Britain’s ageing fleet of Challenger 2 tanks needs urgent revitalisation. But given many other Land Warfare priorities does an upgrade programme make sense? Will we ever use tanks in combat again and does extending the life of Challenger 2 represent good use of a Defence limited budget? This article seeks to look at the importance of Challenger 2, the proposed Life Extension Programme (LEP) and whether we should consider alternative MBT options.
02 Cold War 2
03 Challenger 2 LEP programme status
04 Alternative MBT solutions
05 Towards the next generation
Britain’s Challenger MBT has been one of the most successful tanks to see UK service. It started life in 1976 when the Fighting Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (FVRDE) at Chobham revealed its revolutionary composite armour. This was attached to a heavily modified Chieftain Mk. 5 chassis, the FV4211, which over time evolved into the best protected NATO MBT.
The Chieftain MBT on which Challenger was based could trace its roots back to the Centurion tank of 1945, which was itself inspired by German Panther design of 1943. Centurion was among the most successful post-war tank designs with more than 4,300 exported to 17 different countries. It proved itself in British service in Korea, in Australian service in Vietnam, and later in Israeli service, during the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Despite being the first tank to mount a 120mm gun and having unprecedented levels of protection, Chieftain never received the acclaim of its predecessor. Its Leyland L60 engine developed only 750 bhp, which was insufficient for a 56 tonne platform, and it was unreliable.
Around the same time that Chobham armour was being developed, the former Shah of Iran paid Rolls-Royce to develop a V-12 diesel engine for the Chieftain to transform its mobility in a revised model, the Shir 1. When the armour and engine were offered to Iran in a single package, they became the basis for a new MBT called FV4030/3 or Shir 2. Iran ordered 1,225 and it would have entered service had it not been for the Iranian Revolution of 1979. After the order was cancelled, it is not clear how much of the development and manufacturing set-up costs were returned to Iran, but the British Army benefitted from the investment and a hot production line. In addition to a new chassis, new armour and new driveline, Challenger was fitted with Horstmann’s advanced hydropneumatic suspension, an improved L11A5 120mm rifled gun (which at that time possessed ammunition that made it superior to the German Army’s 120mm smoothbore gun) and an advanced thermal imaging observation and gunnery sight sight (TOGS). The first Challenger regiment achieved IOC in 1983 and the new tank established itself as a NATO benchmark.
Although Challenger gave a good account of itself during Operation Desert Storm (Operation Granby) in 1991, it never fully lived-up to expectations. A lack of success in the prestigious Canadian Army Trophy (CAT) competition, suggested that its fire control system and sensors were inferior to those of both Leopard 2A4 and M1A1 Abrams. By this time, the dissolution of the Soviet Union had encouraged most NATO armies to reduce their armoured forces. Despite this and to its credit, the UK decided to invest in a revised version of Challenger. Vickers, now owned by BAE Systems, was commissioned to develop a new turret for the existing hull and Challenger 2 was born. By 1998, the British Army finally had an MBT that could be described as world class. During the UK’s second deployment to Iraq, between 2002 and 2011, Challenger 2 performed impeccably. No tank was lost to enemy action and many survived multiple direct RPG hits.
Given the British Army’s focus on counter-insurgency warfare from 2002 onwards, various defence planners were ready to write the obituary of the tank. Moreover, when the global financial crisis began to bite, the Army’s tank fleet became an easy target for budget cuts in the 2010 SDSR. At this time, the Royal Armoured Corps had 386 Challenger 2 MBTs in seven armoured regiments. Though we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to retire the whole fleet, numbers were cut to just 227. Plans to further upgrade Challenger 2, which began in 2006, were shelved. Thereafter, it was thought that Britain’s tank regiments would be left to quietly rust in peace.
02 Cold War 2
In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea. Relying on a mix of asymmetric and conventional tactics, an overwhelming superiority in artillery and the clever use of heavy armour allowed Russian forces to seize huge swathes of territory. The Ukrainian Army quickly re-learned the lesson that protected mobility is fundamental to tactical manoeuvre. It was not until the Ukrainians were able to muster a credible armoured force that they were able to counter-attack.
In case anyone doubted the enduring relevance of the main battle tank, Russia’s next move was to reveal the T-14 Armata MBT, T-15 heavy IFV, Kurganets 25 medium weight platform and the Boomerang 8×8. While it will take time before these vehicles are deployed in large numbers, Russia is steadily upgrading its existing fleet of 11,000 T-72s while increasing the number of T-90s it has to more than 500.
Russia’s comprehensive renewal of its Land Warfare capabilities has reignited previous cold war tensions and a new Cold War has begun. As a consequence, many NATO armies, including the US Army, Bundeswehr and French Armée de Terre have begun to upgrade their tanks. The M1A2C Abrams (previously SEP V3) is already in series production, while a further revised model the M1A2D (previously SEP V4) is under development. Germany is upgrading stored Leopard 2A4’s to the latest A7 standard and intends to field a larger fleet of 320 MBTs. France will improve 200 of its Leclerc MBTs. More important, the merger of Krauss Maffei Wegmann and Nexter has seen work begin on the next generation of Main Ground Combat System (MGCS).
Any notion that armour is irrelevant has been be dispelled by the fact that so many legacy tanks remain in service across the world. Estimates suggest that there are as many as 53,000 tanks in active service with a further 20,000 held in reserve storage. The vast majority of these are older models, but as the Russians say: any tank is better than no tank. Meanwhile, Russia seems intent on re-integrating former Soviet satellite states; China is building its forces beyond any territorial defence needs; Iran is a persistent threat to Saudi Arabia and Israel; and the North Korean situation is far from settled. In other words, the world is increasingly volatile and unstable. NATO undoubtedly needs to retain potent ground forces. While Cyber / EW warfare and asymmetric tactics offer new options, recent and ongoing conflicts suggest that the distinction between war and peace has become less well delineated. This requires NATO to be vigilant and prepared. Today, we go to war with the Army we have, not the Army we would ideally like.
03 Challenger 2 LEP programme status
More than a decade after it was first envisaged, Britain’s Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP) commenced in 2016. What remains of the original fleet is now in such a poor state of repair that we would struggle to deploy a brigade let alone a full war-fighting division. Realising that tanks remain vital to support armoured infantry in high-end conventional warfare against peer enemies, the programme has rightly assumed a higher priority.
Two bidders were down-selected for a two-year assessment phase: Rheinmetall and General Dynamics / BAE Systems. The winning bidder is expected to be announced in Mid-2019. Interestingly, a 120mm smoothbore has been added to the scope of the RFQ. This makes it an upgrade programme rather than simply an obsolescence management exercise. The addition of a 120mm smoothbore will give UK tank regiments the ability to fire all NATO 120mm smoothbore ammunition natures. With commonality and interoperability becoming NATO buzzwords, the adoption of such a weapon can only be a good thing. Rheinmetall’s current 120mm smoothbore gun, the L/55 Mk II, remains highly capable. Its DM53 / DM63 APFSDS kinetic penetrator is able to punch through 750 mm of RHA steel at a range of 2,000 meters, exceeding the penetration effect of Challenger’s CHARM 3 round, while the German company also offers a devastating new programmable air burst munition, the DM11.
A major question that LEP bidders must answer is how a 120mm smoothbore can best be incorporated into Challenger 2? This was something considered in 2006, during the previous Challenger 2 CLIP initiative that was cancelled. Given that the German gun uses larger one-piece ammunition versus Challenger 2’s two-piece system, there is insufficient space to store 120mm smoothbore rounds in Challenger’s existing turret bustle. To ensure that Challenger 2 can carry sufficient ammunition, the rear section of the existing turret will need to be re-engineered or the entire turret will need to be swapped for a new one.
At the International Armoured Vehicles (IAV) conference in January 2019, Rheinmetall revealed its Challenger 2 LEP proposal. This has a brand new turret with the L/55 120mm smoothbore gun. Although externally the new turret looks similar to Challenger 2’s existing one, Rheinmetall has taken an existing Leopard 2 turret and comprehensively re-engineered it. Ammunition storage is in an enlarged turret bustle and below the turret ring in sealed compartments. Rheinmetall plans to use the same sensors, fire control system and BMC4I solution as Ajax. While Rheinmetall’s Challenger 3 certainly looks impressive, it is likely to be much more expensive per MBT than the changes envisaged by the scope of original Life Extension Programme.
Given that Rheinmetall has acquired BAE Systems Land Systems business unit, it isn’t clear how this will impact the General Dynamics / BAE Systems consortium and their Challenger 2 LEP proposal. GDLSUK was expected to offer a redesigned version of the existing Challenger turret with a similar sensor and FCS package. There are also rumours of a mysterious third option. This could be Nexter’s Leclerc turret mounted on the existing Challenger 2 hull. This is noteworthy because it features not only a 120mm smoothbore, but also an extremely robust autoloader. KNDS showed this turret mounted on a Leopard 2 chassis at the 2018 Eurosatory Defence Exhibition. As well as helping to isolate the crew from ammunition storage in the event of a fire, it also has the potential to reduce platform weight by around 10 tonnes.
The Leclerc MBT has a crew of three instead of four: Commander, Gunner and Driver. With an autoloader, it doesn’t need a fourth crew member to act as Loader. From a UK perspective, this is a disadvantage as having more crew members makes heavy manual tasks, like changing tracks, easier. Since most new tank designs have crews of three instead of four, we may need to accept that a reduction in crew size is inevitable. In the meantime, Challenger 2 seems likely to continue with four.
The UK MoD has released few concrete details about Challenger 2 LEP. What we can say is that the platform will become UK GVA compliant so that it can integrate the Bowman tactical communication system now and later the new LETacCIS system. It has also been announced that Challenger will get an APS package. We know that the drivetrain will also be upgraded via a separate initiative, the Heavy Armour Automotive Improvement Programme (HAAIP), but, not whether this will include the EuroPowerPack with MTU’s 1,650 PS (1,214 kW) MT883 V-12 diesel engine. It would easily fit into Challenger’s engine bay and likely be coupled to a Renk HSWL 354 transmission .
If Challenger is fitted with the Leopard 2’s driveline, turret and gun, it will be a Leopard in all but name. However, Leopard’s off-road mobility, because of its lower overall weight, is superior. Another significant factor is Leopard 2’s price. Rheinmetall’s Challenger 3 is estimated to cost around £12 million, but the price of a new build Leopard 2A7 is €8-€9 million. So we might be better off just buying Leopard 2.
Meanwhile, Nexter / KMW and Rheinmetall are both working on new MBT designs. Rheinmetall could have a new tank ready by 2027. In which case, why not retire Challenger 2 now and gap the capability until the new MBT is ready?
An upgraded Challenger 2 ought to have entered service in 2016. Under current plans, it is unlikely to do so before 2023. The original cost was meant to be about £2 million per tank. After 2015, it increased to £774 million, or £3.4 per Challenger 2 MBT. If costs rise above this level, it will reduce the total number we can afford. It has already been suggested that the Army will lose another tank regiment, meaning that we will only have 168 platforms, but if the price is £12 million each and the total budget needs to increase to £2 billion, we could cut numbers to 132 – this less tanks than Cyprus or Switzerland. If Challenger 2 remains in service from 2023 to 2035 (instead of from 2016 to 2035) it begs the question: is it actually still worth upgrading it at all? And, if not, what should we do instead?
The bottom line is that the British Army would not be able to take-on a peer enemy without having a credible main battle tank. We need an upgraded MBT as soon as possible. If the threats we face were not existential, we could risk retiring Challenger 2 while a new MBT is developed. Regrettably, a next generation MBT is unlikely to be ready before 2030. To have a further “capability holiday” with no MBT between now and then would an unacceptable operational risk. This means we could be forced to spend money on a solution that’s likely to have a short shelf-life or we will need to keep it in service long after other armies have replaced their MBTs.
