Whatever Happened to the Plastic Tank?
The Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform (ACAVP) was often called the ‘plastic tank’ although it was neither. The aim was demonstrate how an advanced plastic/glass fibre composite called E-Glass could provide comparable protection with steel and aluminium with a reduced infra red and acoustic signature and significantly improved corrosion resistance, especially against salt water. A separate spall liner, common on steel and aluminium vehicles, could also be eliminated
Development started in 1993 after a 2 year feasibility study and progressed through a number of stages until mobility, safety and survivability tests concluded. Only the hull was composite, all the other components were straight out of the existing vehicle parts bin, running gear, engine and transmission from an Alvis Warrior and turret from a Fox for example.
The trials did reveal a few failures in some of the automotive components but reportedly, the hull exceeded all expectations.
Weighing in at 24 tonnes the monocoque hulled demonstrator was configured for the recce role with a 2 man crew pod at the front, mission module in the middle with turret and powerpack at the rear. It had frontal protection against 30mm AP and 14.5mm elsewhere.
GKN, Westland Aerospace DRA (DERA), Army Base Repair Organisation (ABRO), the University of Plymouth, Shorts Brothers, Vickers, Alvis, Hexcel Composites, Ciba, Kidde-Graviner, Perkin and Vosper Thorneycroft were all involved at some stage.
Whilst it should be remembered that Russia trialed a fibre glass PT76 and the USA the Advanced Technology Demonstrator (ATD) – Composite Armored Vehicle (CAV) the Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform (ACAVP) was more ambitious in its use of a composite materials for the monocoque hull.
A 2000 Parliamentary Question provided information on the cost
HC Deb 06 June 2000 vol 351 cc172-3W 172W
Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what is the cost to date of the work carried out to develop the Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform; what was the total budget provision and completion date for development and trials; and if he will make a statement. 
Dr. Moonie: The total cost to the MOD of the Advanced Composite Armoured Vehicle Platform is expected to be £6 million, which is within the total budget provision when the programme started in 1993. The 173W initial automotive trials have been successful and the development and trials process is expected to be complete in October 2000.
The material chosen was one of the cheapest available, at £3 per Kg, E-Glass was considerably cheaper than S2 Glass at £11 per kg or Kevlar aramid fibre at £20 per kg and one of the design innovations was the stud mounted armour panels that would allow sections to be removed for carriage in a c130. The hull alone was 60mm thick and weighed about 6 tonnes with the automotive, mission equipment and appliqué armour panels making up the balance
It was only a technology demonstration programme that concluded in 2001 but it was definitely at the cutting edge of material and fabrication science and proved that a 20-30% weight reduction was possible. The general conclusion from ACAVP was that although valuable weight savings were possible carbon fibre composites would provide greater potential due to it being much stiffer, thus reducing the need for additional material density
Pull through to the TRACER programme was planned but as we all know, FRES killed TRACER and the rest is history.
It is interesting that since, the use of composites has been limited to add ons are panels in protected vehicles like the Snatch and Foxhound rather than what we might consider ‘fighting vehicles’ where steel and aluminium hulls still reign supreme.
The vehicle is currently at the Tank Museum and regularly gets an outing at shows
It is even in the Guinness Book of World Records