8234 hits on target since 1998-04-12
Perhaps the most interesting fact is that the "S" alternative was decided upon when the 0-serie had been tested for only half a year. The tests continued for three years. The results of the tests must have irrelevant. This means that the technical virtues of the "S" was not the reason for buying it. A logical conclusion might be that it was a decision based on industrial grounds and lobbying. This explains quite a lot actually.
It is also interesting that the ability to fire on the move that was praised so highly in the Centurion now is scoffed at. Perhaps it is so simple that since it was impossible to technicly allow a turretless tank with a fixed gun to fire on the move it was better to show that this really was uneccecery. Tests showed this to be partially true. It became even more plausable when it was claimed that contemporary tanks stabilization was designed to achieve faster firing after halting. Thus the tank would be stationary anyway. The truth is that tank with the capability to fire on the move will do so. They dont have to choose wether to drive to cover or to fire at the enemy. They can do both if suitable or choose either one. Speed might have to be adjusted in older tanks but the inherent flexibility cannot be underestimated. In meeting engagements the Strv 103 most often has suffered from this in battles fought with simulator equipment fitted to the tanks.
The concept of aiming the gun through swiveling the entire chassi has drawbacks. After some time aiming in a fireposition the tank has dug itself in risking becoming bogged down neccecitating a change in position. A more serious problem is that the tank swivels much slower than a turret mounted on a chassi. A stationary Strv 103 will fire much more slowly than a turreted tank since it takes the gunner longer time to aim. The aiming is much more stable than in the Centurion for the same reason however. The more to the flank the target appears the more serious the problem. An enemy tank appearing at 3 oclock or even more behind a stationary "S" is a potential disaster for the "S". On the move however the clutch and break maneuver allows the entire vehicle will fling itself around, even 180 degerees, in a fraction of a second. A truly impressive sight!
The automatic loader is reliable and performs well compared to the russian auto loaders. Since there is no revolving turret it is of simple design. Nevertheless its performance is decided by the preload check that the crew performs before loading the tank. Regardless of how well trained the crews are there is no instructor that becomes surprised by hearing that a tank will not load over the radio. Most often it is not a mechanical breakdown but simply the tanks feedback to the crew. "You forgot..." Sometimes an empty cartridge gets stuck while being ejected, thus preventing loading of a new round until the cartridge has been manually removed from outside the vehicle.
The tank was very accurate thanks to its long gun. It made good use of the battlesight principle and pioneered the simplification of reticles. By pressing both reload HE and fire buttons the driver/gunner could cause the tank to lock in elevation and fire immidietly after the breechblock closed in the loading process. In practice the 10,5 cm became not only an autoloader but an autocannon.
The driver/gunner being one person really means that he is overburdened. To drive and use the terrain optimally and at the same time looking for targets is simply too much. While stationary he often finds more targets than the commander but while driving it must be one obvious target to be spotted. The tank also lacks the loader that assists in finding targets. The lack of a fourth crewman is obvious in maintainance and daily routines.
The floatation kit is maybe a funny thing but very rarely used.
The now official HEAT-fence made the tank almost immune to HEAT-rounds. It still has a very high level of protection to these rounds. The frontal engine gives the crew maximum protection but means that the tank will often be totally disabled by hits that penetrate the engineplates. The hydraulics that makes the entire tank work use highly flammable oil. The tank is filled with hydraulic oil. Everything is operated by hydraulics. This is a weakness not only if penetrated since the enire tank could well turn into the largest friteuse in history, but the hydraulics are unreliable as well. Hydraulic leakage is frequent and has severe consequenses. This is not a phenomena limited to the "S". All tanks with hydraulics suffer from this relatively to the amount of hydraulics.
The tank can be driven on only one engine. By driving with a broken down gas turbine the diesel will give pressure to the hydraulics meaning that all systems are operational. But the normally sluggish tank becomes almost lifeless. On the other hand a broken down diesel means that the hydraulics are down. The tank can be moved from A to B but that is it. No systems are working. There is a reserve loading procedure of course. The autoloader is handcranked which is not desirable.
