The Power of 8 – Part 2

An audit of the UK’s existing vehicle fleet

The UK has more than 2,000 frontline AFVs that were acquired before 1980.

Some people might argue that the Army already has a credible Medium Armour capability. Perhaps “had” is a better word. Today, many vehicles are starting to show their age, while other newer types have proved unsuitable for the roles for which they were acquired. Many UK AFVs can trace their origins back to before 1980 and some date from as far back as the 1960s. With no recent major conventional conflict involving the UK’s land forces, there has been little incentive to upgrade our many tracked vehicles beyond sustaining their mechanical integrity. In the 1970s, with CVR(W) Fox and CVR(T) Scimitar and Scorpion, we had a world-beating Medium Armour capability. Today, the same vehicles are vulnerable to IEDs and their weapons are all but obsolete. A review of the UK’s AFV fleet may be helpful in revealing strengths and weaknesses.

Challenger 2

The jewel in the UK’s AFV crown is the FV4034 Challenger 2. This well-regarded MBT entered service in 1998, although the Challenger family of tanks dates back to the late 1970s. The turret was a new design and features an advanced fire control system developed in the late 1990s. A powerful engine and sophisticated hydrogas suspension endow it with good mobility. Unique among NATO countries, the UK adopted a rifled 120 mm gun, the L30A1 which fires depleted uranium armoured piercing APFSDS ammunition. It also fires high explosive HESH shells which are ideal for destroying fortified positions. After the UK ceased production of rifled 120 mm ammunition, a new Belgian supplier was found in 2009. With new 120mm smooth bore ammunition delivering increased penetration, at some point the UK will need to invest in new ammunition or fit a new gun.(10)

Challenger 2 is equipped with second generation Chobham ceramic / composite or Dorchester armour and is frequently described as the best protected MBT currently in service. Despite the plaudits, Oman has been the only export customer, ordering 38 units. The total number of vehicles delivered to the UK was 408 units, but the current inventory will be reduced to just 227 issued to the UK’s three regular and single reserve tank regiments. Though Challenger 2’s design is more than 20 years old, it remains one of the world’s leading MBT designs and is expected to remain in service until 2035.

FV4034 Challenger 2 is a world-class main battle tank, but not invulnerable. At the front, reactive armour plates were added to increase protection.

Challenger 2 in Iraq
Challenger 2 in Iraq 

The Challenger 2 fleet needs to be upgraded to remain a credible MBT. This was recognised as long ago as 2001, when the Challenger Life Improvement Programme (CLIP) was initiated to develop a revised vehicle mounting the Rheinmetall L55 / U55 120mm smooth bore gun – the same weapon used by the German Leopard 2A6 / A7. Tests showed that the tungsten DM53 APFSDS round achieved better penetration than the UK’s controversial depleted uranium CHARM 3 penetrator. One of the issues related to fitting a 120 mm smoothbore gun to Challenger 2 is the larger one-piece ammunition. This takes up more turret storage space than the UK’s existing 120mm rifled ammunition, which is stored in two separate pieces. Consequently, changing the gun on the Challenger 2 would require a brand new turret design.

In 2006, CLIP was deemed too expensive and was rolled into a second programme, the Challenger 2 Capability Sustainment Program (C2 CSP). The previous estimated cost of £386 million to upgrade the fleet was almost as expensive as acquiring a second-hand fleet of Leopard 2A6s with new 120 mm smoothbore guns. Consequently, the programme ran out of steam in 2008, becoming another casualty of MoD austerity. A third programme, the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (C2 LEP), was announced in July 2013 and is expected to receive funding in mid-2014. It seems that the existing 120mm rifled gun will be retained, so overall the programme is little more than a lick of paint.


The FV510 Warrior IFV was developed in the early 1980s and came into service in 1988. It was meant to completely replace the FV430 series of APCs and related family of vehicles. The total number of Warriors acquired was 789, including 489 section vehicles, 84 command vehicles (FV511), 105 repair variants (FV512), 39 recovery variants (FV513), 52 Artillery observation vehicles (FV514) and 19 artillery command vehicles (FV515). This was not enough to replace all of the existing FV430s and almost 900 FV430s remain in service.