If we are paying more for less, it is important to point-out that this is not the fault of the Army or the MoD, but due to a short-sighted political decision to cut the Defence budget in 2010. The important question we now need to ask is: can we acquire an acceptable number of credible MBTs at a lower price than the cost of the Challenger 2 LEP?
04 Alternative MBT solutions
The US Army has approximately 3,500 M1A1 Abrams sitting in a Californian desert. It should be possible to acquire 230 of these for around $1.5-$2 million each and upgrade them to the latest build standard. Adding a new fire control system is likely to cost $2-$3 million per tank, so we could acquire a substitute MBT at a cost of $3.5-$5.0 million each (or $1 billion in total).
Buying the US Army’s M1 Abrams tank would have two disadvantages. One is the cost and complexity of bringing a major new vehicle platform into UK service with all of the related DLOD requirements; the other is that it has a gas turbine engine. Although the engine is thirsty, it can use a variety of fuels. US Army M1A2Cs are now fitted with an auxiliary power unit which reduces fuel consumption when the tank is stationary. As an alternative, General Dynamics has already looked at integrating the MTU EuroPowerPack fitted to Leopard 2, so this could be another option, although it would increase unit price. Again, the choice boils down down to cost. One important benefit of acquiring the Abrams is that it would give us improved interoperability with the US Army. Above all, Abrams is an excellent tank that has performed exceptionally well during recent deployments. Its basic design has stood the test of time better than Challenger 2 because the original design recognised that it would need to be upgraded over the course of its lifecycle. Furthermore, it may well be the least expensive means of acquiring an MBT with a 120mm smoothbore. It is something we need to look at again.
It seems probable that the US Army will acquire a significant quantity of M1A2Ds. Tagging a G2G order for 230 on the back of a large US order, could be more efficient, faster and less expensive than retaining Challenger 2. At the very least, a serious evaluation would enable us to negotiate better price from Challenger 2 LEP bidders.
A second option, as noted above, could be to purchase new-build Leopard 2A7s. Like the M1A2 Abrams, this is an excellent design that has been proven in combat. There is a hot production line. Leopard 2 would give us commonality with Germany as well as many other NATO Alliance members. It already has the L/55 120mm smoothbore gun and state-of-the-art Fire Control System. It would truly be a viable off-the-shelf system that could be deployed immediately if need be.
One important distinction between the M1A2C/ D Abrams and Leopard 2A7 is that the latter uses an L/55 calibre gun whereas the American M1 uses a L/44 calibre smoothbore, the M256. In order to compensate for the lack of velocity from using a shorter barrel, the US Army uses the M829A3 depleted uranium kinetic penetrator, while Germany uses the DM53 A1 and newer DM63 APFSDS penetrators with tungsten cores. Both guns provide similar performance and can fire each other’s ammunition.
If we wanted to be really creative, we might wish to have a look at the Korean K2 Black Panther or the Japanese Type 10, both of which have the same three-person configuration as the French Leclerc. Neither has been combat tested and the only real reason to consider them is if they offer a price advantage. Since they are both appear to be as expensive as the Leopard 2, they can probably be discounted.
The Israeli Merkava Mk IV is another interesting choice. After the M1 Abrams and Russian T-72, it is the most combat tested MBT in service today. It mounts an L/44 calibre 120mm smoothbore gun and offers high levels of survivability. Uniquely among modern MBTs, the Merkava’s engine is mounted in the front of the vehicle, offering increased protection and allowing the crew to escape through the rear of vehicle if it is hit. The rear crew compartment also allows the tank to be converted into a heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle, the Namer. One key insight from the Ukraine conflict is that armoured infantry units need the same level of protection as tank crews, making Merkava / Namer an attractive option. Not much is known about current Merkava pricing, but if it were close to that of the Abrams, it would be worth evaluating.
Ultimately, the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme is about minimising cost so that the Army has the cheapest possible main battle tank able to provide a credible capability until a new design can be fielded. An upgraded Challenger 2 can be expected to have life expectancy of 15-20 years. Assuming it enters service in 2023, it would remain in service until 2040.
05 Towards the next generation
Now and in the future, armies will continue to rely on two basic types of armoured vehicle. One to provide protected mobility for transporting troops safely around the battlefield; the second to provide mobile firepower for neutralising enemy vehicles and to support infantry. Tracked or wheeled, medium or heavy, in high or low intensity conflicts, across open country and in urban environments, armoured vehicles can be expected to remain relevant to a wide range of roles and mission types.
Traditionally, protection and firepower have been prioritised above mobility. With a greater need for expeditionary capabilities, we should expect to see the iron triangle rebalanced in favour of mobility. As well as the three traditional elements, three new elements have assumed a much greater importance: sustainability, which is the logistical footprint and and ease of supportability; connectivity, which is is the ability to collect data and share it with other vehicles / formations to build an accurate real time picture of the battlefield, including friendly and enemy force dispositions; and adaptability, which is ease with which a platform can be reconfigured for different missions.
Under the guidance of various military customers, defence firms in North America and Europe are working on future NATO tank concepts. By 2020, we should begin to see a number of prototypes emerge. Common innovation themes include: central crew citadels (where the crew sit within a protected cocoon for increased survivability); remote-control turrets with autoloaders that separate the crew from ammunition stowage; active protection systems (APS) that neutralise kinetic threats as well as chemical-effect anti-tank warheads; fully-networked battlefield management systems that fuse voice and data communications; manned and unmanned systems; increased automation and artificial intelligence to reduce cognitive burden; advanced sensors to support 24/7 missions; integral UAV launch and recovery; hybrid-electric drivetrains; and wheels should progressively replace tracks.
Given the burgeoning cost of AFVs, and the need for armoured infantry to enjoy the same degree of protection as their tank crew comrades, it is likely that dual platforms for MBT and IFV will be developed. The Israeli Merkava and Namer are good examples of this trend and complement each other perfectly.
The other requirement is for heavy armour to become more deployable. This means tanks need to shed weight, hence the move to smaller remote turrets with autoloaders, which typically shave-off around 8-10 tonnes. Another means of lowering weight is to reduce the protected volume of the vehicle, which is a factor driving the development of smaller unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs).
Future MBTs and IFVs are likely to weigh 50 tonnes, possibly more with mission-configurable appliqué armour. This suggests that they will be tracked, unless 10×10 or 12×12 wheeled configurations prove to be viable. With fully electric drives and hub motors in every wheel, there is every possibility that future wheeled vehicles will match tracked vehicles even in the most extreme off-road conditions. Unfortunately, we need battery technology to catch-up so that electrically-powered heavy armour has an acceptable combat radius.
For the foreseeable future, heavy armoured vehicles are expected to remain tracked and to be powered by legacy diesel engines. This means we will need wheeled medium weight armour to complement them, such as 8×8 or 6×6 platforms like Stryker, Boxer, or Griffon. To be easily deployable, medium armour vehicles need to weigh less than 40 tonnes (or less than 37 tonnes if we want them to be air-transportable in an A400M). So the new armoured paradigm seems to imply a matrix of four primary combat vehicles: heavy MBT and heavy IFV; medium gun system and medium infantry carrier. Below them, there will be a light protected vehicle category. This class will be comprised of 4×4 light protected mobility or command and liaison vehicles, such as JLTV, Bushmaster and Foxhound.
Ultimately, heavy armour takes longer to deploy, is less autonomous and has a larger logistical footprint; but it has the firepower and protection needed for resilience. Conversely, medium armour deploys rapidly, is more independent and has lower logistical footprint; but lacks the firepower and protection needed for sustained high-end peer-to-peer warfare.
Another important factor is cost. The more affordable a vehicle is, the more we can buy. It is important to remember that Allied superiority of Sherman tank numbers in Normandy1944 overcame the quality of Axis Tiger and Panther tanks. Relative to the Tiger, the Sherman tank was simpler, easier and less expensive to produce. We triumphed because Germany ran out of tanks before we did. Today, modern MBTs have become so sophisticated and costly, we lack critical mass in terms of absolute numbers.
Any or all of the above assumptions could easily be challenged by new weapon technology. Over the last decade, Active Protection Systems have restored the primacy of heavy armour. But it won’t be long before new anti-tank missiles appear that can defeat APS. A new system receiving much attention in British circles is Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) munitions. If they work as we hope they will, they will destroy all electrical systems within a combat vehicle, effectively turning it into a redundant hunk of metal.
Although new AFV concepts will debut over the next five years, it is likely to be a decade before any radically new combat vehicle enters service. Armies tend to be conservative, which makes them evolutionary in their approach rather than revolutionary. System reliability trumps innovation when lives are at risk. We will test new concepts comprehensively before committing to fielding them at scale.
As the British Army begins to envision what AFVs will be required beyond 2030, it still needs dependable heavy and medium weight armoured vehicles now. Ajax and Boxer will enter service by 2023. But the Armoured Infantry brigades need upgraded MBTs too, which is why the Challenger 2 LEP is an essential programme. In making a recommendation about next steps, there are three MBT priorities:
- The need to upgrade all 227 Challenger 2 MBTs and commit to fielding at least three regular MBT regiments
- The need to mount a 120mm smoothbore to ensure ammunition commonality and interoperability with our allies
- The need to reduce system weight and logistical footprint to increase system mobility
Of these above requirements, the most difficult to achieve is weight reduction. Even so Challenger 2 can be expected to remain a formidable system.
If we can acquire a basic second-hand M1A1 Abrams with a 120 mm smoothbore gun; upgrade them to the latest M1A2D standard (so that it is essentially a new tank) and, at a cost that is less than that of upgrading Challenger 2, then we should seriously consider it. If Challenger 2 LEP can be achieved at a cost that is acceptable, then it may be the most pragmatic solution. Perhaps the acid test is timeline. And, who knows, there may be life in the old dog yet!
Excellent piece, with the current financial woes set to continue, the likelihood is any upgrade will be difficult to secure.
LikeLiked by 1 person
What a first-rate analysis. A really lucid piece and comprehensive piece. It revealed many points that I did not know previously.
For instance, you say ” Interestingly, it appears that a 120mm smoothbore has been added to the scope of the RFQ. This makes it an upgrade programme rather than simply an obsolescence management exercise.” Taking RFQ to mean “request for quotation”, does that mean that the fitting of a 120mm smoothbore will definitely be included in the programme, or could “makes” be read as “would make”, if you get my meaning? (i.e. the fitting of the new gun remaining an option?)
One other question at the moment. Would the re-engineering of the rear section of the existing turret to create a bustle, make any major differences to the movement of the turret (e.g. in traversing) or would such difficulties be only minor ones and easily overcome?
More questions later (probably a couple of days).
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think fitting a 120mm smoothbore is still optional at this point. They asked bidders to include it in the scope, without actually committing to it. I think they want to see how much it would cost before deciding.
Another alternative that should be considered is a 120mm medium tank based on a modified Ajax chassis. Armor protection is certainly important, but more deployable and sustainable design might be a better choice.
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is a good idea as it would certainly overcome the deployability issue. You may have seen that GD showed an ASCOD 2 with the OTO-Melara 120mm HitFist turret at Eurosatory? Unfortunately, it is likely to cost #8-9 million per unit which makes it unaffordable. There is also the issue of protection. This would lack resilience against a peer enemy. If we’re going to go down the MGS / Tank Destroyer route, then I’d prefer to see a wheeled system like Italy’s Centauro 2, which mounts the same 120mm gun turret.
