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Concept studies on a future main battle tank, intended to lead to a program of joint development, began in 1972 with the Federal Republic of Germany. The Government's intention was that this should lead to joint development with Germany of a future main battle tank for the late 1980s, with a view to collaborative development. Other NATO allies were kept informed about the project.

The efforts being made by the UK and the Germans to agree on a common future main battle tank involved making a major effort to agree on the operational requirement, which in turn meant harmonising tactical doctrine. They would, after all, fight the same war should deterrence fail. There had been in the past an enormous divergence of philosophy regarding the type of tank that is needed by the UK and the type which was used on the Continent. Unless that gap in philosophy could be bridged, there was little prospect of common production of the same kind of weapon.

A great deal of criticism had been made of the attitude of the Americans. In trying to get common procurement and common weapons in NATO, the Americans in the early 1970s were showing the worst possible attitude. It was not very helpful towards NATO co-operation to bring pressure to bear on Europe to buy American equipment. The Foreign Office reasoned with the Americans to underline some of the pitfalls that there were in forcing European countries purely for financial reasons to buy American equipment. In the United States in March 1973 there were discussions about the evolution of a common NATO battle tank and it became clear that the Americans intended to go their own way.

As of 1973 the disparity in heavy battle tanks in Central Europe was [by one estimate] 7,750 to NATO and 21,700 to the Warsaw Pact. By one 1974 estimate, in Central Europe, NATO had 6,755 main battle tanks; the Warsaw Pact forces had 13,800, while by another 1974 estimate, the Warsaw Pact had 20,000 main battle tanks against NATO's 7,000. Although the figures for Britain's tanks and tactical combat aircraft remained practically static since 1970, in the three years 1970-1973 alone three years characterised by the word "dtente" the Soviet Union deployed in Central Europe alone 2,000 more main battle tanks and 400 more tactical combat aircraft. These increases by the Soviet Union in Central Europe represented approximately double Britain's total strength of aircraft and tanks.

By 1975 a modest programme of component development in support of the concept studies was being undertaken. At that time it was too early to define the detailed characteristics of the tank or to estimate the cost. In the early months of 1976 various tests on tank guns and tank ammunition were going on at Shoeburyness.

By 1976 there was a very vague statement on page 52 of the White Paper, culminating in the following: further studies are taking place which may lead to an international programme for further development. Skeptics doubted whether there would really be a British tank that would be a serious contender against the winner of the internal competition in America and the German Leopard 2. Skeptics did not expect that competition to be prolonged to the point at which Britain was able to enter into it fully, rather whole thing would have been settled to British disadvantage long before there was a British contender ready to enter the lists.

On 17 June 1976 the Secretary of State for Defence, Roy Mason, stated that "The United Kingdom has succeeded in developing a unique form of tank armour. This provides an exceptional level of protection against both chemical energy attack from guided weapons and all forms of attack from tank guns, and can be carried on tanks of comparable weight and agility to those in service today. We shall fit this armour, and other improvements, into our next main battle tank. Meanwhile, in the interests of NATO, we have made information on the invention available to the United States of 220W America and the Federal Republic of Germany. We have secured important commercial benefits from the invention, as it forms part of a large new order for tanks by Iran. This order will be worth over 500 million, including spares and logistic support, and over 1,200 tanks will be fitted with the new armour." Some reports suggested that the first information about Chobham armour was given in 1965, and a great deal of information was given in 1968 or 1969.

Details of the armour had been conveyed to the Federal German Government from 1972 onwards to facilitate joint studies of a future main battle tank. The Federal Republic of Germany has been supplied with information solely in connection with joint studies for the future main battle tank. The use of this information for other purposes by the Federal Republic of Germany forces would require further negotiation between Her Majesty's Government and the Federal Republic of Germany.

On 13 July 1976 the Secretary of State for Defence, Robert C. Brown, stated "We are making satisfactory progress in the studies that we are currently undertaking with the Federal Republic of Germany in order to define a common tank for the late 1980s.... The current phase of the studies will take about another year and, therefore, we are not yet at the stage at which we can talk about numbers. It is generally acknowledged that towards the end of this century many countries will be renewing their tank fleets, and we therefore have a great opportunity of selling new tanks."

One of the great problems in producing tanks for the Alliance was that the time scale between national requirements was so different. The UK was not replacing Chieftain until the end of the 1980s. The urgent need of the Germans was to find a replacement of the M48 tank, beginning in the late 1970s, around the time the Americans would want to replace some older tanks. Even if there were a standard tank, the production would be in Germany or the United States.

By early 1977 Britain had completed the studies with Germany of ideas for a future main battle tank. Their purpose was to establish whether there was a sufficient identity of views to justify a joint collaborative project. On 22 March 1977 the Secretary of State for Defence, Frederick Mulley, announced that a large measure of agreement had been reached on the characteristics of a future tank but the replacement timetables of the two countries gradually diverged to such a degree that in the view of both Governments collaboration on a project was no longer practicable at this time. The British considered it essential to start replacing Chieftain in the late 1980s, and proposed to maintain the excellent contacts with Germany and to make use of the long established liaison with the United States to explore, in the interests of NATO standardisation, the possibilities of harmonising components in the tank forces of the three countries.

One skeptical member of Parliament suggested that "if we have decided only in the last few weeks that we cannot plan for the new generation of tanks in concert with the Germans, and that as a result we have to start it ourselves, then, if we need a replacement in the late 1980s we are already behind schedule. If a new British tank is not on the drawing board, if the specifications are not being collected together, and if the time-scale of production has not been worked out, there is no way in which the new tank can be in service by the 1980s."

