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Challenger 1 Main Battle Tank

The tank has rightly been called the virility symbol of the British Army [the phrase appeared in a learned article in The Economist]. For years Britain relied on the Chieftain. It was a fine tank and gave excellent service, but by the late 1970s it was getting old in the tooth and was to be replaced by the MBT80. That was the tank that the experts wanted and which was due to replace the Chieftain in the late 1980s. With the cancellation of the Shir 2 for the Shah of Iran, Britain acquired the Challenger.

Challenger is a development of the Centurion/Chieftain line, modified to produce the Shir/Iran 2 originally planned for service with the Iranian forces. After the Iranian Revolution the Shir Iran 2 project was taken over by the British Army and the end result was Challenger later redesignated as Challenger 1. The main differences between Challenger 1 and its predecessor Chieftain are the Challenger engine, which produces 1,200bhp at 2,300rpm, far more powerful than the Chieftain engine, and the Chobham Armour, which gives very high protection levels against anti armour weapons.

Although based on an improved version of the Chieftain, the Challenger was practically a new tank and its combat characteristics significantly exceed those of previous models, especially with respect to providing protection. Steel armor skirting is positioned on the sides. The Challenger's configuration is basically the same as that of the Chieftain. It too is armed with the 120-mm rifled cannon, but it was a more sophisticated version. It has a dual-plane stabilizer. Most of the combat load consists of armor-piercing sub-caliber rounds, including those with depleted uranium alloy core. The fire control system includes a laser sight-range finder and electronic ballistics computer. The commander's periscopic sight has stabilized field of vision and is linked with the gunner's mainsight. Challenger tanks were outfitted with an infrared sight for the gunner. The 12-cylinder V-form diesel engine is made in a single block with the hydromechanical transmission. The carriage suspension is hydropneumatic. An armored recovery vehicle, outfitted with powerful, special equipment, has been developed based on the Challenger tank.

On 17 June 1976 the Secretary of State for Defence, Roy Mason, stated that "The United Kingdom has succeeded in developing a unique form of tank armour. This provides an exceptional level of protection against both chemical energy attack from guided weapons and all forms of attack from tank guns, and can be carried on tanks of comparable weight and agility to those in service today. We shall fit this armour, and other improvements, into our next main battle tank. Meanwhile, in the interests of NATO, we have made information on the invention available to the United States of 220W America and the Federal Republic of Germany. We have secured important commercial benefits from the invention, as it forms part of a large new order for tanks by Iran. This order will be worth over £500 million, including spares and logistic support, and over 1,200 tanks will be fitted with the new armour."

Some reports suggested that the first information about Chobham armour was given in 1965, and a great deal of information was given in 1968 or 1969. The total cost of developing the Chobham tank armor since the early 1960s amounted to some £6 million. On several occasions between 1965 and 1968 the United States Government was given general information about research in progress in the United Kingdom on a new form of armour. More detailed information was given in 1973. The information was provided in accordance with arrangements made by the two Governments in 1950 for a full and frank interchange of classified military information in the interests of both countries. The Germans had a near-term priority to replace some of their older tanks, so their next replacements would be in the 1990s, beyond the date that would be right for the Chieftain.

The Iranian order involved the supply of over 1,200 Shir tanks which were ordered by the Shah of Iran. When the Iranians repudiated their contract in February 1979 it was necessary to bring the contracts with the Royal Ordnance Factory, Leeds, and its subcontractors to an end. ROF, Leeds, were then left with a small number of partly completed tanks and materials for others, which together amounted to nothing like the full order, which would have taken several years to complete. Various options were considered for the disposal of these tanks, including the possibility of finding other customers.

The Shir Iran tanks built in Leeds were said to be far too heavy for German bridges and crtics said that there is a problem of rail gauges as well. Therefore, skeptics claimed there could be no question of taking these tanks off the shelf to fulfill the commitment that should have been fulfilled by the building of Chieftain tanks at Elswick, in Newcastle.

The decision to purchase the Challenger tank and to discontinue the MBT80 program illustrated the point that achieving an early in-service date can be more important than delaying to buy a more advanced tank later on. The Challenger 1 entered service with the British Army in 1983. It was originally produced by the Royal Ordnance Factory in Leeds, which was acquired by Vickers Defence Systems in 1986.

