Not for a child's play

The bulky battle-tank is about to be replaced by a lightweight monster
Not for a child's play

ENGINEERs at Vickers, Britain's leading tank manufacturers, are working on plans to replace today's lumbe-ring diesel-driven vehicles with silent, electrically powered tanks made of plastic that would use stealth techno-logy to evade enemy radar in the battlefield.

With detachable suits of armour made from layers of reinforced plastic, they will be easier to transport by air to battle zones, more manoeuverable and faster on the ground -- in essence, closer to the cavalry that the first tanks replaced 80 years ago.

The revamp has been deemed necessary because of the growing vulnerability of today's 70-tonne tanks to attack by helicopter gunships. Military strategists believe the new, lighter tanks could be armed with anti-aircraft missile systems to counter the threat.

"The day of the tank is far from being over," said Patrick Cordingley, who commanded the Desert Rats during the Gulf War in 1989. "Helicopters cannot hold ground like tanks and are hard to support. The most important innovation will be the plastic armour--a fraction of the weight of the present steelplate, which can be 12-inch thick." Designers are investigating multi-layered compounds that would absorb or deflect an incoming missile.

Alternative plastic skins could be used according to the type of weapons the tanks might face, and automatically adjust their colour to camouflage the vehicles. Its chances of being picked up on radar systems will be reduced by angled panels minimising the reflecting of its profile back to enemy screens. Instead, of the v12 engines that power Britain's present challenge tanks, and guzzle about 10 litres of fuel every kilometre, there will be electric motors on each hub of the new vehicle, sharply improving manoeuverability and turning speeds, besides reducing noise.

Power to recharge the batteries will come from hydrogen-driven engines, which combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity. Even the gun will use electricity to generate electro-magnetic forces that will propel shells at greater speeds towards their targets. The technology means shells continue to accelerate down the barrel, unlike in the present guns. Technology may also finally realise the long-held ambition of army commanders to find a way of 'jumping' anti-tank ditches. The idea has been included in the specification.

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