Challenger 1 Main Battle Tank. Vol. I


While the Anglo-German FMBT project had been running, the Iranian Army had been shown the FV4211 prototype and had been explained the potential benefits of an MBT fitted with Chobham armour. The FV4211 had impressed them very much and was obviously a quantum leap ahead of their fleet of Chieftains, so in December 1974 they placed another large order of 1200 more Chieftains, but of an improved version, including the replacement of the troublesome L60 power pack. Development of a new power pack was given to Rolls Royce based on the CV12 diesel and David Brown was contracted to develop the new gearbox. Once these two components had been married together to form a power pack it was realised that in its present configuration, the existing Chieftain hull was not large enough. A new hull was to be developed for it, which led to the creation of the FV4030 specification, the basic design being partly based on the FV4211 but at the Iranian insistence it was to be built with conventional armour steel for hull and turret. Long term trials had proven that the technology for the steel/aluminium hull initially proposed was not advanced enough and cracks had been discovered in FV4211’s aluminium plates. This decision ultimately led to the demise of the FV4211 project, and no further all-aluminium MBT hulls have been built in Britain, with only the single prototype at Bovington left to tell the tale.
While the design of the new Iranian tank was moving ahead a batch of 150 Chieftains were produced with automatic gear boxes, improved mine protection and increased fuel capacity, designated FV4030/1. The FV4030/2 scheduled to follow (which was also known as the Shir Iran or Lion of Persia) was more commonly known as FV4030/2 Shir 1, and it basically was the front end of a Chieftain hull with a new engine compartment with a prominently sloped rear hull plate to accommodate the new power pack. The first three prototypes of the vehicle were ready and running during the early part of 1977, and in March of that year they were demonstrated to the Iranian Army The Shir 1 was vastly improved vehicle with up to 1200 bhp available from the new CV12 engine, a smoother ride (with the promise of hydropneumatic suspension developed by Dunlop and later Horstmann on production tanks) and the Fire Control System specified was to be the new Improved Fire control System that was just being introduced into the British Chieftain fleet, an excellent system for that time. The Shir 1 would however suffer production delays. There were problems with the new TN37 gearbox and these delayed both the Shir 1 and the definitive Iranian MBT which was to be the FV4030/3 Shir 2 (scheduled to be the first production Chobham armoured tank).

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The MBT-80; the Tank that Never Was
Meanwhile the UK itself desperately needed a new tank to be developed after the collapse of Anglo-German project for an FMBT, and this became General Staff Requirement (GSR) 3572 Replacement of Chieftain Tank. Unusually, the decision to replace the Chieftain was given a vast amount of publicity, with the Daily Telegraph running headlines that intimated that millions of pounds were being spent to develop the new MBT for the UK (given that the parliamentary enquiry into the L60 and its problems occurred that same year, 1978, it is easy to see why this may have been a public relations exercise by the MoD). The new tank project was officially designated MBT80, which loosely referred to the decade in which the new MBT would enter service.

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No sooner was GSR3572 issued than it was surrounded by media hype, which quickly extended to the production of an A4 size brochure with a speculative drawing of the new tank on the cover, which looked suspiciously like Shir 2; this brochure was given to virtually every AFV crewman in BAOR. As an exercise in propaganda it may have served a certain purpose, but the MBT80 project had little substance as of yet, and remained years away from producing a definitive MBT. The newspapers were having a field day over the MBT80 announcement. But the problem was that it was just that, there were no finalised drawings, no officially confirmed ideas, no prototypes... just an announcement.

Read more…

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