Defence secretary denies plan to mothball British army tanks

By Jonathan Beale
Defence correspondent, BBC News

image captionThe Challenger 2 tank has not been upgraded since 1998

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has quashed speculation that the Army will mothball all its tanks.

Last month, the Times reported military chiefs were considering the idea, under plans to modernise the armed forces.

But Mr Wallace told the BBC "the idea that tanks won't be there for the Army, upgraded and modernised, is wrong".

However, he admitted a government review would mean "letting go" of some military equipment to invest in cyber, space and other new technologies.

Speaking on a visit to the Middle East, Mr Wallace said there would be a shift to forward-deploy British military forces around the world to protect UK interests and its allies.

Mr Wallace said a joint squadron of RAF and Qatar Typhoon jets would be based in Qatar for football's 2022 World Cup.

He announced a £23.8m investment in a UK logistics hub in the Port of Duqm to support more British army training in Oman, and which could be used to base the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers.

He also confirmed that RAF jets would continue to target the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, with 23 strikes against extremist targets since March 2020.

'Overmatched by adversaries'

Last month, the Times reported on plans to mothball the Army's ageing 227 Challenger tanks as part of the government's integrated defence and security review - described as the most important defence review since the end of the Cold War.

Mr Wallace confirmed the review would mean "letting go of some equipment that isn't serving any purpose or overmatched by adversaries".

He said that would mean investing in new equipment for the RAF, Royal Navy and the Army. But he signalled that any cuts would not be as dramatic as some have reported.

That still leaves open the possibility of a reduction in the number of tanks. But Mr Wallace said that getting rid of all of them was not going to happen.

"We're going to make sure we have an armed forces fit for the 21st Century and meets our obligations to Nato and elsewhere…

"We are not scrapping all the British army's tanks and we will make sure the ones we maintain are up to date, lethal and defendable."

Mr Wallace said Britain also needed to meet the threat of long-range artillery and drones, which have recently been used by Russia against Ukraine to destroy its heavy armour.

image sourceReuters
image captionBen Wallace said his first duty was to make sure he delivered up-to-date equipment

The new port facilities at Duqm will triple the size of the existing UK base in Oman. They will also be used for British army training in Oman.

There's been speculation that the Army could switch its training for tanks from Canada to the Gulf state.

While in Qatar, Mr Wallace also visited the US-led coalition headquarters co-ordinating the air campaign against the group calling itself the Islamic State.

Despite IS losing most of its territory in Iraq and Syria, Mr Wallace said the threat was "not going to go away".

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