feature the same pants, as the pants now lack pockets and they do not feature the integrated suit-alike cotton belt anymore, but loops for separately used belt instead (as found in winter variants of the pants in the Soviet models), so the suit is not completely identical to the original Soviet versions (either black or khaki), although the shirt remained roughly the same (twin peaked pockets covers, knob buttons, same collar and etc).
Furthermore, in context of footwear, the Tankoviy kostyum is nowadays not paired with classic Sapogi jackboots anymore, but with modern all-out laces combat boots instead, used by the common infantry and other branches (Sapogi are nowdays being occasionally worn only by the Russian marines - the MPR forces).
In context of underwear, the suit is not paired with any kind of service uniform (like M-69, as was in the Soviet case), but with a simple greenish T-shirt below. So, it is practically not a suit anymore, but the actual tanker's uniform, since it is not worn over the basic uniform below. In context of headwear, it is still paired with either the newest version of their distinctive TSh-4M headset (when operating vehicles) or classic wool-made black beret (for everyday use and parades) and now also with EMR digital pattern classic field cap, as the alternative to the beret.
One of the most notable changes also being the usage of additional, fire-resistant material, which is actually one of the main reasons why the usual infantry (camouflage) uniforms were discontinuted in usage by tankers and replaced with these suits. In comparison with the previous (Soviet) models, the modern (Russian) version of the suit now does provide full fireproof, as it is always covered with additional nylon layer above the usual cotton (Soviet versions featured nylon/fireproof only in specific versions, while the basic/standard ones were exclusively cotton made, reinforced with polyester fibers). The suit nowadays also features the modern ripstop cut.
Moreover, the the suit now also features additional, anti-infrared layers on the existing fire-resistant material, which severely lowers the possibility of spotting its wearer via thermal devices (as an example, the feature is very useful when crewmen have to abandon the disabled vehicle in the middle of the firefight).
Except the sole design of the suit and its materials, there is also a minor change regarding the insignia worn on it - the usage of the once usual shoulder ranks is today restricted exclusively for officers/tank commanders, while the regular tankers are not featuring any kind of rank insignia anymore.
Despite the fact that the originally Soviet Tankoviy kostyum is again returned to usage in the modern Russian army, many Russian tankers and vehicle crewmen in general are neverthless officially using the EMR digital pattern or other infantry camouflage uniforms (but mostly the SPG, SPAAG and Armata crewmen), so the Tankoviy kostyum is today for usage exclusively restricted only for crewmen of their currently used MBT's (T-72, T-80 and T-90) and IFV's/ICV's (BMP-2 and BMP-3).
Summer field tanker suit:
Winter field tanker suit:
In popular culture
|The Beast||The late (khaki) model is used by the T-55 crew||1988|
|Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis||The early (black) model is used by Soviet crewmen, inappropriately paired with Czech vz. 90 instead of Soviet Sapogi boots||2001|
|World in Conflict||The late (khaki) model is used by the Soviet tankers||2007|
|Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare||The trousers of late (khaki) model are used by the OpFor||2007|
|Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain||The trousers of late (khaki) model are used by the armoured Soviet troops||2015|
The Tankoviy kostyum makes many brief appearances in various Soviet military footage of Cold war era. Among many others, there are some in which it is more closely observed: