London: The British Army's next class of armoured vehicles will be protected by a "force field" of electrified armour that will vapourise rocket-propelled grenades, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.
The electric armour, invented at the MoD's scientific research centre, will transform armoured warfare, enabling vehicles to be more lightly protected and more easily moved around the world.
It will also confound repeated claims from military experts that "the tank is dead" because it is too cumbersome for conflicts expected as part of the war on terror.
The new armour will allow western armed forces to regain the upper hand against terrorists and insurgents armed with the ubiquitous RPG7 rocket-propelled grenade, which can penetrate most current heavy armour.
The invention is just as effective against the "shaped charge" roadside bombs used by insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The armour is also much lighter, with about two tons of it reckoned to provide protection equivalent to that of 20 tons of conventional armour.
The Army's Challenger 2 tank, which weighs 62 tons, and the 24-ton Warrior armoured vehicle had to be ferried by sea to the Gulf for the Iraq war, a complex process taking many weeks.
The new vehicles - which are expected to enter service early in the next decade would be smaller and lighter, enabling them to be moved by C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft.
Last week, the MoD handed a contract to Lockheed Martin, the American company, to make a demonstration version of the British invention.
The success of the RPG7 in the recent conflicts in Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq has caused major problems for western troops.
The anti-tank weapon, invented by the Soviet Union in the Second World War and still manufactured in several countries, is widely available in Third World arms markets.
The electric armour is made up of several layers, the first of which is an earthed bullet-proof outer skin.
The second skin is live, although insulated, and has several thousand volts of electricity flowing through it, powered by the vehicle's battery. The third skin is the normal vehicle hull.
The Times Newspapers Limited 2006