This is a multi-part look at the role of armour in recent conflicts, their relevance in the future and a look at current programmes
Part 6 – A Few Ideas on the Future
The SDSR and subsequent work on Army 2020 defined what it thought was the future of the main battle tank.
With many years of operations soon to be behind us, RAC crews going back to their tanks and leaving their Mastiffs and Warthogs behind, there will be a clear drive to re-sharpen the armoured cutting edge.
People tend to rave about the Rheinmetall Leopard because, let’s be honest, it has sold a shedload and has an all-round balance; the Germans of course, always build a nice Panzer and Rheinmetall are not afraid of investing their own money to keep it current.
The Leclerc, Ariete and various exotic flavours of Far Eastern tanks have supporters; again it would seem, not unreasonably.
But when you resist the tempting treats on offer from abroad and look at what we actually have, the Challenger 2 has seen real combat, delivered the good news to the enemies of Her Majesty on a number of outings and despite taking multiple hits carried on.
This means a lot.
Maybe the British experience of Normandy, one that has influenced all subsequent designs that have focussed on protection, is still valid.
The Challenger Life Extension Programme
In 2007 the Challenger fleet size stood at 385, with 320 fit for purpose. By 2009, the fit for purpose fleet had fallen to 261 with the in service fleet at 345.
(these figures don’t include driver training tanks or Challenger derivatives)
The small fleet of Challenger 2 modified to operate in Iraq have been retained in controlled storage but with the budget pressures of recent years and the focus of the Royal Armoured Corps being delivering capability into Afghanistan the Challenger upgrade programme had been put on hold.
But despite this, the subsequent announcements on Army 2020 have shown the MoD still clearly sees the Main Battle Tank as an integral part of the future.
At the end of last year the Public Accounts Committee delivered a scathing report on armoured vehicles that I briefly highlighted here.
The consequence of recent cuts to armoured vehicles programme over the last five years is that just £5.5 billion remains in the budget for the next ten years. This is insufficient to fund the Department’s current armoured vehicles programme. The Department has yet to devise a plan for how it will close the gaps in both its budget and vehicle fleets. To deliver better value for money in future it plans to purchase off the shelf vehicles through international competition, with upgrade and support carried out by UK industry for reasons of security of supply.
So the MoD has a £5.5 billion sized pot of cash for armoured vehicles to 2021/2 out of which has to come; FRES (both flavours), the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme, Foxhound, potentially, projects like the Multi Role Vehicle (Protected) and whatever we end up bringing into core, post Afghanistan.
£5.5 billion might sound like a lot but that jam is spread pretty thinly.
It also has to address the rapidly approaching obsolescence of the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank and possibly its derivatives, the repair and recovery vehicle and the two combat engineering variants, Titan and Trojan, although these are much newer than the main battle tank.
There are three broad options when considering what to do with Challenger 2;
One Ring to Rule Them All
A bolder approach but one which of course has greater risk, is to develop a new base platform that can replace all three vehicle families and massively reduce through life costs via the wonderful world of standardisation and commonality.
Therefore, it is what will not be done.
The MoD’s will only consider development as a last resort and its recent risk aversion means that whatever potential benefits this has, it’s a non-starter.
Buy a load of Leopards
Paul had a look at this option
Interesting, but unlikely
Therefore, it is what will not be done.
Upgrade Warrior, buy FRES SV and upgrade CR2
This is obviously the lowest risk and lowest sticker price option because it capitalises, mostly, on what we already have.
Therefore, it will be what is done.
The stated intention of the MoD is to perform a Life Extension Programme. The concept phase of CR2 LEP has recently been launched; the ultimate plan is to upgrade all 227 vehicles to extend their service lives beyond 2035 at an estimated cost of £500m, which is less than £2.5m each. The concept phase is expected to be complete by next March with the assessment and production phases following soon after.
The in service target is, of course, 2020.
Whilst the Challenger 2 is without a doubt one of the best main battle tanks in the world there is still considerable room for improvement and as I mentioned above, many of the electronics are rapidly becoming obsolete, to the point where they no longer become economic to support.
Upgrading Challenger 2 means lot of trade-offs; a limited budget means prioritisation will have to take place so in a crowded equipment programme the ‘let’s do it all’ option is off the table.
