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DU in the UK

Could we soon see the end of the charmless CHARM3 ammunition?
14 December 2006 - Doug Weir

We are approaching an interesting stage in the UK’s use of DU weapons. Currently the only DU weapon in use by UK forces is the 120mm L28 CHARM3 (CHallenger ARMament) ammunition fired from the UK’s Challenger tank fleet. Aside from the 6000 plus shells fired during its testing and development at Dundrennan and Eskmaels, CHARM3 is only used during combat operations and not in peace time. The ammunition was manufactured by Royal Ordnance, now a subsidiary of BAE Systems.

Earlier this year, BAE released a new corporate social responsibility policy - a surprising move for one of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers - where, in an effort to develop ‘green’ munitions, they stated that they would no longer manufacture DU weapons, including, presumably, CHARM3 penetrators. While BAE claim that they have gone ‘green’, CADU suspects that it may have more to do with there being an extremely limited market for the L28. The L28 was designed to be fired from a rifled gun and the UK are the only NATO member to use rifled guns on their tanks . Furthermore, of the few countries with Challenger tanks (Oman, Iran and Iraq), most are barred from buying the weapon on strategic grounds. While Egypt refused the L28 on environmental grounds.

The UK MoD, citing national security reasons, refuses to say how big its remaining stocks of CHARM ammunition are, but research by CADU has shown that tests are underway for a completely new armament system for the UK’s Challenger tanks. This would involve a new main gun and new ammunition. The forerunner is a smoothbore gun manufactured by German firm Rheinmetall. In tests both its gun and tungsten-nickel-cobalt composite penetrator have outperformed CHARM3.

More evidence of a move towards tungsten comes from the MoD’s latest Defence Technology Strategy paper. In addition to highlighting the public relations problems associated with DU, it also opens the door for the procurement of key ammunition stocks from outside the UK.