The Warrior section vehicle has a crew of 3 and can carry 7 dismounts. It mounts the L21A1 Rarden 30 mm cannon, an old but reliable weapon, which fires clips of 3 rounds, and a coaxial Hughes 7.62 mm chain gun. Used extensively in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Warrior’s basic armour was upgraded with cage armour to defeat RPGs. In 2006, a new Theatre Entry Standard (TES) Warrior was fitted with appliqué armour to provide all-round protection from 14.5 mm AP projectiles. Unfortunately, various attacks have shown that the vehicle is still vulnerable. In particular, fires in the engine compartment can easily spread to the main crew compartment. The vehicle needs better fire-fighting equipment as well being modified to allow troops to exit more quickly in an emergency. As recently as October 2013, these improvement had not been made(10).

the original FV510 Warrior

A Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle is shown being put through its paces at a Firepower Demonstration at Warminster, Salisbury Plain. Photographer: Graeme Main
A Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle is shown being put through its paces at a Firepower Demonstration at Warminster, Salisbury Plain. Photographer: Graeme Main

latest TES Warrior in Afghanistan upgraded with additional armour including an RPG cage

A soldier from 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment is pictured with one of the new up-armoured Warrior infantry fighting vehicles in Afghanistan (copyright UK Ministry of Defence)
A soldier from 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment is pictured with one of the new up-armoured Warrior infantry fighting vehicles in Afghanistan (copyright UK Ministry of Defence)


Warrior is also starting to show its age. Like Challenger, Warrior has also suffered from delayed upgrade programmes. The Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) will upgrade 445 vehicles with the Warrior Modular Protection System (WMPS) and Warrior Enhanced Electronic Architecture (WEEA). The Warrior Fightability Lethality Improvement Program (WFLIP) will upgrade section vehicles with the new CTA 40 mm cannon, which is stabilised. This was originally meant to be mounted in a new turret, but will now use the existing one. The in-service date for the revised vehicle is 2020 and it is expected to stay in service until 2040. The cost of the improvement programme is reported to be around £1 billion.

FV430 / Bulldog

First introduced in 1962, the FV430-series was the British Army’s first fully tracked APC and the UK’s answer to the US’s highly successful M113 tracked APC. Mounting a 7.62 mm machine gun, the FV432 section vehicle has a crew of 2 and can carry 8 dismounts. Variants include a repair and recovery vehicle (FV434), command vehicle (FV436), guided missile (Swingfire) platform (FV438), signals vehicles (FV435 / FV439), and a self-propelled artillery gun variant, the Abbot (FV433).

Original FV432 used as a primary Infantry APC in BAOR for almost four decades


FV430 Mk 3 Bulldog with an appliqué armour package in Afghanistan.


RGJ Bulldog Patrol Southern Basra
RGJ Bulldog Patrol Southern Basra

As noted above, it was intended that Warrior would replace nearly all FV430-series vehicles, but, as costs rose, it was decided to retain approximately 900 vehicles. Although production ceased a long time ago, the drivetrain and other components have been upgraded and additional armour protection has been added. Appliqué Dorchester armour plates on the front and side of the vehicle have increased weight and reduced mobility. The average age of the fleet means that reliability is not what it was. In Iraq, there were several instances of vehicle breakdowns that left crews stranded in hostile territory. There is no escaping the fact that this is an old and outdated vehicle. It is likely to have only a limited ongoing role.


The CVR(T) family of vehicles was introduced in 1971. Originally mounting a Jaguar J60 4.2-litre in-line 6-cylinder petrol engine, it was a revolutionary design that relied on speed and manoeuvrability for protection as much as the vehicle’s aluminium armour. With a small size and relatively low weight of 7.8 tonnes, it could easily be transported to wherever it was needed, including being underslung from a Chinook helicopter. During the Falklands Campaign, CVR(T) Scimitars with 30mm cannons provided invaluable fire support. The vehicle’s low ground pressure, about 5 psi, allowed it to negotiate boggy ground impassable to other AFVs.