As most of the Think Defence readers will know, Challenger 2 uses the 55 calibre L30A1 rifled 120mm main gun, which more or less, the UK is the only user of. This means we are unable to take advantage of research and development of the much more common smoothbore ammunition by the USA, Israel and Germany, especially for non depleted uranium kinetic energy rounds like the General Dynamics KE-W A3 or Rheinmetall DM63
These new rounds are not cheap at about £3-5k each
It uses a two piece ammunition design, unlike the 120mm smoothbore designs that use a single piece with combustible cartridge. There are benefits to this but one of the downsides is that the penetrator rod cannot extend back into the charge housing. This is how the length (and effectiveness) of the smoothbore penetrator is achieved, the length to diameter ratio being one of the determinants of performance.
Because of this two part ammunition, stowage is split between a number of locations within the turret and hull with a total capacity of 50 rounds.
Swapping the gun itself would not present a significant challenge and was trialled in 2006 by Royal Ordnance Defence as part of the £3.5m Smoothbore Option Technical Demonstrator Programme (SO TDP)
But adapting the vehicle for carriage of single piece ammunition would require a major rework and this of course means cost.
Click herefor a few images of the ammunition stowage issue.
Challenger 2 uses two basic forms of ammunition, kinetic and chemical.
The L27A1 Armour Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS), commonly called (CHallenger main ARMament gun) CHARM3
CHARM3 uses depleted uranium and there have been ongoing concerns about its legality.
A recent legal review confirmed the Government legal advice is that it remains legal to use.
Nick Harvey (Minister of State (Armed Forces), Defence; North Devon, Liberal Democrat)
I informed the House on 31 October 2011 that I had commissioned officials to undertake a legal weapons review of our depleted uranium (DU) anti-armour tank rounds, known as Charm-3. Although Charm-3 was introduced before the Government were obliged to undertake such reviews, I ordered this review, as a special case, to address concerns that have been raised in Parliament and by civil society.
The review is now complete and has concluded that Charm-3 is capable of being used lawfully by UK armed forces in an international armed conflict. Charm-3 is the only munition within the UK arsenal manufactured using DU. We judge this capability necessary in any land battle to defeat the armoured vehicles of an adversary state and no alternative tank round (using another metal or substance) has been shown to provide a comparable effect on target. It is self evident that use of Charm-3 will be limited to a war fighting role, specifically in tank battles, and likely therefore to be employed only in exceptional and limited circumstances.
Legal weapon reviews are carried out in accordance with article 36 of the first protocol of 1977 additional to the Geneva conventions of 1949 (Additional Protocol I). Article 36 states:
“In the study, development, acquisition or adoption of a new weapon, means or method of warfare, a high contracting party is under an obligation to determine whether its employment would, in some or all circumstances, be prohibited by this protocol or by any other rule of international law applicable to the high contracting party”.
Such legal reviews are undertaken routinely in respect of weapon systems brought on to the UK inventory following UK ratification of additional protocol I, on 28 January 1998. The acquisition of Charm-3 pre-dates ratification and for that reason only, no review had been undertaken before now.
The legal review process under article 36 of additional protocol I required the use of Charm-3 to be considered in the light of certain key legal principles, namely:
Whether it is prohibited by any specific treaty provision;
Whether it is of a nature to cause unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury;
Whether it is capable of being used discriminately;
Whether it will cause long-term, widespread and severe damage to the natural environment;
Current and possible future trends in international humanitarian law.
The legal weapon review considered each of these points. The review itself comprises legal advice provided in confidence, but I wish to set out the rationale for reaching the judgment that the rounds are legal:
The use of DU in weapon systems is not prohibited by any treaty provision.
There have been extensive scientifically based studies, undertaken by the World Health Organisation in relation to the long-term environmental and other health effects allegedly attributable to the use of DU munitions. In the light of the reassuring conclusions drawn by such scientific studies, and noting the continuing military imperative underpinning retention of Charm-3 as a weapon system, it was concluded that use of Charm-3 does not offend the principle prohibiting superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering in armed conflict.
Crew training, weapon design and automated targeting systems mean Charm-3 is capable of being used discriminately.