Seems the Ajax has suspension problems without the extra weight. The sixth road wheel is dragged back by the track till the torsion bar spring tension jacks it to normal position, this loads and unloads track stressing pins and bushes and may account for track clanking over drive sprocket and its alleged short life ! Ajax can be observed at the Bovington test track as it does its mission tests The recoil of the 40 mm cannon caused the turret to wobble, doubtful if it would cope any better with bigger gun. It has been turned down by other nations ! Seems the Ascod from which it was developed was supposed to be a 19 ton vehicle which grew in weight. Would not trust Cameron to buy a pint of milk let alone place orders for military equipment!
The advent of Ajax and Boxer is likely to mean that Challenger and Warrior are used less, as effectively Strike brigades become the formation of choice against non-peer adversaries. However against peer or near-peer ground forces the UK’s heavy armour needs to be maintained, which might essentially mean that Armoured Infantry brigades become more and more focused on the defence of mainland Europe. The ‘is it worth it ?’ calculation thus needs to factor in the very real threat of state based aggression against European allies. In the longer term one does have to look at the economics of maintaining separate IFV and MBT vehicle fleets, and there would be a logic in seriously considering a common chassis / power train as the basis for future IFV and MBT functions. Where does one get the next heavy armour from? Well you could buy off the shelf. However, a lesson from recent programmes is that we should seriously consider influencing vehicle design at the outset to lesson the need for a bespoke modification of a supposedly COTS product later on. The options here would seem to be to partner either with the US or with Europe. However, EU Brexit negotiation behaviours may have the effect of pushing the UK towards a US solution for its longer term heavy armour needs. In effect both lessoning R&D funds and market volume for any new European heavy armour project.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My next contribution was going to be about the possibility of fitting a 120mm main armament to the AJAX vehicle but Simon Denk got there before me!
He is right of course about the about the increased mobility such a vehicle would provide and about the fact that AJAX would be a more sustainable design. I believe, from reading other blogs, that there s already a body of opinion within the Army in support of developing such a vehicle (whether that would be in addition to Challenger LEP, I do not know). It would mean of course, purchasing more AJAX hulls, so that the variant could be introduced. All 589 vehicles to be procured have their roles already decided (AJAX, ARES, etc.) and the purchase of more hulls could prove very costly. Would it be more expensive than Challenger LEP?
I seem to remember that when the original plan was to procure over a thousand AJAX vehicles there was a possibility of a third Block of vehicles including a “Direct Fire” vehicle with a 120mm main gun. Block 3 vehicles were later dropped. However, have I remembered correctly or was it a 105mm gun? The question I am asking is, I suppose, whether the AJAX vehicle is robust enough to take the fitting of a 120mm main armament without hull damage.
LikeLiked by 1 person
A low recoil 120 mm L/44 may be a good match with the AJAX, a L/55 gun rather not.
So there’s good reason to expect a 120 mm AJAX to be unable to penetrate a Russian 1st line MBT on ~90% of frontal 60° area, while the MBT can penetrate AJAX easily everywhere on the frontal 60°.
They could penetrate each other on the other angles.
This doesn’t sound very satisfactory to me, especially not in light of the existence of Mach 6 missiles like CKEM that penetrate any tank over frontal 60° past the first few hundred metres distance.
Do you think there is a case for developing a 75mm or 90mm version of the CT40 cannon?
“Do you think there is a case for developing a 75mm or 90mm version of the CT40 cannon?”
I think there’s a case for the 75 mm version, akin to XM274.
The 40 mm calibre is largely pointless IMO. It’s a mere autocannon without indirect fire or much AA capability. It’s not going to penetrate a MBT side hull reliably either.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Sorry but I forgot to add that I am about to post a further comment on “Critical UK Land Power Issues”. It seemed like the most appropriate for the issue concerned. Keep up the good work.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Buy Leopard and have done. Abrams isn’t for us and Merkava being Israeli is a no go.
Leo2 would only bring the 120 mm L/55 gun to the table, which is likely more than needed against T-90 et al and T-14 turret, and likely insufficient for a frontal 60° penetration of the T-14 crew capsule.
In the end, the UK should be able to just keep the Chally2 moving, with existing munitions designs. Tanks are relevant for much, much more than just frontal 60° tank duels anyway.
If NATO was the predominant entity then the choice would be wider and include the Leo and Leclerc.
However; the EU appears to now be the predominant force. The negative waves coming out of the EU, as a result of Brexit should, therefore, make the Leo or Leclerc a nonstarter.
We would probably only need an MBT if we are going to have a heavy expeditionary capability…..in Europe.
The way that the EU/Europe scene is developing, means that we should, perhaps, let the Europeans have the central Europe domain to themselves, while we concentrate on the North Atlantic and possibly Scandinavia.
Do we need to have an MBT platform, to help defend an entity (EU), which is now so openly hostile?
In this circumstance (North Atlantic theatre), would speed of response, flexibility and air-portability be more important?
Air superiority and command of the sea/littoral should be our key survival focus.
Does an MBT fit in with that type of strategic objective?
Everyone is talking about cost.The price of even the more expensive options wouldn’t even touch the sides of the bucket of wast, inefficiency,corruption and incompetence that the MOD represents.
I recently spent a very enjoyable day with the RTR and had the opportunity to explore inside there vehicles and chat to the guys who use them. A summary of what I observed and heard is:
– Warrior is being used by Recce to place of CVRT to get the guys used to using a larger vehicle in preparation for Ajax. The recce guys considered Warrior to be a more capable vehicle than CVRT, and as there is only the 3-man crew appreciated the space warrior provided them.
– Bulldog was looking very old and are in desperate need of replacement. Although the guys with the ambulance version nicknamed it the ‘caravan’, in recognition of the living space it gave them.
– Panther was not rated by the guys, as its very top heavy making it unstable, and also meaning the GPMG/HMG mounted on the remote-controlled turret cannot be fired to either side of the vehicle as the recoil tends to tip the Panther over!
– Husky seemed to me to be a good vehicle, but I did not get to chat to any of the guys about it. It was the utility version used to carry a pallet, and my one observation was it’s an awful lot of vehicle to carry a single pallet.
– Sitting in the rear of a FUCHS and observing the controls used to operate the testing arms, and looking at the analysis equipment in the back, and then contemplating the situations when there use would be called upon gave my pause for thought… From the comments from the guys in RTR it would seem that the lions share of the available budget is being spent on the FUCHS.
– Exploring the C2 was a highlight for me. I had not appreciated how cramped they are inside, with getting in and out of the gunners seat a particular squeeze. It was clear from my own observations and talking to the guys that C2 are in desperate need of investment. A simple example being the road wheels. These had huge amounts of rubber missing, and I was told that there were simply no more spares. I was given a detailed explanation of how the hunter killer system was very outdated, and often broken so not usable. Also, how the commander’s computer keeps ‘crashing’ making simple tasks like navigation for example a challenge.
Surprising there was not that much enthusiasm for replacing the current gun with the 120mm smooth bore, due to its reduced accuracy and range. Which makes me wonder if developing more effective ammo for the gun we have, with its much superior range, rather than a large amount of money on new gun and turret – not sure if this is possible but fear no real effort has been given to finding out.
In conclusion, I am a big believer in having a balanced credible armed forces able to operate across the full spectrum of war fighting, and a modernised C2 in sufficient number (e.g. 4x type 56 regiments shared across two brigades), with the funding needed to maintain and crew them, and ammo able to take out all comers before they can get in range, would give us a battle winning tool, and be money well spent.
LikeLiked by 2 people
I hope this is not too late to get a reply from you.
I was fascinated by your account of the day you spent with the RTR and in particular by your observations/conclusion about what the personnel (crews etc.) thought about their vehicles. I get the impression that much more attention is being paid nowadays by the decision makers to the opinions of the guys who actually use the machines.
Just one or two questions if you have the time to answer them:
i) I have heard that there is quite some support from within the Army for the fitting of a 120mm main gun to the AJAX vehicle (as per the original plan). Was there any discussion of such a proposal? It would be expensive and the vehicle would of course lack some of the protection afforded by Challenger but maybe it could complement the latter.
ii) You say that Bulldog was “looking very old and in desperate need of replacement.” Was there any suggestion as to which vehicle could provide that replacement: e.g. the ABSV version of Warrior?
iii) The situation with Challenger2 looks pretty severe (e.g. the problem with the road wheels and lack of spares), What you said about the lack of enthusiasm for a change to the smoothbore gun was also fascinating. Presumably the rifling on the present gun contributes not insignificantly to its accuracy and if effective new ammunition can be developed, it would remove the need for a new gun (and turret?) and release more money for a new power pack to make the vehicle more mobile.
LikeLiked by 1 person
i. From chatting to the RTR guys they played enemy against Ajax a few months ago and were impressed with its capabilities. I asked the Recce guys when they were due to get Ajax, but they did not know. I did not ask about fitting a 120mm to Ajax, and no one mentioned it.
I would question the value of using Ajax in this way, it’s not going to be able to go toe to toe with a MBT and is unsuited to Strike as it can’t keep up with wheeled vehicles. In my view Ajax should stay in the armoured brigades, with a regiment per brigade providing formation recce, screening, flank protection etc, and a troop of Ajax in each AIB and TR for battle group recce. A wheeled 120mm ‘tank destroyer’ should be procured for the Strike brigades, as Ajax will prevent the Strike brigades doing what they are supposed to do – self deploy quickly over distance.
ii. No mention of a bulldog replacement. In my view it would make sense to use the same platform as whichever AVF we select (an upgraded Warrior or a new platform). My choice would be the ASCOD platform for both Warrior AFV and tracked utility/specialist, as this would gve commonality.
iii. According to Wikipedia (so not guaranteed to be accurate) the British production lines for CHARM 3 depleted uranium (DU) anti-armour ammo closed years ago, so stocks are finite. I believe you can still get T new tungsten rather DU based rounds for the C2 gun, but tungsten is reportedly less effective against armour than DU.
The range of the C2 riffled gun is not public information, but it is reported to be 5K plus, while the 120mm smoothbore used by most of the rest of NATO is reported as 2K plus. Russian 125mm smooth bore range is reported as 3 to 4K (5k for the barrel launch ATGM) If we invest in new ammo capable of defeating current MBT armour at a range of 5k plus then we have a clear advantage.
Yes, a new power pack would be good, but a new hunter killer, new command control & control system, effective ammo and spare parts would be my priority. Maybe use of active countermeasure (hard and soft kill) to reduce the requirement for add on armour and therefore less weight would be a better way to improve mobility?
If the challenger 2 had a longer breach it could fire longer tungsten rounds increasing penetration . Panther is Blair’s Italian love child , perhaps it provided post office after dinner speeches! The force protection cheater would have been the sensible economic option. CMI defence have better replacements for CVRT. Now rhinemetall have 55 percent of BAE land they should be designing a UK, French and German replacement tank to reduce development and supply chain costs.
Many thanks for your reply. It’s not often I concur with everything a contributor says in one letter but I think I do here.
I agree that AJAX is probably not going to be able to go toe to toe with an MBT. I would also agree that it s folly to mix it with MIV in the Strike Brigades. It certainly will not be able to keep with the wheeled vehicles. It should, as you say, stay in the armoured brigades, although I am not quite sure what you intend when you say we should have “a troop of Ajax in each AIB and TR for battle group recce.” Presumably you are referring to Tactical Reconnaissance (TR) for the battlegroups but are you suggesting that some of our brigades should be the old type of “armoured brigades” because I thought that the most recently proposed brigades were going to be armoured infantry anyway, (as opposed to just “armoured”)?
I had never imagined that the Challenger 2 rifled gun had such a long range. As you say, it is not given out as public information. Surprising and a definite advantage if, as you say, we can develop new ammunition “capable of defeating current MBT armour at a range of 5k plus”.
