Friday 5 September 2014

How many tanks should the UK have ?

Commentators in the Telegraph regularly complain that 'Commie Cameron' has left the UK dangerously exposed to a foreign invasion. Tank number cuts are usually cited .

How many tanks should the UK have ?
I really don't know.  I suppose it depends on what you intend to do with them.
To repel an invasion of our shores from a newly Independent Scotland? Probably 10 should do.

Our other major enemies at present - Isis. - They have a handful, so probably 20-50 should be enough. Say 100 to be on the safe side and to offset amour's notouriously poor serviceability.

According to this chart, from 2013, before the cuts to the military had taken effect, the UK had 407 tanks. Defined as an armoured vehicle, with turret and a main armament designed to fight other armour, 407 includes all the Challenger IIs and sounds like a pretty decent number. Probably too many really. Who are we going to fight, on our own, who has more than 400 tanks?
Russia tops the Tank strength table by country chart with 15,500 AFV's, but we wouldn't fight Russia on our own, if at all.

I don't like this chart. It looks wrong. Its supposed to use the CIA factbook data, but other sources I can find also give use same CIA data.
The chart says Ukraine has 4000+ tanks. But that must be from around 2000. Today the figure is more like 650, according to wiki. Ukraine's Tank Graveyard was featured in a Daily Mail story not long ago. Lines of disused scrap armour. Syria's 5000 might have been correct pre-civil war. They never threw any away so had loads of T-62 and earlier types.

 UK is ranked 39th on armour, but we are, using same CIA factbook source, 5th in the world for military spending. Something doesn't add up.

In 2013 the BBC, doing a 'why does the army have more horses than tanks' piece, found that there were 334 tanks {and 501 horses}.

Lord Dannatt, former head of the British Army, said recently that by 2015, UK will deploy just 227 tanks.
That could be a problem if Syria really does still have 4950 tanks, as stated on that data. 
Taking out our tanks on refits, repairs, maintenance, training, on Nato duty, and whatnot, doesn't leave very many, even with a maximum effort. 227 seems much too few.

So the army must have been overjoyed when at the NATO conference in Wales the Brass have asked for more tanks for Nato. And the UK has responded with a £3.5bn order for 589 SCOUT SV vehicles.
WOW! Champagne day for the army!.

But these are scout vehicles?  589 scouts? Two scouts for each MBT ? Or are these APC's, being designated as Tanks?

Someone with greater knowledge needed to explain it to us. Will we now have some 700 odd light and 100 heavy tanks? Or what?


Anonymous said...

" Defined as an armoured vehicle, with turret and a main armament designed to fight other armour .."

Richard North had an article on this just recently, it seems anything that looks squarish is described by our contemporary media as a 'tank', like this ....

Wouldn't have much fun if it ran into a tank like this ...

Bill Quango MP said...

Thanks for that link - that does clear it up a bit. And Mr North and Co seem to have the same suspicions that we do.
This is a light vehicle, for battelfield reconnisance that can, at a push, be deployed as a front line armour.

Its not good enough for that role, and by making it so, it has become too heavy for its light role. Can't be transported by air.

Its a lot of new vehicles.

I see also that the commentators on there quote 4,500 for Russian AFV, of which they expect about 800 to be main battle tanks.

So our 400 is not looking too bad really.

SumoKing said...

Thing with military kit is you buy for parts as well, so you might have say 100 tanks on the books but 60 of them are for parts to keep the other 40 going.

The RAF contends that it requires more than 11 Tornadoes to keep one in the field. The former Harrier force was able to keep at least one in seven of its jets flying combat.

Anonymous said...

I wouldnt even call myself an armchair general.

But I don't see the point of tanks anymore, what good are they if you have air superiority, or anti tank personal weapons.

fast well armoured APC's, yes.

Did we even need tanks in gulf war 1 (epmhasis on need, good fun, made the job maybe easier, but need)?

Anonymous said...

If you want to be a weekend warrior with real but obsolete equipment then pop along the A1 to the Fox Inn and turn right.

Acres of the stuff.

Bill Quango MP said...

Sumoking - Yes. It has always been that eleven sounds pretty poor. Mind you, the Tornado is getting on a bit.

I take issue with those who said we should have kept our Harriers in being.

They really were much too old. 1982 proved that a subsonic fighter could take on a supersonic one. But they needed super missiles to do so. And exceptionally skilled aircrew.

And 1982 was 32 years ago. Like pitting a Sopwith Camel against a Mig 21.