Where DU ordnance residues have existed, in the aftermath of an armed conflict, annual potential radiation doses have been shown by scientific study to be well below the annual doses received by the general population from sources of natural radiation in the environment and far below the reference level recommended by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a criterion to determine whether remedial action is necessary. An environmental footprint inevitably will be left by use of DU munitions but one where a credible and authoritative body of scientific evidence (drawn from both international and national sources) has demonstrated there is no proven link between exposure to DU and, neither, a significant risk to public health, nor, a significant risk of any long-term damage to the environment.
Finally, it was concluded that DU continues to be a material of choice used by states in the manufacture of anti-armour munitions. To date no inter-state consensus has emerged that DU munitions should be banned and the available scientific evidence (developed in the aftermath of the Gulf war in 1991) continues to support the view held by the UK that such munitions can be retained for the limited role envisaged for their employment.
The UK policy remains that DU can be used within weapons; it is not prohibited under current or likely future international agreements. Given the challenging situations in which we expect our service personnel to operate, it would be wrong to deny them legitimate and effective capabilities that can help them achieve their objectives as quickly and as safely as possible.
From a legal perspective, CHARM3 therefore, remains viable
Despite this legal review, I think the government will come under increasing pressure in the near future to look again, especially as more studies on the rise of birth defects in Iraq and especially Basrah, conclude, as they will do in the next few years.
Some of these recent studies are highlighting the significant spike in birth abnormalities and drawing a link between them and high levels of heavy metals in areas where there was significant fighting.
Click the link below for one example;
From what I have read none of these are specifically looking at depleted uranium but no doubt more studies will be carried.
There are many more questions than answers with these studies; are accurate before and after comparisons possible, is there a causal link and can they be linked to depleted uranium for example so one cannot automatically assume that the DU CHARM3 round is going to be withdrawn any time soon.
It certainly looks like increasing pressure will be bought to bear though and this might influence decisions on the main gun on Challenger 2.
These studies will also look at tungsten alloys so a change might not offer much in the ‘environmental impact’ stakes.
Even if CHARM3 remains in service we need to assess whether it will continue to provide its performance advantage in the period up to the out of service date of Challenger 2, sometime beyond 2030.
It may be judged that no likely vehicle will emerge in this frame that will offer sufficient protection to defeat CHARM3 and therefore, a risk based decision can be made to marshal our existing stocks (unknown) until this time.
It is unlikely that a depleted uranium development will be funded to replace CHARM3 so any conventional replacement would not only be made in small quantities but unable to utilise existing designs and have to overcome the length limitations inherent in the two piece design.
So with CHARM3 still on the books, a more realistic assessment of future enemy armour capabilities against the capabilities of CHARM3 and the significant upgrade costs of moving to a single piece ammunition design it seems unlikely that a cost constrained upgrade programme will change the main gun.
There has been some talk of improving the L23 round for export to Oman and use by the UK and the tungsten training version of the L27 called the L28 although little has been released on this and information seems sparse.
The secondary ammunition nature of the Challenger 2 is the High Explosive Squash Head, essentially a big lump of HE that deforms on impact and is initiated by the base fuse, it sending shockwaves that create spalling on the inside of the target vehicle.
It is also used against fixed fortifications, soft skin vehicles and other targets that do not warrant the use of APFSDS.
It was a HESH round that is widely reported to be used for record breaking shot that we hear so much about but this from ARRSE seems to cast doubt on that;
There seems to be some confusion about what happened and what shot etc. the range was just over 5100m. We had finished moving forward and had gone firm. i was scanning the horizon when picked up what i thought to be T62′s across the valley. We had been shooting at whatever targets presented. I lased the target and was surprised by the range that came back, we started talking about having a go at the target amongst ourselves and The Colonel ok’ed the shot. it was a normal fin round, and after lasing again i fine laid the ellipse onto the target and fired. It was central hit just below the turret, as to whether the target was manned, i don’t know however the shot I was really proud of is mentioned by Mad Pierre by mistake, which was a T62 mover reversing up and out of a hull down position at about 1500m, and was hit with a HESH first round through the top of the turret, again fine laid without autolay, never did like it much. Hope this helps. I was always a lucky gunner.
