It's Transport Week here on Giz UK, and while much of our coverage so far has focused on distinctly civilian means of propulsion, it's now time to appreciate the bonkers world of British military vehicles.
So, read on for some of the biggest, baddest and barmiest modes of transport used by the Royal Navy, Army and RAF. It's not an exhaustive list, mind; the British military is chock full of awesome vehicles. So if we've left out one of your favourites, share it in the comments at the bottom!
Challenger 2 Tank
The mighty Challenger 2 is the British Army’s gold-star battle tank. This monster of a machine stretches to an impressive 11.5 metres in length (that’s with the gun pointing forwards), is 3.5 metres wide and stands 2.5 metres tall; at 62,500 kilos, it’s the antithesis of a lightweight. That undeniable heft does mean it’s hardly the fastest thing on the battlefield (topping out at 36 miles per hour) but it makes up for that with some pretty amazing armament.
That armament consists of a massive 120mm tank gun (that is to say, the big bastard of a cannon on top), a 7.62mm chain gun (found to the left of the tank gun) and a 7.62mm mounted machine gun that sits near the hatch. Oh, and more guns can be tacked onto it for further firepower.
And on top of that, in times of trouble the Challenger 2 can create a visibility-fogging smokescreen around itself by injecting diesel into the engine exhaust pipes. Now you see me...
The four-man tank, which is powered by a 1,200bhp V12 diesel engine, was put into service by the British Army in 1998 as a successor to the Challenger 1, but it wasn’t until the 2003 invasion of Iraq that it was fully used in combat, knocking out multiple enemy tanks in a siege of Basra as part of one of its first missions. The Challenger 2 is expected to stay in British military service until the middle of the 2030s.
Type 45 Destroyer
The Type 45 Destroyer encompasses a class of six separate guided-missile destroyer ships: HMS Daring, HMS Dauntless, HMS Diamond, HMS Defender, HMS Dragon and HMS Duncan (that last one seems a little less impressively named but I am not in charge of these things).
Type 45s were built to replace Type 42 destroyers, which served during the Falklands War. Interestingly, a report from the National Audit Office said that during an "intensive attack", a single Type 45 could simultaneously track, engage and destroy more targets than five Type 42 destroyers operating together.
That unmatched battle-tactical ability is aided by a crazy arsenal. First up is the MK8 main gun, which can fire up to 24 high explosive shells per minute at targets more than a dozen miles away (that range can be stretched to nearly 18 miles if special shells are used). Then there is the Phalanx cannon, designed for use as a last line of defence in close combat, engaging airborne adversaries up to one mile away; it is a Gatling gun that is radar controlled and fires 20mm shells at 3,000 rounds a minute.
And we can’t forget the Sea Viper principal anti-air missile packed onboard, which can hit a target up to 70 miles away, travelling at over 3,000mph (that’s Mach Four). It is controlled by the Sampson radar atop the vessel's mast, a highly clever system that can track hundreds of targets at any one time. Pirates, beware.
Warthog All-Terrain Personnel Vehicle
All-terrain vehicles such as the Warthog are clearly massively helpful when it comes to getting from war zone to war zone. This impressive military vehicle can take on jungle, desert and arctic environments, and being amphibious it will not shy away from taking a plunge when faced with a watery obstacle.
The Warthog served as a replacement to the Viking ATV on operations, and is – perhaps surprisingly – heavier than its predecessor. That weight is bolstered by the highly useful array of functions the Warthog can serve, such as a crane and winch, while also packing generators, air compressors, a work bench and stowage facilities – among others. It is essentially a roving military workshop.
As the Army puts it: “Warthog isn’t all about mobility though – it’s also about packing a punch and defeating insurgents”. As such, weaponry comes in the form of a 7.62mm general purpose machine gun as well as a 0.5 calibre heavy machine gun, which are fired from a protected weapon station atop the vehicle.
The Taranis may not be in active military service but that's because it is a sign of things to come; it represents the future of militarised air combat. Named after the Celtic god of thunder, the eminently pointy aircraft flies unmanned using some of the most advanced technology in existence.
Taranis is essentially a demonstrator programme to help make the future of UK military might as awesome as possible, designed with the aid of 1.5 million man-hours of work by leading UK scientists, aerodynamicists and engineers from 250 UK companies. While it may never go into active service itself, it is thought that Taranis gives a glimpse of what combat machines will look like by the 2030s.
Image via BAE
It can hit speeds of up to Mach 1+ (that's over 761 miles per hour) using its beefy One Rolls-Royce Adour-951 engine, which produces 6,500 pounds of thrust. Taranis is designed to dodge its way through radar undetected, getting itself deep into enemy territory to do its bomb-dropping business, as well as undertaking surveillance recces, gathering intelligence and being bloody imposing in the sky.
Heavy Equipment Transporter
The Heavy Equipment Transporter (HET) does what is says on the tin. This 72-tonne gargantuan land machine is the most powerful tank transporter in production. Tanks have a nasty habit of tearing up ground as they go about their business so any opportunity to hitch a lift on a HET can help to preserve land, as well as keeping the tank's tracks safe too.