When Vickers bought the Royal Ordnance Factory, the Royal Ordnance Factory at Barnbow in building the Challenger tank. Vickers plc expressed an interest in acquiring the Royal ordnance factory at Leeds. Royal Ordnance plc is a well-integrated group with much cross-supplying between its component companies. Almost all the companies in the group contribute to Challenger or to its ammunition and spares. Royal Ordnance plc went well down the route to flotation, when there was a public intervention by Vickers in the order for the 7th Regiment of Challenger. The only basis on which Vickers would be interested in Barnbow would be in closing it down, removing its specialist plant and tooling and finishing off its only United Kingdom competitor for tanks. Barnbow was already tooled up, has already made some 300 Challenger tanks and has wide experience in manufacturing them, whereas Vickers was neither tooled up nor has any experience in making them. Vickers was still in the tank business today only because of the injection of regional aid by the Government into the north-east.

On 17 June 1986, the Government decided not to proceed with the planned flotation of Royal Ordnance plc. The exception was the tank building business at Leeds. Following discussions between the Ministry of Defence and Vickers an offer was been made by Vickers plc to purchase RO Leeds, which the Government and the Board of Royal Ordnance have accepted, subject to detailed discussions now taking place between Royal Ordnance and Vickers to finalise the agreement. The price was expect it to be of the order of £11 million. As part of the agreement, Vickers would build a major new facility at the Leeds site, similar to their factory at Newcastle. in the light of this agreement the way is now clear for a decision to order a 7th regiment of Challenger Tanks, subject to detailed contract terms. Vickers have agreed that the tanks will be manufactured at Leeds.

The Canadian Army Trophy [CAT] Competition is a biennial tank gunnery contest organized and administered by Headquarters, Allied Forces Central Europe. The preparation for CAT is intense in that the prestige of Armies and equipment often rides on the outcome. It involves the selection and assignment of personnel, optimum use of unique capabilities of equipment and effective utilization of training resourcs. Thus the methods used to prepare for CAT, while not directly applicable to similar situations in the day-to-day Army, do result in sucesses and failures that indicate possibilities for positive change in doctrine and equipment.

British teams had been equipped with British Chieftains until CAT '87, when the new British Challenger made its debut. The British competitors, with upgraded fire controls in their Chieftain tanks, could place a platoon no higher than ninth in a field of 10. The public debut of the new fire control system for theArmy's Chieftain and Challenger tanks in a NATO gunnerycontest in June proved a dismal flop. One very senior observer, believed to be a high-ranking general, described the British performance in the biennial competition on Hohne ranges, West Germany, on June 20-24 as a "disaster". the British attributed the major blame for relatively poor performance to deficiencies in the Chieftain tank. Other aspects, vital for success, were not mentioned.

The Secretary of State for Defence Mr. Ian Stewart stated 14 July 1987 that "I do not believe that the performance of tanks in the artificial circumstances of a competition, such as the recent Canadian Army Trophy, is a proper indication of their capability in war. Challenger's gun gives the best penetrative performance against the tanks of a potential enemy. The tank itself is arguably the best protected in the world and has excellent mobility. It carries an advanced thermal imaging system which is much admired by our allies and ensures that Challenger can fight effectively by night and by day. Participation in international tank gunnery competitions is one useful option in the complete spectrum of training opportunities available in preparing our tank crews for war, but it is not on its own a basis for judgment of overall capability."

By 1987 the current budgetary cost of a Challenger tank (fully equipped) was £1.5 million. At that time a number of equipment enhancements were currently in hand. A new thermal imaging and observation sight is presently being fitted to all Challenger tanks. New developments now well under way include a new gun, together with its improved ammunition and elevation gearbox, improved computer sighting system and new target acquisition and solid state electronic gun control systems. Equipments ordered since 1979 that remained to be delivered in 1987 include two out of seven Challenger tank regiments. Current production orders provided for tanks for the 5th, 6th and 7th Challenger regiments. British Army tank requirements thereafter are currently under review. The Army still had 900 Chieftain tanks in service. These tanks put up so much smoke that they were targets from miles away.

