By Kate Ferguson
Press Association – 12 December 2016
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is sending out "completely the wrong message'' by slashing the number of frontline tanks while facing a resurgent threat from Russia, an MP has warned. There are reportedly plans to cut the number of Challenger 2 tanks from 227 to around 170. It comes as Russia has announced its third generation of T-14 Armata battle tank, which has been dubbed a "super tank'' and reportedly described by security chiefs as "the most revolutionary step change in tank design in the last half century''.
Defence Select Committee chairman Dr Julian Lewis was among a number of MPs to raise concerns that Britain's tanks risk being no match for Russia's. Defence Minister Mike Penning played down talk that tanks would be cut and said the MoD is getting the "best mix'' of Challenger 2 tanks and new, smaller Ajax tanks.
Speaking in Defence Questions, Tory MP Dr Lewis said:
"While we should warmly welcome the very large order for Ajax fighting vehicles, does he accept that these will be no match for the armour and the armament of enemy main battle tanks?
"So will he therefore confirm how many of our existing 227 tanks will go forward to the Challenger 2 life extension programme, bearing in mind the need to have capacity for regeneration in the event of a crisis?''
Labour MP Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) said:
"Whilst I support having a diversity of vehicles available there are reports that the Army are planning to reduce the number of tanks by a third at a time when Russia has announced a new generation of vehicles, ours will reduce from 227 to 170.
"Does the minister not agree that this is not the right time to be putting this announcement forward, and it sends completely the wrong message on our defence?''
Mr Penning said it is for the military to decide what capabilities it needs and that the Government has provided a £700 million fund for Challenger 2 until 2035 which shows its "clear commitment to Challenger''. He added:
"We shouldn't believe everything we read in the press, not least as a former journalist I may have written it in the past. What I would say is we need to trust the Armed Forces telling us exactly what they want. And the Russian Armata tank, which is what I think you were alluding to, is an unmanned vehicle. We need to make sure innovation and adaption is there.''