back to article Demise of British tank industry foretold admitted

Oh woe! The country which invented the tank (Blighty) may soon no longer have a tank industry! The end of yet another era is at hand. It's just like Concorde! And the Vulcan, Lightning, etc. Let gloom be unconfined - Santa won't be bringing any more British tanks for Christmas in years to come. Or so says the British tank …

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Anonymous Coward

I am suprised.....

I am suprised that you are anti tank as it were. They are still useful for holding ground and as mobile heavy weapon platforms. Its all well and good saying the attack copter now rules but shoulder launched portable missiles can take them out.

I know lets get rid of all vehicles and just have the men fighting each other.

sounds a bit like Warhammer 40k :)

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If there's one thing Japanese TV's taught me

It's that the battles of the future will be settled by giant robots and power armour. We should make more of that.

Of course the Japanese have somewhat of an edge in research in this area, but for a small fee, I'm pretty sure I can lay my hands on a substantial amount of said research... And tentacle monsters.

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Me too

Although there are serious problems with current & proposed future land AFV's in respect of their effectiveness, one thing that aircraft and helos are terminally useless at is the taking and holding of ground areas.

If the UK wants to have a military strategy involves the taking and holding of ground or defending it does actually need people & kit to do that. If it doesnt, no problem, but that decision may bite back.

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Tank

Could ahve swore teh wolvo site has been flatened?

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I agree with....

....Anonymous coward.

When I was using a chieftain many moons ago it was able to hit a target 22 miles away (with a bit of luck) and a good gunner / loader team could get three rounds in the air. A squadron of those could be a fearsome combination. A more reliable engine may have helped, but I still think that there is a need for these vehicles.

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Anonymous Coward

re: I am suprised.....

I saw an old (WW 2) cartoon once.

Had two GI's watching a Sherman tank going by and one says to the other; "Nah, a moving foxhole attracts the eye."

Whatever deathtech you come up with, someone else is working on a counter for it.

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Paris Hilton

I just about had enough of this BS

60 tons? Cannot be arfreighted?

The payload of an AN124 is 230 tons and they make them in _UKRAINE_ not Russia.

It is about time for some idiots down there at the whitehall to wake up and realise that the USSR no longer exists and the _BEST_ supplier of heavy haul cargo is ready to lick our arse anytime we wish so we can support their NATO aspirations.

Same for AN74 which do we like it or not remains the only plane which can land a whole platoon with heavy equipment on a football field and take off from it after that.

Gawd, do civil cervants study geography at all? Paris, as she can probably orient herself on a map better than the Whitehall w*nkers...

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Coat

Unsurprising

This despicable shower - in common with ALL previous Labour governments - have an innate hostility to the armed forces, and utter contempt for the idea of equipping them effectively and properly.

Since Labour was effectively hi-jacked in the late 1920's/early 1930's by self-proclaimed "intellectuals" almost invariably hailing from the upper middle & middle classes, they have had no compunction about using HM Forces as an instrument for their self-aggrandisement and arrogance - in much the same way Oberscharfuhrer Smith (and NuLab predecessors) are making use of HM Plod to keep the rest of us in our places and dissent-free.

It is a constant surprise that there are sufficient sheeple around to give The Supreme Leader the thumbs up, whereas anyone with the capacity to look around them and see what's happened over the last 10+ yrs, would use an entirely different digit.

The Fuhrer's self-delusion seems to still leave him believing he has the Midas touch, but the rest of us know he's always had the Andrex touch.

Would that we could be rid of him and the whole ludicrous socialist experiment (Version 47 - failed, just like the other 46).

I'll stop short of recommending a whip-round to hire Vladimir Ramirez Sanchez, as

a) he's still having a holiday courtesy of the Froggie taxpayers

and

b) The Reichsminister's tame spooks probably monitor this site....

Coat? - because one of these days, I WILL have to get my coat - probably at 0300hrs when "the nice young man from the ministry" comes calling...

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Challenger?

Challenger 2 is still one of the most survivable tanks on the battlefield. Unless any more have been taken out recently, there's only ever been 3 damaged in combat, and I don't think any of them have been destroyed and they have CERTAINLY been busy enough in Iraq. Indeed iirc one of them took RPG hits well into double figures in the Siege at Al Amarah, withdrew with damage, and was back in a few hours later. Indeed from what I've heard, without the Challengers the relief convoy wouldn't have even got as close as it did to Cimic House.

Helicopters are all well and good but tanks bring heavy SURVIVABLE firepower with the troops, I think that is still a useful capability.

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No t'anks

Lewis, re your comment about the Shermans - I think that you'll find most most people that used them weren't that enamoured - particularly if they had watched their pals "brew up". The Sherman was out gunned and out armoroured by pretty much anything the Germans had to offer (true of most UK / US tanks). Their only benefit was the sheer numbers available.

As an aside, I heard on the news today that under the 30 year rule, a number of papers have been released from when Jim Callaghan was PM. Apparently, he was rather upset at the lack of available military resources in the event of Soviet invasion - basic things such as ammunition of which there just 2.5 days worth available. Also lack of personnel, hardware etc. He actually wrote on one paper that people should be sacked for the state of affairs that had been found. (Of course, no-one was)

Nothing changes.