Primarily used to equip reconnaissance regiments, nine different variants were produced, all with names beginning with the letter S. The British Army acquired 313 Scorpion (FV101) reconnaissance vehicles fitted with a low velocity 76 mm gun; 328 Scimitar (FV107) reconnaissance vehicles mounting the Rarden 30 mm cannon; 48 Striker (FV102) ATGW launcher vehicles with Swingfire missiles; 478 Spartan (FV103) armoured personnel carriers; 50 Samaritan (FV104) armoured ambulances; 205 Sultan (FV105)  armoured command vehicles; and 37 Samson (FV106) armoured repair and recovery vehicles. Additional types included the Sabre, which mounted the Fox CVR(W)’s 30 mm turret on a Scorpion hull, when the latter was retired; and Stormer, which is a larger version of the Spartan APC with an extra set of road wheels. The UK bought 62 Stormers to mount its Starstreak HVM anti-aircraft missile system. A further 29 units of the flatbed version of Stormer were acquired to mount the Shielder minelaying system.(10)

CVR(T) Scimitar 2 in Afghanistan
CVR(T) Scimitar Mk2 in Afghanistan
CVR(T) - Scimitar in the Balkans
CVR(T) – Scimitar in the Balkans

The first CVR(T) upgrade programme, the CVR(T) Life Extension Programme (LEP), began in 1988 when a larger and more efficient 5.9-litre Cummins diesel engine and an upgraded transmission were fitted. Then in 2010, BAE Systems via a UOR order was asked to produce 50 Scimitar Mk 2 vehicles. Scimitar 2 is a new-build Spartan hull mounting the Scimitar’s 30 mm cannon turret on top. The vehicle has increased armour protection including composite / ceramic armour and a redesigned fuel system. Weight has increased to 13-tonnes.

The UK acquired a total of 1,863 CVR(T) vehicles. They have also been exported to Belgium, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, The Philippines, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, Chile, Venezuela, Nigeria, The UAE, Jordan, Oman, and Iran. In total, more than 3,500 CVR(T)s were produced. During its service life, CVR(T) was a highly successful vehicle, so it seems strange that the UK never initiated a domestic replacement programme.

With more than 3,500 produced and 1,500 sold to export customers, CVR(T) shows that the UK can design world-class AFVs.

Given its age, many older CVR(T)s have now been retired, but approximately 900 remain in service. By today’s standards, the CVR(T) design is extremely old and dated. The Scimitar’s 30 mm cannon is outclassed by other 30 mm weapons. Its flat bottom hull is vulnerable to IEDs and its aluminium armour can easily be pierced by .50 Cal heavy machine gun fire. Not before time, it is due to be replaced by the FRES Scout SV. This new vehicle discards the small and lightweight formula for a larger 35-tonne vehicle based on the ASCOD 2 platform and mounts the new 40 mm CTA cannon (see below).

AS90 155 mm self-propelled gun 

The AS90 155 mm self-propelled gun entered service in 1993 and replaced the Abbot FV433 105 mm self-propelled gun and M109 155 mm self-propelled gun. In total, 179 vehicles were acquired, with approximately 89 remaining in service. Though 20 years old, both gun and platform have life left in them. Four artillery regents are equipped with these guns, providing a significant fire support capability for the three armoured brigades.



M270 GMLRS launcher

This is guided multiple-launch rocket system based on the US M270 weapons platform. The launcher can fire 12 rockets to about 40 kilometres with precision accuracy. This system dates back to 1983. The UK acquired a total of 42 launch vehicles.  Like AS90, this platform is old, but has life left in it. These vehicles are currently being combined with AS90 batteries to create hybrid heavy artillery regiments.(11)

The final pre-acceptance trial of the GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA.
The final pre-acceptance trial of the GMLRS (Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System) at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, USA.


