Once upon a time, the British armed forces ruled land, air and sea. That time might have been and gone, but British manufacturers big and small are still designing some of the most epic bits of kit for armies round the world. This is a collection of the top ten Made in Britain killing machines.
What it is: Put simply, it's the future of combat planes, and it's made in Britain. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles currently in service are all propellor-powered and easy to shoot down, but that's not gonna happen with Taranis. It's a supersonic stealth UAV, designed to sneak through radars and then bomb the crap out of whoever the government doesn't like at the moment. Although it's not in service yet, just the pictures of it sitting in a hangar are enough to scare the crap out of me.
This is awesome: A little spookily, Taranis also has an artificial intelligence system that should allow it to fly large parts of its missions without human control. Although this is deeply cool, I'm not really sure I want machine-controlled stealth fighters roaming the sky all by their lonesomes, thank you very much.
What it is: Sometimes simple is best, which is why this comes in at No.2. The new sniper rifle of the British Army, it fires a 8.59mm cartridge out to 1,100+ with incredible accuracy.
This is awesome: This rifle holds the world record for the longest-distance sniper kill, at 2,475m. And, in case you were in any doubt as to how good this rifle is, that wasn't a one-off shot -- the sniper in question hit two targets, and then managed to shoot the machine gun they were using -- that's a tiny target, shot three times in a row from well over a mile away, and just shows how undescribably epic this rifle is.
What it is: Ok, so I'm cheating a bit here - this isn't entirely a British design. The Apache is a US helicopter that British geeks at AugustaWestland took, and made just a little bit better (and it's built in the UK). It's a fully digital attack helicopter, with a terrifying array of sensors and weaponry.
Starting with the cameras, it's got a turret with daytime and infrared cameras built in, that can snoop from miles away, before you even realise you're being spied on. The pilot's also got a night vision system that lets him avoid annoying things like trees and mountains at night. The big dome on the top is a radar which can identify enemy people or vehicles, or even map the ground to find cubbyholes or weapon caches.
The weapons, though, are what makes this heli truly badass. The 30mm cannon has a range of around 3km, but the really cool thing is that it will fire where the pilot looks, giving a whole new meaning to the idea of a death stare. There are also 70mm rockets, which can destroy a whole wood, and Hellfire missiles, which are laser-guided and will blow up anything up to a small ship...and cost the same as an Aston Martin DB9!
This is awesome: It can be fully-automated, combining the computer, radar and missiles to identify, prioritise and then blow up 16 targets in under 30 seconds, all with no human intervention -- that's kinda scary.
What it is: The Challenger II's been around for a while now, but I reckon it still keeps its title as the best and meanest tank around, thanks to the combination of clever armour; big engines and ridiculously accurate weapons. The armour is the most impressive part of the package -- on one occasion in Iraq, a Challenger was hit by 70 rocket-propelled grenades without sustaining serious damage, and none of them have ever been destroyed by enemy fire. So, if you're thinking about a roadtrip through a warzone, this is your vehicle of choice. If you managed to get your hands on one, you'd also be able to settle any disputes with the locals, courtesy of the big scary gun on top. A 120mm cannon, it can fire shedloads of different ammunition, including depleted uranium rounds that will go through a couple of feet of plate steel.
This is awesome: The Chally holds the record for the world's longest-distance tank kill, at five freaking kilometres! Think about it -- that's hitting a target a couple of metres across, at a range where you can barely see a bus! That's just insane.
What it is: A joint UK-US venture, the F35B is a stealthy new fighter, with one very special change: it can hover stationary in midair. It has a full arsenal of guided bombs and missiles, which can be carried internally, and it's also a stealth plane, which makes it damn near impossible to shoot down with missiles. The hover capability means it can operate from small aircraft carriers -- like the ones the UK is building -- or from improvised airfields on land.
This is awesome: F35s are fully digital, doing away with all the dials in the cockpit. It also means they can share targets across a data link, which I imagine makes shooting down a big swarm of MiGs a bit easier.