"When we did fight the damn Monseer, you gave us bread and beer,

but now we have nought to eat, for you have nought to fear" (c. 1820)

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Tanks need infantry - not vice versa

Remembering my not so ancient training in the infantry arts in Australia, especially as regards to tank / infantry cooperation, it was quite evident that tanks were a bit of a problem.

The basic rule was that counter-armour technology was so good a tank could not advance without an infantry screen out at some ridiculous distance (1000 metres rings a bell). So for the poor infantry the concept of toddling behind a tank while it dosed out death was not an option.

Instead, infantry was expected to expose themselves at great risk and well out of close support range so that a highly vulnerable target (tank) could move forward enough to do a poor impersonation of a single gun artillery battery. Not much better really than simply moving a real arty battery forward with a bit of protective cover. In fact a typical arty battery would run rings around a typical tank.

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Boffin

Best = most numerous?

"..that our best ever for-real combat tank was the Sherman.."

A lot of reasonable comments, but I am not sure about designating the Sherman as 'our best-ever combat tank'. Remember that the Comet did see action at the end of WW2 - Operation Plunder, for instance.

The Sherman was unquestionably the most useful 'British' tank, but that was because it was the most common. There were vast numbers of Shermans around. Pity they were far worse than the Comet, Panther, Tiger or T-34....

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spending money, or investing money?

One thing that I never understood is why people think that spending 500 million on a completely british industry is worse than spending 200 million on a consortium country industry like the typhoon.

what people seem to miss is that if you have 500 million and you buy british, you're actually doing more than just buying 500 million of <something> but you're also putting british people into jobs and food on british peoples tables. Forget that it's twice the money, it's not, think along the lines of your father owns a company that employs your brother to do part of the work, the money stays in the family, the family is richer, even if your father has to pay out more or the same, the money stays local, hence helps locally as well.

if you spent 200 million on foreign parts and labour, that money disappears to somewhere else where you never see any benefit, you never get anything back, at least if you spend the money with your family you know that your family is better off, if you spend it on french, does that mean your better off? no of course not, it means that the french are better off and you're 200 million down.

something this article does highlight though is that in reality heavy armour is dead and gone, like fixed bayonets, it's romantic, but really, it's really fucking stupid and waste of life.

typhoon is a good example of this because really, britain could have built it on our own, with our own tech and didnt need the help from others, what we wanted though was to foster cooperation further with europe so we handed some pork and worked together, ultimately was a complete waste of time and we should have taken that money and spent it with solely british jobs and british tech, we'd have the same plane or better and we'd have put billions into the pockets of your friends, brothers and family, created massive amounts of extra jobs and STILL have a fighting aircraft that we can actually use.

but it never happens, because our leaders are in love of each other at the expense of ourselves.

what you think?

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Gates Horns

political "deferment" of decisions

I always thought the vast majority of problems with any program was:

i) procrastination and/or prevarication on purchase decisions....

ii) then the changing of the specifications during the process...

We shall see how FRES fares, the first of the above has already taken place.

Let's see if they follow as usual with the second

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Hmm...

On the one hand, we haven't made our own bullets for several years now. So why should we worry if we don't have any factories to manufacture tanks? That said, I think El Reg has done a good job of showing us just how badly thought through our current defence purchasing policies are - bias or no.

On the subject of tanks vs no tanks, it is a good thing not to put all your eggs in one basket. I was too young to experience it first hand, but don't forget that in the '60s it was a Labour government that cancelled all sorts of defence projects, including TSR-2, because they believed that missiles would trump everything. If you take the current situation to its logical yet extreme conclusion we will have a fleet of UAVs run by the RAF covering ground attack, interceptor and recce activities, no carriers and no significant artillery - mobile or otherwise.

It sounds like we need a top-down assessment of current and likely future threats, and the ways we could respond to them both from air, sea and ground - with alternatives - surely we have this already. Deciding what equipment we should purchase is then a logical step forward. Unfortunately the current Labour incumbents have been under-investing in the military in the same way that the Conservatives under-invested in public services. And to face it now will just draw attention to the poor decision making and under-investment over the last 11 years.

As a parting shot , and at the risk of being shot down (OK no more puns) I'm going to use the toolbox analogy - if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. We already have this situation with snatch land rovers being used completely inapropriately. Our forces personnel put their lives on the line for the politicians of this country, the least the politicians can do in return is to ensure that the right equipment is provided for the job they are asked to do.

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30 years since a war was won with MBT's ?

So they are now irrelevant and we don't need them.

26 years since the Falklands, so in 4 years we can scrap those expensive ships then Lewis ?

Whats that Lewis ? They are useful in other ways ? If we scrap them we may find we need them at short notice due to some unforseen event ?

Well i never.

As for manufacturing capacity, the Sherman was the "best" due to numbers alone being a inferior design to British designs such as the Cromwell or Comet. This is an argument for having more capacity to design and make the things, not less.

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@ Dodgy Geezer, Tony

Lewis also needs to remember that the most effective version of the Sherman was the one rebuilt in the UK to mount the British 17pdr gun.