Viking and Warthog

Viking and Warthog are all-terrain vehicles based on the Hagglunds BvS 10 / BvS 206 amphibious personnel carrier. Viking was acquired in 2005 after an extensive trials and development programme. Its primary role was to be a swimmable APC for the Royal Marines. After Commando units deployed to Afghanistan with them, they were used more widely by other Army units, that lacked suitable APCs. Constant IED attacks revealed that Viking, in common with most other amphibious AFVs, lacked sufficient protection. Therefore, an up armoured version Warthog was hurriedly acquired in 2010 via a rapid UOR programme. Both vehicles feature a distinctive tandem box hull arrangement and articulated steering system. In the Viking, the front section weighs 5-tonnes and the rear section 3.5 tonnes. It can seat 4 soldiers in the front and 8 in the rear. The UK acquired a total 158 vehicles with four variants: troop carrying variant (TCV); command variant (CV); repair and recovery variant (RRV) and ambulance variant (AV). Like the CVR(T), Viking has a low ground pressure enabling it to traverse all kinds of terrain. Post-Afghanistan, Viking will revert to its primary amphibious APC role with the Royal Marines.

Royal Marines BVs10 Viking and Mini Pipe Fascine bundle in Afghanistan
Royal Marines BVs10 Viking and Mini Pipe Fascine bundle in Afghanistan


Warthog is the UK version of the ST Kinetics Bronco and is essentially a stretched and up-armoured Viking. It offers increased protection, greater mobility and a larger load carrying capacity, enabling it to carry 6 soldiers in the front cab and 10 in the rear.

Warthog All Terrain Protected Mobility Vehicle
Warthog All Terrain Protected Mobility Vehicle

A total of 115 vehicles with the same four variants as Viking (TCV, CV, RRV and AV) were ordered. Warthog vehicles will be re-issued to Royal Artillery units as an equipment transporter for the new Watchkeeper UAV.(10)

Protected Mobility Vehicles – UORs have sucked up the budget

The need to provide better protected mobility in Afghanistan, led the UK MoD to acquire a fleet of Foxhound LPPVs plus Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhound PPV variants. While these vehicles provide significantly enhanced IED protection versus legacy vehicles, their suitability for general purpose roles post-Afghanistan is limited and they were expensive. An estimated 700 vehicles will consequently be gifted to Afghan Army, when the Army leaves Afghanistan. The net result is that a large percentage of the Army’s future vehicle budget has been consumed by UOR purchases for Afghanistan. According to official MoD figures, approximately £2-£3 billion has been spent on armoured vehicles since 2006.

Two UOR vehicles are noteworthy. One is the Foxhound LPPV and the other is the Mastiff PPV. The Army has acquired 400 Foxhound (Force Protection / Riccardo Ocelot) 4x4s. This light protected patrol vehicle (LPPV) offers unprecedented protection in its weight class, accommodates up to six soldiers and mounts a 7.62 mm GPMG for defence. Foxhound has proved to be a versatile vehicle that is rapidly deployable by air and able to perform a variety of mission types. Consequently, it will be taken into the core equipment budget and used to equip several light role infantry battalions. Feedback suggests that it is an excellent vehicle, but, irrespective of Foxhound’s proven ability, we should not be blinded by the fact that it is essentially a heavy armoured Land-Rover with modest cross-country mobility.

The Foxhound 4×4 LPPV offers unmatched protection in its weight class (7.5 tonnes). It can carry up to 6 personnel, mounts a 7.62mm GPMG and can easily be airlifted (including being underslung by a Chinook helicopter). It shows that the UK can get vehicle procurement right.

British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) in Afghanistan 01
British Army Foxhound Light Protected Patrol Vehicle (LPPV) in Afghanistan 01


The second major UOR purchase was a fleet of larger protected vehicles. The UK bought 248 Mastiff 6×6 PPVs, 90 Wolfhound 6×6 PPVs (Mastiff with a flatbed load area at the back) and 157 Ridgeback 4×4 PPVs. These vehicles can carry 8-12 soldiers. The Mastiff family offers greater IED protection than Foxhound, but the penalty is more limited off-road performance. This vehicle has undoubtedly saved lives in Afghanistan, but Mastiff is little more than a heavy armoured truck that depends on good roads. The decision to take this vehicle into the core equipment budget reflects the fact that the British Army has an ongoing need for protected mobility. But, it cannot be considered as a true wheeled APC, because it cannot keep-up with tanks or tracked vehicles across country. It is merely a substitute for the trusty 4-tonne truck (which, with a rear flatbed and canvas cover, is totally unsuitable for carrying troops where the threat of IEDs exists). To pretend that Mastiff is any kind of replacement for the FV430 series or an alternative to FRES UV is to sell the Army short.