The gasturbine is a notorious gasguzzler. It puts serious strain on logistics compared to dieselengined tanks.
Even worse is that the ca 1000 degrees hot cooling air is emitted through the chassifront. Naturally IRV was not a threat when the tank was designed but today it is clearly a disadvantage. Not only will the tank itself become hot. Standing under a tree with the turbine running will heat up the entire tree!
The rate of fire is governed by the amount of dust thrown into the air when firing, not by technical loading speed. A loader with a ready round is as fast as an autoloader. At least until the supply of ready rounds has been spent. If for some reason the tank should remain in the same fireposition and keep firing the main gun for an extended period of time it will have a higher rate of fire than a manually loaded tank.
The commanders cupola is perhaps the best thing with the "S". It is clearly superior to any other tank in the world. Including the M1 and Leopard 2. A huge panoramic pericope to the front, smaller ones to the sides and rear (still much larger than the Centurions) and driven with a tiny joystick it is truly better to use it than fighting buttoned up. It lacks an IRV-function however. With a whiteboard to his right the commander can quickly note things down which is especially good for the company commander.
A main problem has been the mobility. With only four road wheels it has problems crossing ditches and often boggs down. In muddy falls it can sometimes not even struggle up the backslope if to steep into a firing position even if it certainly can depress the gun far enough. This is an unavoidable thing stemming from the need to perform the clutch and break to compensate for lacking a turret. The ratio length to width limits the numbers of roadwheels if a clutch and break maneuver is to be possible. The "S" has paid dearly for its low siluette in poor mobility. This was condidered acceptable considering that the terrain in which the possible war was to be fought is cultivated farmland which is irrigated. Maybe the opinion that the mobility is poor stems from the fact that it is compared to the Centurion which has an exceptional mobility.
In 1991 the inspector of the armored corps criticized the tank in a newspaper article calling it "an inexcusable fiasco". The tank was rapidly losing in popularity by then as a result of the trials with the M1A1 and Leopard 2. The drawbacks had become apparent and few were able to hide the fact that it was not gods gift to swedens tankers as had been expected.
But is it really that worthless a tank? After all it has an exteremly long 10,5 cm gun which makes it very accurate. The low siluette may not have been worth the sacrifices but it is there. A Strv 103 in a fire position is hard to spot. When designed the protection level really was outstanding. Despite all the above mentioned drawbacks it is still a potentially dangerous enemy. When the threat consisted mainly of T-55 and the odd T-62 it would have been a real hard nut to crack while at the same tome being capable of dishing out punishment neither of the two threat tanks could withstand. Probably it would have gained the reputation of the Tiger that also suffered from breakdowns and relativly poor mobility but could take and administer damage to those foolish enough to positon themselves in front of the gunbarrel.
With well trained crews and a sound tactic idea "S"-units have proved themselves able to outfight units with supposedly much better tanks such as the Strv 121 or Leopard 2. The last battle for the "S" was fought in the spring of 1997 between six Strv 103C and six Strv 121 at Kvarn training grounds. The BT-41 simulator guaranteed a fair evaluation. One engagement was defensive for the Strv 103 unit. The Strv 121 unit assaulted without any coordination into the well positioned "S"-unit that had flanking positions and frontal cover. All Strv 121 were knocked out and only one Strv 103C. In the afternoon the Strv 103C were on the offense and by using three tanks as direct fire support they were able to outflank the enemy in his defensive position and knock all Leopards out only losing a single tank of their own. I have myself been knocked out by cleverly positioned Strv 103 at several instances.
The Strv 103 has recieved lots of good critisism as well as equally much negative. There is no succesor in concept nor will there likely be one. It has in all essentials lived up to the technical specifications and has served for thirty years now and will remain in some brigades until 2005 when they will all have been replaced by Strv 122.
The "S" is crammed with genius technical solutions. Because of the extreme design with all trade offs it will never be remebered as the best tank of its day, but neither will it be remembered as a dud. It had true combat potential and with a good crew was very deadly. It is hard not become sentimental now that it is slowly being phased out. All of us who have any experience with it will always harbor ambivalent emotions when thinking of the "S". There was nothing like it.
A scrapped "S".