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"Aeroplanes and tanks are only accessories to the men and the horse, and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse – the well-bred horse – as you have ever done in the past."
Field Marshal Haig

Royal Armoured Corps (RAC)

The regiments of the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) form the armoured capability of the British Army. These regiments deploy on operations in a variety of roles and are equipped with some of the most formidable fighting vehicles in the world. Their core specialist roles are armoured, brigade reconnaissance and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear, as well as the ceremonial duties carried out by the regiments of the Household Cavalry (made up of The Household Cavalry Regiment and The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment.

The Royal Armoured Corps is divided into regiments that operate main battle tanks (armoured regiments) and those that operate reconnaissance tanks (formation reconnaissance regiments). Those Regiments not part of the Household Cavalry or the Royal Tank Regiment carry designations representing traditional mounted elements, such as Dragoons, Dragoon Guards, Hussars, and Lancers.

The Royal Armoured Corps (RAC) was created in April 1939, by combining the Horse mounted Cavalry units that had mechanised, and the Royal Tank Corps. The Royal Tank Corps was subsequently renamed the Royal Tank Regiment. The separate Reconnaissance Corps was absorbed into the RAC in 1944.

By 2012, the RAC's regular component consisted of 5 armoured regiments equipped with the Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank; 5 Formation Reconnaissance regiments equipped with the Scimitar Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked); core elements of the Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Regiment; and the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. These were supported by the RAC's 4 Yeomanry regiments in the Territorial Army.

In July 2012, the British Army released a plan for its Army 2020 initiative. Under the plan, the RAC would experience some changes. The Queen's Royal Lancers were to amalgamate with 9th/12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales's) upon completion of scheduled operational commitments and not before October 2014. The 1st Royal Tank Regiment and the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment were also to merge upon completion of scheduled operational commitments and not before April 2014.

As of 2018 the Army had over 4,000 vehicles in its inventory, most of which are protected mobility vehicles or armoured personnel carriers. The Army had 227 Challenger main battle tanks, 769 Warrior and over 200 Scimitar reconnaissance vehicles. The Army does not have a good track record when it comes to acquiring armoured vehicles from the core budget. The last thirty years is awash with cancelled, suspended or modified programmes with programme names like FFLAV, Tracer, FRES and Scout falling by the wayside. The Defence Committee has warned any repeat of past failures will “serious impair, if not fatally undermine” the Army’s ability to deploy the warfighting division as envisaged in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review and the army’s new Strike Brigades.

The Defence Equipment Plan 2017 allocated £20.1bn spending on Land Equipment over the decade to 2025/26. This includes upgrades to Warrior and Challenger 2 tanks, the new Ajax family of vehicles and the yet to be procured mechanised infantry vehicles (MIV) and multirole vehicle protected vehicles (MRV-P). The 2014 contract for 589 Ajax vehicles was the biggest single order for a UK armoured vehicle in 30 years.

The Army conducts annual assessments to ensure that it has the right equipment for the future. It is undergoing an ambitious capability transformation programme, including investing in new, fully digitised Ajax and Boxer vehicles. If the range and capability of battle tanks and armoured vehicles are inferior to that of our potential adversaries, it is difficult for world-class armed forces to continue to operate in that sphere.

In 2019 defence secretary Penny Mordaunt warned that the age of the Army's armoured vehicles meant that the UK was falling behind other nations without an expensive investment programme. Mordaunt said: "Challenger 2 has been in service without a major upgrade since 1998. During this time the US, Germany and Denmark have completed two major upgrades, whilst Russia has fielded five new variants with a sixth pending... Warrior is even more obsolete, and is 20 years older than those operated by our key allies. Since Warrior's introduction in 1988 the United States and Germany have conducted four major upgrades and Russia has invested in three new variants".

The UK will continue to have full-spectrum Armed Forces, including an armoured capability. But the Government also needed to ensure focus on how the Army is equipped and what it is wanted it to do. By 2020 the cost of upgrading the heavy armour and a desire to switch military focus to modern threats like cyberwarfare could see the battlefield heavies put out to pasture, little more than 100 years after they were invented.

Military chiefs had drawn up plans to mothball all of Britain’s tanks under radical proposals to modernise the armed forces. The government examined the controversial idea in the face of the cost of upgrading the 227 Challenger 2 tanks, and the 388 Warrior armoured fighting vehicles that support them on the battlefield. Both vehicles were branded “obsolete” 2019. The argument was made in the Ministry of Defence that the changing character of warfare demanded more investment in cybercapabilities, space and other cutting-edge technologies. The budget for army kit is already squeezed and the ministry is preparing for its funding to be cut.

Currently the UK's arsenal of 227 tanks is behind Argentina, who have 231, Germany, with 236, and Uganda with 239. Russia has 12,950, followed by the United States on 6,333, China on 5,800 and India with 4,665.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2021 12:05:00 ZULU