If you are looking for reason to buy American over design and building it at home, the Sherman is hardly the best example.....

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RIP MBT

Bravo. The MBT is as dead as the pike block, and the sooner the MOD catches on, the better.

Yes; it's a shame to roll up the cavalry regiments, but they simply need to find new roles: Either piloting remote vehicles or flying helicopters.

"I am suprised that you are anti tank as it were. They are still useful for holding ground and as mobile heavy weapon platforms."

Firstly, tanks cannot effectively hold ground. Only infantry can take and hold ground. Secondly, they are poor weapon platforms, having only the capability to throw armour piercing projectiles or pretty small amounts of HE: Jobs that can be done better by something shoulder launched, something air-launched, or arty.

"Its all well and good saying the attack copter now rules but shoulder launched portable missiles can take them out."

Something shoulder launched can take out tanks too... and a lot easier. In reality, the shoulder-launched surface to air threat in low intensity situations has traditionally been overestimated. It's not a very serious problem at present. The threat to vehicles is far greater. Just look at the number of RPG7's produced compared to the number of Stingers and similar weapons out there.

"I know lets get rid of all vehicles and just have the men fighting each other."

Ultimately, that's what warefare is. However, they need to now be supported by a new wave of vehicles: airpower and Remotes, rather than MBTs.

MBTs are a dead duck. They are designed to kill other MBTs, not support infantry of fight in low-intensity campaigns. The sweeping warfare planned for them in Western Europe isn't likely to happen. We need to move on and spend the money in more effective ways.

As to being 'survivable', a 60 ton lump of metal is not survivable on a modern battlefield. It's a big target. Being in a tank crew has always been a very dangerous job in comparison to being in a ditch with a rifle... and that was before the invention of long range shoulder launched missiles and helicopter gunships. Tanks can easily be countered by a bloke in a shed with an RPG or a landmine. Sure: It has a lot of armour, but that's not all that survavability is.

MBTs might seem cool, but their time has passed.

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Anonymous Coward

Shermans

I see I'm a bit late to the party but just I'd also like to point out that the Sherman was a disaster that worked only because the army decided that its crews were expendable. Thousands were used to overrun positions that literally ran out of ammo incinerating the individually useless Shermans.

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Old Fishead have a bad Christmas?

Sorry, all those with a social life can tune out this bit whilst I set Mr Page straight.

You still need infantry to hold ground, and infantry will always want tanks in support. Air power may have won the Iraq war, but tanks were vital to secure the land and make the peace. It was armour that swept away Saddam's troops, and armour that helped put down the Mahdi Army coup attempts. Anyone doubting this can read Dan Mills' book "Sniper One", which relates the simple plan the Brits used to break the back of the OMS in AL Amarah in Iraq. They simply drove Warriors with some Challenger2s into the middle of the OMS neighbourhood, parked up and let the OMS come at them. The OMS couldn't resist the "come on if you think you're hard enough" offer and lost the majority of their best figters trying to get past the Challengers at the PBIs. The infantry loved the Challengers' ability to soak up RPG hits that would otherwise have been targetting them, and unlike air support which had restrictions on how close the bombs could be dropped, the Challengers could provide hard cover and shoot right into buildings at point blank range. Unfortuantely, political considerations and the pressence of too many reporters wouldn't let the same tactics be tried in Basra. Whilst tanks have been of less use in the mountanous areas of Afghanistan, there are still plenty of flat areas where tanks would be useful to the Yanks (they were to the Soviets), but then there is the problem of getting them there in the first place.

And as for the denigration of British tanks in the First and Second World Wars, you have to be a muppet or a sailor to think so. True, British tanks didn't make a big impact until Cambrai in 1917, but it was the failure of the generals to understand what armour could do, and the consequent failure of the infantry to come up and hold the ground gained by the tanks, not a failure of the armour. It was tanks that eventually punched the holes in the German lines that forced the Germans to seek an armistace, without tanks it is very unlikely massed infantry attacks like those of the Somme in 1916 would ever have been able to break the Germans. The fact that the Germans saw the tank as what caused their downfall is shown by how seriously they developed their Panzer armies for the Second World War, using Fuller's doctrine to produce the devastatingly effective (and tank-led) Blitzkrieg in 1940.

Yes, British tanks at the start of WW2 were mainly very poor, except for maybe the Matilda2. But we did produce designs that matched or exceeded the Sherman. The Cromwell was faster, lower, and had thicker armour, and in later versions a gun as equally poor as the US 75mm. The Comet was definately superior in every respect, and the Churchill superior in many except for the crucial lack of speed. The Sherman dominated because the Yanks could turn out a hundred for every tank we could make. In truth, the Sherman was out-classed by 1943 and it wasn't a match for the German Panther or Tiger unless it was upgunned with the British 17-pounder. The US attempt to upgun the Sherman - the high-velocity 76mm M1 - had a problem in that the steel shot would shatter at combat ranges when impacting on the German hardened armour, making the 76mm often LESS effective than the old 75mm! The final British tank of WW2 which was just too late for combat was the excellent Centurion, developments of which went on to dominate the later Middle East wars, being much preferred by the Israelis over the Super Sherman, Patton and even the M60.