The term HET can be applied to many armies' similar machines, but the British Army's comprises a beefy Oshkosh 1070F 8 x 8 tractor truck doing the pulling at the front, and a King Trailer GTS 100 seven-axle semi-trailer. The whole beastly machine is powered by an aftercooled 18.1-litre Caterpillar turbocharged diesel engine that produces 700bhp. As for how big the HET is, it is an impressive 20 metres long, 3.8 metres tall and just under three metres wide. Try parallel parking that in a hurry!
The HMS Astute is top boy of the Astute attack submarine class, and has been in service with the Royal Navy since 2004. It is nuclear-powered sub (let's hope Homer Simpson isn't manning the controls), and the reactor that powers the vessel has enough in the tank to mean it never needs topping up over the Astute's 25-year lifespan. It has systems on board to purify air and water, so can circumnavigate the globe submerged without ever breaking the surface – all at a top speed of 29 knots.
Weapons come in the form on Spearfish torpedoes – two-tonne missiles that can hit targets up to 14 miles away at high speed, and as far as 30 miles away at lower velocity. For longer-range blasting efforts there are Tomahawk IV cruise missiles on offer too; they can hit targets that are over 1,000 miles away.
AKA The Tank Destroyer. The Apache is an all-weather, day-or-night attack helicopter that can keep tabs on up to 256 targets in just seconds. Its arsenal is made up of rockets, Hellfire missiles and a 30mm chain gun. Weapons deployment can be fully automated, combining all of its on-board smarts to identify and prioritise as many as 16 targets in under 30 seconds, doing its business without intervention from the bag of flesh and bones sitting in the cockpit.
It was first used in combat in Afghanistan in 2008 and also saw action in 2011 in Libya. Since the end of 2015, the UK Ministry of Defence cut back on numbers of Apaches, citing winding-down conflicts, putting 16 out of 66 into storage; the remaining 50 are now being lined up for upgrades to their mechanical equipment and systems – pretty much to bring them up to speed with what the Americans have on hand.
HMS Queen Elizabeth
The HMS Queen Elizabeth is not completed yet but when it is, it will be the lead ship of the new Queen Elizabeth class of ships as well being crowned the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy. It measures some 230 metres long and 73 metres at its widest, providing 16,000 square metres of deck. No shuffle board is to be played on that huge expanse though; up to 40 aircraft will be able to perch atop it.
Unlike previous launchers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth won't rely on catapults to fling aircraft into action, instead supporting STOVL planes (that's short take-off and vertical landing) such as the F35-B Lighting II and Merlin helicopters. Flexibility has been taken well into consideration in designing this mammoth vessel, though, so all manner of STOVL aircraft should be welcome to touchdown on it.
It's not all about being a landing deck though: armament is made up of Phalanx weapons system for defending against enemy missiles and aircraft, and 30mm automated small calibre guns and miniguns are also on hand for use against fast attack craft.
The HMS Queen Elizabeth should be up and running by next year, 2017, and ready for operation action by 2020.
RAF A330 Voyager
You are looking at the biggest aeroplane in history of the Royal Air Force, the A330 Voyager. It has a 60-metre wingspan and is nearly the same in length at 58.2 metres, with a height of just over 17 metres.
As well as being a huge transporter, able to stow 291 personnel and eight military or civil pallets in its cabin, the Voyager specialises in air-to-air refuelling. Fuel is efficiently stored in the wings and fuselage (freeing up all that room in the cab) and through a clever manoeuvre it extends a fuel line hose trailing behind it, which is then received by a following aircraft. You can see it in action in this YouTube clip; it's quite a sight to behold.
The MOD lets a private company – AirTanker – maintain and fund replacement craft in its Voyager fleet in what's called a private finance initiative (PFI), while of course still retaining all control over military operations. This private arrangement results in the Voyager being able to be used by third parties beyond RAF concerns, such as ferrying the Queen to official visits around the world – or, alternatively, government ministers. Never more have I wanted to be a politician.
Trojan Armoured Vehicle
The Trojan is, as is becoming quite common among the vehicles in this article, absolutely bloody massive. The scales tip at 62.5 tonnes, and they'll have to be a rather large set of scales because the Trojan measures 11.5 metres long by 4.2 metres wide and 2.5 metres tall.
It's chassis is designed from the Challenger 2 tank's but instead of a stonking-great cannon thrusting forward, the Trojan bears a big old armoured plough on the front, giving it the ability to drive straight through minefields; on the back is an excavator arm, which is deployed for clearing obstacles.
Perhaps its coolest feature is the ability to attach onto a Python minefield breaching system. The Python system launches a rocket that is attached to a long coiled hose, which itself is packed with explosives. Once the Python hits the ground, it detonates and the whole thing whips along to clear a safe channel of travel 230 metres long and seven metres wide. Impressive!