 The Mastiff PPV – more armoured truck than APC.



If the UK had not abandoned its MRAV collaboration with Germany, we could have acquired the Boxer 8×8 instead of Mastiff. Similarly, if the FRES UV programme had not also stalled, we could have acquired the Piranha V or Nexter VCBI . As it was, we spent between £200-£300 million trying to procure an 8×8 wheeled APC without a single vehicle being fielded. Any of the three contenders tested by the UK would have provided comparable IED protection to the Mastiff as well as offering better cross-country mobility and combat flexibility.

Another new vehicle to come into UK service is the Jackal. This is a 3- or 4-person high mobility 4×4 vehicle manufactured by Supacat. The Army has acquired approximately 500 to fulfil the light reconnaissance and fire support roles. It mounts a variety of weapons including the 40mm GMG, 12.7mm HMG and 7.62mm GPMG. With a range of 800 kilometres, it has exceptional endurance. The Jackal, like many other UK vehicles, was acquired before the IED threat was fully appreciated. It has an open crew compartment to provide greater situational awareness. Unfortunately, this configuration makes the Jackal vulnerable to IEDs. Since the original Jackal was introduced, two new versions, Jackal 2 and Coyote (a 6×6 variant) have been added to the fleet. They have had additional armour added to the floor and sides of the vehicles to provide increased protection.

Supacat Jackal offers good cross-country performance and can mount a variety of weapons, including the 40mm Grenade machine gun, 12.7mm HMG and 7.62mm GPMG.

Jackal Armoured Vehicle
Jackal Armoured Vehicle

An army of jeeps and trucks

To support its primary range of armoured vehicles, the British Army has recently acquired a large assortment of wheeled vehicles that are essentially armoured jeeps and trucks. Vector is a light protected patrol vehicle (LPPV) based on the Pinzgauer 6×6. Intended to perform the same LPPV role as Foxhound (see below), it proved to be deficient across a number of areas and is now primarily used only to tow 105mm light guns for the Royal Artillery.

The US Navistar MXT-MV 4×4 tactical support vehicle is called Husky in UK service. Fitted with a flatbed load area at the rear, it is a rugged and well protected vehicle with good off-road performance. Designed to transport small loads around the battlefield under protection, the Army has acquired 327 for the combat resupply role. Panther is a new command and liaison vehicle based on the Iveco LMV Lince and has assumed some CVR(T) roles. The UK has acquired a total of 401. The procurement process was criticised because the MoD appears to have paid more than many competing designs would have cost for a vehicle that offers only marginal IED protection, limited interior space and average cross-country performance.


Husky Protected Highly Mobile Tactical Support Vehicle in Afghanistan
Husky Protected Highly Mobile Tactical Support Vehicle in Afghanistan

The Army has a further 868 armoured Land-Rover variants including 371 Land-Rover RWMIK for fire support and reconnaissance roles and 485 protected Snatch 2 vehicles. Though better protected than the original Snatch Land-Rover, they are not in the same class as the new Foxhound. Similarly, the Land-Rover RWMIK has largely been replaced by Jackal, which has greater underbody protection from IEDs. Since these vehicles have mostly been superseded, they are expected to be withdrawn from service at some point.

In addition to its fleet of protected vehicles, the Army has its ‘B’ fleet, or logistics and support vehicles. This includes a further 12,000 general purpose, utility Land-Rovers and 5,000 MAN HX60 4×4 trucks with a payload capacity of 6 tonnes. Finally, there are an additional 1,800 specialist vehicles including cranes, heavy transporters, dump trucks, tankers, water bowsers, bulldozers and a fleet of 92 HET Oshkosh 1070F 8×8 tractor units to transport Warrior and Challenger 2s.

