L27 120mm APFSDS round (CHARM 3)
The L27 APFSDS (Armour Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot) round is the second DU round to come into service with the UK armed forces. It is fired from the Challenger 2 tank. The L26, its predecessor, is no longer in service. Development began in the early 1990s, and it first became available in 1999.
The L27 is distinctive amongst APFSDS rounds, as it is fired from a rifled barrel, and because the round is comprised of a separate projectile and charge. L27 is the designation of the projectile (pictured). It is fired using either an L16 or L17 charge (and may also be compatible with the later L18 charge).
The L27 is manufactured using DU metal imported from the US. As such it is known to be contaminated with trace amounts of waste from nuclear reactors, such as plutonium. The penetrators were manufactured at the Royal Ordnance Speciality Metals Featherstone plant, near Wolverhampton, UK. The charges were manufactured at Royal Ordnance Bishopston. Neither plant is currently operational, so it will be difficult for further L27 rounds to be produced.
The L27 is more successful at penetrating armour than the L26 round because the penetrator has an increased length to diameter ratio. Because Challenger ammunition is split into a separate projectile and charge, there is no extra room in the projectile assembly to further increase the length. This, combined with the lack of production facilities has meant that the L27 has not been updated. By way of contrast, the US 120mm DU round, the M829 has been updated once since 1999, and a contract for another update was tendered in 2009. ICBUW produced an article analysing the situation in detail in early 2011.
Each penetrator weighs about 4.5 kg, has a radius of 1.5cm and a length of 30 cm. The L27 was deployed in the 2003 Iraq war, where 1.9 tons of DU were fired by UK troops, according to UK government figures. This equates to around 420 rounds. The UK government has released information about the locations of strike sites to the UN Environment Programme and the Iraqi authorities.
In 2010 the UK government announced, as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) that the UK Challenger 2 fleet would be cut by about 40% to around 230. There have also been suggestions that further cuts to the fleet may be made in the future. The Challenger 2 is expected to remain in service until around 2035, but the shelf life for the L27s charges is due to expire around 2015. It is not known what impact this will have on the status of the L27 within the UK's armoury.