The only suggestion I might take issue with is the one to procure a wheeled 120mm ‘tank destroyer’ for the Strike brigades. I think it was UK Land Power himself who stated that such a vehicle would be desirable but he also said (I think!) that it would have just one shot to get it right against MBTs. I’m not certain, therefore. what the answer should be to provide direct fire support for the Strikes Brigades.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Yes, Ajax for tactical recce for the battle groups. At the risk of sounding like an armchair general I would like to see armoured brigade orbat being:
– 2x C2 regiments; with 4nr C2 squadrons each, a regimental HQ element per regiment and each regiment with an Ajax troop for tactical recce, 120mm mortar troop for organic indirect fire, multipurpose rocket troop firing brimstone to give both man in the loop medium range precision strike and fire and forget salvos to hunt for and destroy enemy vehicles within a defined area, and the multipurpose rocket troop also able to fire ground to air missiles for air defence, and an echelon troop.
– 2x Armoured infantry battalion; with 4nr x rifle companies each, a HQ element per battalion and each battalion to also have an Ajax platoon for tactical recce, 120mm mortar platoon for organic indirect fire, multipurpose rocket platoon firing brimstone to give both man in the loop medium range precision strike and fire and forget salvos to hunt for and destroy enemy vehicles within a defined area, and the multipurpose rocket troop also able to fire ground to air missiles for air defence, and an echelon platoon.
– 1x Ajax regiment with 3x Ajax squadrons and 1x wide area surveillance troop (with drones, land-based radar etc), and a squadron of armoured infantry for when dismounts are needed to fight and for dismounted CTR, and an echelon troop.
– 1x artillery regiment with a mix of LRPGW and Self-Propelled guns, and a troop providing enemy artillery locating systems, UAV’s and fire support teams.
– 1x Land Ceptor air defence battery
Plus support units such as engineering, signals, medical and logistics.
Two armoured brigades with this Orbat would be able to form 4nr battle groups, and a formation recce group each.
I believe two armoured brigades as above is a realistic aspiration and gives us a credible ‘heavy’ force, able to take on peer enemy’s thus bringing a deterrent effect. It would also be of real value to our allies and therefore give us influence.
On a tank destroyer for the Strike brigades, you are correct. Maybe I should have used the term mobile gun to better describe its role. A system which can give some capacity against MBT if required but who’s main role is to give the strike brigades some organic punch against peer mechanised vehicles, structures and light vehicles.
Many thanks for your reply. I have found the whole exchange enlightening. You don’t sound at all like an “armchair general”, rather a well-informed theorist with many valuable things to say about what our future armoured formations should look like.
Actually, although they are dismissed by some so-called pundits as “fantasy fleets”, I see no harm, only positive good, in laying out what would be considered the ideal we should aim for in formations and equipment. It gives the people a concept of what a truly effective force should consist of and enables them to realize just how far short we are falling. You say that you believe that the two armoured brigades you describe is a realistic aspiration and gives us a credible ‘heavy’ force. Well, it would be expensive and I doubt whether we would get all of it but it gives people a target to strive for.
Now, this old codger will leave you alone if you can answer just one more question. (My father was an RSM (WO1) and I sometimes feel as if I am still living back in his era of about 1960, I am so out-of-date, so it’s nice to be brought up-to-speed again!). Anyway, the question is: you mention “multipurpose rocket troop firing brimstone”. I always thought that was an air-to ground weapon. Is a ground-based version being developed then? Do not worry about a reply, if you are busy.
Please excuse my impertinence for interjecting but RE your question about ground launched Brimstone, the US Army just decided on its Interim Maneuver-Short-Range Air Defense (article can be found here https://www.defensenews.com/land/2018/06/28/us-armys-interim-short-range-air-defense-solution-crystallizes/) which includes the ability to launch Hellfires. One would think that the system could be (relatively) easily adapted to fire Brimstones.
Also, I very much enjoyed reading the summaries and thought you shared from RTR. Being a Yank, it’s not often that I come across nuggets of information like that. Thank you for sharing.
With regards to a 120mm Ajax Tank Destroyer, I too agree that it’s not a good fit for the Strike Brigades, but disagree that it would be useless. I see it being used for, I believe the term is, Defense of the Realm in which shoot and scoot tactics are employed rather than trying to slug it out with MBTs or engage in offensive operations against them, that’s what the C2 is for. I’d use Ajax TD to bloody the nose of the attacker and draw them into a prepared ambush by C2s in which the C2s will be much more survivable and able to deal significantly more punishment to the attacker than an Ajax TD.
@MikeW and @MikeR
Apologies, with the back and forth between the two of you, I got confused about who spent the day with RTR. I see that it was MikeR who posted that reply and not MikeW. Sorry for mixing up the two of you.
Glad you enjoyed my observations, and thanks for answering the question re brimstone ground bas d launch systems.
Ajax as you say is definitely not useless, time and use will tell but it’s got the potential to be great. I am not sure that giving it a 120mm gun would be the best use of a finite budget. A cheaper option giving the option to engage MBT’s would be to fit a box launcher for ATGM to the turret.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Sorry for the bad grammar!
No worries for the bad grammar, I was able to decipher it. I r engunneer. Now to respond to your reply…..
But would an ATGM version actually be cheaper? No doubt that a 120mm turret is more expensive than an ATGM turret but taking the cost of ammo/reloads into consideration I wonder if the two are as divergent in costs. I’ve seen a cost of around $8-10k USD for the latest M829 APFSDS-T rounds and $112k (Spike LR) – $180k (TOW 2) USD for ATGMs. The $180k figure was from FAS though the most recent sale to Saudi Arabia camoe out to a missile cost of around $100k, so not sure which one is more representative.
Based on information available on http://www.military-today.com I found the following information:
The USMC LAV AT carried 16 missiles and the old M901 ITV carried 10 missiles. Based on those number I will choose the middle of the road so to speak and assume the notional Ajax ATGM will carry 12 missiles.
The 2 systems I found most similat to a notional Ajax 120mm were the Polish Anders 120 prototype with 22 rds carried, and the CV90120-T with 45 rounds carried. Again I will go middle of the road and say the notional Ajax 120mm will carry 34 rounds.
So, excluding the cost of the respective turrets, based on those numbers, the ammo cost for the Ajax ATGM would be $1.2 – $2.1 million USD and the ammo cost for the Ajax 120mm would be $272k – $340k USD. Unfortunately I’m unable to find any reliable numbers on turret costs but, based on unit costs of tanks and ATGM carriers that I have found, I would assume the ATGM turret would be $800k to $1 mil USD and a Hitfiist classed 120mm turret to be $1 – $2 million USD.
So adding all the above number up I get the following:
Ajax ATGM: $800 – $1 mil USD for the turret plus $1.2 to $2.1 mil for the ammo for a total of $2 – $3.1 Mil USD
Ajax 120mm: $1 – $2 mil USD for the turret plus $272k – $340k USD for the ammo for a total of $1.3 – $2.4 mil USD
There is a bit of cost overlap but overall I would say, based on the numbers I’ve found (and some educated/logical guesses/assumptions) that an Ajax 120mm TD is going to be less expensive than an Ajax ATGM.
If anyone has more accurate numbers and can correct the numbers I used please do. I’m by no mean an expert nor infallible but do love a good discussion/debate. Cheers.
I had posted a nice long reply earlier with numbers, justifications and assumptions with regards to the cost difference between a 120mm turret and ATGM system but apparently the internet ate it….. I’ll rewrite it later but the cliff notes are that I estimated the following: an ATGM turret system including ammo costs $2 – $3.4 mil US and a Hitfist classes 120mm turret and ammo costs $1.3. – $2.4 mil. So, while there is potential for an ATGM system to cost less than a 120mm system, the majority of the time a 120mm system will cost less than an ATGM system when ammo is factored in. As I said I’ll provide my numbers and assumption later when I’m at my home PC and not on my phone. Cheers.
The MBT is as relevant now as it has since its inception. The only effective way to punch a hole in urban and woodland fighting is a 60-ton tank. To much differing over the last twenty years has allowed out tank force to diminish, and the final blow, to allow the manufacturing facility to close. We need Challenger2/b but on as many hulls as possible from the existing fleet. No doubt hidden away somewhere are stripped hulls, in storage and these need to be brought back from the dead. Even if all available CH2”s were upgraded they still represent a relatively small MBT force?
I would like to see the MOD buy 150 refurbished US M1’s to augment to UK tank force. The gun will be similar to the proposed new gun and any commonality of firing systems that are feasible should be part of the programme? By buying M1 the UK would not have to rely on just one design, a policy that proved to be a successful combination in WW2.
With Russia introducing a brand new MBT and in significant numbers, I believe it would be wise to give the UK tank squadrons the very best equipment and by incorporating the M1 will be able to field a much improved and formidable fleet.
LikeLiked by 1 person
As much as would love for the UK to buy Abrams, I think the better option is, the Leo 2A7 with US ammo for the following reasons.
As far as I know, the UK has no qualms about using DU ammunition. The German L/55 generates higher muzzle velocities than the L/44 which allows it to achieve similar performance with DM53/63 rounds that the US does with M829A3/4 rounds.
L/55 (1750m/s muzzle velocity) and DM53 (8kg penetrator)
.5x8x1750^2 = 12.2 megajoules
L/44 (1555m/s) and M829A3 (10kg)
.5x10x1555^2 = 12 megajoules
Now combine the L/55 with the M829A3
.5x10x1750^2 = 15 megajoules, a 25% increase in energy. Due to the increased mass of the penetrator I’m not sure the muzzle velocity would stay the same 1750m/s, but I stuck with it for this example.
I read we tried to fit the L/55 on the Abrams but had issues with stabilization which prevented it from being an “easy” drop-in upgrade and so we stuck with the L/44.
LikeLiked by 1 person
That’s really not how the internal ballistics work.
DU penetrators are said to have little penetration advantage over tungsten penetrators if one uses the best tech each. The advantage is rather in behind armour effect and the nuclear powers like to get rid of their excess DU.
I don’t like the idea of relying almost totally on German-made tanks. The American tank would allow for two different designs but with commonality in fire control and the gun itself? I believe the CH2 when uprated will be a match for the L2 so buying additional German hulls would make sense, but from a strategic point of view, the M1 would allow for greater flexibility. In terms of battlefield logistics it’s more likely that US and UK land forces would operate in close proximity, hence M1 spares would (hopefully) be widely available. I’m basing my idea of buying the M1, not as brand new machines, but the totally refurbished units that constantly pass through their huge life extension plants. Obviously, I’m suggesting a lower unit price or a lease programme? I’m in no doubt an agreement is in place to buy the M1 in the case of a protracted conflict, as the CH2 would soon be stretched to meet the full envelope of engagement. All I’m suggesting is to make it official and purchase/ lease 150 M1’s and allow the British Army to field a meaningful tank fleet.
I don’t like the idea of buying the Leo2 on the basis it has not seen active service, and too much reliance on the Germans is not wise either. I believe Germany is too compromised by Russian energy imports, and that could be problematical?
The RAF is happy to fly a mixed fleet Typhoon/F35 so why not tanks. No, my vote would be M1 and if more were required in time of crisis, there would be a ready supply, especially if it were a joint US/UK operation as seen in Iraq.
Yes, just to add my thanks for answering the question about Brimstone. The two Mikes dialogue must have been confusing.
I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about the MBT being as relevant now as it has been since its inception. We desperately need to build up our tank forces again.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the info, I was aware of the behind armor effects of DU but not the lack difference in penetration characteristics between it a tungsten. So, if I understand what you are saying correctly, the 8kg penetrator of the DM53/63 and the 10kg penetrator of the M829A3/4 will have the same penetration characteristics at the same velocity (1750)?
