Challenger 2 battle tanks will be upgraded in the British Army
Land vehicles

What are the differences between armoured vehicles and tanks?

Challenger 2 battle tanks will be upgraded in the British Army

The British Army uses a range of land vehicles to carry out its role, including armoured vehicles and tanks.

The future of these capabilities was recently set out in the Defence Command Paper, which confirmed the retirement of older platforms, and the introduction of new ones.

But what exactly is an armoured vehicle, and how does it differ from a tank?

The main difference between a tank and an armoured vehicle is their role on the battlefield.

A tank is an armoured vehicle that is specifically used to break enemy lines.

Historically, in both the First and Second World Wars, tanks were used to punch a hole in enemy lines, with infantry following under the protection of the tank.

Known during the Second World War as Blitzkrieg, the method was designed to quickly strike an enemy and take a position or territory as a result.

Tanks, however, are vulnerable in certain conflict arenas, such as woodland or urban environments.

This is because they are extremely vulnerable to attacks from infantry, especially when isolated or on their own.

An armoured vehicle, such as an armoured personnel carrier, is used so infantry can protect and keep up with the tank.

Ares, part of Ajax family of armoured vehicles, in 2017
The Ajax vehicle is capable of fulfilling various roles and will be the British Army's 'eyes and ears' of the battlefield.

For example, the British Army is set to see the Boxer, an armoured transport vehicle, become the new British mechanised infantry vehicle (MIV).

The Boxer is fitted with a "mission module" capable of multiple formats, with 15 different mission modules currently available that range from group transportation to a fully automatic, heavy artillery platform.

The vehicle will also replace the Warrior armoured fighting vehicle which, having been in service since the 1980s, will no longer be upgraded.

While these vehicles may not be able to provide the same firepower as a tank, they are capable of protecting troops from infantry fire while transporting them.

And in certain situations, such as challenging terrain or the lack of a tank threat from the enemy, an armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) may be used instead of a tank.

Part of a family of AFVs, the Ajax vehicle, from the Ajax family of vehicles, will be a medium-weight core of the Army's deployable intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and recognition (ISTAR) capability.

These come in numerous variants and are capable of fulfilling various roles.

These include:

  • Ajax (turreted, reconnaissance and strike)
  • Ares (reconnaissance and Armoured Personnel Carrier)
  • Argus (engineer reconnaissance)
  • Athena (command and control)
  • Atlas (equipment support recovery)
  • Apollo (equipment repair)

Watch: The capabilities of the Boxer armoured fighting vehicle.

Armoured Fighting Vehicles, such as the Ajax, are capable of defending themselves.

Ajax's CT40 cannon and machine gunis designed to fire armour-piercing rounds capable of penetrating 140mm of hardened steel armour.

However, the Ajax programme has come under scrutiny, with the Government admitting "serious issues" with the programme, and revealing some personnel are receiving "ongoing medical attention" following their involvement in trials and reports of noise and vibrations.

The Defence Select Committee has previously asked the MOD to "publicly justify" why the 40mm cannon is being used, claiming the "complex, new generation" weapon had added to project delays.

The Government has acknowledged there are alternatives to the gun, but said they "do not meet the lethality requirements and are unable to fire the new Cased Telescopic Ammunition".

In April, a new Ajax variant was revealed, called 'Overwatch', which is designed to carry Brimstone and is based on the Ares model.

The Armoured Fighting Vehicle can also engage aerial and urban targets due to its turret elevation range.

A tank also has some accepted characteristics, including tracks instead of wheels, armour designed to withstand most battlefield weapons and a turret mounting the main gun.

They do not typically carry infantry, and are actually designed to fight in direct combat with enemy forces using both their armour and terrain to protect themselves and their main gun as their offence.

Main battle tanks (MBT) are the heaviest, best-protected vehicles and come fitted with a gun designed to destroy a number of targets, including other MBTs.

They are mobile, well armoured and are equipped with a number of features, including active protection systems capable of defeating anti-tank missiles.

Watch: Putting the Challenger 2 to the test in Oman.

If a vehicle does not fit all of these categories, it is most likely a form of armoured vehicle.

Britain's main battle tank, the Challenger 2 is designed to destroy other tanks.

It has been used by the Army in numerous conflicts, including in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq, and no Challenger tank has ever been destroyed by the enemy.

The Challenger 2 prioritises firepower and protection, reflected in the tank's 120mm L30A1 main armament, which holds the distance record for the destruction of another tank and Dorchester 2 armour.

While the technologies make Challenger 2 a slower vehicle, the accuracy and lethality make up for the loss of speed.

The Ministry of Defence has stated the future iteration, the 'Challenger 3', will be "one of the most protected and most lethal in Europe", with the Army announcing plans to spend £1.3bn upgrading 148 of its main battle tanks.