Whilst HESH is both useful and effective (about £500 each), in comparison with others now available for the smoothbore 120mm not particularly versatile, has little fragmentation and is point detonating.
General Dynamics offer the M1028 Canister Round that is used against infantry.
The Rheinmetall PELE round uses a tungsten penetrator to reduce collateral damage and the Israel Military Industries even offer a 120mm STUN cartridge that is designed to disperse crowds by providing the same firing signature as normal ammunition. Air bursting and delayed point detonation ammunition are available, tube launched missile (e.g. LAHAT) continue to be perfected and a wide range of other ammunition is also available on the open market from a number of suppliers, all denied to the Challenger 2 because of the choice of rifled main gun.
Another issue is that of insensitive propellant/ammunition, arguably it should be in the protection/survivability section but here because of the relationship to the gun choice.
The only loss of a Challenger 2 in Iraq was due to fratricide, a HESH round striking the raised commanders hatch. The Board of Inquiry into the death of Cpl Allbutt and Tpr Clarke is pretty harrowing reading and there are images on the net of the vehicle, its turret displaced and blown off its mounting, resting on the rear deck, but you will have to search for that yourself.
The report clearly indicated that the initial attack was not survivable but it also makes a number of references to the secondary explosion and fire caused by deflagration of stored HESH rounds inside.
Reading the report it should be clear that insensitive munitions would not have altered the final outcome in this case but newer munitions available from General Dynamics, IMI and Rheinmetall are available in ‘IM’ form.
The Iraq TES Challenger 2’s were fitted with a remote weapon station, the Selex Enforcer. This can use the GPMG, M2 HMG or GMG and would be a simple upgrade to the rest of the fleet in the LEP programme.
Beyond adding the Selex Enforcer to all vehicles in the LEP improving Challenger 2 firepower by a wholesale main gun replacement remains low, in the regard, Challenger 2 will continue to slip behind the state of the art.
How far behind this start of the art is acceptable and how far behind is not acceptable is the main discussion point.
Actually, the state of the art is less important than the state of the enemy art, which is the calculation the MoD must make.
The inability to take advantage of newer ammunition natures will also make the Challenger 2 less flexible than its peers.
Electronics and Optronics
Although the systems are not state of the art it would be silly to argue they are ineffective but equally, some of the electronic components in CR2 are very definitely approaching end of life so even addressing these obsolescence issues will be a major project and no doubt, any new systems will be Generic Vehicle Architecture compliant.
In 2005 General Dynamics were contracted by the MoD to implement the platform battlefield information system application (PBISA) project that integrates the commanders display with navigation and other inputs using a MILCAN bus.
Click here for details.
The commanders (no Sagem) VS580 gyrostabilised sight is no longer manufactured by Sagem (although I did read that Thales Samsung Korea purchased the design rights) although the newer MVS580 is still available and integrated into the CR2E export model.
The Gunner Primary Sight (GPS) sight was formerly from Pilkington Optronics who are now owned by Thales.
Perhaps the weakest aspect of the Challengers sighting system is the thermal imager that is mounted above the gun barrel and unstabilised. The Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight II (TOGS II) was again from Pilkington Optronics, before that Barr and Stroud and now Thales.
The CR2E model used a Sagem MVS 580 for the commander and SAVAN 15 for the gunner, both with laser rangefinders, fully stabilised and available with day and thermal imaging optics. This configuration supported true ‘hunter killer’ operation.
From the CR2E there exists an off the shelf upgrade solution.
Another interesting option would be to take advantage of the work currently being carried out by General Dynamics on the FRES SV Scout programme, especially the Thales Orion system which is receiving rave reviews.
The Orion implementation will be the first major system to be fully Generic Vehicle Architecture and Vetronics Infrastructure for Video Over Ethernet (VIVOE Def Stan 00-82) standard compliant, an important step to ensure maintainability and cost reductions across the Army as a whole.
I looked at GVA (Def Stan 23-09) last year, click here to have a read.
The Thales product page describes the Orion as having 360° continuous rotation, full stabilisation, a long range and wide area TV sensor, long wavelength thermal imager, High Definition outputs, gigabit Ethernet connectivity, automatic target detection and tracking, modular hardware and a number of interface options.