Obviously I’m not a ballistics guy (nor a tanker) but, setting aside what you said about penetration characteristics, wouldn’t the increase in energy also translate into longer range and the heavier penetrator be less affected by wind and therefore more accurate? I admit that I’m applying my basic military shooting knowledge of 5.56 and 7.62 to tank gun which may not be the best idea, but physics is physics and I remember having to compensate for wind as much with the 7.62 than the 5.56.
The actual penetration capabilities are too classified, and even having the “mm RHAeq KE” penetration value wouldn’t tell much.
The more recent penetrator designs focused a lot on resistance to the early stages of reactive and passive protection. Those early stages are meant to break up or yaw the penetrator so the later stage can stop the then very suboptimal approach of what’s left of the penetrator.
Another progress was the use of less temperature-sensitive propellants which deliver almost the same muzzle velocity at -20°C as at +40°C. Older propellants (that is, almost all that are in use) are MUCH weaker at very low temperatures, but then again a tank’s turret crew compartment probably doesn’t get colder than 18°C in battle. The bustle compartment isn’t as climate-controlled, though.
You could read more in some dedicated ballistics books regarding the formula, and regarding tan in Ogorkiewicz’ “Technology of tanks” (a pirated PDFs exists in the www) and in Rolf Hilmes’ newer (2007) book about Kampfpanzer / MBTs (not sure if it was ever translated into English, though all illustrations have bilingual captions).
Besides, you mentioned DM53. That’s not the cartridge for the L/55. DM63 is, and it has almost exactly 13 MJ muzzle energy. That’s almost 10% more energy than in L/44 ceteris paribus.
Thanks for the additional info. Based on the information I found I was under the impression that the DM53 was designed for and still used the L/55 and then the DM63 just changed over to the temperature insensitive propellant. I appreciate the clarification you provided.
Sources for the numbers I used:
I thought DM63 was optimized to short-burn, high peak, gas performance, so that it would generate near-L55 performance in the L44 barrel. The DM53 was still the more powerful round because it’s average burn rise created higher peak pressure (more MV) which was still pushing at the end of the L55 barrel.
Been meaning for a while to write a long response to this article, and see lots of people have jumped in with comments ! Which is always good, nice to see the dialogue here as well thought out as it used to be over on ThinkDefence.
Let me be a little devils advocate: Is the MBT still a viable weapons system – sure ! Is it still viable for the British Army to continue to operate heavy, tracked armoured forces ? Maybe not.
For sure the current crop of Generals, arm chair and real, seem to want their cake and to eat it too. “Full Spectrum” !! How I am mightily fed up of hearing that term. Who is the UK going to fight, on its own mind you, with a full spectrum capable army where the entire tank force, whether upgraded Chally 2 or second hand M1 or Leo2 is less than 200 strong ? Thanks to the Brexit farce and the wierdo in the White House there is lots of hot air being spouted about the demise of NATO, the US withdrawing from Europe and the attendant ascendance of the “EU defence force” etc. So in the context of the changing geo-political landscape, and the fact that we were already due to withdraw from Germany, what is the point of having armoured brigades based on an MBT, Ajax and Warrior if it cannot be deployed to continental Europe within a short road march distance of where it is needed ? We don’t have enough tractor-trailer HET’s to deploy a single brigade, sure we could hire commercial transports and use rail, but where are we rushing this heavy armour to and for what reason ? To Poland, to stand ready to re-inforce the Baltics before the Russians over run them ? It would be better to base the armour in said Baltics or Poland, but wait, what if a messy Brexit makes that politically untenable ?
If we remain a member of a solid NATO alliance, why not let the Poles and Germans provide the hard core of heavy armour ? We can provide many supporting, enabling capabilities, including perhaps wheeled medium armour strike brigades that would be easier to self deploy over theatre strategic distances from ports further away from the immediate action (and thus hopefully under allied air cover)?
So to re-iterate, I am not saying heavy armour in the form of 60 tonne plus MBT’s and heavy IFV’s are out of date concepts, or obsolete, I am just re-making the point – it doesn’t matter how good they are or what capabilities they provide if they are NOT in the fight!!
Perhaps if we provided Mechanized infantry in Boxers, with 120mm mortars and Starstreak SHORAD versions, a long ranged wheeled 155mm artillery (AGM on Boxer?) , wheeled GMLRS (HIMARS but on a MAN Sx/Hx platform) and massed ATGW salvo’s of Brimstone 2 from the US Multi-Mission Launcher (again on MAN trucks). with good logistics and C4I, that could be a more than adequate contribution to collective European defence, with a formation that we could use in the Middle East or Africa if we had to aid allied countries there against sophisticated terrorist threats ?
Yes, we don’t spend enough on defence, yes the MOD is wasteful, but no we won’t find enough efficiency savings, and therefore perhaps we should stop thinking we are still an Army with a Corps level British Army of the Rhine with whole Armoured divisions (which where never that well equipped anyway) and admit that we should prioritize our spending and concentrate on a highly useful capability; instead of continuing to spend lots on little.
Approx. 220 modernised tanks really does not seem worth it.
Movement by roads or railroads invites disaster. Either by UCW preemption or by choke attacks which slaughters everyone, in the road march.
If you put tires on an AFV it is, at best, a patrol/occupation vehicle under urbanized conditions where you cannot plow through buildings to create new maneuver lanes.
Band Track gives you 90% of the tires resistance to road where and lack of slip adjustment (tightening, track pad replacement, repinning etc.) but 100% of the track’s all terrain mobility.
If you fight in the Baltics, you have mountains in the east with single AAs down through them to a coastal highway network which is about the same as it was in WWII when a pair of Tigers, moving out of Finland or Latvia I think, bagged over 50 threat vehicles.
You cannot stop them in the mountains without the ability to go interpositional. You cannot REINFORCE (resupply, marshal and move up) on the coastal urban areas which will suffer an avalanche of Armor flooding out to occupy.
You meet them, quickly, with 60-70mph, hybrid band track, vehicles with 105mm guns (60-70 rounds, not 40) firing ***NLOS*** munitions. Because missiles are too expensive and too short ranged to be trusted.
But drones and tanks, together with NLOS, can engage the threat without bringing down a hail of Russian artillery (submunition and smart airburst, far better than the WARPAC days) on their heads.
Fight smarter, not harder.
If you absolutely must have a support weapon, go with either GMLRS on an M270 which a Marine LCAC can bring across from Norwegian depots, sans ports (can’t hold’em, may face mining). Or buy something like Spike-ER or MPM with essentially FOG-M capabilities.
I don’t like the latter option for the simple reason that APS can knock down slow missiles but not MRSI fired 105mm EFP fired from a mount with a three round, on-mount, magazine. And because missiles, being high angle trajectories like any Mortar or Howitzer, show up on firefinder systems.
A true CLGP with NLOS capabilities off a tank rifle with a 30` elevation capacity, will come over a low horizon, out to about 10km from the shooter. That means vs. 6km Refleks/Komet or LAHAT type Tube Launch ATGW (3,500fps vs. 850fps) YOU WIN. Vs. 3,500m APFSDS it’s a non contest as you are literally MINUTES of drive time from sharing the same horizon.
The Russians are using THOUSANDS of drones in the Ukraine. So many that they have licensed a civil quad copter and are 3D Printing them. You combine that with thermal imaging and several hundred tubes per 10km stretch worth of artillery and your rototill DONE SON.
If you use Adaptive (BAe) or Black Fox (IMI) Peltier Tiles, the drones will not see you from survivable (vs. Thelios 150kw SSL laser) standoff. But the tiles are not ballistically tolerant to 125mm SLRP. So given stealth doesn’t ‘partially work’ (it does or it doesn’t) standoff again becomes critical. Because threat MBT forces are not what is at issue here.
Artillery is. And we dare not get into an indirect fight with an enemy that (gee thanks, Princess Diana) both a tube count and a munition optimized ability to deal with large maneuver forces.
We need expeditionary tanks with hybrid drives to save fuel and provide capacitor arrays for DE protection systems against hundreds of drones. We need NLOS to make these light AFVs capable for standing up to MBT without going same-horizon and getting sabot through the forehead and bombets through TC hatch. And we need a drone+laser+thermal stealth architecture to make sure that we can see them but we shoot down everything they /try/ to see us with.
IOW: A comprehensive system, that moves out of step with what the enemy tries to lead the dance with. We have lost the MBT lead. Between 20 years spent hunting wombats in the Middle East and handing out modern computers and who knows what kind of espionage engineering data, we are now at parity with 1980s level Cold War doctrinal conceptualization of war. We need to innovate a new, short term (M8 Buford, PL-01, etc.), solution with modern systems inserts (XM1111 MRM_CE and Adaptiv + SSL and BMCS) to wedge ourselves back out of the hole we’ve put ourselves into.
Some very interesting comments here. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!
I particularly like Jed’s point of view: there’s no point in spending scarce resources on a Challenger 2 LEP / Upgrade if it is never going to get to the fight. What Jed actually does is make a strong case to retain a brigade in Germany, or maybe a whole division. That argument quickly leads to a discussion of why can’t the Germans generate their own Brigades in Germany?
I believe that the British Army should fundamentally be based in the UK and not Central Europe. I also think we still need heavy armour. That means we need to fundamentally rethink heavy armour mobility.
In the interim, I agree that the Strike Brigades can deliver a worthwhile response, but only if we acquire the right versions. That means a 40mm cannon-equipped version and ATGMs fitted as widely as possible.
I assume you have seen the video Jane’s IHS posted to YouTube last week in which Christopher Foss discusses the KF41 with Ben Hudson, Global Head, Vehicle Systems Division at Rheinmetall. One nugget of note I found very interesting, which may apply to the Strike Brigade, is that Rheinmetall has designed and Medium Tank variant of KF41. I believe one could safely assume that they have also designed a Boxer module that uses the turret of the KF41 Medium Tank. If true, I would very much like to see said module, and, I think you would agree with me, add it post haste to the Strike Brigade TOE.
For those that may not have see the video it can be found here: https://youtu.be/bhULCxc6SeI
LikeLiked by 1 person
In related news, it appears as though the WCSP is unachievable. I believe this opens the door for an Ajax IFV to replace Warior as both programs would benefit from the increased economies of scale. Possibly a bit further fetcher flight of fancy, I wonder if the MoD would consider the KF-41 to replace the Warrior.
Over on the Nicholas Drummond Twitter site, Nicholas has produced a quite brilliant response (one quickly produced too) to the news that, “according to the Government’s own Major Project’s Report for 2017-2018, the Army’s Warrior IFV Capability Sustainment Programme is undeliverable”. I shall have to reply to this news via UK Land Power, as I have not joined Twitter.
“musings of dowcett” responds to the news by saying that he believe this opens the door for “an Ajax IFV to replace Warrior as both programs would benefit from the increased economies of scale.”
In this he takes the view that Nicholas Drummond has held for a long time: i.e. that AJAX should provide the answer to the Infantry Fighting Vehicle problem, when he says: “Reconfigure Ajax purchase. Acquire 200 Reconnaissance variants to equip two Reconnaissance Regiments. Acquire 400 IFV variants to equip 4 x Infantry battalions = £4.3 billion = same quantity & budget.”
Actually, to me that argument contains the one dubious assertion that he makes in the whole 9 suggestions to fix the British Army’s Armoured Vehicle Programme. Nicholas rather slides over the “same quantity & budget” argument and I simply cannot believe that procuring 400 IFV variants of the AJAX is going to be anything like as inexpensive as upgrading the Warriors. And then there is the whole question of the replacements for the FV432 variants . Surely Warrior will be needed for those?
The other point that is worrying me is the assumption that the Warrior upgrade is simply not going to make it. Lockheed Martin UK have merely pointed to the successful firing on the move and mobility trials and to the fact that the development contract turrets have been built and installed onto the upgraded base platforms. These have apparently now been delivered on schedule and are ready for a comprehensive test phase to demonstrate the very high reliability requirements. It would be extremely late in the programme development to cancel now!