The British Challenger tank series have proved very succesful in the Iraq wars, some would say better than the Yank M1. Whilst it would probably be cheaper to buy American armour in the long-run, it may not mean receiving better designs. And simply structuring all our purchases around counter-insurgency would put us in the same boat (or lack of suitable boats) as we had before the Falklands War, where our forces were almost too tied to the idea of a European land war to be able to successfully defeat a foreign threat to a distant part of the Kingdom. What is required is a honest review and probably a large cut back in our commitments, not our forces, and definately not in armour. Let some of our NATO "allies" pick up some of the slack.

In the meantime, my answer to the obvious hand-out appeal from the armour industry would be "go sell abroad, we'll support you as legally as we can (and illegally as we can get away with), but you don't get anything for nothing". Start with Lebanon, a country that Saudi Arabia seems determined should not fall back into Syrian or Russian control, they should represent a good opportunity, and it would be hilarious if American or Saudi money ended up paying for British armour.

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@ Dodgy Geezer

That tallies with everything I've heard or read.

The American Honey was apparently a good recce tank - it was fast and, unlike virtually all its rivals, didn't shed its tracks when cornered hard.

However, the best tank of WW2 was the Russian T.34. Even Guderian said so - when asked by Hitler what he needed to beat the Russians he asked for 'a T.34 factory' and was almost shot on the spot.

The T.34 was an outstanding design. It was the first tank to have a turret ring as wide as the hull (so it was the first tank to carry an 88mm gun), the first to have an electrically welded hull, first to have an all-alloy V8 diesel. Add a Christie suspension (think speed) and wide tracks (good in mud) and its no wonder it pissed on all other Allied and Axis tanks and remained in service into the mid 70s.

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Paris Hilton

Horses for courses

Apropros of nothing, I am reminded of the Covananter, a British tank from WW2 that was built in four-figure numbers. It had a novel cooling system that worked poorly in temperate conditions and not at all in the desert; production continued whilst the engine and transmission were debugged, but the debugging process was lengthy and ineffective. The end result was a thousand or so expensive tanks that were immediately relegated for training purposes, with not a single one ever firing a shot in anger. Nonetheless they kept a lot of people in work, building the useless things.

It seems to me that a nation can only build effective tanks when it has the required infrastructure to produce effective engines, transmission systems, effective guns etc, or at least the wherewithal to buy these things readymade and assemble them; I'm not sure Britain can do, or has ever been able to do this. If we are to build tanks purely as a means of keeping people in work, why no save money and resources by simply paying the workers a lump sum of e.g. £250,000 each, and letting them go? The end result would probably be cheaper than going through the charade of building a tank, with the factories and metals required.

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Joke

So, come on, Lewis...

... what do the Yanks sell that's so much better, meaning we should buy it...?

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@Jerry

One of the many advantages of having been on of Her Majesty's Engineers is the ability to see both sides of the story - in a WWIII scenario, grunts like you were expendable, and tanks were very good at slowing up an enemy advance, as they could take out any land-based vehicles, whether support or assault. In a co-in scenario, the reverse is the case - hardware is expendable, but not manpower, yet as ever, it is men on the ground that matter most.

Being ABLE to roll around anywhere in an impregnable AFV is not much better than being confined to barracks - if those that are paid to die are too afraid to walk around, why would the local populace think that it is a good idea to side with them; to join the Police; to become part of the Government? An infinite number of little flying robots, or B52 bombers is ever going to be able to that without grunts on the ground. (And a few Engineers to do the difficult stuff.)

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Firefly

Sherman Firefly was probably the best British tank of that war, with respect to the Comet. The fitting of the 17 pounder gun made it capable of dealing death at a distance to any German tank. Whilst retaining the high profile, weak armour and petrol engine that gave the Sherman the lovely nickname " The Tommy Cooker", or "The Ronson"

It was a Firefly that ended the life of fanatical Nazi tank ace SS Oberscharfuhrer Michael Wittman, thanks to Captain Tom Boardman of the Northants Yeomanry who ambushed him in August 1944. The Firefly he had with him brewed 3 Tigers with 4 shots.

Generally each troop of British Shermans would have one Firefly attached, known as the 'Charlie' due to it's callsign.

Read 'Tank' by Ken Tout.

By all accounts the Centurion provided excellent service in both Korea and Israeli - Arab conflicts.

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Anonymous Coward

@daniel wilkie

Challengers have indeed been recently destroyed - by another Challenger.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/2886715.stm

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Paris Hilton

@ Daniel Wilkie

Challenger 2 is still one of the most survivable tanks on the battlefield. Unless any more have been taken out recently, there's only ever been 3 damaged in combat, and I don't think any of them have been destroyed and they have CERTAINLY been busy enough in Iraq. Indeed iirc one of them took RPG hits well into double figures in the Siege at Al Amarah, withdrew with damage, and was back in a few hours later. Indeed from what I've heard, without the Challengers the relief convoy wouldn't have even got as close as it did to Cimic House.