Anon: - I think we shall see them roaming across the Ukraine.
But I understand the point. Airpower has been decimating armour for 70 years. So have infantry AT weapons, man operated bazooka and guided missile waepons. Even IEDs have taken out the odd American MBT.

But if the other guy has them?

Anonymous said...

*But if the other guy has them? *

If the other guy has them, that's less money he has spent on modern equipment, air power and peronsonal anti tank weapons?

Apparantly you can buy 2-3 drones for the cost of 1 of these tanks.

If we did want to go to war with russia, would we bother fielding a single tank, what for?

Just blow theirs up, and roll in the infantry.

I may be completely wrong, it is not something I have studied until this morning.

But the more I read, the more I find that points to tanks being 20-30 years out of date.

(and by tanks, I mean tanks designed with big guns to fight other tanks with).

Central Services said...

Armour makes infantry run away.
Aircraft don't.

Aircraft make them take cover.
Armour makes them flee.

dearieme said...

The tank must be getting as close to obsolete as the surface ship is.

Anonymous said...

*Armour makes them flee.*

Except tanks are killed more by infantry with anti tank weapons, than by other tanks.

So nonsense.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

This is yet another example of the uselessness of the MoD and the army's top brass. Instead of acquiring air-portable mine resistant vehicles they've bought a non-mine resistant heavy lump which cannot be easily transported by air and at the same time cannot defend itself against heavy armour.

The air side are no better. We should have Tucano's fitted out for ground attack in counter insurgency: very low cost, long loiter time, less downtime for servicing etc, but no - let's spend billions on useless fast jets.

The MoD purchasing arm involves over 20,000 employees. The Israelis have fewer than 600. You can guess who gets
A) better value for money
B) projects delivered on time
C) bad projects cancelled

Based on personal experience the MoD is not really a serious defence ministry. It is Dilbert's worst nightmare, a dysfunctional bureaucracy peopled by innumerate Oxbridge twats obsessed with PC bollocks, incapable of managing projects or budgets. You will search in vain for an engineer or IT guy in the senior ranks. (Or even a proper accountant, for that matter.)

Sebastian Weetabix said...

@BQ: thanks to the magic known as viffing, Harrier v Mirage was never going to be a fair fight, despite propaganda to the contrary. Especially not when equipped with AIM-9L; but a fighter is really only a missile platform anyway. The Harrier is still an exceptional aircraft, which is why when Cameron stupidly decommissioned ours, the US Marine Corps bought the lot for a song and couldn't believe their luck.

As for the MiG 21: this was aptly described by an Israeli ace as having "armoured car visibility combined with railway car manoeuvrability". To date a MiG 21 is yet to shoot down a western aircraft in air-to-air combat.

Jer said...

Recently, amongst ordinary Russians, nationalism is on the rise quite noticeably.

This is mostly the fault of the West IMO.

Demetrius said...

Alas, it is not just the number of tanks it is the number that are available for deployment. They need a lot of tender loving care to keep moving and a lot of people and skills to do all the work necessary. My personal experience, which may not be typical, is that apart from quite short spells of action only a minority of tanks are ever ready to go, tricky conditions or losses mean only a small minority. And the logistics are horrific when extensive movement is necessary.

hovis said...

SW: Indeed. MoD procurement has been the poster child of inefficiency and stupidity for at least 40 years if not longer? I remember it being held up as the pinnacle of procurement awfulness in university courses in the late eighties.

Bill Quango MP said...

Anon: Armour isn't obsolete yet. It does still frighten infantry.
A single man has been able to take out a tank since 1918. But it requires great nerve.
The AFV mounted anti-armour missile platforms do much more damage. But they are very vulnerable armour!
Airpower is still trumps. But Airpower cannot hold ground.

Seb W; This does seem to be the case. North says the army is as determined as ever to choose equipment to fight the battles it would like to fight, not the one's its likely to fight.
Tricky picking threats in 20 years time.

Anon - Cameron seems very very cool on Syria. He's had plenty of opportunity since Labour dumped him right in it at the last Commons debate for war with Assad, to call for a big bold battle.
he actually shows very little sign of wanting to go through all that again.
Ukraine..well, he's really just rattling our little sabre. Sanctions will be the real weapon.
Chinese must be rubbing their hands in anticipation of offloading some of their inventories.

Anonymous said...

@BQ - I hope you're right about Cameron's agenda. You make Cameron sound quite crafty, intelligent and competent, not qualities I associate with his foreign policy (or domestic come to that). I'm just worried that if the US says "bomb ISIS in Syria, and if the Syrian govt fire on us we can take their AA out as well - and their airforce for good measure" he'll toe the line a la Blair.


