After having been somewhat neglected in the 2010 defence review the Challenger II Main Battle Tank (MBT) is now one step closer to receiving a major update. Known as the Challenger II Life Extension Program (LEP) the update will see the tank have its service life extended to 2035 instead of the original out-of-service date of 2025. The contract which is said to be worth around £700 million will include logistical support for the tank and will also cover a similar upgrade to Omani Challenger IIs.
The MoD gave prospective companies until January 14th 2016 to produce an initial proposal for their assessment. It has now been revealed that three companies are in the running; BAE Systems (who originally built the tank), Lockheed Martin UK and General Dynamics UK. It was thought that German company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann who build the excellent Leopard 2 tank for a number of European countries would submit a proposal but pulled out after the option of new or second-hand Leopards was ruled out by the British Army.
From a political standpoint, British company BAE Systems has something of an advantage after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged more military contracts for British arms manufacturers in the run up to last year’s election. However, General Dynamics UK already has a large order for new Scout vehicles for the Army and could undercut BAE Systems if they agree to a new combined contract to cut overall costs especially if the American company promises to have the work carried out primarily in the UK.
Planned service entry for the updated tank is currently set as late 2018.
On display at the Fortress Wales 2015 event at Caldicot Castle was this Shorland SB300. The vehicle has quite an interesting history being built on a LWB Series IIa Land Rover chassis. It is No.9 of a total of 10 vehicles that were converted for use by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and it entered service in 1966. It was subsequently used during the 1969 riots to help restore order in Belfast during the beginning of what are now known as “the troubles” – the Irish Republican Army (IRA)’s campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland.
Following the Belfast Riots the vehicle was transferred to the 5th Battalion of the Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) reflecting the Army’s increasing role in keeping peace in Northern Ireland during the early 1970s. The vehicle served until 1977 when it was struck off charge and is the only one of the original 10 vehicles not to be scrapped.
Col. T.E. Lawrence “Lawrence of Arabia” describing the Rolls-Royce Armoured Car
The Rolls-Royce Armoured Car was the first ever Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) to enter production for the British armed forces pre-dating the tank by nearly two years. However the way in which it came about was not so much through a government issued requirement or even the Army for that matter but actually the Royal Navy. A handful of Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts served with a Royal Naval Air Squadron unit based in France and in August 1914 these were used to assist the RNAS’ aircraft in spotting the German advance. The only defence came from a 0.3 cal machine gun and the men driving these vehicles obviously felt very vulnerable because soon they began welding pieces of iron boilers on to the sides to give some level protection from enemy bullets. Thus the first armoured Rolls-Royces came in to existence.
These early armoured cars were still open topped vehicles like the car it was based on which meant that if the crew found themselves caught by enemy fire they were forced to duck down while they tried to make good their escape. Although rudimentary, the Admiralty were quite taken by the initiative of their officers and engineers and so established a committee to investigate the concept further and establish an improved and properly manufactured version offering all round protection. The result was the Rolls-Royce Armoured Car (1914 Pattern). This finally offered all-round protection for the crew from small arms fire and the build quality was naturally higher. Mechanically the vehicle was identical to the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost using all the same running gear and suspension and as proof of how much importance was placed on the new vehicle all of the chassis and components for civilian Silver Ghosts were requisitioned by the War Office.
Just 120 vehicles would be built for the Royal Naval Air Service and their usefulness would be later recognised by the Army who ordered upgraded vehicles in the post war period. More vehicles were desired by the RNAS during the war but Rolls-Royce found themselves in such demand for aero engines that it lacked the facilities to meet demand for both and so the war in the air was given priority. Although born out of the fighting on the Western Front it would be in Africa and the Middle East where it would distinguish itself. Superb reliability for the time coupled with great agility and reasonably good protection (there were few infantry weapons available in World War I that could destroy any armoured vehicle) produced a war winning vehicle. Its reliability was proven dramatically by Commander Locker-Lampson and his force that operated on the Russian Front achieving extraordinarily high mileage for the day with very little support from the UK.