Helicopters are all well and good but tanks bring heavy SURVIVABLE firepower with the troops, I think that is still a useful capability.

Improvised devices are trays of weed killer/fertilizer laced with diesel or mutton fat with a little TNT mixed in.

They cost next to nothing to make. Less if you steal the TNT from the enemy land mines. They take out huge amounts of expensive material and trained men as well as causing havoc among the survivors and the logistic of an ill equipped army.

You can take a tank out with an high powered rifle if you have uranium shells for it.

But now we are living in the age of the carbon fibre bullet. How are you going to protect anything from a child with an air gun loaded with nanotubes? God forbid I should have to post anything so technical it requires an icon upgrade.

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Tanks

Have to agree with several of the other posts - compared to contemporaries, the Comet is the best tank the British army has ever fielded (if you ignore a couple of captured German Panthers that were used to destroy blockhouses at the close of World War II). The Sherman was the allies equivalent of the T-34 - only effective through sheer weight of numbers. The Challenger isn't bad, but nothing special when compared to contemporary main battle tanks from the US, Russia and Germany. So perhaps the answer is to buy the limited number of tanks the UK needs from Germany or France, and concentrate development on improved armour for personnel carriers with off road ability.

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Black Helicopters

Air superiority is not always a guarantee of success

In the desert (Iraq) where there is little cover aircraft reign supreme, but as the Angolans (and their Cuban pilots in MIG 23's) found out in the bush war in the 70s/80s, aircraft superiority is pretty useless when there is thick cover available for your ground forces to hide in.

Not all wars (conventional or otherwise) will be fought in the desert, you need a balanced force.

Can't believe I'm the first to put a helicopter on this thread...

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Boffin

RE: Mike Fortey

The biggest threat to modern helicopters on the battlefield, after enemy fighters, is modern tanks. The gun control system on the Challenger2 is capable enough to hit and completely destroy any current anti-tank helo - even Apache - at a range longer than most helo-carried anti-tank missiles. This was first realised in the Six Day War when the Israelis managed to shoot down Syrian Gazelles using the old Centurions and the L7 gun. Even the kinetic impact of the plain APDS rounds would be bad enough, but most modern MBTs carry guns of 120mm or larger, which fire what are actually quite heavy explosive rounds. The 120mm HESH round from the Challenger2, for example, carries more explosive than the standard British or US field guns of World War 2, and is actually preferred over APDS for killing tanks at long range.

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Black Helicopters

tank vs hellfire, who wins?

Matt, I guess the point of the question is, you'd have to hit the helo first, if it's hidden behind a hill, not much chance you'll be threatening many apaches in the long run.

would you care to elaborate on this rather odd celebrity deathmatch? Who do you think would win.

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aircraft cannot hold a position,

in your article you speak of obsolescence of armor, but the reality is some type of portable fortification will always be necessary and useful. Whatever you want to call it, when the bad guys are coming at you with machine guns and mortar fire, you need steel to stop that fire. To really be effective you have to have enough steel to feel safe enough so that you can fire back at the bad guys.

Where the armor is made, and who gets the funding is another matter, but armored vehicles are going to be a part of any battlefield equation for a long time. At least they are going to be part of the winners equations.

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@Martin Gregorie

Guderian got his T-34 factories, just not enough of them. The Panther had the same features that made the T-34 good (sloping armour and a high calibre, long range gun), but with a bigger turret that didn't mean the tank commander ended up assisting the gunner as in the T-34. The downside to the Panther, as with all German tanks, was its complexity although it was far simpler than the Tigers. The Russians and Americans could churn out hundreds of T-34s and Shermans to every German tank, and at least in the case of the Russians they considered the crews expendable. In fact, Russian tank losses were so heavy that despite their massive numerical superiority, the Russians advance ground to a halt numerous times to await replacement tanks and crews.

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any excuse

...to spend money on perks and pension schemes instead

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Boffin

RE: Ashley Pomeroy

One of the reasons British tanks lagged at the start of the war, apart from the idiotic doctrine of infantry and cruiser tanks, was that a crippling tax had been introduced pre-war on large engined vehicles, which killed off the development of commercial vehicles with the big engines and gearboxes strong enough to power real tanks. This meant the tank designers were stuck with second-hand bus engines and no diesels (the latter being less prone to going up in flames if hit) or using the Nuffield-licensed Liberty aero-engine, an unreliable Yank design which had come across the pond with the Christie tank design.

The Yanks in the '30s realised tanks would need more power and went staright to aircraft engines. They used large radials for the M3 light and medium tanks, some of these being used for Shermans before production of the latter outstripped supply and they resorted to oddities such as three straight-eights welded into a common crankcase. In the UK, British designers soldiered on with the unreliable Liberty engine despite better UK-designed options being available. This restriction on engine power meant UK tanks had to be smaller to be lighter. The Valentine tank was a good example - reliable (it used the mentioned bus engines!) and reasonably well armoured, it was restricted to a three-man turret in its first version as there wasn't the power for it to have the extra space for a loader. A bigger turret or hull would have meant more armour, therefore more weight. Even with just three men, it still only managed 15mph!