Bill Quango MP said...

SebW - no matter how poor the mig21 was, it was better than a Sopwith Camel. Or a Spitfire. Or even a Meteor. And unless those Harriers were coming up against Mirage again {unlikely-unless we fought Argentina again} they wouldn't be much use.

We did a post when they were scrapped. ND pointed out their dire service record since the mi 80s.
They were about 90% for the Falklands. Incredibly good.
But the Indian Navy has lost some 80% of theirs to accident and failure.

The USMC has never knowingly been given any modern kit. Despite being some of the most elite of the US forces, they are bottom of the procurement ladder.
If they ditched their Harriers it might be 20 years before they got a replacement.

Dem : Your experience sounds typical. If you look at the UK's big tank battles of ww2 you see 600 tanks available for operations. After the battle only 50 left.
Two weeks later 400 available.

Many of those new 350 were mechanical breakdowns that happened on the way to the battle. 50% reliability losses getting to the start line was not uncommon. particularly with British , Italian and French tanks.

Hovis: We could do a 'billion pound cock up' post on MOD every month!!
CU has had some corkers in the past.
Indeed a by word for waste and mismanagement.

Bill Quango MP said...

Anon: I don't think he's being crafty. He's acting like a man who had an agreement, that was broken, and no longer wants anything to do with the people who made that agreement.

He does not trust Miliband or Clegg to stick to what is agreed behind closed doors, so he simply avoids having to deal with them.

Sebastian Weetabix said...

@BQ - I believe you are misinformed as to the role and nature of the Harrier.

I used to work on Harriers. Very fine aircraft; but also tricky to fly and unforgiving of mistakes, which is why only the best of the best pilots were assigned to them (dare I suggest that Indian Navy pilots may not be the best of the best?). The GR9 was a superb machine, designed and intended for ground attack and recce. It's not an air superiority aircraft. The only real problem with it was its shitty unreliable radio in the early versions. For its assigned role it is a better aircraft than the Typhoon, even now. (Whisper it quietly; the air staff don't want you to know.)

The MiG 21 is now, and was when it first took off, a laughable piece of shit. And it wouldn't shoot down a Sopwith Camel, for the same reason US F-80 shooting stars couldn't shoot down Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes in the Korean war. They were so slow and manoeuvrable they just jinked out of the way while the fast jets overshot! One F-80 pilot did manage to slow enough, with flaps & gear down and throttle idling, to get a few shots off at a Po-2, but the recoil of the guns caused the F-80 to stall and crash, killing the pilot.

CityUnslicker said...

A Uk Challanger tank took over 70 hits from RPG's in Iraq, the crew were safe and the thank back in action in 6 hours.

There is a lot of theory that infantry kill tanks, but they dont in reality kill M1 Abrams, T-90's or Challengers - they are very well protected.

I see a role for tanks as superior weapons for large scale warfare. but with an army to back them up its pretty useless.

CityUnslicker said...

A Uk Challanger tank took over 70 hits from RPG's in Iraq, the crew were safe and the thank back in action in 6 hours.

There is a lot of theory that infantry kill tanks, but they dont in reality kill M1 Abrams, T-90's or Challengers - they are very well protected.

I see a role for tanks as superior weapons for large scale warfare. but with an army to back them up its pretty useless.

BE said...

Let's just all join hands and sing happy songs. That will work.

Anonymous said...

I love the internet.

Spent some time reading lots of war nerd forums about tanks.

I've come to the conclusion that I was wrong, tanks are not obsolete, just the type of tanks we are now buying are, but not terribly so.

The future seems to be in tanks that are designed to be very heavily armoured, with a range of weapons, but primary kitted out to fight infantry, not other tanks.

principally that means the turret not being manned, but a remote controlled 360 arc light gun , with some rockets, and that is where we go wrong with purchasing these.

Apparently 60% of hits on a tank are to the turret, designing it this way makes the turret more armoured, but still lighter, and if it does get shot through, it is physically separated from the crew portion, mission still good to go.

This is a bad choice of tank, simply because there are so many better options, rather than it being terrible in itself.

The general dynamics website is horrible, it does show models of this tank with auto turrets, but I can't navigate it to find any info on much of anything.

Bill Quango MP said...

SebW - in my memory the Harrier, during the Falklands, performed so far above expectations that many airfores seriously considered creating their own versions.

But - its a plane that requires agreat deal of skill to get the best from.
And Although during the Falklands the numbers available for action each day was well, well, well above Fleet air arm averages, in peacetime this was not so.