Self Loading Dump Truck Protected (SLDTP)
Self Loading Dump Truck Protected (SLDTP)


In summarising the British Army’s AFV fleet, The UK has bought a number of different platform types for vehicles that perform fundamentally the same roles. Do we need Pinzgauer, Panther and Husky? Could not a single common platform based on Foxhound be adapted to perform all of the roles they perform? Of the total number of vehicles bought, more than a 1,000 proved to be inadequate for the roles for which they were acquired and had to be replaced. The overriding concern, however, is that we clearly have a two-tier structure. At one end of the spectrum we have heavy tracked armoured vehicles, which offer a good balance of mobility, protection and firepower, although many platforms are old and in need of replacement. At the other end of the spectrum, we have newer protected patrol vehicles, which provide excellent protection but mount only light defensive weapons and have limited cross-country mobility. Between these two extremes, there is nothing else. Worst of all, with an insufficient total number of armoured vehicles, many units still rely on soft-skinned vehicles that offer no protection at all.

Has heavy armour become redundant?

So why does the UK have so few tanks? There are about 104,000 main battle tanks currently in service across the globe.(12) Of these, 10,000 are M1 Abrams belonging to the US Army, USMC, Australia and various Arab nations.

There are about 4,800 Leopard 2s in service with the armies of Germany, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Singapore and Chile. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are looking to buy 1,000 brand new Leopard 2s. Japan has 1,000 tanks consisting of Type 74s and Type 90s plus 200 of the newer Type 10s. South Korea has more than 1,000 K1 tanks. Israel can muster around 2,000 Merkavas of various marks plus 1,300 older M60s. France has 407 Leclercs, Italy has 200 Arietes plus 100 Leopard 1s, and even Switzerland, with a total defence budget of US$ 4 billion, has 380 Leopard 2s. In total, NATO and its allies could mobilise around 18,000 tanks.(13)

Tanks remain a vital battle-winning asset.  Or as the Russians would say: any tank is better than no tank.

That leaves almost 90,000 tanks that could potentially be ranged against us. The vast majority of these are older T-55, T-62, T-64 and T-72 models belonging to Russia, China, North Korea and various Arab states including Iran (which has a mixed fleet of 2,000 tanks including old American M-60s and British Chieftains). In addition to substantial fleets of older tank models, China has recently deployed its new Type 99, adding to a formidable line-up of Type 96s. The former-Soviet Union and its satellites have the newer T-80/ T-84 and T-90 at their disposal. Of the total, it is estimated that Russia, China, North Korea and Iran have around 40,000 third-generation battle tanks. Approximately 20,000 are capable of matching the West’s best. It isn’t clear how many potential enemy vehicles are fully serviceable, but allowing some adjustment for inaccuracies and unknown factors, the large number of tanks that could potentially be used to attack NATO and its allies cannot be ignored.

Russian T-90 MBT with reactive armour plates. Its 125 mm gun is capable of destroying any NATO MBT, including Challenger 2.



The sheer number of tanks in service with potential enemies is perhaps the most compelling reason for NATO armies to maintain sizeable tank fleets, especially as a tank’s primary role is to destroy other tanks and our current tank designs excel in this regard. Equally important, tanks can physically hold ground, which aircraft cannot do. Yet Britain is not alone in reducing its tank numbers. Holland recently sold all 400 of its Leopard 2s. Belgium has retired all its tanks too. Other European states including Germany, France, Italy and Switzerland all have plans to scale-down their tank inventories. Since we’re playing a numbers game, where the total number of tanks at our disposal matters, it is important to ask what’s driving a declining emphasis on tanks?

A commonly held view within NATO circles is that traditional heavy armour is approaching obsolescence in the same way that battleships and heavy bombers became redundant after WW2. While we will certainly need to retain tank regiments for use in scenarios where they can operate with relative impunity, the deliberate set-piece armoured attack seems may have become as suicidal as cavalry charges on horseback in the face of heavy machine gun fire. The overwhelming reason for this is the number of weapon systems have been developed to neutralise tanks, making even the best protected designs vulnerable:

