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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2007, 06:16 GMT 07:16 UK
Q&A: Challenger attack
Challenger tank

A soldier has been seriously injured while inside a Challenger 2 tank in Iraq.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams answers questions about the fears that even these heavily armoured vehicles are becoming vulnerable.


How serious was this attack?

It was serious, inasmuch as it constituted the worst attack of its kind against a heavily armoured Challenger 2 tank operating in Iraq.

It is the first time that a crew member has been seriously wounded inside the tank and will, inevitably, cause the military to look again at how best to protect the crews of armoured vehicles from relatively sophisticated explosive devices.

But it would be wrong to conclude that this comes out of the blue.

The British, like the Americans, have grown all too familiar with "explosively formed projectiles" (EFPs, also known as "shaped charges") over the past two years.

Snatch Land Rovers, Warrior and Scimitar armoured vehicles have been hit and disabled in the past, but there has never been any doubt that, despite the highly sophisticated ceramic and steel Chobham armour, a tank crew can be vulnerable to a large enough EFP, striking with the right amount of force at the Challenger's weakest points.

What does it tell us about insurgent tactics and weaponry?

They are constantly evolving. What appears to have been different about this bomb was not so much the sophistication, but the size. To inflict serious damage on a Challenger is no mean feat.

While EFPs have been used in Iraq for a couple of years, the way they are used - left by the side of a road or buried in the ground - and the methods employed to detonate them - by radio waves, infrared, or wire - have varied.

Each time a new method is used, the British military has to come up with new, more effective counter-measures. It is a race in which you are frequently in danger of being one step behind the insurgents.

How can coalition forces defend themselves?

The coalition is understandably coy about its counter-measures, not wanting to signal to its opponents what it knows and what it is doing to protect itself.

But as with all things in the military, it is not just about keeping pace with evolving technology.

It is also about understanding how the enemy works and adjusting your tactics and procedures accordingly.

Where are these bombs coming from?

The British and US have both, at various times, blamed Iran quite publicly for supplying the technology for EFPs and their detonators, in addition to much other military hardware.

It is believed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah fighters collaborated in coming up with designs in Lebanon during the 1980s and 90s.

Similar devices were used with sometimes devastating effect against Israeli tanks.

Elements of the Revolutionary Guard, notably the elite al-Quds brigade, are alleged to be involved in supplying the know-how and equipment to Iraqi insurgents.

Others say that the technology is now fairly familiar and could be manufactured inside Iraq without much difficulty, and the longer the insurgency goes on, the more credible such claims may become.

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