The world’s first tank went into combat 100 years ago today in the First World War’s Battle of the Somme, having been designed and built by British engineers to help break the deadlock of trench warfare.
The world’s first tank went into combat 100 years ago today in the First World War’s Battle of the Somme, having been designed and built by British engineers to help break the deadlock of trench warfare. BAE Systems legacy companies began building tanks for active service the following year in 1917, and we have been developing tank technology for the British Army ever since.
While technology has massively improved, every tank ever built is based around the three key capabilities of mobility, protection and firepower. Although the first tanks were very slow by today’s standards, once the Army had developed the right strategies it became vital on the battlefield, such as at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917, where the tank allowed allies to break through barbed wire defences that were thought impregnable.
Following WW1, tank design continued to evolve and by WW2 BAE Systems’ legacy companies had developed faster and better protected tanks with much greater firepower. There was also an array of different types of tank designed for different missions – some fast with light armour for rapid manoeuvres; some slow and heavily armoured with powerful guns to engage enemy tanks. However, this was to change with improved engine power and armour leading our legacy companies to build the Centurion ‘Main Battle Tank’, designed to perform a variety of roles and specifically to counter the German Tiger tank.
The Centurion became the Main Battle Tank of the post-WW2 era for a number of countries, remaining in service until the 1980s. In terms of technology, its major upgrade was a fully-stabilised gun control system allowing it to fire more accurately on the move. It was also one of the first tanks to be exceptionally upgradeable, hence its long service duration. Some modified variants are still in use today.
Infographic: Celebrating 100 years of the Tank
BAE Systems also designed and built the British Army’s current Main Battle Tank, Challenger 2. Challenger 2 was a huge step forwards in both tank design and capability for the British Army. In addition to more advanced sighting systems giving the crew much better situational awareness both night and day, the probability of hitting a target was significantly increased by a combination of enhanced gun control equipment and a more advanced Fire Control System, providing a highly stable and accurate gun even when moving fast over rough terrain.
Like Centurion before it, our Challenger 2 design is readily upgradeable. The British Army is now looking for a partner to keep the tank in service until 2035, which will include looking at a number of performance enhancements. We have formed Team Challenger 2 – a partnership of leading defence companies – to bid for this work and keep this iconic British tank a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield for the next two decades. Having been at the forefront of tank technology for the last hundred years, we are passionate about giving our tank crews the best possible equipment on future operations.