What it is: An air-defence destroyer, mainly designed to find planes, and then blow them up very quickly and painfully. Thanks to being crammed full of sensors and weapons, it's rather good at its job. The radar and missile combo means that it can shoot down a Mach 3 cricket ball 120km away, so jets and missiles aren't much of a problem. For close-in stuff, it's also got a "point-defence" system of 20mm Phalanx guns. These use a radar to lock onto something, then unleashes 4,500 massive 20mm shells per minute -- each -- to shoot it down. Basically, this ship is the boss of whichever bit of water it happens to be in -- even an American admiral labelled it "badass".
This is awesome: To deal with any of those pesky surface threats like ships, it's also got a 113mm cannon and two 30mm Gatling guns -- both of which can either use radar to lock onto stuff themselves, or be remote-controlled from the ship's control room -- nice if you like blowing bad guys up without getting your hands dirty.
What it is: A small, light (by armoured vehicles standards, anyway!) offroad vehicle for reconnaissance or fire support -- basically having a peek or really, really ruining someone's day. Its armour can withstand massive 0.50 cal bullets, but despite all the armour it can still go 80mph. Its killer feature, though, is the weaponary stuck on the back. The primary weapon is either a Browning 0.50 cal machine gun, pretty much identical to the ones used in Spitfires in WWII, or a 40mm grenade machine gun than can fire high explosive grenades out to 2km. There's also a 7.62mm machine gun for when you don't feel like blowing up the whole world.
This is awesome: Thanks to super-clever armour on the bottom of the car, if it hits a mine designed to blow up tanks, it's so well protected that the occupants will be able to stand up and walk away. Which is handy.
What it is: Vehicles make a lot of heat, which can be picked up by infrared cameras, where they'll show up as big glowing targets -- anyone who's played Call of Duty knows what I'm on about here. This is generally regarded as a bad thing by soldiers, so BAE Systems has designed something that lets vehicles disappear on IR cameras (go to 0.38 to see the magic happen). It uses a matrix of hexagonal panels to act as pixels, which can quickly change temperature to match the background scenery, kinda like an infrared version of Bond's car in Die Another Day. This doesn't just mean that the vehicles can't be found, though -- most anti-tank missiles rely on IR seekers, so even if the tanks can be seen with the naked eye, the enemy anti-tank team will be left with a very expensive and totally useless heat-seeking missile, which would be more than a little bit frustrating...
This is awesome: Although it's only been tried on land vehicles so far, BAE plans on putting it on helicopters and ships next -- so true stealth ships maybe aren't so far away.
What it is: The Trojan is, simply, massive. It's basically the world's most badass piece of construction machinery, but designed for the battlefield. With the armoured plough on the front, it can drive straight through minefields; the excavator arm on the back lets it push pesky things like cars out of the way, and in a hurry it can just drive straight through any brick walls that are foolish enough to get in its way. Oh, and it costs £4,500,000.
This is awesome: It can tow a trailer with a minefield clearing system that uses rockets and explosives to clear a 10m path through a 230m minefield in under 10 minutes.
What it is: The most modern and deadly attack submarine in the world. Almost 100m long and with 98 crew, it's the world's first digital submarine, with computers controlling pretty much everything -- no optical periscopes on this baby, but a suite of HD and infrared cameras. It carries torpedoes and the notorious Tomahawk cruise missile, so she can hit targets 1,000 miles away to within 30 feet. A nuclear reactor for unlimited power and a 4 different sonar arrays round out an all-round scary bit of kit -- with all the black low-drag panels on her, she looks more like the scary supervillian's ride than something used by the Royal Navy.
This is awesome: Stealth features mean that the Astute-class makes less noise than a baby dolphin, making her impossible to find underwater. So, she can vanish without a trace before blowing something up from 1000 miles away!
Top image © UK MOD/Crown Copyright 2012