Commentators have been predicting the end of the tank for decades yet the fact remains they are still relevant to a wide range of conflicts, whether that be the traditional heavy metal armoured clashes or used in a coercive capacity in counter insurgency or peace support missions.
The Challenger 2 is without a doubt one of the best main battle tanks in anywhere in the world, highly mobile and superbly well protected it gives UK armed forces a formidable edge.
Improved incrementally over a number of years there are still a number of improvements that it needs to remain in the premier league. In our previous post on structures I suggested that Challengers be restricted to 2 armoured brigades but that these brigades revert to the more traditional square structure with 2 armoured Regiments and 2 Armoured Infantry Battalions. An armoured Regiment consists of 4 Armoured Squadrons each equipped with 14 Challenger 2 and supporting elements such as medic and repair/recovery. Each squadron has 4 troops of 3 Challengers plus 2 in the HQ.
The existing Challenger 2 should be improved to 2E level with new engine/transmission, fire control systems, sensors and remote weapon stations. In addition, the 120mm rifled canon should be replaced with the Rheinmetall 120mm L55 canon. This is not for any inherent technical reason (those arguing the relative merits of rifled versus smoothbore can go on forever) but basic industrial and cost realities. The UK is the only nation to use a rifled main gun so any ammunition is both costly to develop and manufacture. Barrel life is also longer with a smoothbore and we can tap into other nations supply streams.
Fitting the smoothbore L55 has already been demonstrated in static firing tests and apart but to accept 1 part ammunition would be a complex and expensive task, so expensive it might actually be worth a new ammunition design and manufacture phase.
If possible, the switchover will enable access to a much greater choice of ammunition natures and commonality with other NATO nations. Ammunition available for this weapon, off the shelf, includes the very high performance Rheinmetall DM63 kinetic penetrator and the DM33 PELE round. General Dynamics manufacture a wide range of 120mm smoothbore ammunition including the ‘interesting’ M1028 cannister round and IMI make the Stun Cartridge (CS) that is essentially a huge thunderflash, the APAM multi purpose round and the tank launched LAHAT guided munition for engagements beyond 6,000m.
Although the Russians have recently cancelled the BMPT Tank Support Fighting Vehicle it is an interesting concept developed directly from experience in fighting in built up areas with main battle tanks. The accepted wisdom is not to take a tank into built up areas unless one has lots and lots of infantry support, tanks can be vulnerable at close range from all manner of active and passive defences.
With the proposal to go square there is a lot of Challenger 2’s in each Armoured Brigade, a UK version of the Russian BMPT would provide a valuable improvement in capability especially in the close confines of urban or semi-urban terrain. In typical open tank country it could be argued that such a vehicle would have little merit but as the world becomes increasingly urbanised and high performance anti tank weapons proliferate, the danger levels for armoured vehicles is increasing.
The proposed Challenger fire support vehicle would be a conversion of existing hulls and they could be deployed in each troop (2x Challenger 2 MBT and 1x Challenger 2 FSV) or concentrated in a dedicated troop, the actual deployment options would be determined from doctrinal development and exercising. They might even be deployed as a dedicated squadron.
Whilst the Russian BMPT favours multiple cannons, grenade and missile launchers with a 5 man crew the Challenger version would be armed with a remote turret. A 3 man crew would be housed in the hull to maximise protection and minimise weight, this weight reduction would improve the power to weight ratio and therefore mobility. The remote turret would house an extendable mast mounted sight and be armed with a high elevation mount 40mm CTA canon, 40mm GMG and 7.62mm machine gun.
In one of our previous proposals we suggested that the CRV-7 Precision Guided Rocket would have utility as a low cost guided weapon against fixed and slow moving targets, if the system comes into service it would be a useful addition, either that or a 4 round Javelin launcher.
The CRV-7 is in service with the RAF and Army Air Corps in a number of unguided variants, incredibly effective with a much higher energy and accuracy than other similar rockets Kongsberg and Magellan have been quietly working on the precision seeker head that is available in semi active laser, GPS and even anti radiation although only the first two have been successfully demonstrated. Kongsberg are also marketing the CRV-7PG in a naval mount and it was also due to be fitted to the Canadian Multi Mission Effects Vehicle.
A bulldozer blade should also be fitted.
The key mission for the Challenger FSV would be to protect Warrior and Challenger from ATGW/RPG teams, suppression and destruction of small vehicles and support weapons. At greater open terrain ranges then the Challenger, Warrior, FRES and supporting indirect fires should be able to cope but in close confines reaction time and agility count whilst still being as mobile and survivable as Challenger because inevitably, they will get hit. For this reason the well protected Challenger teamed up with an extremely fast slewing/elevating medium calibre weapon like an automatic canon is ideal. the 40mm CTA is the logical choice and can have two ammunition natures available at the flick of a switch, some of these advanced rounds will have delayed fusing for through obstacle and over defilade attack.
The Warrior has proven to be reliable, tough and capable but the existing turret and 30mm RARDEN canon can be improved.
The various studies to improve the Warrior and field the 40mm CTA canon in a new turret have recently been slipped by 12 months due to budget issues but the programme should not be delayed indefinitely and confirmed as soon as possible.
Our previous structure proposal envisages the re rolling of some existing Warrior infantry units to the mechanised role which means a number of Warriors would be made available for conversion to the various secondary roles currently fulfilled by the FV43x series. The FV43x series, especially the excellent Bulldog conversions, should be retained as war stock and used when the need dictates.
Have added some extra information in the post to reflect comments.