Royal Ordnance L11

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Main gun on Challenger 1 tank at Bovington Tank Museum.jpg
Gun on Challenger 1 tank at Bovington Tank Museum, UK, 2010
Place of originUnited Kingdom
Service history
In service1966–present
Used byUK, Iran, Jordan
Production history
DesignerRoyal Armament Research and Development Establishment
ManufacturerRoyal Ordnance Factories
Unit cost$227,000 (1990).[1]
No. built3,012
VariantsL11A1 to L11A7, L30
Mass1,778 kg (3,920 lb)
Length6.858 metres (22 ft 6 in)
Barrel length55 calibres (6.6 metres)

Shellbagged charge
Calibre120 mm (4.7 in)
Rate of fire6–10 rounds per minute

The Royal Ordnance L11A5, officially designated Gun 120 mm Tk L11,[i] is a 120 mm L/55 rifled tank gun design. It was the first of NATO's 120mm Main Battle Tank guns which became the standard calibre for Western tanks in the later period of the Cold War. By 2005, a total of 3,012 L11 guns were produced. List price was US $227,000 (1990).[1]

The L11 was developed by Britain's Royal Ordnance Factories to equip the Chieftain tank as the successor to the 105 mm L7 gun used in the Centurion tank. It was also used on the Challenger 1, which replaced the Chieftain in British and Jordanian service. The weapon has been superseded by the L30 series 120 mm rifled tank gun.


The Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment at Fort Halstead designed a new 120 mm rifled tank gun in 1957. The new gun was deemed to be necessary because the British Army specified engagement ranges greater than those of other armies, for example 2,000 m (2,200 yd), as specified by the US Army, despite studies at the time that suggested engagement ranges were below those of the US Army requirements in the great majority of cases.[2] The L11 was specifically designed to fit into the turret mountings of the Chieftain tank (FV4201). After firing trials in 1961, the L11 was accepted for service on the Chieftain in 1965 and entered service with the British Army in 1966.

During Operation Granby an L11 on a British Army Challenger 1 scored the longest tank-to-tank 'kill' in military history, when it destroyed an Iraqi T-55 at a range of 4.7 km (2.9 miles) with an L23 "Fin" round.[3][4]

Since its introduction, the L11 has evolved into eight production versions. In June 1976, development of new ammunition for the L11A5 was begun.

Production models[edit]

The Royal Ordnance basic L11 design was developed into a series of improved production models; the L11A5 was the major production version.

L11A1 – The initial production variant; 130 were produced.
L11A2 – RO Defence incorporated numerous minor changes, including a modified vent tube, an obturator sleeve protector, and a 15-hole vent tube magazine. Stronger material was used in fabricating the breech ring.
L11A3 – This incorporated minor changes to the breech ring.
L11A4 – Evaluation test prototype for an automatic loading system.
L11A5 – This was the main production model. It introduced the integral Muzzle Reference System (MRS) and a smaller and lighter fume extractor which required the addition of 7.7 kilograms (17 lb) of weight at the breech for balance.
L11A6 – This was a conversion of the A3 to accommodate the Muzzle Reference System and fume extractor of the A5.
L11A7 – A semi-automatic plunger was proposed for the vent tube loader, but did not enter production.
L30 (EXP 32M1) – The latest variant of the L11 design, developed under the Challenger Armament program.


The breech mechanism is a downward sliding semi-automatic breechblock. The gun was equipped with a hydro-pneumatic recoil system using two buffers. The gun recoils 37 cm (15 in) in most applications. This breechblock design was based on the breechblock on the Krupp/Skoda sFH 18/43 model 18 that the British studied extensively after the Second World War and perfected for use in the 120 mm gun.[5]

Unlike most tank weapons which fire a single fixed round, the projectile and propellant are loaded separately. The propellant is in the form of a combustible "bag" charge (or later, a combustible charge case for armour-piercing rounds). This required the obturation to be provided by the breech rather than the cartridge case, as is the case in fixed rounds. When first introduced, APDS (armour-piercing discarding sabot) rounds were fired using a cylindrical charge. High explosive squash head (HESH), smoke and other rounds used a hemi-cylindrical (i.e. a cylinder sliced in two lengthways) charge (the L3). Two HE charges could therefore be stowed in the same space as one AP charge. In the Chieftain and Challenger tanks, the charges were stored in 36 recesses surrounded by water jackets, so that a hit which penetrated the fighting compartment would rupture the jacket and drench the propellant, preventing a catastrophic ammunition fire (known colloquially as a "brew-up").

The barrel of the L11A5 is fitted with a bore evacuator approximately two-thirds of the way to the muzzle and a thermal sleeve.

When first introduced, a 12.7 mm (.50 in) calibre ranging gun was fitted over the barrel of the L11. The projectiles for this ballistically matched those for HESH rounds fired from the main armament out to 2,600 m (2,800 yd), at which point the tracer element burned out. Starting in 1971 a Barr & Stroud LF2 "Tank Laser Sight" (TLS) laser rangefinder replaced the ranging MG in British service, and in conjunction with the "Muzzle Reference System" (MRF) [ii] added in 1975, allowed engagements at ranges out to 5,000 meters. Further improvement in gunnery performance came with the adoption of the Marconi "Improved Fire Control System" (IFCS) fitted to the Chieftain in 1979. [iii]


  • Calibre: 120 millimetres (4.7 in)
  • Barrel length 6.604 metres (21 ft 8.0 in) (55 calibres)
  • Length overall 6.858 metres (22 ft 6.0 in)
  • Weight: 1,778 kilograms (3,920 lb)
  • Recoil distance: 37 centimetres (1 ft 3 in)
  • Maximum range/velocity (APDS): 3,000 metres (3,300 yd), 4,495 ft/s (1,370 m/s)
  • Maximum range/velocity (HESH): 8,000 metres (8,700 yd), 2,198 ft/s (670 m/s)
  • Maximum rate of fire: 10 rounds/min[6]
  • Sustained rate of fire: 6 rounds/min
  • Elevation: +20/−10 on Chieftain Mk 2.