Another problem with early WW2 British tanks were two restrictions on width. Firstly, all designs had to fit narrow UK rail flatbeds, despite the fact they were highly likely to be used in Europe which had wider flatbeds anyway. This limited the overall width of the tank. Then, there was an insistance that the turret must not overhang the tracks because it was feared a hit on the track covers would jam the turret! The Sherman was designed without these restrictions, and whilst narrow enough to fit UK flatbeds, its overhanging turret and hull would not have been allowed in a British tank. These stupid rules, made up by "experts" in the civil service without a clue about what the tanks needed to do, effectively ruined any chance of the British producing a good tank in the early war years. They were eventually removed for the Centurion's design. By comparison, in Canada they produced the Ram tank (based on the US M3 Grant/Lee) with a central turret capable of taking the 6pdr long before the Sherman arrived, and in Australia they produced the AC2 Sentinel, which was eventually tried out with both a 25pdr howitzer and the 17pdr. The latter is especially galling as the main designer was a British tank expert loaned to the Aussies!

In short, British tankies in WW2 suffered because of idiotic politicians' and civil servants' meddling. Left to their own devices, British designers produced market-leading kit such as the Vickers-Armstrong Six Ton design which dominated the tank market from the late '20s through to the late '30s and was arguably the ancestor of the T-34. No doubt, similar meddling today has left our soldiers short of proper armoured patrol vehicles.

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@Tanks By Chris Posted Tuesday 30th December 2008 12:57 GMT

really?

the challenger is superior to the others in almost all respects.

just look how many Abrams have been toasted in Iraq and Afghanistan.

the leopard's Armour is no better and the leclerc's has had to be upgraded to try and match the challengers.

only engine reliability lets the challenger down.

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Decaying?

There is nothing "decaying" about any of the Land Systems sites. Many of them have just been subject to heavy investment. Poor old Leeds doesn't get a mention either, while the original site is closed (an along with it manufacture gone), there is still a strong design contingent there.

Never let facts detract from a good story though!

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Tanks for the memory

There seem to be numerous issues to argue with both in the article and the following comments.

Along with so many others I cannot agree that the Sherman was the best tank in British service and cannot believe that nobody has mentioned the Centurion. This was a really high class tank at the time and saw deployment as the war closes. It is probably the best British tank ever but lacks the prominence of other newer tanks or those that saw real WW2 service.

On the other hand all those criticising the Sherman have missed its key primary characteristic - there were lots and lots of them. This and only this is what made it such a good tank.

Moving on, the issue of the obsolescence of the MBT is an interesting subject that could be subject to a much longer article if not a book in itself. The character of armoured warfare has changed a great deal over the last 50 years and whilst the tank killer function of tanks has been largely surperceded the other uses have not. The requirement to drive around the battlefield in a survivable vehicle remains of significance at the tactical level as does the similar (but slightly different) requirement at the operational level.

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Anonymous Coward

Did I read that right?

Frack me - Mr Page criticising the Senior Service??

"The cavalry are no more likely to admit that tanks are outmoded than the navy is to admit that a surface warship is mainly useful for carrying aircraft"

And full marks to those pointing out that buying British may cost a little more but it keeps the money here rather than lining some Johnny Foreigner's pocket, and that the Sherman was little more than a moving target until fitted with the British gun (when it became a moving target that could hit back )

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Forgot the Centurion? Or just forgot to mention it...?

I've heard the "tanks are obsolete" argument for just as long as I've heard "Unix is obsolete", well over 20 years in both cases, yet both stubbornly refuse to go away. I guess the real world has this annoying tendency to contradict what looks good on paper.

And the "Sherman was Britain's best tank"? Er, no. Most available, perhaps, but as others have said, it was already bested by WWII designs such as the Comet, admittedly easily forgotten since it's overlooked by the US/German armour fanboys. The Centurion was probably the UK's most renowned tank and was hardly battle-shy, whereas the Chieftain was often given the "world's best" accolade for good reason. The current "embarrassingly aged" Challenger is another example of confounding media expectations, and as for it's age it's comparatively more youthful than the US M1, though I guess we should at least be thankful for small mercies in that we were saved the usual "we should buy American" rhetoric. Though perhaps worth pointing out that they can't build one all by themselves either what with its nice Chobham armour and stylish Rheinmetall cannon... or for "can't" perhaps "won't" since tanks benefit from globalisation as much as anything else.

And finally for those using this as an excuse to illustrate the evils of Labour, remember that the Conservatives were no better, introducing the bloody awful SA80, closing Royal Ordnance, having the fleet critically under strength at the outbreak of the Falklands Unpleasantness... no political points to be scored here since the useless buggers are all as bad as each other.

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J
Joke

Phew...

Good thing the FRES UV is not a GM product then. Otherwise they might try to save the industry by selling it to John Doe so he can go to the movies or grocery shopping... Similar things have happened before, mind you.

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Tanks in World War I

"World War I was won without making any serious use of them."

Pardon?

The Australian General Monash re-took Hamel by planning and executing the first truly co-ordinated aircraft and tank battle plan. This plan was big on tanks and light on infantry.