Maybe what will happen is not cancellation but a certain re-scoping of or adjustment to the programme; maybe not even those will be necessary. In last month’s “Desider” magazine, it was stated that a study will look into the considerations for integrating Active Protection systems (APS) to provide better protection for troops in armoured vehicle including Ajax, Challenger, Mastiff and (note) Warrior. Does one hand of the MOD not know what the other hand is doing? Are we rumour-mongering too early?
@MikeW Just in case you don’t know, but U.K. Land Power = Nicholas Drummond
@UK Land Power
Yes, I did know, as I think I remember you referring on Twitter to articles you had written on this site. Thanks anyway. Incidentally, were you once also Monty on another well-known defence blogsite?
LikeLiked by 1 person
In regards to the Challenegr upgrade the majority of MBT’s we will face in the near future will still be of the generation that Challenger and it’s gun were designed to defeat. Our most serious threat is from the Russians and they will still be relying on modernisd T72’s and T80’s for the forseeable future so I am of the opinion that the minimum amount of money should be spent on the Challenger upgrade as the gun should still be just about useful until it’s OSD, so look to optics, obscolesence etc but resist the urge to replace the main armament if funds are hard to locate without stripping money from other projects.
We should however be looking at the Challenger replacement now, but I disagree with the author and think that we should take a long hard look at the Japanese Type 10 as this vehicle was designed to be a strategically mobile MBT which will fit in nicely with our basing locations and force posture after the full withdraw from Germany.
In regard to the news about Warrior (if true) I sugest we ditch the turret and use the Warrior as an APC within the armoured brigades and as a Bulldog/432 replacement. I don’t think we have the money to either go full Boxer or Ajax to replace Warrior so would still end up in a convoluted situation in regards to our vehicle fleets so soldier on with Warrior and make Boxer and MRVP our priorities.
While I agree that the C2’s main gun would be able handle most anything it might meet on the battlefield, I can’t help but wonder if its Achilles Heel is the unique logistics train required by the ammunition it uses. As we all know, Britain has used rifled 120mm guns since 1966 and they have all used two piece ammunition, unlike the unitary ammunition for the NATO standard/compliant 120mm smoothbores. Back in the height of the Cold War, when Britain’s tank forces were much larger, having unique ammunition was more supportable due to the much larger numbers needed, and associated economies of scale, and the face that militaries were less “joint” then. British tanks would fighting as a part of a British force, supported by British logistics. Not so much theses days as it seems everything in joint/multinational. That, combined with the smaller tank force, make it harder to justify the continued use of the current unique two-piece ammunition. Consider a fictional operation where Britain, France, Germany, and the US each contribute a tank company. In the course of operations the British tanks, for whatever reason, run out of ammunition and resupply has been delayed 2 days. For those 2 days the British tanks are mission ineffective until they get more ammo. Had they been using NATO 120mm smoothbores, ammo could have been redistributed from the 3 other companies to tide everyone over until the resupply arrives. To me, that’s the biggest argument for rearming the C2 with a NATO 120mm smoothbore. I understand that there are many fiscal pressures on the Army and MoD right now and that rearming the C2s is fiscally expensive, but how expensive would it be if the above example turned into a reality? Of course this is all predicated on the assumption that the C2 will remain in service until the stated 2035 timeframe, though personally I’m a bit more pessimistic view and figure it’ll remain in service until 2040 or beyond based on the trends seen with the US and UK military.
Is having unique ammunition really an achilles heal in the manner you suggest? Would it be a beter investment to change the power pack to an MTU unit which would give us commonality with a lot of NATO members (including one in your list) and even to some degree the Ajax and Boxer. Even in your scenario the 3 nations will be operating completely different AT systems from each other amongst lots of smaller equipment and ammunition such as mortar rounds.
With a new power pack would the efficiency in fuel and increased reliability be of better benefit and help to take the strain off our logistics (which is probably the better of the 3 you mentioned). I seem to recall the Challenger offered to the Greeks had and MTU engine which allowed the carriage of more fuel which would reduce the refuelling requirements.
The Germans have already started to develop the next generation of tank gun and there are doubts that the current smoothbore on NATO tanks will be capable of defeating future armour improvements I think we should wait and see what comes of that and the development of a new tank by Germany and France before we jump in and replace our guns which are adequate for the time being until we replace Challenger completely.
Considering our reduction in CS and CSS units I think improvements to the logistics of Challenger would be a more worthwhile investment than a new gun and would look at adding a snorkling capability above that of changing the gun.
In regards to the next tank I would seriously look at collaberating with the Nordic countries and Poland (possibly Italy) and Japan in developing our next tank rather than automatically throwing in with the usual suspects of France and Germany.
Russia is presently upgrading its fleet of T-90 and T-72 MBTs by fitting new ERA plates. These will likely defeat Challenger 2 120mm APFSDS (CHARM 3) penetrators. Whereas both German L/55 DM53 / DM63 smoothbore penetrators and US Depleted uranium APFSDS will succeed. We have unequivocally reaches a point where we need either to develop new 120mm rifled gun ammunition of to adopt a 120mm smoothbore.
Does it still mean we need to spend money on the gun? We need to invest heavily in our artillery as it is, so would the money be better spent there rather than in a new gun for Challenger. We could spend money on improving our fires with an AT capability (as well as more tubes) such as the 155 smart round we cancelled or new 120mm mortars and Srix rounds, maybe longer ranged AT etc all of which would be an uplift in capability with probably a longer shelf life than a switch to 120mm snoothbore.
There’s a lot to do and you’re right to question what we should prioritise. But there’s no reason why we cannot invest in MBTs as well as artillery systems. I would say our order of priorities is as follows:
1. New L/52 155mm howitzer with regular and guided munition types
2. Upgraded GMLRS / HIMARS rocket system
3. More Sky Sabre GBAD systems
4. 120mm mortar system
5. New or upgraded MBTs with a 120mm smoothbore
6. Long range Precision Fires Missile e.g. ground launched Storm Shadow
As much as we need credible MBTs to give our Armoured Infantry Brigades a potent response to Russian tanks, the deployability of 70 tonne MBTs is a major concern. This means we will either need to retain forces in Germany or rethink how we deliver a regiment of CR2 to Europe in a hurry.
I’m not saying don’t invest in MBT’s , I’m questioning wether changing the gun and the associated cost is worth the squeeze. If we removed the requiremnt to change the gun from the project and improved the other areas of the system would this allow more of our fleet to be upgraded and retained to give some mass and redundancy and the remaining (if any) money spent eleswhere?
Your comment about getting there quickly got me thinking about the practicalities of this challenge.
In a scenario where Russian forces invade the Baltic states, and British forces alongside NATO allies need to deploy heavy armour to the region to drive the Russian back, how quickly could this be done?
C2, Warrior, AS90 etc. are not going to be airlifted anywhere in the numbers and time frame required, so it’s either deploy by sea, or over land.
It’s about 1,200 miles in a straight line from Southampton to Tallinn, so at a guess it’s about 1,700 miles by sea, which at 20 knots is going to take around 3 days to get there. But this does not consider:
1. The type, and size of the force required
2. Readiness – i.e. the time it takes from being told to deploy, to starting to move from home bases
3. How long it takes to get from home base to the port of departure
4. How many ships can you load up in Southampton at any one time
5. How long it takes to load a ship
6. How many ships can you unload in Tallinn at any one time, and how long does it take to unload them
7. The number of suitable ships available, and how quickly they can get to Southampton
8. How long it takes to organise units so that they are able to deploy from Tallinn and be ready to use in combat
9. The ongoing supply of all the supplies required to keep the force operational in the field
10. Factors such as weather conditions, things going wrong (e.g. breakdowns), and attacks by Russia to disrupt or stop this deployment
It’s also around 1,700 miles from Salisbury to Tallinn. C2 etc. can’t self-deploy over that sort of distance, so deployment over land will be via trucks or train (or a mixture). It’s about 1.5 days drive from Salisbury to Tallinn, and about the same by train. So, its quicker to go by land than by ship but all the factors listed above for travel by sea have equivalents for travel by land e.g. loading and unloading times, the number and availability of suitable trains/trucks. Plus, some sea transport is going to be required to get across the English Chanel (unless you can get a C2 etc on a flatbed train through the Euro tunnel?), further complicating things.
So, to deploy to the Baltics in a time frame that is useful you need to invest a lot of money in the logistics infrastructure to the Baltic, and you can find a way to defend that route from attack, and you have all the ships/trucks/trains required in place and available at short notice.
You could forward deploy the equipment etc in the region, and rely on a period of tension before actual conflict to give you a time window time to fly the guys in, but what happens if you don’t/can’t fly them in with sufficient time?
My conclusion is, NATO need sufficient combat power forward deployed to make any invasion of the Baltics a costly and protracted undertaking – which would act as both a deterrent against Russia and give NATO the time required to deploy more heavy units.
I don’t think NATO have sufficient combat power forward deployed to hold Russia for the time required to get more heavy forces into the area, so more NATO combat power needs to be forward deployed.
Next question, is the UK’s role in NATO to contribute increased forward deployed combat power in the Baltics, or do we structure and invest in our forces and the logistical enablers required to allow them to deploy quickly, and leave the increased forward deployed role to others NATO member countries who are geographically closer to the ‘front line’?
LikeLiked by 1 person
In the Heynes CR2 manual it states the gun was designed to cope with a 25% chamber pressure increase to allow the development of improved K.E. rounds. Perhaps this route should be looked at before the smooth-bore gun is chosen. It seems common rail has been fitted to a CV12 engine by cat. This can produce in excess of 1500 hp reducing noise and smoke. This will require extra cooling, not sure the landrover prop shaft driving up-rated fans will cope with the extra torque or the gearbox . There must have been good reasons for fitting the hydraulic fan pack and larger radiators to Titan and Trojan. Expecting final drive life will be reduced , the German Leo gearbox would be a wise investment
“I don’t like the idea of buying the Leo2 on the basis it has not seen active service”
I’m not quite sure I follow as I do believe Leo2s were used in Afghanistan by both Canadian and Danish and then we have all seen the ineffective 2A4s in Turkish service. Are you referring to actual tank on tank combat like GW1? If the results of the Strong Europe Tank Challenge are to be believed, then I would say the M-1, Leo2A4-6, Leclerc, and Chal2 are all about equal capability wise and it’s the crews that make the difference.
LikeLiked by 1 person
If the above is able to be scaled up to 5-600kW and used in the sprockets I think one could convert the C2 to an electric drive system similar to the ones found in mine heavy haulers. I’m not suggesting a conventional hybrid drive with batteries like the Prius or similar auto hybrids. I am avoiding the hybrid route as someone from the TD community pointed out to me the fire hazard they would pose in a combat environment. Rather the current (or upgraded) engine would no longer drive a mechanical transmission but be converted to a generator and continuously supply power to the electric motors. Operations should be the same as today in that in order to move the tank the engine needs to be running, no “silent mode” since there are no batteries.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My money is on the MOD announcing the cancellation of the cr2 upgrade, in favour of a new vechile. Any thoughts UKlandpower?
Challenger 2 LEP won’t be cancelled but Warrior CSP could be.
I have heard that C2 LEP is no more, with the money going on a new ‘tank’
Really? That means purchasing Leopard 2A7, or Abrams M1A2/ M1A3. Maybe the Korean K2 and Japanese Type-10 might also be considered. Sadly, while Challenger was good in its day, it has come to the end of its usefulness.
Happy to share the details with you in a non public forum. Presumably you have access to my email?