In 1988 the Ministry decided, subject to satisfactory contractual terms, to upgrade the armament of the Challenger 1 tanks in service by fitting them with an improved gun, known as CHARM. Proponents believed that the so-called "CHARM" gun was superior to the Abrams in both long-range accuracy and penetration. The number of Challenger 1 tanks to be retrofitted under the improvement programme would depend on how many Challenger 1 tanks remained in service under the finalisation of the Options arrangements, but it was the intention that every Challenger 1 remaining in service should be retrofitted.

The British arrived in Saudi Arabia in late 1990 with fighting vehicles that had names that seemed well-suited to the task at hand: Challengers, Warriors, Scimitars, and Scorpions, The Challenger tank is roughly equivalent to the American M6OA3. The Warrior is an armored personnel carrier chosen by the British after competition with the American Bradley. The Scimitars and Scorpions are tracked reconnaissance vehicles that might be called very light tanks.

The initial British contribution to the DESERT SHIELD deployment was 7th Armored Brigade, commanded by Brigadier Patrick Cordmgly. Arriving in Saudi Arabia during October 1990, the modem “Desert Rats” continued the traditions of their forebears, who earned their nickname battling the Axis in North Africa during WWII. The brigade deployed two armored regiments (tank battalions) - the Queens Royal Irish Hussars and the Royal Scots Guards, each equipped with 57 Challenger 1 main battle tanks. The third formation in the brigade was an armored infantry battalion, 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment, with 45 Warrior IFVs. The Warriors had only recently been fielded.

The brigade traveled directly from its home base in Soltau/Fallingbostel, in Northern Germany, while heavy equipment was shipped by sea. To enhance its combat capability, the brigade received a squadron (company) of Scimitar light armored reconnaissance vehicles from the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, an armored engineer regiment, and the 40th Field Regiment Royal Artillery, with 24 M109 selfpropelled 155-mm howitzers.

Seventh Armored Brigade was the first formation equipped with 120-mm tank guns to arrive in Saudi Arabia. American armor deployed up until that point included only 105-mm-gun equipped M1 or M60 tanks. After arrival, the 7th came under the command of the U.S. Marines to bolster their armored firepower against possible encounters with the Iraqi T-72 tanks that faced the coalition forces along the Kuwaiti border.

There had been initial fears making the rounds in the British Army as to its combat value, mainly due to its dismal failure in the 1987 Canadian Army Trophy gunnery competition in Germany. However, the British did not take chances. As they arrived in the Gulf, vehicles were modified by special maintenance crews flown out to Jubail by Vickers, the tank manufacturer. They set about improving the tanks for their oncoming combat assignments under desert conditions that were much different than those expected in NATO. Special cooling fans and air filters were fitted, and TOGS systems (the Challengers’ thermal sights) were adjusted. Add-on armor suites were mounted to enhance survivability against shapedcharge rounds and hand-held antitank weapons.

Fourth Armored Brigade crossed the line of departure around 1930 on G Day. During the advance, columns of vehicles were delayed by unexploded munitions in the lanes, mainly from MLRS and CBU cluster munitions that did not have delay fuses. The weather played havoc with the thermal imaging equipment of the Challengers (TOGS). As the leading tanks set off into the dark, rain descended like treacle, the dust thick with soot from the Iraqi oil fires in Kuwait to the Eaast. Tank gun engagement ranges came down to 500 meters and less. After three weeks of enduring intensive air attack by systems employing thermal weapons, the Iraqis had quickly discovered that a “cold” tank could survive. Iraqi tank crews became quite adept at hiding their tanks from thermals, even removing batteries to prevent heat signatures. The brigade prevailed through a remarkable campaign. It advanced 350 kilometers in 97 hours, fought several major battles, and destroyed more than 60 enemy tanks, many guns, Apcs, and other vehicles. Some 8,000 prisoners were taken. Out of the 59 Challengers, 53 reached the end of the battle intact. Challengers did not suffer any hits from enemy guns or antitank weapons during the fighting.

In 1990-1991, the US had a near-monopoly on the use of depleted uranium [DU]. Two types of potential hazard are posed by DU: a radiation hazard, although DU is a low specific activity material as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a chemical toxicity hazard, which is similar to that posed by other heavy metals, such as lead. DU has the potential to cause adverse health effects if ingested; inhaled, for example from DU dust in the vicinity of a target, such as a tank which has been hit by the DU round; or absorbed, for example from embedded DU shrapnel.

