In context: War Thunder is a combat simulation game that takes realism quite seriously, but apparently not as seriously as some of its players. In 2019, the game came to include the Challenger 2 main battle tank. It adopted a pivotal but polarizing role on the virtual battlefield, and the accuracy and balance of its characteristics became a point of contention among players.
Last week, a player with the username Pyrophoric won a debate on War Thunder’s forums when he posted schematics of the Challenger 2 extracted from its Army Equipment Support Publication (AESP), a sort of user manual. He showed that in real life, the tank is less vulnerable to shots fired at the junction between its turret and hull than it is in-game.
The AESP had "UK Restricted" labels crossed out and replaced with "Unclassified" stamps -- note that the UK generally refers to documents that were previously classified, but no longer are, as 'declassified' and not 'unclassified.'
Forum moderators immediately found the post suspicious, and one pointed out that the "last time such a document was claimed to be ‘unclassified’ it was in fact still classified."
Which does beg the question: how often does this happen?
Gaijin, War Thunder’s developer, contacted the UK Ministry of Defence and was told that the Challenger 2’s AESP is still classified. "I can confirm that it does appear to be a genuine extract," an MoD representative said. One of Gaijin’s senior forum moderators addressed Pyrophoric with the following statement.
"We have written confirmation from MoD that this document remains classified. By continuing to disseminate it you are in violation of the Official Secrets Act as stated by the warning on the cover of the document, an offense which can carry up to a 14 year prison sentence if prosecuted. Of this you are already aware, as a service person you have signed a declaration that you understand the act and what actions it compels you to take.
Every time you post this you place us (International representatives of Gaijin), especially any UK citizens, in hot water as the warning so helpfully states that unauthorized retention of a protected document is an offense."
Pyrophoric hasn’t posted since, although he has been online. As of writing, his account is still active and has an "outstanding community reputation," according to the forum’s popularity-based rating system. On his profile, Pyrophoric says he is a 40-year old man. He’s claimed to be a former Challenger 2 commander, an army instructor, and a former member of the Armoured Trials and Development Unit.
Unfortunately, Gaijin has failed to capitalize on this opportunity to make their Challenger 2 model more accurate, and have said that they do not plan on updating it. Several players managed to complain before the Challenger 2 thread was closed to prevent more security breaches.
Image credit: Cpl Ross Fernie RLC