Oh sure, just tease the rest of us….. 😀
The Assessment Phase contracts were awarded in Dec 16. The duration was not announced then but has been previously stated as 2 years. If that was not changed with the late awards, and if the CR2 LEP (DMI Phase) is no more, then the MoD has just written off £53 M without even looking at final reports or quotes.
LikeLiked by 1 person
My thoughts too. We should start to see CR2 Mk 2 prototypes at DVD in late September. They will definitely be evaluated before a programme decision is taken. I heard as recently as a week ago that CR2 LEP was going ahead.
If we are going to look to adopt a smoothbore gun then I really think we should be looking towards rheinmental providing a 130mm as apparently in tests in was far superior that 120mm l55. I wouldn’t want to go to massive expense to acquire 120mm if it is obsolete in a few years time! As we don’t have nato commonality at the moment maybe not as bigger step for us? whilst other nations who will probably wait for the USA to adopt 130mm. I also think Boxer should receive the hitfact turret fitted with 120mm this would also keep the mbt as the premier weapons system (I think there is a concern in the army if both Boxer and challenger have 120mm the politicians won’t see the difference and think Boxer is a tank).
I’d be surprised if the UK went for a new tank at this stage. The reason being that although Abrams and Leopard 2 are practically at the top of their game, they have little further development mileage left in them and will themselves soon be outclassed (e.g. Armata). It probably makes sense to update the existing Chally 2 hulls to see out the next ten to fifteen years or so, and in the breathing space that gives the British army can work out what it wants to do in the longer term; e.g. an off the shelf buy of a future product or participate in developing a new MBT. In the latter case I expect that European partners would welcome UK money.
It looks like Caterpillar are upgrading CV 12 engine to 1500hp and adding hums etc. Hopefully this will be affordable and we get the rheinmetal upgrade
Many years ago I visited Rheinmetall in Bremen as part of a bid for the future UK loitering munition (LM). Whilst there, I chatted with engineers who told me it was based on a Cold War version where a single ground control station would launch and direct some 200 LMs. Back then they were looking for active radar signatures; these days with AI and multi-spectral sensors it could be mass, visual ID, EMS signatures including radar etc. In a future peer-peer conflict we can expect these to return and signature management becoming something all combatants would take a keen survival interest in.
The same story for cheap UAS in the Ukraine which, as mentioned in a previous entry, are very numerous, cheap to produce, and linked to long range precision fires. Russian LRPF can access targets up to 300km deep into enemy lines. So you really do not want to be found unless you like 155mm or bigger landing next to your tank; and I’ve personally seen 155mm flip a tank on its side by landing close, and a 175mm throw the turret of another high into the sky in a direct hit (the turret took several seconds to come back down) .
So I would have thought that camouflage, concealment, and deception (CCD) systems, such as the panels on the CR2 in the picture at the start of this excellent blog, would have been part of any and all combat vehicle purchases. I see GD has placed an order for mobile camouflage systems (MCS) for AJAX; but what about the vehicles it is associated with; else risk detection by association.
Is there a missing recognition of spectrum management importance in the UK? Will it be part of the CR2 LEP? It cannot be cost surely, as why spare a few tens of £k which could potentially save a £0.5m-2m vehicle? The Germans and Dutch Leopards all have it; in fact the MCS is a mandatory fit on the latest Leopards because of its heat management and fuel reduction capabilities.
We should gap it, with new European and American options on the table next decade I think it’s very gappable. I’d like to spend some of the money on 120mm smoothbore though as I think there’s a window of opportunity to address a number of issues raised across various forums (reasonably off topic, but relevant given the overall sweep):
That we probably bought too many ajax, that they’d be outgunned running into Russian recce, that they have no dismounts, that they have no mast mounted sight, that they’re now a solution in search of a problem that’s warping strike and that upgrading Warrior is kind of a silly idea.
The window is open for a few reasons, WCSP not yet signed, C2 LEP not yet decided, Ajax signed but deliveries just beginning (and the fact that it’s a modular design).
I was thinking on TD’s suggestion that we rework our agreement with GD on the contract, but I’m going to work on the assumption that we have the given number of hulls of that size and their turrets.
Take the Ajax 40mm turrets and put them to one side for the moment.
Take three Ajax regiments but reduce to three sabre squadrons each with three troops of Hitfact 2 (for 108 total) and one troop of Ares equipped with RWS, mast mounted sights and seats for dismounted recce.
Leaves enough spare hulls for 54 equipped with 120mm Nemo/Amos (mortar).
Take the money from WCSP and the remaining money from C2 LEP and buy stretched Ajax hulls (whatever is offered to the Australians) for infantry, reattach 40mm Ajax turrets (add MMP).
We’d have enough 40mm turrets for the rifle companies in six battalions, three cavalry regiments at 120mm and nine batteries of 120mm mortar, so three homogeneous networked armoured brigades.
Yes, I have just spent all the Chally money and it will have to be found again and yes we’d need about 400 stretched Ajax, but we’d only need the hulls and there is toward a couple of billion to play with (I have no idea how much any of my suggestions cost).
Saturday tomorrow, so do feel free to take your time and rip into this.
Kind regards, Nemo
Very interesting post. I’ll have a think, but my immediate thought is that a tank is like a black tie evening wear: you don’t need it very often, but when you do, nothing else will do. (Quoting an Australian general). I don’t think we can gap MBT capability, but if Rheinmetall’s Challenger 3 is unaffordable, then we need to consider alternatives.
Maybe a lend-lease of M1A2Cs, or Leo2A7s for that matter, until the post-Abrams/Chal2/Leo2 tank is developed?
That’s a much more interesting question than is being given proper consideration.
What are the missions of heavy, direct fire?
1. Infantry Support.
Which is often _highly_ restrictive , in cities, because you really don’t want mile per second HEAT_FS missing Muktar and hitting is grandmother in the preschool and kiddy park, down the street.
Just as you often cannot take the ‘forget the shooter, let’s level the building!’ approach when the threat is a sniper gunning for you from a multistory tenement apartment.
And without a main gun and canister or HEF, what is a tank? A pillbox on tracks with a couple 7.62GPMG and a 12.7HMG, if you’re lucky.
That’s a pair of Snatch Landrovers.
But it’s not a 40mm 3P platform with rounds that have controlled detonation on or behind the target face and thus can sterilize SINGLE ROOM THREATS.
And where do you find an autocannon with those rounds? On a tall tank with the swept volume and tall trunnions to allow the main breach to elevate up to 60-80`. Which is nice when you are in downtown Damascus or Homs and that same idiot or his cousin Kebab is firing down at the top of your very thinly skinned turret and engine deck.
See: Grozny for what RPG/RCL/ATGW happens next.
To which I can only add that armor blankets which can be polled on and off a tank with a forklift are better options as appliques than integral armor, for the simple reason that the backpack gets damaged by impacts too and it’s a lot harder to fix.
2. Anti Tank Warfare.
Now we cookin’ with gas! Or are we? Brimstone is not Maverick. A Typhoon with 4 triplets of Brimstone is a better AT platform than the A-10. If only because it will fire from a longer slant, including below the radar horizon on radar-driven threats. And it comes with radar and radar missiles which means if someone is ‘camping the spawn’ with a Su-35 as battlefield air superiority support, well, say hello to my Little Meteor.
The 174th figured this out, way back in the 1980s when they transitioned to ‘A-16s’ with gunpods, ATHS and digital maps. The GPU-5 couldn’t hit what it aimed at and didn’t carry enough rounds to miss. (it also stole a pylon normally used for ALQ-131/184) and the ATHS was only as good as your APG-66 allowed you to spot the flunky before committing to a surround sound attack with tossed Mk.82. Which, from 3-5nm out were amazingly accurate but not very deft on GMTI type targets.
Nobody had LDPs back then, today everyone does. Plus ROVER to talk-on from a drone or GFAC.
So do we need to worry about open field maneuver by large tank formations if we have both SAL and MMW for through weather standoff from 12km?
Let me get back to you…
Let’s talk about the disgusting habit of manportable ATGW ending up on tanks.
You see it in Javelin, MMP and Spike Launchers being fitted to 30mm unmanned turrets which turn a 10ft tall battle bus into a 12ft tall mobile landmark. With barely enough armor to not get wet in a hailstorm. Oh sure, they’ll kill anything but whoever said the OK Corral fight was a smart idea when you have BOTH IFV/IPC and Tanks which can single shot you, right back.
And NO, SRAT and so on are not going to do a bloody thing for you because it’s a TROOP CARRIER trying to SNEAK AND PEEK while hiding behind fire hydrant because the SPCA won’t let you have elephants.
Let’s fix this.
No Tank Destroyers by Greyhound Line.
They are too easy to spot, have too much ground footprint weight, can’t swim, and can’t turn in the kinds of tight, urban, back alley that passes for a main artery in the places where we find ourselves fighting.
The tankette is smaller.
But the missiles get bigger.
Because the principle reason for having a small weapon is to let a grunt drag it up stairs and down wooded paths with a launch impulse that doesn’t give him away or provide excessive acoustic brain damage (no, really, it’s a thing).
i.e. You can make it go at least 3,500fps in a 70-100lb weight class rather than a 30-50lb equivalent. This is good. Because it means you have a weapon which will both defeat heavy skirt armor and roll back any roof mounted APS.
To which you can add how stupid it is to have your thermal display, lousy as it is, have to be attached to missile tube, like that one nerd who just insists on using a desktop in a PDA age.
This is one instance where not having a CLU might be a good thing.
Which is not to say that you don’t want an advanced battle sight, just that you might want to be a klick or two down rang from the firing vehicle as a conservation of asset value system.
Now let’s get to brass tacks on the real reason tanks as we now know them are stupid. RATE OF FIRE IN ROUNDS PER MINUTE.
Are you retarded?
If you are lap-rounded, with a good gunner, who has the presence of mind to range a couple of known obstacles to establish a range index for his laser flat SLRP, he and his 3-4 buddies can basically put eight to ten rounds downrange, from the defilade.
That’s half a company from a platoon sized force, before the loader has to go digging through the bustle rack for the next round. The shock effect is instantaneous and so extreme that another 2-3 seconds will be wasted, just figuring out that the CO and Exec are dead and now it’s the recently promoted junior loader who just got in last week who is command.
Seriously, if you shoot every tank on the right side of a wedge or bell formation and the threat will not see where the shots came from.
Now, the big question becomes: If I can do that with a 10X8ft target signature X4, can I do it with a 4X6ft X 2?
I think you can. Because you can afford to invest in dual guidance channels for a beam rider weapon which is moving so fast that it may only need a couple guidance updates before impact.
The key is to make it MISSILE CENTRIC-
So that you can fire at least two salvos of two shots, in same 5 seconds.
2X2X2 = 8 shots = half a company.
And if your baseline vehicle is a modern Borgward, firing half mile per second tungsten KEPs, suddenly the VALUE of the vehicle is in the weapons system, not the track.
Because, like the Borgward (in it’s original demolition role anyway) these tanks are robotic.
No MANPRINT = no internal volumetric sacrifice = much thicker skin for the presented target area. You’re not going to stand tall to an MBT long rod but you might be surprised how rough and tumble you could be vs. a 40mm APFSDS with 200mm of penetration.
You have a command tank which is elephant walking a column of loyal battle buddies up a trail, finds a spot it likes and elevates a mast. MMW sensors on that mast send micro-tethers to continue the BBs up the trail to an overwatch position on a valley exit, parking in front of large natural berm in front of a bike path or drainage ditch or whatever.
Each robo doggie has enough brains to remember the path it took as it pulls up into it’s hide. And each robo tank has a cheap (uncooled) IRFPA which can ‘lock on’ to moving targets. A collimated laser or MMW beam follows the aperture line to that LOS bearing and so does the coded CKEM which follows the laser. Smoke and Jammers don’t mean much because the BBs don’t sparkle the threat until after the missile is halfway there and by the time any Shtora or VSSS system responds, the missiles are impacting.
