Apart from the Royal Tank Regiment, which was formed in the First World
War with the specific task of fighting in armoured vehicles, armoured
forces (main battle tank and force reconnaissance) in the British Army are
provided by the regiments which formed the cavalry element of the pre
mechanised era. In January 2009 there were 11 x regular field force
armoured regiments and 4 x TA Yeomanry Regiments. One of these regular
regiments forms The Household Cavalry and the remaining regiments are
known collectively as The Royal Armoured Corps (RAC).
Following recent Future
Army Structure changes we believe the 11 regular field force units of the
RAC are deployed as follows:
In Germany. Three Armoured Regiments and one FR Regiment.
In the UK. Two Armoured Regiments, four FR Regiments and the Joint
Note: The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment is permanently stationed in
During early 2009 the personnel strength of the RAC and Household Cavalry
was 5,570 officers and soldiers.
FUTURE ARMY STRUCTURE PLANS FOR THE RAC
Under Future Army Structure plans the RAC TA is being increased in size
from 1,312 to 1,750 (about 33%) and will be able to provide more support
to the Regular RAC units. A number of additional Yeomanry Detachments will
be formed to allow TA Yeomanry Squadrons to recruit enough volunteers. In
general terms TA squadrons will increase in size from about 50-60
personnel to 80-90 personnel.
Armour has provided battle winning shock action and firepower since the
earliest tanks helped to break the stalemate of the Western Front during
the First World War. In the same way, armoured reconnaissance, with the
ability to penetrate the enemy’s forward defences and gain information by
using stealth and firepower, has shaped the way in which armour has been
used to its best advantage.
Defence represents the best use of ground features in conjunction with
engineering and concealed firepower. The ability of armour to overwhelm
all but the heaviest defences and deliver a group of highly capable
armoured fighting platforms into the combat area remains a battle winning
capability embraced by all major armies.
MAIN BATTLE TANK (MBT)
The modern main battle tank weighs between 50 and 70 tonnes, can move at
up to 60 km/h and can virtually always guarantee a first round hit with its
main armament out to 2000 m. Last tested in combat in the Gulf War of
2003, UK armoured forces demonstrated the advantages of armour in a desert
landscape. Amongst these was the ability to cover rough terrain quickly
and by the use of superior concentrated firepower, create operational
level, rather than simple local tactical, advantage.
These tanks used the most up to date information systems and state of the
art imaging and sighting systems to locate, close with and destroy the
enemy. The 2003 Gulf War experience underlined the need for all elements
of manoeuvre forces to be able to move swiftly and securely with
protection and firepower to maintain a high ‘operational tempo’. This
includes infantry, artillery and of course the massive logistic supply
However, since the earliest discovery of the power of the tank, military
planners and scientists have sought ways of negating its power and
defeating its protection to reduce its advantage. To counter these
enhancements, in turn the tank has repeatedly been adapted and improved to
maintain its advantage. Thermal imaging sights enable the tank to acquire
a target and identify it by day or by night and in conditions of much
The tank’s organic armour protection can be supplemented with explosive
reactive armour packs that detonate on contact with an incoming round,
disrupting its destructive power. More sophisticated anti-tank weapons,
mines, missiles and indeed helicopters, have created a new battlefield
environment of sensing and counter-sensing while trying to manoeuvre to
exercise firepower advantage.
ARMOURED REGIMENTS EQUIPPED WITH CHALLENGER 2 TANKS
The UK’s Armoured Regiments are equipped with 'Challenger 2 ' built by
Vickers whereas the Formation Reconnaissance Regiments are equipped with
the ‘Scimitar’ tracked reconnaissance vehicles built by Alvis. The planned
replacement of these systems is integrated into future UK defence
planning. The replacement for Scimitar will be the new reconnaissance
vehicle which will be provided by one of the variants of the Future Rapid
Effect System (FRES) which will be introduced around the turn of the
decade. Challenger 2, which was fully fielded into service in January
2002, will not be due for replacement until around 2030.
Future enhancements to Challenger 2 are likely to be those that enhance
its protection in the face of more capable and accurate detectors and
weapons, while maintaining its ability to strike at the enemy. What is
most likely is the application of improvement through a number of
technological ‘insertion packages’ which will be designed to enhance both
battlefield survivability but also its essential lethality. The
replacement reconnaissance vehicle will embody as many interim capability
enhancements as possible and experience in this field will to some extent
shape the ultimate replacement for the tank itself.
While the future design of the MBT may be affected by new technologies
such as surveillance from space, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and attack from
complex unseen helicopter mounted or seeker weapons, the military will
continue to require a mechanism to verify and occupy territory. This
force, however small or specialised will require personnel who will need
the protection, lethality and mobility which we have come to look upon as
the role of the cavalry in both attack and reconnaissance. This assumption
until history proves it wrong, suggests that the spirit and élan we have
come to expect of the Armoured Corps will still have a major role in the
Army of the 21st Century.
Ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where a requirement for
battlefield effect, that falls between that provided by heavy armour and
basic force reconnaissance, has resulted in a tactic that provides a new
relationship between armour, infantry and the 21st century battlefield.
Known as ‘Medium Armour’ this tactic is about delivering effect on the
enemy with the use of automatic gun and cannon.
Combining the tracked vehicle's agility, the tank-mind set and the use of
a troop of three or four CVR(T)s at the points of contact on the ground,
the Medium Armour concept makes for very effective support for the
infantry. Some RAC Regiments equipped with Challenger MBT now include a
Medium Armour Squadron equipped with Scimitar CVR(T).