Available ammunition[edit]

  • L15A5 APDS-T : An armour-piercing discarding sabot (APDS) projectile The L15A3 is capable of defeating the NATO Single Heavy Target (150mm RHA at 60°) at 1000 yards (914 m) and the NATO Triple Heavy Target (triple array equivalent to 115mm RHA at 60°) at 1000 yards (914 m). It uses the L4A2 propellant charge.
  • L23A1 APFSDS : The penetrator is made from a Tungsten/Nickel/Copper alloy with a 6 bladed aluminium fin and is located in a 3 segment aluminium alloy saddle type sabot. The shot 120mm TK APFSDS, L23 is used with the L8A1 charge. Designated Jericho 2 when L14 CCC. The L23A1 is capable of defeating the NATO Single Heavy Target (150mm RHA at 60°) at 6350 m and the NATO Triple Heavy Target (triple array equivalent to 110mm RHA at 65°) at 6300 m. The L23A1 is still in service in the Royal Army of Oman.
  • L23A2 APFSDS:[7] Considered as a replacement for the L23A1 shot. British qualification had been scheduled for 2010 and production for Oman was supposed to start just after. The L23A2 is backwards-compatible with the older L11A5 gun used by the Royal Jordanian Army Al-Hussein main battle tanks (phased out in 2018).
  • L26A1 APFSDS : It was developed under the CHARM 1 (CHallenger ARMament 1) programme and can be fired from both the L11 gun in and the L30 gun. It has a depleted uranium long rod penetrator surrounded by an aluminium alloy sabot. The L26A1 shot and the less-volatile L14 bag charge combination is known as the JERICHO round[8] (Jericho 1 with the L8 charge and Jericho 2 with the L14 charge). The Jericho 1 combination was about 15% better in penetration terms than the L23A1 and closer to 25% when fired from the L30A1 gun with the L14 charge.[9]
  • L31A7 HESH: This is employed as a general purpose high explosive round, though it also has a good anti-armour performance, and is effective against fortifications and structures. It can cause the spalling of lethal metal scabs. behind a 150 mm-thick plate sloped at 60° at 1000 yards. HESH ammunition was originally The L31 is fired using the L3 bag charge. Muzzle velocity is 670 metres per second (2,200 ft/s).
  • L32A6 SH/Prac : A training projectile, which matches the trajectory of the L31 HESH. It is available as a completely inert form, or can be filled with an inert HE substitute (a composition of calcium sulphate and castor oil) or an inert HE substitute plus a live fuze and a flash pellet for spotting purposes. It is fired with the L3A2 bag charge.
  • L34A2 Smoke/WP : It matches the L31 HESH in ballistic performance. It is the same shape, though is supplied in a different colour to prevent confusion.[10]
  • L20A1 DS/T Prac : This is a relatively low-cost training discarding sabot projectile with the subprojectile made from steel with a light alloy nose. It is lighter, but matches the L23 trajectory to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). Its use also extends barrel life.
  • L35A1 Anti-Personnel : a canister shot.


Map with L11A5 operators in blue with former operators in red

Current operators[edit]

Former operators[edit]

See also[edit]

Weapons of comparable role, performance and era[edit]

  • U-5TS: Soviet 115 mm smoothbore equivalent


  1. ^ Note; The "Tk" denotes a tank gun
  2. ^ Note; the Muzzle Reference System uses a laser beam reflected from a mirror at the muzzle to measure minute dimensional changes in the barrel due to temperature, humidity, etc., which are then compensated-for in the Fire Control System. The thermal sleeve had originally been developed to minimise such dimensional changes in the barrel which have an increasing effect on gun accuracy as ranges are increased.
  3. ^ Note: Testing at the US Army Aberdeen Proving Ground concluded that engaging targets beyond 3 km (1.9 mi) is not practical due to round deviation.[citation needed] This is especially true against targets that are moving. However see note about 5.1km "kill" in Operation Granby
  1. ^ a b Forecast International. "L11 and L30 120mm Tank Gun". Archived from the original on 10 November 2013.
  2. ^ Ogorkiewicz, p.50
  3. ^ "Desert Storm Part 22: Charge of the Heavy Brigade". British Army Official Blog. 28 February 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  4. ^ "Desert Storm Part 24: Back to Germany". British Army Official Blog. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 27 December 2016.
  5. ^ The Guns 1939-45 pg.51 para. 3 Ian V. Hogg >
  6. ^ 8 is reported as more realistic
  7. ^ "Budget cuts and environmental concerns put UK depleted uranium upgrade out of the picture". ICBUW. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  8. ^ "INFORMATION" (PDF). ORDNANCE BOARD. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  9. ^ Taylor, Dick (24 September 2015). Challenger 1 Main Battle Tank 1983-2001 Fv 4030/4 Model Owners' Workshop Manual. J H Haynes & Co Ltd. p. 160. ISBN 978-0857338150.
  10. ^ Janes Defence web site


  • Ogorkiewicz, R.M., Design and development of fighting vehicles, Macdonald, London, 1968
  • Norman, AFV Profile No.19 Chieftain and Leopard (Description), Profile Publishing

External links[edit]