A Tank By Any Other Name….
Rodney King’s question to the crowd rioting in Los Angeles in May 1992 seemed to ring clear in this writer’s ears yesterday at IAV 2019, the leading annual international armoured vehicle event in Twickenham. Not that there was the merest hint of a riot. Just the opposite: the collegial but robust nature of the discussions at IAV has long been a joy and this year was no exception.
But the conversation had turned, not for the first time this week, to matters of collaboration, partnership, and the potential use of common equipment, doctrine, and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP). Various presentations had been made against a background of national programmes that all face common issues, coupled with the twin EU initiatives of the European Defence Fund (EDF) and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), in which 25 of the Union’s 28 members are pursuing structured integration in terms of capability and, potentially, procurement.
Ironically, given the current uncertain future status of Great Britain as far as its relationship with Europe is concerned (who can truly predict with any degree of accuracy the uncertain outcome of the mismanaged and fundamentally flawed Brexit process?), it took an Englishman – a senior figure at that – to put into words what many delegates were thinking.
“CHALLENGER is a terrific tank and I was very proud to command them at regimental and formation levels, but it really would make sense for NATO allies to use the same tank, whether it be called ABRAMS, LEOPARD, LECLERC or CHALLENGER. Naturally we would wish also, across our range of land combat systems, to share out the production tasks and resultant economic benefits between us. We must move towards greater interoperability and systems commonality, especially when for political reasons we are quite appropriately taking multi-nationality in conventional land deterrence down to much lower levels than previously envisaged,” observed Gen Sir Adrian Bradshaw, KCB, OBE, the IAV conference chairman. Since he held the position of Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) in 2014-2017, his words have a considerable measure of credibility and – one hopes – influence.
We have talked about the potential benefits of joint production and of pooling and sharing of both resources and procurement programmes for years almost beyond counting. Yet we are still little further forward than we were at the beginning of the exercise, any serious proposal to do the right thing always foundering on the reef of vested interest and national sovereign capability. The hypocrisy of failing to meet undertakings to fund defence to an agreed level while at the same time actively preventing potential cost-saving measures to be initiated almost beggars belief. Except we have almost become inured to ‘politics as usual’ and tend – wrongly – to try to brush it off.
Sir Adrian deserves to be taken seriously. Indeed, MONCh believes it is imperative he be taken seriously. The Franco-German Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) initiative, which seeks a common replacement for the LECLERCs and LEOPARDs in their respective national inventories (among other combat vehicles) could well form the basis of a multi-national tank development and procurement programme. Such a programme could be used as a rallying call for the renovation and further development of continental industrial expertise, could save member governments considerable sums in direct and indirect costs and could significantly improve NATO troops’ chances of effectively collaborating in a seamless manner. Politicians will have to be educated, industrialists will have to make compromises and uniformed personnel will have to learn to settle for an affordable 90% solution, perhaps, rather than the never-to-be-delivered pipedream of a 100% one.
It’s a thought. It’s a good one. It’s one that deserves to be pursued, supported and trumpeted loudly from every available rooftop. And should it succeed, this writer hereby promises never to suggest that a committee be formed at the pan-European level to decide the appropriateness of the name ABRACLERCHALLPARD for the new vehicle.
Incidentally, Sir Adrian’s comment that multi-nationality is being taken down to lower command levels than ever before is a reference to recent initiatives within Germany’s 1 Panzer Division, which incorporates a Dutch mechanised brigade. German tanks have been successfully integrated operationally within Dutch infantry companies, it seems – and it such an initiative is to enjoy the benefits it deserves, the very least that needs to happen is to ensure that common equipment is available to all component units.