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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 April, 2003, 06:52 GMT 07:52 UK
Tanks and artillery 'face MoD axe'
Iraqis clamber over a damaged Challenger 2 tank
The Ministry of Defence is said to be planning to axe a fifth of the British Army's tanks and heavy artillery as part of a move towards lighter and more mobile forces.

But some military experts have called for a decision to be put on hold until the lessons of the Iraq war are learned and others say it smacks of the "Rumsfeld doctrine", which has been heavily criticised.

The British Army is set to lose between 56 and 84 of its 386 main battle tanks - the Challenger 2 - and between 18 and 24 AS90 self-propelled guns, according to a MoD leak reported by the journal Defence Analysis.

The magazine said the cuts, part of the Ministry of Defence's Equipment Plan 2003 (EP03), were not designed to save money but were part of a rethink in military strategy.

The editor of Defence Analysis, Francis Tusa, said they reflected the belief of the RAF and Royal Navy that Britain should rely on air power and lightly armed commandos, such as the Royal Marines and Parachute Regiment.

'Mistake'

But he said the plan already looked a mistake, in light of the fighting in Iraq, which had highlighted the need for tanks and heavy artillery in the British Army's "toolbox".

British AS90 gun
The AS90 has had a "good war"
The AS90 guns have been in particularly heavy demand, especially as protection for US marines pinned down by enemy fire near Nasiriya.

By 2012 more than half of the Royal Armoured Corps' role in fighting tanks is set to be taken over by the Apache attack helicopter.

But the Apache has been shown up as being vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire and has not impressed military analysts, says Mr Tusa.

Mr Tusa told BBC News Online: "There have been problems with the Apache. The minute there is a dust storm it can't go anywhere, while tanks are perfectly happy in those conditions.

"Apaches are not heavily armoured and it takes just one rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) to bring one down. Compare that with one British Challenger near Basra which survived being hit by 70 RPGs."

There have been problems with the Apache. The minute there is a dust storm it can't go anywhere, while tanks are perfectly happy in those conditions.
Francis Tusa
Editor, Defence Review
He said there were obvious comparisons with the 1981 defence review, which suggested scrapping several amphibious landing ships such as HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid.

"A year later, when Argentina invaded the Falklands we suddenly realised we needed those assets, which they had started to retire," said Mr Tusa.

He said: "I don't think the Royal Armoured Corps will not need to lobby too hard. All they'll need to do is show the MoD a video tape of the conflict."

Mr Tusa said if MoD mandarins did not rethink EP03 in light of the Iraq conflict they were "stupid".

Challenger II tank
The British Army has 386 Challenger 2 tanks
Michael McGinty, a defence expert at the Royal United Services Institute, said the changes mooted in EP03 were along the lines of US plans for light, mobile forces which can be rapidly deployed.

He said: "You can deploy Apaches much quicker than tanks, and they leave a much smaller 'logistics footprint'."

But he said the so-called Rumsfeld doctrine - named after the US Defense Secretary - had been criticised because of the apparent failure of sustained bombing of Baghdad to deliver results.

Mr McGinty said: "They may well put EP03 on hold, or put out an interim report until the lessons of the Iraq war were clear. For example, they might just mothball these tanks rather than scrapping them altogether."

An MoD spokesman told BBC News Online: "We are constantly reviewing our defence programs but we have not reached any decision and this article is speculative."

We are looking to move away from big static armies, like you had with the Warsaw Pact, and towards lighter and more mobile forces.
MoD spokesman
But he did accept that, since the 1998 Strategic Defence Review, the MoD was looking at changing the nature of Britain's armed forces.

"We are looking to move away from big static armies, like you had with the Warsaw Pact, and towards lighter and more mobile forces."

He said the MoD always took care to "learns the lessons of conflict" and he said a full debrief would take place when the Iraq war was over.




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