Hamel fell to the Germans on 4th April 1918, creating a salient in the British line before Amiens with good observation from the ridge positions the Germans held. The task of recapturing Hamel was allocated to the Australian Corps and its commander, Lt. Gen. Monash, drew up a plan for a limited attack mounted along a 6000 yard front to a depth of 2500 yards, using just eight battalions of infantry supported by two tank battalions.

In preparation, Monash made the men from the different tank and infantry divisions mix and form friendships, and each infantry battalion painted its insignia on a tank. As well as fostering camaraderie, this made it easier to plan movements, as each tank and battalion were colour-coded and would advance together.

Before this, tanks were often used haphazardly and without effect.

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Unhappy

ok, so suppose you actually WANTED to build a new tank

Do you have skilled workers?

Do you have the proper materials for ALL parts (and they MUST be produced homeside)?

Do you have modern production facilities (not WWII stuff)?

Do you have a good design and place to test it?

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Boffin

A few more coments...

"Sherman Firefly was probably the best British tank of that war, with respect to the Comet. The fitting of the 17 pounder gun made it capable of dealing death at a distance to any German tank. Whilst retaining the high profile, weak armour and petrol engine ..."

Umm. At least Jon Pick is sticking to the original point. For information to the rest (you know who you are!), the Tiger and T34 were not British tanks, and Challenger 2s are not WW2. Centurions are interesting - WW2 but AFAIK did not see action then, and the requirement seems to be a WW2 'for-real action' tank. I say 'seems' because the original article seems to think WW2 was the only time British tanks saw 'real' action. And yet the Centurions saw lots of action when driven by Israelis - surely this counts? I suppose you could argue that Iraq was never 'real' action.....

The Sherman Firefly was in the thick of the action, unlike the Comet which only caught the tail end. But I would say that the Firefly had the best gun, but was definitely not the best tank. Fireflys had considerable success only when they could fight from prepared hull-down positions. And at this point they might as well have been anti-tank artillery. Their high superstructure, poor armour and tendency to catch fire have all been mentioned, but they also had no room for a radio operator because of the larger 17 pd ammunition, so they were effectively uncontrollable in a battle. That's why each troop only had one Firefly, which would usually be concealed in ambush and unmoved during action....

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Sherman - best tank ????

Sorry to disagree. The Sherman was only a mediocre tank at best. It was shear numbers produced that allowed them to win.

The Tiger was always a far superior tank. Fortunately for the Allies the third Reich could not keep supplies of spares and fuel coming fast enough to keep them a formidable fighting arm.

Rgds ...Pete

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tanks still needed even MBTs

Canada thought there was no need for MBT and was going the same route as FRES UV then they went to Afghanistan and found there existing LAVIII (same family as the chosen FRES UV ) was getting opened up by IEDs and also getting stuck in mud. So they ended up borrowing 20 leopard 2 from germany and airlifted to Afghanistan using C-17 and russian aircraft, and buying 100 surplus leopard 2 from the dutch.

US Apaches in iraq was forced to abandon there attack when beaten back by RPG and AK47, the US marines Cobra has enjoyed more success because they were used with troops on the ground.

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Coat

Shermans? The only successful tank used by the Brits?

I suspect the author does not know about the most successful British tank, the Centurion, that arrived fractionally too late for WW2, but was certainly the best tank available in the Korean war, and sold to countries all over the world (having many outings with the Israelis, who used it to give stick to numerous invaders).

While BAE have made a hash of the business, British tank design innovations have frequently led the world.

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Boffin

RE: Chris Thomas and Martin Gregorie

RE: Chris Thomas - take a look at many of the modern anti-tank choppers, do you see the way the sighting systems are being developed to move from the nose to mast-mounts above the rotar? The Eurocopter Tiger is a good example. Take a look at the Longbow Apache and check out where the millimetric radar is. That's because the modern anti-tank doctrine is to keep the chopper behind cover as much as possible. The reason is a host of field systems have become available to attack a chopper that stays out in view or hovers for too long in one spot. Yes, the tank will have a hard time getting a shot at a chopper hiding behind a hill, but the chopper has to pop up to find the target and take the shot, and this is when it is vulnerable.

Even Hellfire needs the target spotted and marked by a laser (AFAIK, the TV and self-homing variants still don't work), so that means someone has to put themselves in a position where they have line-of-sight for the duration of the missile's flight. If it is the chopper itself, it has no means of distracting or stopping the faster APDS or HESH round from say a Challenger2, whilst the tank can deploy smoke and move after or during the shot. As Jonathan Schofield noted above, he could fire accurately to 22 miles with the old 120mm gun from the Chieftain, which is a bit further than the max 5 miles range of the Hellfire. The Hellfire then still has to make a critical hit, which means holding the laser steady on a specific point on a probably moving target. On the other hand, a hit from a 120mm HE round on just about any part of the helicopter airframe will mean one less chopper, period, and if the chopper makes an evasive action it is highly likely to lose the laser mark on the target, which means a wasted Hellfire. This line of thought has led the Israelis to test using tank-fired airburst shells loaded with flechettes (made infamous recently for killing a Palstinian TV journalist) as a means of forcing an attacking helo to break off an attack and drop laser lock.

