The Tank is Dead, Long Live the Tank
In an uncharacteristically silly FT article trumpeting “the end of the British Tank” as BAE System’s Newcastle plant closes, “many analysts” were quoted as believing Afghanistan “could be the UK’s last ground war”.
The fact that armoured vehicles (which the media always like to call “tanks”) will still be made by General Dynamics UK was glossed over as being merely an assembly operation.But the curator of the Tanks Museum in Dorset David Willey was given the last word – a selected few of doubtless many other of his words that were not used: “For some peculiar reason the tank just soldiers on,” said Mr Willey.“There’s a symbolic value. If you turn up in a Land Rover people throw stones at you. If you turn up in a tank, they say ‘maybe not today’.”
Given that cars are made in exactly the same multinational fashion as ‘non-British tanks’ will be in the future, it’s been a very expensive mistake to have a purely British tank.
Until Gulf War One revealed it’s inadequacies, Challenger was ‘the worst of British’. Once sorted out, it turned out to be better arguably than the American Abrams, whose turbine engine used up the same amount of fuel when charging its batteries as when moving. Making tanks by international committee sounds like a good idea to me, especially as it’s intended to use German engines and gearboxes, American electronics and tracks – although I’m not sure about the Spanish hull. ( I need a joke about Spanish tortoises; but only Don Quixote and windmills springs to mind. )
My defence analyst colleague William F Owen the Editor of Infinity Journal, has recently concluded that senior military officers must bear a lot of the blame for the parlous state of the UK MoD especially its procurement programmes. The story of the Great British Tank “god rest its soul” was all of that – plus the machinations of defence industry spivs, MPs and Civil Servants, each writing the specifications according to their own advantage.
The development of a bayonet for the British SA80 small arm (back in the 80’s obviously) illustrates the nightmare that would have been the development of the next British Tank. The School of Infantry took charge, until the other Arms that would also have to use the SA80 kicked up a fuss at being left out.
Stacks of harrumphing from the generals downwards, at suggestions that, for example as with the Israeli Defence Forces’ bayonet, a bottle opener curve should be included on the lower part of the blade. As soldiers rendered their SLR magazines likely to fall off when fired by using them to open crates of Brew Eleven, this one was actually a very good idea…
The Infantry conducted highly professional studies of how deep the blood groove should be, whether the serrations should be on both sides of the top of the blade, how best to extract it from your victims, and even – I kid you not – how the various parade ground manoeuvres would be done, for Queen’s Colour Parties fixing and unfixing bayonets.
So…. that and much more was just for a knife worth mere shillings. Imagine how much nonsense and hot air was generated in the creation of a 60-ton monster filled with weaponry and electronics…?