The manned tank has the 10km 3G fancy optics. It has total MITL kill control. And it is NOT, itself, exposed on the same sightline as the BBs.
Which fire twice and then withdraw at max-reverse (30-40mph, small tank, low inertia) and head back to dad, to didimau on out of there.
THIS is how you do direct fire on a LOS line.
By admitting that if it’s good enough for the Typhoon to expend a 100 Grande on a Brimstone with autonomous homing and a 10km, Mach 1.3 kinematic, then surely, SURELY, it must be worth it to spend 20K on a 3-4km weapon which is dumb as dirt but can ride a laser like a monorail.
And do it four time ins under six seconds.
Repeat after me folks: Tanks Are Not Enfields Rifles. Tanks Are Not Enfields, Tanks are not Enfields….
Even built in Russia, a tank is seldom worth less than 3 million dollars. A Western Tank is somewhere between 6 and 10, depending on whether you are buying new or simply upgrading legacy with advanced optronics that are themselves a third of the vehicle costs.
Don’t you think that if you could buy an 800,000 dollar vehicle, fit it with the best IR signature suppression kit that Barracuda can come up for a 100,000 more and throw in 240,000 more for six shots plus a reload that it might be worth it if you could destroy 12 of 16 vehicles worth a minimum of 36 million dollars?
If you play The Mad Minute with a threat which is making your vehicle protection scheme progressively weaker with each hit on your turret face of upper glacis, there is a specific numeric disparity fraction that you MUST obey. Or you will end up with a bent turret ring or busted drive electronics in a veritable Sturmgeschutz before you engage half the enemy.
But if you treat each vehicle as a unit of fire, an anti-tank machine gun obeying salvo attrition rather than Lanchestrian grind metrics.
Suddenly, numbers don’t matter so much. Because you can almost always get at least two kills for each vehicle you lose. The BB knows no fear of death. And the next Barney will fly in 10-15 more, from whatever depot is handy.
But you have to be able to look at the problem from the perspective of how many accurate shots can I send down range in 5 seconds, not 60.
The cool thing here, is that since there is no manned system penalty for failing to optimize the design, if you get into an urban fight you can yank the complete barbette, replacing the ATGW with a combined 50cal/40mm grenade launcher and go sweeping rooflines and basement windows, all you like.
If the solution to the next Bol….errrm, MBT is NLOS. Then the companion speed bump/security mission force requirement for the LOS direct fire mission can perhaps be better characterized by devaluing the platform and saturating with guided fires rather than by designing a heavy tank to fend off 12-15MJ impacts while absorbing equivalent recoil loads.
To instead acknowledge that the missile which an infantryman carries to kill tanks with is not necessarily the one which a tank destroyer needs to restrict itself to, simply because it’s available. But a missile which fires twice as often, on twice as many targets because there is no breach servicing interval or track-switch, is probably going to win the 10 second fight, even if it cannot stand to a 60 second equivalent.
And never forget, that when a Russian BTG commander sees a Ukrainian tank flying column drawing rooster tails of dust cloud pursuit on the horizon, his first best move is not going to be ‘CHAAARGE!’
It’s going to be calmly picking up his radio and calling down a preplanned fire mission as ‘my position + 5,000m, on this heading, EB and Cluster’.
Don’t cross that LOS horizon if you are prepared to get your back scratched with a weedeater.
No mother cries when a robot dies.
Not a post against a Challenger replacement, I just think the opportunity of putting a cohesive infantry/recce mix together in tracked armour seems to present itself and will only exist for a short time.
Not sure where I am on budgeting, but I think the sleight of hand with the turrets puts us way ahead of a straight Warrior replacement based on GD’s Land 400 (3) and as it stands we’re getting Warrior…
Gapping Challenger would be regrettable, but it could be seen as a good decision by the end of the next decade if the US takes a generation leap with its replacement for Abrams, it would also allow us to buy in on a cost effective production run, so additional cost need not be too great and we’d not be left a generation behind. We’d hopefully pick it up somewhere in the next ten year equipment plan (2028?), until then Challenger would place hold and soldier on.
It occurs that as outlined above (and without Challenger attached) the brigades look a little like a tracked strike, but sitting just above that weight class.
Great recent posts. I think unmanned (relatively cheap) tanks integrated in with expensive manned tanks could give the mass we need in an affordable way.
The problem with Robotic Autonomous Systems (RAS), ground ve3hgicles in this case is they need LOS to communicate. Whilst this is not hard on unmanned or remotely piloted air vehicles (UAV/RPAS) it is fiendishly difficult on land; especially urban terrain. Even for UAV/RPAS it is problematic at the tactical level as so-called ‘urban-canyons’ present interference and other connectivity issues including LOS.
So that’s what the ‘A’ is in RAS for, namely on-board processing and decision making so that the system can continue its mission without direct contact with its human controller. It already exists in things like Javelin and other missiles but these have limited decision-trees over a short time frame.
For the UK you can discount lethal RAS in the CH2 LEP consideration as it’s deemed unethical for a machine to make a kill decision, limiting them to remote-operation only; which again brings you back to the LOS issue; and if LeTaCIS is going to be adequate for that? Also LOS communication lights up like a Christmas tree to EW sensors; just ask a Ukrainian soldier..
Elsewhere it is different of course. The USA NGCV includes an optionally unmanned medium tank, and IFV, and the funded German Army Future Force 2035 program envisages replacing a troop of 4 Leopard tanks and 16 crew with 9 crew in 3 tanks and 7 RAS platforms.
My understanding is that Morpheus/LETACCIS is multiband with emphasis on Ku and C. Those are not exactly discrete in terms of their spectral use and directionality. Pushing into 35/94/140 would be, just on anaprop. It also gets you a much smaller antenna which means you can scatter 2-3 across the vehicle and fast-dither your comms signal without having to synch.
OA/Delamination of systems architectures as ‘EvO’ only works if you genuinely evolve the platform away from a generational approach and Morpheus stands on Bowman 5 and thus is umbrella’ing a lot of other programs which bring specific band use requirements that a DEDICATED system would not.
1. Elephant Walk.
Nose to tail, go with active IR in a replacement tail light as close convoy or ‘trailer’ system (shared drive line command).
2. Remote Ambush Emplacement.
Go stereo on your optics and advance on a JPEG not RTV basis. Snapshot: I want you here. Where here is a combination of X-Y-Z coordinates on a graticule which the master driver sees as a floor and a periperal set of gridlines with which to push the fires vehicle to LOS on a single send of picture. Record the LOS line, then back X meters from it. When the vehicle gets the engagement command, it will drive back into the firing step, automatically.
You have an NFOV targeting system, likely based on a missile seeker which locks up the threat given to it, on bearing X, by a remote, masted, master aperture. The RFCG or SAL or LCG is projected on that line. And the passive seeker trackign index corrects for the subtend on guidance beam cone. Aim small, miss small. Again, you are talking about a .5-1km offset between shooter and targeter which means that if you are both behind obstructive terrain, you elevate the master sensor to have LOS on BOTH the effects platform and the target field it is servicing.
The master sensor is also your LOS comms system so when it squirts forward, it’s sending a coordinate file within a premapped target grid that the fires vehicle already knows because it has the map complete with LOS range distances to key landmarks, from before the arrival of the threat.
Thus the actual target send is 10-20 characters. The shooters are LOSing backwards, to the master aperture’s sightline or an offset drone and thus, while their JPEG ‘this is what I am locked on’ image file is larger, LOS line is not even oriented in a way which gives the threat good read as the signal is designed to go null with the background in 1-2km, and the weapons are engaging at 4-6.
Back in the days of Commanche program, we were still using UHF/VHF and pretending that we could secure it across broad networks with PRN and skipping. It was acknowledged, then, that the primary vulnerability of stealth mission systems, acting as network target handing nodes, was that the aperture front ends of the systems were still, bandwidth pipe and security, very primitive.
Today, with everyone operating as though it was an open Cell network at 2.5 or whatever, things are no different. If we are not operating in the high milliwave or laser spectrum, we are going get squeak heard. But if we go LOS, then we need to think about how we drive RAS in a fashion similar infantry hand signals, with simple vector for movement and area coordinate for handoff. Using automation of action-sequences as an alternative to template commands and avoiding Direct Drive as much as possible.
The problem is solvable. But not if you think of robots as waldos rather than independent units of action over which close control is maintained by engagement phase release levels and automated action:response stimuli (take artillery, pull back to preattack hold point. Lose LOS on command unit, pull back to rendezvous, engage top two targets and the stacked second two on a ‘fire at will’ basis, send contact report and await further orders.)
Using the most simplistic of hierarchical engagement priorities, it’s not hard to ‘err on the side of safety’. And once you realize that you are not getting into a Robocop ‘Three Laws’ scenario, the demands which you place on your comms system can go way do and with them, the emission profile.
UA is different but the key here is going to be similar with ROVER type ‘this is the view from the targeting pod optics, this is you, this is where you need to be, this is the threat you will see when you get there’ coordination with an FSCL or maneuver orientation point as ‘first we deconflict, then we figure out who is shootable’ (Boomerang, VIPER etc.).
The Big Think vision of future systems is one of how we get to theater with enough force to be useful. That means small, light, low armor, high multitarget capability. If you don’t want men to die on such platforms, as they died on Snatches before the Foxhound came into the game, you have to go robotic.
The understanding I want to see pushed here is that LOS fighting is dangerous and stupid. Something has to do it, simply to keep the threat at arms length in fielded maneuver and to winkle out the bad men in UA.
Small systems which are low value, in and of themselves, can be mission flexed to different roles in a way that a tank cannot and indeed _should not_ be so. Because you actually want to value-add to that vehicle, raising it’s price to the 10-20 million range, so that a small inventory can still have decisive combat capability while the threat is faced with a condition by which they gain nothing by legacy fleet upgrades to hordes of T-72B3 etc.
Because you will max your ballistic tube capability and NLOS them, at twice their ranged ability to fire back.
That platform will be primarily a stealth design, with high end IR suppression to avoid drone surveillance, meaning it _cannot take_ the direct fires engagement and still remain shoot and scoot invisible indirect saturation by counter battery.
It will win the field gun vs. artillery fight with constant movement and depressed trajectory, hidden, shot lines.
Thus, just as a sniper is not the ideal capability to resolve a squad level autofire threat at room-next-door distances, you will still need a platform which can step into the few-vs.-multi, compressed, anti armor fight and WIN, because it is not treating that breech cycle as a given on ‘by the minute’ firing rates. Nor is it locked into an infantry ATGW engagement condition by which all shots are 700-900fps, all shots are HEAT and thus all ranged engagements are measured in tens of seconds for TOF _and reload_ on a very front-end heavy munition.
The only way to get multi target, simultaneous engagement, capability, with infantry weapons, is to stack shooters. And that is a slow, short ranged, and big sig’d (IFV). Thus a stupid way to go nose to muzzle with threats who are just as fast or faster in maneuver and whose APS can easily knock down your subsonic kill effector.
A high mobility RAS platform can generate nose to flank shots which allow a low end KEP (3,500fps) to get engine and magazine kills, through the sides of the threat vehicle protection suite, simply because it’s 50-60mph speed allows it to choose the engagement point and there is no limitation on carry weight or launch acoustics as with an infantry portable system.
You use a gun based platform to get range on low value targets where munition types must be tightly tailored to target class and engagement conditions. You use a missile to kill high value point targets and you get multiple shots in a small package by keeping that missile as ‘SRM’ cheap and cheerful as possible. There are few things cheaper than Tungsten based KEPs, riding a beam to an IR target centroid.
well written and explained. A great close combat setup all it needs is Trophy and its
a armoured porcupine again.