Tag Archives: Tank

Do We Want to Defend The Realm or Not? The British Army is changing form Paper Tiger to Potemkin Village.

The  Times reports (here) that the British Army is to reduce the number of Challenger 2 tanks that it has by one third, reducing them to just two regiments of 56 tanks each, plus some in reserve and for training.  It proposes to replace the tanks with its newest armoured vehicle, Ajax.  If this is true it is a clear demonstration that the MOD is now utterly incapable of defending the realm and that our armed forces are moving from paper tiger to Potemkin village.

What’s the problem? Simple, not everything with tracks and a turret is a tank, in the same way that not everything with wheels and a windscreen is a car.  Using your Ford Focus as a replacement for the double decker school bus is going to be as successful as using a reconnaissance vehicle (like Ajax) to replace a Challenger 2.

A tank combines firepower, protection and mobility.  The firepower is a gun capable of firing a solid shot with enough energy to penetrate the armour of an enemy tank.  Like most tanks, the Challenger 2 has a 120mm calibre main gun capable of firing an approximately 10kg round at a muzzle velocity of over 1,500 m/s, with a kinetic energy of some 11.3MJ.  The Ajax has a 40mm cannon capable of firing an equivalent round of about 1kg at 1,600m/s, an energy of around 1.2MJ, a whole order of magnitude less than the tank round.  While the details of the ability to penetrate are both complex and classified, it should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that there is no way that the Ajax poses anything like the threat to a tank target that a Challenger 2 does.

Challenger 2 weighs around 75 tons combat weight, much it Dorchester armour capable of withstanding hits from most weapons.  Ajax weighs just 40 tons, the difference being due to lower levels of protection.  (This low protection is understandable; Ajax was designed as a reconnaissance vehicles and such vehicles should not get into fire fights.)

Swapping from Challenger to Ajax is not like for like.  Of course, there are other ways of killing tanks.  Most obviously anti-tank missiles, artillery and from aircraft (specifically the Brimstone missile).  However, there are problems there too.

In Ukraine, the Russian T-90 are equipped with an anti-missile system which shoots them out of the sky.  Moreover, their latest armours protect against the latest anti-tank missile warheads.  The utility of anti-tank missiles (including British ones) is questionable.

In the Ukraine Russian artillery is devastating armour, just as ours did when in the first Gulf War. It manages this by firing a projectile full of sub munitions.  The projectile opens over the target area and the sub-munitions rain down.  There are so many that multiple hits are likely, destroying everything. Unfortunately, Princess Diana’s campaign against landmines led to the Ottawa Treaties, which banned this class of weapon. It has now been deleted from British weaponry.  The Russians did not sign the treaty; nor did China, Korea, Iran, India and others.

That leaves air launched weapons, such as the British Brimstone.  Although it’s a potent weapon the warhead technology is not new, and can be defeated.  Worse, it needs an aircraft to launch it and aircraft are neither cheap nor invulnerable.  Moreover, if aircraft are busy trying to kill tanks, what is shooting down the enemy’s aircraft? (We have no significant surface to air missile capability either!)

Why worry about killing tanks?  Because in the absence of effective counter-weapons (which is another tank) they dominate the battlefield by slaughtering and out manoeuvring infantry.  And almost all countries have them, and in significant numbers. There are around 100,000 tanks in the world at the moment and few of them belong to allies.

The bottom line is that this change of vehicle substantially reduces the British ability to fight any armoured enemy, quite possibly to the point of failure.  If it proceeds the Army will comprise:

  • Two armoured infantry brigades, which are light on tanks.
  • One wheeled infantry brigade, with no tanks (and therefore vulnerable to a tank equipped enemy)
  • One reconnaissance brigade, with little combat power.
  • Some top notch special forces, but their role is not on the battlefield.
  • A score of foot borne infantry battalions (some of which can jump out of aeroplanes) all of which move at walking pace and are hugely vulnerable to every weapon.
  • A very weak logistic tail.

Frankly this force would struggle to achieve anything against any halfway capable opposition; it is an organisation that makes no sense and delivers little combat power.  Either we want to have an ability to wage war on land, in which case we’ll have to spend more, or we don’t, in which case we should disband the army.

It is time that we had a sensible national debate on whether we want to defend the Realm or not.


This post was first published on The Conservative Woman and is reproduced here with their kind consent.

The “New” Russian T-14 Armata is not a “super-tank” so don’t panic. Yet.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the latest Russian tank, (the T-14 Armata), could vanquish the British Army, and indeed NATO.  Great headline – now let’s look at the facts.

The T-14 is the first deployed tank to have an unmanned turret.  This should allow it to have a larger gun in a smaller, more easily protected volume and that is indeed potentially effective.  I say potentially, because there is more to good tanks (and winning battles) than firepower – although it is important.  Having spent a decade or so as a tank commander, there are benefits to being in the turret – primarily one can see much better, and much further.  That gives better spatial awareness, which is crucial for maintaining order and cohesion in the chaos of battle.  The T-14 design has been experimented with repeatedly, and rejected repeatedly, over the years for just this reason.  Yes, modern electronics and optronics mean that it is possible to relay views from one part of a tank to others more easily now than in the 1970s.  But that does not make it battle winning.

Big guns are important – in simple terms the bigger the gun the more one can kill at a greater distance.  Current western tanks (and indeed Russian ones) can knock out opposing tanks at well over 2,000m.  What range you need rather depends on where you are fighting (tank rounds travel pretty much along lines of sight – you can’t hit what you can’t see).  In Western Europe, which is what western kit was designed for, the average engagement range would be around 1,200m (this figure comes from the shape of the ground, and is computed from survey data).  In the deserts of Iraq it was somewhat further, as it would be on the Russian Steppes.  However opening fire also gives your position away, and invites all sorts of retaliation.  That said, the current version of the T-14 has similar firepower to western tanks.

The T-14 crew are more protected than that of any other tank.  But that does not mean that the tank as a weapon system is better protected.  A hit on the turret is still likely to disable the gun.  Arguably, given the additional complexity of the T-14 design, the turret is more vulnerable than a conventional one.

The article states that the T-14 also has an integrated active defence system to defeat missiles.  These are not new; the Israelis have one in use on their latest Merkava.  And it won’t work against an incoming tank round.  Most western countries are investigating retro fits (there are other issues that make them more complicated).  The article also claims that the T14 has excellent composite armour.  So do most Western tanks – although the British claim that the latest version of the Challenger 2’s Chobham armour is starting to sound a little jingoistic (obviously the real data is highly classified).

Where the article is spot on is that the concerns over casualties to IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) in both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns has meant that the British Army has ignored tanks.  For historic reasons the British has always had a bias towards infantry, and that has got out of hand in the past decade or so.  The article also, rightly, makes the point that the British Army tank strength is risible in terms of numbers and the Challenger2 is an old design in need of an upgrade (which it is getting).  It also (rightly) questions whether the Army’s new reconnaissance vehicle is going to be all that was hoped – although that is a different story.

If the British people wish to continue to benefit from an Army that can fight any enemy, anywhere then it needs to have a long hard look at its ability to fight armoured warfare (which remains the method of choice for those with ambitions of territorial expansion, like Putin).  We can probably just about do it now, but it is on the limit of both the equipment, the numbers and the level of training.  Increasing our capability to what is necessary will not come cheap, and will probably need rather more than the 2% annual increase in current plans.

It is not quite time to panic – the T-14 is not a “supertank” and has not altered the balance of power.  However, it is time to take a long, hard and critical look at our military capability in the light of possible future conflicts.