  • Large tank guns (105mm-120mm) firing AP rounds remain one of the most commonly used and efficient means of destroying other armoured vehicles. If tracked platforms have become less relevant for armoured warfare, most armies will continue to use large guns (and cannons) mounted on other platforms to perform the same antitank role for both attack and defence.
  • Strike aircraft armed with smart munitions (such as Brimstone) can destroy tanks from a stand-off distance that makes it impossible for ground units to counter them. Even though air parity or air superiority is needed for combat aircraft to operate effectively, there is no doubting the potential of air power to decimate large tank formations. Allied air superiority after D-Day was a critical factor in neutralising German armour. If that was true in 1944, Gulf War I again showed how effective air dropped munitions are against tanks.
  • Attack helicopters with fire-and-forget missiles (such as Hellfire) have become equally effective in halting large armoured units. Simulations that model low-level Hellfire assaults on armoured units have shown that two or three Apaches armed with eight missiles each could easily take-on an entire tank regiment. While the threat of ground-to-air missiles would be a risk factor, anti-aircraft missile systems, like Stinger, are much more expensive than hand-held antitank weapons, more difficult to operate and less prevalent.
  • Antitank guided missiles (ATGMs) have become the most significant antitank weapon. The modern equivalent of dismounted antitank guns, antitank missiles are easy to mount on different vehicles and easy to conceal. The Panzer commander Michael Wittmann said that he feared antitank guns much more than other tanks, because they were so difficult to locate. Modern antitank missiles are even easier to conceal. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, wire-guided antitank missiles came into their own accounting for significant number of tank casualties on both sides. The latest missile systems are relatively inexpensive and can neutralise all known tanks.
  • Handheld antitank weapons. Towards the end of World War 2, weapons such as the UK PIAT and German Panzerschreck began to play a crucial role in destroying tanks. Today, such weapons have become even more potent. Small rocket-propelled grenades such as the venerable RPG-7 can disable heavily protected MBTs. While artillery might impede infantry tactics, dug in troops ‘shooting and scooting’ with weapons like NLAW or RPG-29, from one pre-prepared position to another (or simply disappearing into the rubble of war torn built-up areas), represent a significant threat to armour that is difficult to counter.

Learning from our recent experiences in Afghanistan, there is no reason why any conventional army would not utilise IED, smart mines and sophisticated remote control devices to counter enemy armoured thrusts in future conflicts, especially if faced by a numerically superior enemy. Even the best protected tanks are not invulnerable to crude devices with large amounts of explosive.

Within the last decade a new threat to tanks has emerged. Small and inexpensive drones and UAVs offer new attack possibilities. These include direct short range attacks, such as appearing out of nowhere to deliver anti-armour munitions, or indirect long range attacks, where radar systems might be employed to aid target acquisition and fire missiles at ranges beyond those of tank-mounted guns.

If all of the above fail, there is always the last resort option of tactical nuclear weapons. Faced with an all out attack, this might be the only approach open to us. In any situation where we faced an attack by a large number of tanks, destroying them and other AFVs would be the focal pint of our offensive action.

Tanks cannot continue to grow in size and weight. Adding more armour simply reduces their mobility without making them invulnerable

As various armies have sought to upgrade their tanks, adding additional armour has increased vehicle weights to more than 70 tonnes, slowing them down and limiting their mobility. Equally worrying, the latest generation of MBTs is fast approaching a unit cost of US$ 10 million, while sophisticated antitank missiles cost US$ 70,000(14) each and basic ones less than US$ 1,000. The ability to defeat heavy armour with a range of weapons that cost a fraction of the price of a tank creates a compelling economic argument against them. This is perhaps the most significant factor that questions the ongoing viability of bigger and heavier MBTs in future combat scenarios.

Modern tank designs, including the Leopard 2, Challenger 2, and Abrams M1A2, remain formidable machines. These tanks excel at their primary role of eliminating other tanks and provide a dynamic armoured fist for combined arms assaults. Their ability to fire HE rounds as well as AP enables them to provide essential supporting fire to infantry units making them an essential part of any armoured formation. But, as we look ahead to the next generation of tanks, there is little scope to add more armour and more sophisticated designs will cost significantly more per vehicle reducing the total number we can afford to buy.

According to estimates made by IHS Jane’s Defence Review, the cost to buy a fleet of new Leopard 2A6 tanks or US M1A2 Abrams, which have both been in series production for more than a decade would be in the region of US$ 6-$7 million each. To buy newer MBTS, such as the French LeClerc or Italian Ariette, which have been produced in much lower numbers, would cost US$ 8-9 million each. The implied cost of developing the next generation of MBTs is likely to be US$ 10-12 million per tank.(15) If tank numbers matter, we need to think how we can acquire more for less money.



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