Initial development of the new generation main battle tank (MBT-80) to replace the Chieftain began in September 1978. The Government attached the greatest importance to the timely introduction of the British Army's new main battle tank MBT80, which remained its first priority equipment, and by mid-1979 good progress was being made with project definition. A special MBT 80 executive was set up in the Ministry of Defence to carry this project forward with the highest priority in the Army equipment program.

The new tank would be required to match expected Warsaw Pact armored and anti-armor capabilities well beyond the turn of the century and would be designed to the highest practicable standards of firepower, protection and mobility. Project definition was based on a tank of conventional turreted design carrying a four-man crew, protected by Chobham armour, and mounting a British rifled bore 120mm. gun. In the interest of standardisation and interoperability with our NATO allies the possibility of a closer association between the UK project and their own tank replacement programs continued to be given particularly careful consideration. The UK sould also in any event seek to harmonise components with allies wherever this was possible.

To achieve increased speed, greater mobility and longer range it is necessary to improve the performance of the propulsion system. Engine and transmission improvements continued to appear in new tanks and figure in retrofits. The new US main battle tank, XM1, was powered by an AVCO-Lycoming AGT turbine of 1500-hp, but there was no consensus among specialists that gas turbines were superior to diesels for tank applications. The US Army actively sought the rationalization, standardization, and interoperability (RSI) of doctrine, weapons systems, logistics, equipment, and procedures within NATO on a priority basis to conserve resources and release the combined combat capability of US, NATO, and ABCA forces. RSI was the means to help strengthen alliance capabilities through the use of combined and integrated alliance resources, rather than the use of strictly national resources. To this end, rationalization of doctrine, requirements, tactics, and procedures is essential for successful long-term alliance programs and initiatives. Maximum benefit was to be achieved through multi-national cooperation. Not all NATO RSI programs were successful. Attempts to obtain United Kingdom acceptance of the AGT 1500 turbine engine for their MBT 80 tanks were turned down.

After detailed evaluation of both engine options it was decided to select a version of the Rolls-Royce Motors CV12 diesel engine in preference to the American AGT1500 gas turbine. The CV12 was the latest in a family of diesel engines manufactured by Rolls-Royce and was based on an existing design developed for the main battle tank produced for Iran. Through various changes, such as turbocharging, Rolls-Royce had increased the power of this engine to 1,500 bhp and it had further development potential. The operational 783W performance of the Rolls-Royce and United States engines would have been broadly comparable, but the AGT1500 was designed for the XM1 Abrams tank and, together with its associated transmission, would have required substantial modification for MBT80; its fuel consumption was also expected to be higher. The CV12 would be manufactured at the Shrewsbury plant of Rolls-Royce Motors, which had long experience in the production of military engines.

Upgrading armor and achieve a lower silhouette are continuous functions in new tank design. Low silhouettes are normally achievable only in the design and development of new tanks. Typical of the stronger armor available was the British Chobham laminated armor which was to have been used on the SHIR, Iranian export version of the CHIEFTAIN, and was to be used on the British Main Battle Tank (MBT/80) development.

The Iranian Government had placed an order for 1200 of a special version of the newest British tank, the CHIEFTAIN. The previous Iranian Government informed the British ambassador on 06 February 1979 that the supply of Shir tanks to Iran and action on certain other defence contracts should be terminated and discontinued. These contracts were therefore being brought to an end and the Iranians are being informed accordingly. The possibility of an interim purchase of tanks to enhance existing capabilities was consequently under consideration in 1979. In the light of the cancellation of the Iranian tank order, the Government intended to maintain the tank production capability at ROF Leeds and every effort is being made to obtain replacement orders. If some of the prospects which are under examination at present come to fruition, they will enable the nucleus of the work force to be retained until the orders for MBT 80 start to be placed in the mid-80s.

Because of events in Iran, the disposition of models in production was not immediately clarified, although Great Britain tried to find markets for them. The degree of dependence on Iran of the British defence industry could be exaggerated. Iran was, indeed, an important market, and the collapse of the Shah's regime brought serious economic, political and industrial consequences for the UK, which was regrettably faced with an immediate need to reduce employment in the Royal ordnance factory, Leeds. The Government was urgently studying how to maintain the capacity at Leeds and retain the skills there which would be needed when production of the next generation of tank for the British Army, MBT80, begins. The Governmen was pressing ahead with development of this tank as fast as possible, but it would not be until the mid-1980s that production of this tank can get under way at Leeds.

By the end of 1979 the UK was engaged in the first stage of development, the project definition phase, of the United Kingdom's new Main Battle Tank (MBT-80), which was to start to replace Chieftain in the late 1980s. The UK believed that the design, mounting Chobham Armour and with a rifled bore gun and a diesel engine, would best match the Warsaw Pact armored threat into the 21st Century. It had not proved possible to collaborate with any NATO allies on the design of a complete tank, but the UK was continuing to explore the scope for collaboration on components.

The Soviet Union's 50,000 tanks represented an armored strength 20 times greater than Hitler's Nazi Germany deployed six months after the outbreak of war. Yet the Russians are adding to that armored strength 4,000 tanks each year.

The decision to purchase the Challenger tank and to discontinue the MBT80 program illustrated the point that achieving an early in-service date can be more important than delaying to buy a more advanced tank later on. The Challenger 1 entered service with the British Army in 1983. It was originally produced by the Royal Ordnance Factory in Leeds, which was acquired by Vickers Defence Systems in 1986.

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Page last modified: 03-08-2012 18:34:15 ZULU