Royal Ordnance L11A5


Gun on Challenger 1 tank at Bovington Tank Museum, UK, 2010
Place of origin United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1966-
Used by UK, Iran, Jordan
Production history
Designer Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment
Designed 1957
Manufacturer Royal Ordnance Factories
Number built 3,012
Variants L11A1 to L11A7, L30
Weight 1,778 kg (3,920 lb)
Length 6.858 metres (22 ft 6 in)
Barrel length 55 calibres (6.6 meters)

Shell bagged charge
Calibre 120 mm (4.7 in)
Rate of fire 6-10 rounds per minute

The Royal Ordnance L11A5 is a 120 mm L/55 rifled tank gun design. It was the first of NATO's 120mm tank guns which became the standard calibre for Western tanks in the later period of the Cold War. A total of 3,012 L11 guns were produced at a reported unit cost of US $227,000.[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 The weapon has been superseded by the L30 series 120 mm rifled tank gun.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 120mm 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.

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

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 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 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 war and perfected for use in the 120mm gun.[3]

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 inch) in calibre ranging gun was fitted over the barrel of the L11. The projectiles for this ballistically matched those for the main armament out to 2,600 m (2,800 yd), at which point the tracer element burned out. This effectively limited the maximum range for the main gun to this distance. In the late 1970s, laser rangefinders replaced the ranging MG in British service, allowing engagements at longer ranges. However despite this, 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. This is especially true against targets that are moving. In the Korean War British Army 20 pdr-armed Centurions were successfully shooting into bunker observation slits at ranges of 4,000 yards.[4]

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-72 at a range of 5.1 km (3.1 mi).[5]


Available ammunition


Map with L11A5 operators in blue with former operators in red

Current operators

Former operators

See also

Weapons of comparable role, performance and era


  1. Forecast International. "L11 and L30 120mm Tank Gun".
  2. Ogorkiewicz, p.50
  3. The Guns 1939-45 pg.51 para. 3 Ian V. Hogg >
  6. 8 is reported as more realistic


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