Senior British army generals have urged the government to buy U.S. rather than British tanks to modernize its frontline forces, the Sunday Times newspaper said.

It said generals serving in West Germany, where Britain's 500-strong tank force is based, had told the Ministry of Defense in letters they believed the $2.4 billion contract should be awarded to General Dynamics' Abrams M1 model.A government decision to order the Abrams rather than the rival Vickers Challenger-2 would deal a crippling blow to a key area of the British arms industry. It would also unleash a major political row over the future of two remaining tank factories.

Defense experts believe Britain would forfeit any future role in tank development even if General Dynamics agreed to assemble them here under license.

The Sunday Times front page story said the Cabinet would decide Thursday whether to order Challenger or Abrams to replace its current force of Chieftain and Challenger-1 tanks in the 1990s.