I still maintain that hanging onto aircraft that are 40-50 years out of date is pointless. We could still be flying Phantoms.
But the cost of maintaining them and spare parts availability technical knowledge etc etc makes them uneconomical vs their potential value.

I would suggest though, that if the USMC had said they were scrapping theirs first, then we WOULD have taken the lot at a bargain price and kept a few squadrons in being.

{the Indian navy didn't want anymore. Didn't even want our scrapped ones.- Still, that doesn't matter. Apart from our trainers, Harrier is still our best genuine export aircraft.-

I'm a fan, believe me. But its long past the sell by date, even with the secret radar and super AA missiles.

If we accept the 227 figure and take what we have learned from the comments, that only a 1/4 of those will ever be available for action - is 227 enough?
Or too many?

BE - a modern dance and tap representation of 'peace' is the official NATO 1st response these days.

Annon - Good stuff. Thank you.
I looked on that GD website first and found it no help whatsoever.
Wasn't even sure if this was a Warrior replacement.

I agree with those conclusions. It does look to be a bit of the wrong thing for the job.
Its going to be pretty useless in the Philippines as we are fighting there with the US and the Russians to expel the Chinese in 2025

Sebastian Weetabix said...

Allow me to argue from a position of some personal kmowledge. The Indians use the original Sea Harrier I airframes, built from 1975-1983. These, just like our Harrier I and Sea Harrier FRS1, are museum pieces. Which is why we switched to Harrier II in the 90s. The Harrier II looks like the original Harrier but it is not. It is a completely different airframe with a different engine, different avionics. There are virtually zero parts in common. It is NOT 50 years out of date. It is newer than the F16 and F18. And it crucially gave us carrier air power without the need for a £10bn US-style supercarrier since you can deploy them from a helicopter carrier. (The Libya intervention would have been considerably cheaper and more effective if we still had them.)

That dangerous fool Hammond's decision to dump the Harriers, was aided by the air staff (who preferred to keep the Tornado - airframes dating from 1979-1993) because they could see an opportunity to finally destroy the fixed wing component of the Fleet Air Arm, a long standing strategic goal of the RAF. (We may have to fight other countries from time to time but the Navy has always been the real enemy; it has been a very bitter enmity for a very long time.)

And when the Yanks cancel the V/STOL version of the F35B, which they will because it does not work and will not work, we will be left with 2 white elephants that no other aircraft will be able to fly off because we didn't fit catapults and arrester gear.

This government is, in defence terms, the worst we have ever had. We have carriers without sufficient escorts and no planes. We have NO maritime patrol capability due to the scrapping of the Nimrod fleet. This Tory admimnistration is a fucking disgrace.

Bill Quango MP said...

Ok - i will accept that. pretty conclusive.I'm making comments from my RN Navy pilot friends who have never been that wild about Harrier. {But then they are helicopter pilots}

As for the carriers, well we have said from day 1 one here that we couldn't see quite what we were buying, and why we were buying it. the whole thing, a bit like these scout tanks, just doesn't add up.

We criticised the catapult decision when it was announced. Everyone did . Except the navy.

And apart from the lack of escort ships, suitable docks and having no planes to fly off them, their won't be 4,000 sailors spare to crew them.
No provision has been made. Stick that into the forces budget and its a 15% increase to the numbers of current navy personnel.
Those men and women will have to be found. Did the government agree to that? 4,000 new officers and enlisted with all the associated, training, wages and pensions ?

rwendland said...

Back in the Cold War days tanks did have an important quality that troops with fancy shoulder weapons did not have, they could continue fighting more easily in the radioactive aftermath of tactical nuke use. Well trained suited troops in APCs could also do this, but not nearly so well.

And the fact that you could still fight in the radioactive dust devalued the advantage to the other side of creating the radioactive cloud in the first place, so reduced the incentive of tactical nuke use; which was a *good thing*.

But this is a quality which is probably of little value now, as tactical nuke use risk seems negligible these days.

NB Mig-21s did shoot down western planes in the Vietnam War, including a fair few F4 Phantoms, much to U.S. surprise. Though I think Vietnam used one-pass shoot and scoot tactics, guided by ground controllers, to minimise the Mig-21 disadvantages.

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Anonymous said...

Just to enlighten some of you. We definitely do not have 400 MBTS. something with a turret can also be a warrior or a CVR(T) soon to be replaced with the scout. Also these are vehicles used by the artillery and infantry. Not just the armoured corps. So 400 isn't actually very much!! And Russia may have 15000 tanks but not even 1000 of them work...