- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

London Sunday Telegraph

LONDON — A new $10 billion minitank small enough to be flown to conflict zones around the world is to become the spearhead of the British army.

The tank will have the same caliber gun as the current Challenger 2 tank and equally strong armor, but it will have the advantage of being more maneuverable and much more easily transportable.

The development of the new tank, which is intended to transform the army into a lighter, more mobile force, will be one of the central announcements in a forthcoming policy statement on the future of the armed forces.

A senior Ministry of Defense adviser, who is working on the program, said: “It is, in simple terms, a vehicle that can punch above its weight.

“The aim of this project is to be able to provide the British army with a fleet of modern armored vehicles with the maneuverability of light vehicles but the firepower of heavier ones.

“If we had had this new tank in the Gulf, we could have attacked Saddam’s forces in days rather than weeks. Our enemies will know that the British can deliver a large, armored force onto their doorstep ready to fight within days of an emergency — that amounts to a very potent threat to any future aggressor.”

The policy statement, which was due to be published this month but has been delayed because of the Hutton Inquiry into the death of David Kelly, the Iraq weapons expert who committed suicide, will result in about $3 billion of spending cuts.

Among the projects affected will be the construction of two new aircraft carriers, the Joint Strike Fighter, and Type 45 Destroyers for the Royal Navy. The extra $3 billion could be found by reducing the number of Type 45 ships from six to five, cutting the Joint Strike Fighter force by 10 aircraft and reducing the size of the carriers from 60,000 to 50,000 tons.

However, the minitank will be one of the few schemes not to suffer as ministers press ahead with plans to provide the army with a fleet of rapidly deployable armored vehicles.

The new program will mean that some of the army’s most famous tank regiments will lose their heavy armored role. It is estimated that the equivalent of an entire armored brigade of Challenger 2 tanks, about 130, will have to be mothballed.

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