A radical plan currently being debated by the government would see the British Army boost its air and cyber warfare capabilities while mothballing its armored fleet, according to a newspaper report.
British defense chiefs have outlined plans to deactivate the Army’s Challenger 2 main battle tanks and Warrior armored fighting vehicles (AFV), as the costs of maintaining them have skyrocketed, the Times newspaper has reported.
Costs aside, the armored fleet – which currently consists of 227 Challengers and 388 Warriors – has reportedly been deemed “obsolete.” Some in the military have argued that 21st-century warfare will rely on cyber capabilities, along with space-related and other cutting-edge warfighting technologies.
“The future is about manned/unmanned autonomous things [personnel remotely controlling or deploying unmanned equipment],” General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of Joint Forces Command, told the Times. Spending money “on a small number of manned platforms” would put the UK “another generation behind.”
According to the report, giving up the heavy armor comes as part of a government integrated foreign policy, defense and security review, which is set to be finished in November. London, however, has already reached out to its NATO allies, telling them of its plans to scrap the tanks.
The UK, one of the few bloc members with a sizeable tank force – is offering a lead role in attack, heavy-lift refueling and reconnaissance aviation, plus unspecified cyber, electronic and unconventional warfare, the paper has learned.
Critics of the controversial plan insist Britain will lose much of its geopolitical power if it gives up the heavy armor. “We simply will not be viewed as a credible leading NATO nation if we cannot field close-combat capabilities. It places us behind countries such as France, Germany, Poland and Hungary,” a high-ranked defense source told the Times.
If the plans are greenlit, the Challengers are most likely to be put into deep preservation, which would allow for bringing them back into operation in case of a crisis. Should the army decide to keep them, only 150 to 170 of them could be upgraded or replaced, according to the paper.
Britain isn’t the only NATO nation to float giving up the tank. A few years ago, the Netherlands has dissolved all of its tank squadrons, opting instead for the lighter infantry fighting vehicles. The Dutch military explained the move by the absence of military threats requiring massive tank deployment.
The tanks aren’t the only matter for debate concerning the armed forces in Britain. Earlier this year, the news that London had quietly agreed to purchase new US nuclear warheads to replace the homegrown Trident sparked quite a stir among MPs.
Lawmakers were outraged by the fact that that the pricey transfer was being carried out with zero consultation and zero scrutiny by Parliament, while the general public accused the Tory government of being Washington’s lapdog.
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