More worryingly for chopper crews, some people have pointed out that MBTs are now so expensive it makes sense to give them a proper anti-aircraft suite. It would be a simple task to mount the same millimetric radar from the Longbow Apache in a retractable mount on a Challenger3, tied into the main gun's ballistic computer, and then you have a system that could accurately target helos in all weather and light conditions at ranges beyond any current or planned anti-tank missile. Take it a step further and use a laser-guided 120mm shell (tech already proven with Copperhead), with the laser designator aimed by the radar, and suddenly the helo is at such a disadvantage you might start questioning why we are planning on buying more anti-tank helos.....

So, you see, the Hellfire-vs-tank scenario is not as cut and dried as a lot of people like to make out.

RE: Martin Gregorie - the Amercian M3 light tank, aka Honey or Stuart, didn't shed tracks on tight turns because it couldn't make tight turns! Unlike British tanks, which could turn on the spot, it had a turning radius of about forty feet. Whilst this was fine in the open desert, it was a big problem later in the European theatre. It wasn't until the M5 version with twin engines arrived that the Honey could trun properly. The Stuart also had two other big problems due to the radial aero-engine in the version supplied to the British (the Guberson diesel engined variant was kept by the Yanks). Firstly, it drank high-octane aviation fuel, which meant it burnt VERY well. Any hit penetrating the enginebay just about guaranteed a fire so fierce it often melted the armour! Secondly, the engine was rear-mounted but had a driveshaft from the rear to the front sprockets. This ran through the middle of the fighting compartment at waist-height, stopping the crew from moving with the turret if it was traversed. In consequence, the turret was rarely turned in combat and the crew were reliant on the driver pointing the tank roughly in the target's direction so the gunner could then make the minor adjustment to score a hit.

The Honey was popular with the British as it was fast and reliable, two vital requirements in a recce tank, and had better armour and a better gun when compared to the tiny Light Tank MkVI it often replaced. However, when the Crusader was finally sorted, the 6pdr-equipped MkIII was preferred for battle recce by the experienced 7th Armoured Division at Alamein as it was lower, heavier armoured, and had a much better gun. Again, it was a case of there being plenty supplied by the Yanks. For real recce, the British preferred to use quieter, smaller and faster armoured cars.

But, to get back to the point of the article, the British armoured industry should survive on its own merits, not Government hand-outs, otherwise it is just an expensive postponement of the inevitable. Of course, if those hand-outs can be disguised as "upgrades" and "attritional replacements" for existing Army vehicles then that's just fine. ;)

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Happy

Challenger 2. So bad it couldn't be sold

Blimey. Lots of confusion here. Lewis was surely talking about modern tanks and modern British factories using the ancient examples of yesteryear as examples, that's all.

A reality check: the British are cutting Challengers in service already. At the start of 2006 we had only got 200 Challenger 2 tanks in 1st armoured division, and another 50 or so in 3rd UK Mechanised Division. What happened in 2006 is that we cut the numbers of Challenger 2's by 50 when we reorganised 4th Armoured Brigade into a Mechanised Brigade, by cutting an entire regiment of Challengers. That left just 2 Armoured Brigades using Challengers in an honest to god Armoured role in the entire British army. That's pretty much all we can afford to field.

We have 5 Armoured regiments using Challenger 2, and on average one is eliminated every 5 years (1998, 2003... 2008 isn't over for another 12 hours :-D). The last Challenger 2 is due to leave service in 2032 or thereabouts, so currently its a toss up whether the last Challenger 2 or the last Armoured Regiment will be retired first. The intention appears to be to replace Challenger 2 with the FRES-vehicle, but as Lewis notes FRES remains a pie-in-the-sky kind of plan, unconnected with reality.

So, how good is the Challenger 2? One sign of a really good piece of military kit is that other nations buy it eagerly - British-made anti-aircraft missile flares sell very well indeed. And one sign of a dreadful piece of kit is that no-one else wants it. So if we're saying that the Challenger 2 is any good that means that the Challenger 2 is found across the world, right? Ah. No. The only other nation to field it is Oman, and they have 40 or so and no actual known enemies with a military that worries them. On the other hand Oman is run by a former British military officer who overthrew his father in a British backed coup, so that gives some idea of why he might have picked up the kit.

Other than that example no-one else has been silly enough to waste the cash, and we've even stopped trying to flog the useless piece of tat. The depressing reality is that we stopped making the export version of the Challenger 2 a few years back when it failed to sell any.

By comparison the German Leopard 2 is found operating world wide in Finland, Sweden, Chile, Greece Singapore, Spain and Turkey. Perhaps the Germans know something we don't about selling weapons to people.

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IT Angle

Suite of solutions

If everything has a vulnerability and a cost it suggests to me that there are two main solutions:

a - infantry alone with no hardware at all

or

b - every action has to be composed of a suite of kit and people.

In the helo/tank debate it seems an unmanned drone would help very nicely whether that info was shared with airborne, arty (local or distant) or infantry or all three.

I can only conclude that the complexity of conflict will increasingly increase with additional demands on sharing information swiftly in order to expedite a timely solution?

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