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UK military considering ditching tanks and armored vehicles

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Challenger 2 tank has been the mainstay of the British army's armored fighting force since 1998

In an extraordinary development it is being reported that British military chiefs have drawn up plans to mothball Britain’s entire tank and armored fighting vehicle fleets.   

According to the Times (August 25), the potential move is informed by a strategic shift in defense thinking with a desire to prioritize “other” military assets over heavy armor.

This paradigmatic shift, as demonstrated by the willingness to completely give up on heavy armor in the battlefield, is part of the government’s integrated foreign policy, defense and security review, which is set to be completed in November.

The Times reports that the government is examining the “controversial idea” of ditching armor altogether as the cost of upgrading the UK’s ageing fleet of 227 Challenger 2 tanks and 388 Warrior armored fighting vehicles has “soared”.

The Ministry of Defense is reportedly partial to the idea of heavier investment in cyber warfare, space and artificial intelligence capabilities at the expense of the ageing fleet of Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior armored fighting vehicles which have been branded as “obsolete”.

But the proposed paradigmatic shift in British defense planning has predictably divided the British defense and security community.

Defending the radical overhaul, General Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of Joint Forces Command, told the Times: “The future is about manned/unmanned autonomous things [personnel remotely controlling or deploying unmanned equipment]”.

Barrons added that spending more money “on a small number of manned platforms”, such as tanks and other armored vehicles, would put the UK “another generation behind”.  

By contrast, critics of the plan argue that the UK will divest itself of geopolitical capital if it relinquishes heavy armor altogether.

The Times quotes a “high-ranked defense source” as claiming: “We [UK] 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”, the defense source added.  

Meanwhile, a former chief of the defense staff has warned that the armed forces must not be “eviscerated” as part of the government’s scramble to recover from the financial fallout of the Covid-19 crisis.

Speaking to the Times (August 25), Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup said the armed forces must not be seen as an “easy option” for government cuts in the context of the current economic crisis which has taken the national debt above £2 trillion for the first time.



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