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M P Robinson provides some background on the United Kingdom’s current MBT.


The vehicle we know today as the Challenger 2 was developed as the Chieftain MBT’s replacement, and it entered service over fifteen years after the Chieftain’s designed replacement date. The reasons for the Chieftain’s belated replacement included budget restrictions and the lack of a suitable replacement. British tank design philosophy included the use of a 120mm rifled gun and heavier armour than contemporary European tank designs. The Chieftain’s development had taken sixteen years from first specification to production, typical for the time, and it was designed with a service life of twenty years. Because its succession was not given the same priority, there was no smooth transition to a new Main Battle Tank to replace the Chieftain after 1985.

Part of the problem was that future British main battle tank design philosophy in the 1970s lacked focus. It was not for any lack of expertise; for the British had been the first NATO country to adopt a 120mm main armament and they led the world in armour development. British firms had also perfected advanced night vision equipment, and modern fire control systems. The British had every ingredient for world class battle tank design available from their domestic industries, but lacked firm directives on how best to combine these. One school of thought favoured the development of a completely new MBT design to replace the Chieftain. This encompassed two programmes; the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT) and Main Battle Tank 80 (MBT80).

These programmes became the single greatest barrier to replacing the Chieftain in a timely manner. While well-intentioned, both were focused on co-production with an allied nation and were driven by ponderous committees. Naturally the political implications of coproducing a major weapon system made it difficult to advance the design of an actual tank, and the main political aim of sharing production was minimising British development costs. It was all wishful thinking, because the British found themselves without any interested suitors. The Americans, West Germans and French had their own programmes, their own design philosophies and they had no interest in joining the British despite entreaties at the highest levels.

After the FMBT program had evolved into the extremely ambitious MBT80 program, there were technological factors that soon made the program extremely vulnerable to cost overruns. There were numerous delays in finalizing the specification and the MBT-80 program had become a political morass by the late 1970s. No prototypes had been built and the projected cost of each vehicle grew alarmingly. The projected date for entry into service of the MBT80 slipped further and further into the late 1980s, while new MBTs (with vastly inflated capabilities) flowed in massive numbers from Soviet factories.

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Inside this months issue: Panzer Vor! - The Great and Small of Panzer Modelling Challenger 2 - Operation Telic Armour