I challenge the notion that the British tank and armoured vehicle industry is dead, that we don’t buy enough, and should just jack it all in and buy Abrams or Leopard.
Listen to the online doom casting and one could be forgiven for thinking that all is lost for the British armoured fighting vehicle industry, that feckless governments and an incompetent MoD have allowed it to shrink to the point of irrelevance.
If we cast an eye over our allies in the world, Germany, Israel, France, USA, Italy, Japan and the Republic of Korea, they all design, manufacture, and maintain a full range of armoured fighting vehicles.
Many others also do so with the exception of MBTs, such as Spain, Sweden or Turkey, and others such as India are rapidly catching up.
Why then, is the UK so uniquely poorly placed, so helpless and all round useless, that we should just give up and buy a Leopard or Abrams?
The Royal Navy has not given up, Type 26 being a great example of British Engineering finding export success.
The Royal Air Force has not given up, and although modern fighters are collaborative efforts, it is still a driving force for British engineering.
So tell me why the British Army should give up?
It should not
It should understand that British engineering is valuable to it and the nation.
Self-evidently, the industry is not in rude health, and self-evidently, much has been purchased by overseas defence primes, but it is not all gone.
Below is a short list of UK based and/or UK-owned defence vehicle equipment providers, many of them providing systems to the Ajax, CR3 and Boxer programmes (that are fronted by the big primes like RBSL and General Dynamics)
Let’s Build a Tank…
Automotive and Structures
Hull structures, tracks, transmission, suspension, fuel tanks and fuel management, engine and crew systems…
Structures and Protection
Suspension and Wheels
Power Management and Wiring
Displays, Interiors and Lighting
Engines and Transmissions
Engines and transmission at the high-weight end of the market are somewhat thin on the ground, but Rolls Royce owns MTU, and with MTU powering Ajax and Boxer, there might be some argument to establish at least some onshore capability given volumes and dependencies.
Also included here are APUs, air handling, and CBRN filtration
Sensors, Compute and Systems
Many of the Ajax system investments could be pulled through to any future vehicles, especially the extensive work completed with Thales, Elbit E-LAWS, GE Automotive (ECRIN), Viasat, Esterline, Smiths Detection, Kent Periscopes, Raytheon Power Switching, Honeywell Navigation, and Williams Advanced Engineering for the Core Infrastructure Distribution System (CIDS).
We don’t make large calibre tank guns any longer and there would have to be a recognition that partnering with Nexter, General Dynamics, or KMW/RBSL would be the only practical option, perhaps even Israeli, Japanese or Korean partners as an outside option.
Ammunition, although we do have the potential capability to make 120mm smoothbore it seems unlikely to be realised.
RWS and ring mounts are made in the UK, as are some specific components.
Testing, Certification, Documentation and Training
Design and Integration
We haven’t built a new design tank for decades, and integration of complex systems into a 70-tonne armoured box is a daunting task.
This is arguably the best reason to purchase overseas or partner, no argument from me, and just because we have many of the ingredients, doesn’t mean we are a chef.
You might think I am arguing against myself here, and to some extent I am, but I want this to be a realistic view of the subject.
Design and integration skills would be the single greatest challenge, and in reality, any clean sheet design that took us beyond CR3 would need a serious-minded appraisal of the likely decade-long effort to produce something.
Can we sustain what is left of the industry for that decade, should we?
I don’t know, but my point here is that we should not write off the UK armoured fighting vehicle industry because rumours of its death have been greatly exaggerated.