This would be used for the commander and linked to a new sensor processor unit and the gunners sight to enable the gun to slew onto a target designated by the commander in a ‘hunter-killer’ sequence.
The Catherine MP Thermal Imager is an impressive sensor and used in a number of systems, the image below shows it output.
Operating under armour inevitably reduces situational awareness and in urban environments, a likely more common situation. This has resulted in a number of systems being developed and deployed in Afghanistan.
Road Marshall consists of a number of fixed and rotating optical and acoustic sensors linked into a common processor and up to sixteen display units. It is designed to enhance crew awareness of the immediate surrounding area and can be expanded to include threat detection and weapon cueing using the Selex Enforcer remote weapon station for example. It can also link into the longer range optical sensors like the one shown on the mast in the image below.
This kind of system would be a valuable addition for operations in close terrain.
If the CR2 LEP looked at the Thales sighting and the Selex situational awareness systems the MoD would be in very real danger of creating a common armoured vehicle sensor set with attendant training, spares and other support cost savings
Best go and have a lie down!
Independent of the main gun issue, sensors and fire control systems are likely to take the lion’s share of the upgrade budget.
With the full up-armouring package applied, a Challenger 2 is approaching 74 tonnes which is way beyond the initial in service weight of 62 tonnes. The extra weight will inevitably place a strain on the automotive components, increase fuel consumption, reduce the power to weight ratio and ultimately, reduce mobility.
In the late nineties the Army put the Perkins Caterpillar CV12 engine fleet into the AES Machine Care Plus service regime which moved away from time/mileage interval servicing to a centralised one based on engine condition and fluid analysis. It is a sophisticated and innovative service that has driven down costs, massively improved availability and allowed engines to be used far beyond their expected service life. Pattern analysis also provides valuable intelligence across the engine fleet and allows the service provider to predict failure.
On operations in Iraq the Challenger 2 approached 100% availability, despite the well publicised problems with sand filters during the Saif Sarea exercise.
Changing the powerpack to the same MTU unit as used in the latest Leopard designs would provide a number of NATO commonality benefits as well as reducing fuel consumption and improving mobility.
The latest Euro Powerpack from MTU, the 883 Ka 501 is rated at 1200kw or over 1,650shp.
The CR2E export model was fitted with an MTU 883 engine and Renk HSWL 295TM automatic transmission (replacing the David Brown TN54 system). Because this combination was smaller than the Perkins/David Brown combination extra fuel could be carried and range extended.
The Renk 295 is from the same family as the Renk 256B that will be fitted to FRES SV.
This raises an interesting prospect of some engine and transmission component commonality across two of the main Army vehicle fleets with an obvious reduction in cost and logistic effort.
I know you won’t get very far in the MoD with that kind of dangerous common sense :)
As attractive as improving the power to weight ratio of Challenger 2 is, reliability and availability is hard won, any change would need to carefully consider the impact of this on availability and reliability.
That Challenger 2 is well protected is not in doubt but it is not impregnable either as demonstrated by it being reportedly penetrated by an RPG29 in Iraq. This resulted in an increase in armour through a couple of iterations.
If one looks at pictures of the Challenger in Iraq it should be clear that the front and side applique armour goes through a number of changes over time, first being ROMOR-A ERA and then a bolt on module of Dorchester armour at the front for example. Additional belly armour, ECM, cameras and bar armour over certain parts has also appeared.
Armour is of course highly secret but unless some breakthrough occurs one would assume that Challenger 2 is as well protected as any comparable vehicle so any scope for improvement might be limited.
Perhaps there might be more protection kits purchased or maybe an improvement to mounting fixtures as part of the programme.
An interesting aspect of protection is staying unseen and being able to utilise the hull down position as shown in the image below
Natural terrain is preferable but a mine plough can be used to make your own terrain
Challenger can use the Pearson Heavy Dozer Blade (UDK1) but this task would ordinarily be done by attendant Royal Engineer vehicles like Trojan.
Challenger 2 has a smoke generation system that injects fuel into the exhaust, producing a large smoke screen in a short time as seen in this fun video from Top Gear
It also has a pair of 66mm grenade launchers on the front of the turret. There may be additional improvements to the laser sensor and multi spectral smoke discharger systems from manufacturers like Rheinmetall or Diehl for example.