Rolls Royce specifications (1914 Pattern)
Dimensions: 194 in x 76 in x 100 in (4.93 x 1.93 x 2.54 m)
Total weight: 4.7 tons (9400 lbs)
Crew: 3 (commander, driver, machine-gunner)
Propulsion: 6-cylinder petrol, water-cooled 80 hp (60 kW), 19 hp/t
Suspensions: 4 x 2 leaf springs
Speed: 45 mph (72 kph)
Range: 150 miles (240 km)
Armament: 1 x Vickers Water cooled cal.303 (7.62 mm) machine gun
The Vector Protected Patrol Vehicle (PPV) is a six-wheel drive armoured vehicle employed by British forces during operations in Afghanistan. The vehicle is based on the Pinzgauer 6×6 all-terrain utility vehicle and was built by BAE Systems with the aim of providing British forces in Afghanistan with a patrol vehicle that offered greater protection from small arms fire and mortar detonations than previous vehicles such as the Land Rover Snatch. The vehicle was placed in to production following an Urgent Operational Requirement issued by the British Army in 2006. 180 units were eventually ordered including 12 configured as ambulances for the CASEVAC role.
The vehicle retains the same basic chassis and motive components as the Pinzgauer thus easing logistical support requirements as the infrastructure is already largely in place. The armoured shell comes largely in the form of kevlar panels fitted around the vehicle’s body while the windows are made of laminated ballistic resistant glass. In many ways the Vector is the spiritual successor of vehicles like the Saxon armoured truck which was essentially a Bedford M-series truck with an armoured body. Additionally the vehicle was fitted with a a radio jammer designed to disrupt the ability of insurgents to detonate Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) by wireless remote.
The Vector has a top road speed of 65mph and has a range of approximately 700 miles but this can be extended with the fitting of additional fuel tanks for extended endurance patrols. It is powered by a 109hp diesel engine that meets European emission requirements. It is normally operated by a crew of two with up to four fully armed troops in the rear compartment on blast resistant seats. Alternatively up to 1600kg of supplies can be carried internally and externally to support the patrols or resupply forward positions.
In Afghanistan the vehicle was used primarily for urban and rural patrolling where it could expect to get caught up in close quarters combat with insurgents. Unfortunately the vehicle’s protection proved less than ideal against the latest IEDs although it has to be remembered that it was still an improvement over the Land Rovers used previously. It could protect reasonably well against small arms fire but their poor under-belly armour made them too vulnerable to roadside bombs. Also their standard Pinzgauer suspension proved unable to cope with the extra weight of the armoured body and electronic countermeasures equipment fitted in the conversion. Combining this with a shortage of spares (something that shouldn’t have happened since the Pinzgauer vehicle it was based on was in widespread service), the Vectors serviceability rates fell below 60% in 2008 and later that year it was withdrawn from service after just two years on the frontlines.
This is a well illustrated reference book chronicling tank development in nearly every country in the world that has produced tanks at some point. I picked it up off Amazon for less than £5 including postage and packing several years ago and have read it right the way through probably several times now. I used to take it to work with me and read an entry or two during my lunch break which meant it lasted me a good few weeks.
What I liked…
This is rich in technical detail about the tanks. Miller is clear enough in his writing to help you build a good mental picture of the vehicle he is describing. If that’s not enough there is an abundance of photographs to feast upon and each entry has a detailed specification sheet before the text. There are a wealth of AFVs listed in here and there were a large number I had never heard of which is a positive. There is plenty of development history in most of the entries and the text is quite technical in places. The chronological layout of the entries for each nation help build up a good picture of the evolution of that country’s tank line.
What I didn’t like…
The value of a small number of the pictures are questionable. They either have limited recognition value or are reproduced quite poorly. Two whole pages are devoted to a single picture of several T-62 tanks but it is so grainy and abstract that when I first saw it I almost couldn’t make it out. Fortunately these are the exceptions. While the technical detail is rich the operational history and experience is quite limited. One thing I discovered and thought was unacceptable in a published book were a number of spelling and grammar mistakes. I am guilty of making mistakes too but I am not being paid to write nor do I have a publisher with a quality control department. I also noted that the font seemed to change in several entries which I think was done to squeeze more information on to two pages rather than have the entry spill over on to a third page. One final criticism that I am only including in the interest of fairness is that some entries seemed unnecessary. Four pages are devoted to the French AMX-32 even though it existed in prototype form only. The average number of pages for an operational tank is two to three.
This is a good book for people who are starting their interest in armored fighting vehicles and is well worth picking up. Despite one or two of its flaws I would recommend it. As I said I discovered a lot of new vehicles I never heard of before which is one of the advantages of a book over the internet. On the internet you have to look for new types but here they are all listed for you to browse.