Sven wrote a good piece on smoke dischargers a few years ago;
The conclusion, that some western forces seem to have somehow forgotten about the value of smoke seems to be true.
There are also the new generation of active protection systems such as Trophy, IBD ADS or Saab’s LEDS that might be considered.
[The link, by the way, is a fascinating look at how effective multispectral cam nets can be]
Although the stated desire is to upgrade all vehicles to ensure a completely homogenous fleet I am not sure if anyone thinks this will happen and we won’t end up with a two or even three tier fleet of training and operational vehicles.
Whole Fleet Management will also most likely continue in its current form; a small quantity of vehicles held at sub unit level for local training, another set that is used for large training exercises called the training fleet and a set that is used to rotate between the two called the maintenance fleet. Finally, there is operational fleet, the ones held in Controlled Humidity Environments.
If there is a set number of vehicles and a finite budget then trade-offs are inevitable, do you accept a lower specification or scope of upgrade but create an entirely common fleet or do you create multiple upgrade packages and get maximum capability but in a smaller sub set of the fleet.
How much do you rely on UOR’s for future upgrades, given the Treasury are likely to be less UOR friendly in the future.
Do you look at the total fleet of 227 vehicles and then look at the likely future deployment strength, given current defence planning assumptions, Army 2020 reaction force size and past operations (TELIC had only 116 CR2 deployed)
All these will be factored into these difficult decisions.
Decisions, decisions, dilemmas, dilemmas
An upgraded Challenger 2 will sit within the Army 2020 structure.
This changed post SDSR, which envisaged 5 Multi Role Brigades, into the 3 Armoured Brigade plus Divisional HQ plus logistics and force troops.
The Royal Armoured Corps will reduce from 11 regiments to 9 by amalgamation.
From the Army website
The Queens Royal Lancers will amalgamate with 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales’s) upon completion of scheduled operational commitments and not before October 2014.
The 1st Royal Tank Regiment and the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment will merge upon completion of scheduled operational commitments and not before April 2014.
Each Armoured Brigade will comprise one armoured cavalry regiment, one armoured regiment, two armoured infantry battalions and one protected mobility battalion.
There was a slight change; the Type 56 regiment is different from the previous organisational setup.
The Army has used several structures for armoured regiments, the Type 38, Type 43, Type 44, Type 50, Type 57 and Type 58, plus those created on the fly for operations. These varied the number of Troops and tanks in the Squadron HQ and number of Squadrons to get to the number required.
An Army 2020 Sabre Squadron will have eighteen Challengers which is an interesting number because it is 4 more than the current Type 58 (4 troops of 3 plus 2 in SHQ in a Squadron, 4 Squadrons and 2 in RHQ)
We might guess at the makeup of a Type 56 Regiment but it would be just that, a guess.
Because the Army 2020 wiring diagram says 3 Squadrons of 18 we could assume there will still be two tanks in RHQ but the combinations within the Squadron are interesting.
You could make up the numbers by sticking with 3 tanks per Troop but then increase the number of Troops per Squadron and an extra in SHQ or stay at 4 troops of 3 but add an extra Squadron whilst losing the 2 in SHQ.
You could achieve the 18 tanks by keeping with the 2 in SHQ but increasing the troop strength to 4 tanks each. This means no tanks for RHQ though, hence the reduction of 2 from the Type 58.
In addition, an armoured Squadron will have the usual collection of attachments and detachments from the REME, RLC, RAMC and even the AGC Combat HR Specialists.
Lots of interesting combinations and as ever, subject to variations in peace and wartime establishment, training location fleet, trials & development and whole fleet management.
A lot of people get really exercised by working out exact ORBAT’s but the simple reality is they change on a regular basis and are often improvised on operations anyway so its probably not worth worrying too much about.
We should also note that this has yet to be implemented and is subject to change, there is at least one and probably two defence reviews before the notional Army 2020 vision is open for business.
There are also a couple of issues for the Army to worry about, training and accommodation space as we move back from Germany and the vehicle storage capacity, perhaps British Forces Germany might still have a small role to play after all.
In the next and final post in this series I will be having an out of the box blue sky thought shower!