Prior to the Gulf War, the CHARM 1 round based on DU was being developed for use by the new Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank, also then under development, together with a more powerful gun. At the time of Operation GRANBY, it was, however, realised that the existing tungsten-based round in use with the Challenger 1 tank, which was the Main Battle Tank used by UK forces during the Gulf conflict, might not be sufficiently powerful to defeat the most modern Iraqi tanks, the Soviet designed T72s. It was, therefore, decided that MOD should proceed with the emergency development of a DU round for Challenger 1. The CHARM 1 DU round needed only minor modifications to fit the existing 120mm rifled-barrel L11 gun on Challenger 1, but a totally new charge needed to be developed. The new charge and slightly modified DU round were known at the time of the Gulf War as Jericho I and II respectively.

The United Kingdom was the only country besides the US known to have fired DU munitions in the Gulf War. The UK Ministry of Defence estimates that its Challenger tanks fired fewer than 100 120mm Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds against Iraqi military forces during hostilities, although the British tanks fired additional rounds during earlier work-up training in Saudi Arabia. This amounts to less than one (US) ton of DU.

The Challenger, in comparison with the American tank used in the Gulf, was more fuel efficient and achieved far greater serviceability, largely thanks to the efficient REME back-up and excellent support from the makers, Vickers. Overall, Challenger 1 destroyed roughly 300 Iraqi tanks, while the Iraqi forces failed to take a single vehicle out of combat. The Challenger proved its worth in combat. Brigadier Cordingly, the commander of the Desert Rats, paid tribute to its effectiveness by stating that “Challenger is a tank built for combat and not competitions.”

Further plans were announced in June 1991 for an upgrade program on the Challenger 1 fleet. There had been many promises that Challenger 1 would be upgraded and be close to being as good as Challenger 2, and substantially cheaper. Studies to examine how best to equip the Army's six Challenger 1 tank regiments were completed in June 1003, and the results were being evaluated.

A number of options for equipping the Army's Challenger 1 tank regiments have been examined; these include the possibility of a further purchase of CR2 tanks. The way ahead on ordering new tanks for the Army was announced 01 December 1993. Having examined a range of options, the Government concluded that the most cost-effective way forward would be to buy more Challenger 2 rather than upgrade Challenger 1. Accordingly, subject to the negotiation of satisfactory contractual terms, the intent was to place a further order with Vickers Defence Systems for up to 259 more Challenger 2 tanks, together with the associated support and training package.

It was planned to begin withdrawing the Challenger 1 from service in 1998 and it was to be completely replaced by Challenger 2 by 2002. By kate 2002 the Challenger 1 Main Battle Tank was no longer in service and had been replaced by the Challenger 2. By early 2003 the Ministry of Defence still hdld 161 Challenger 1 and two Chieftain Main Battle Tanks. These were no longer in-service, but ere not used as static displays or for target practice.

As part of its support for King Abdullah of Jordan on his accession to the throne, and in response to a request from His Majesty, the Government announced in March 1999 that it had agreed to supply Jordan with Challenger 1 Main Battle Tanks as they came out of service with the British Army over the coming few years. Up to 288 Challenger Is would be supplied. The Challenger 1 currently in service with the British Army had a current average book value of £750K each but, on leaving service, that value would reduce to zero. The tanks would therefore be supplied to Jordan at no cost. However, agreement was reached with Jordan that the Jordanian Government would meet the MOD's additional costs arising out of the Challenger 1 transfer program.

In late 2002 Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon approved the gift of 100 surplus Challenger tanks after a request by King Abdullah of Jordan. The donation follows an earlier deal for 288 [274?] tanks, which it named the Khalid MBT. The variants for the Jordanian military have been upgraded to Challenger 2 standards, and have undergone upgrades using an unmanned turret called the Falcon Turret. The "Falcon turret" upgrade for the Challenger 1 has a "below deck" crew configuration although the commander and gunner are below the turret ring rather than completely remote from the weapon. This project was bankrolled by Jordan and although may be ongoing, not much has been heard of it lately. There were rumor that South Africa might join with Jordan on a new tank using a Falcon III turret.

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Page last modified: 07-05-2021 18:09:57 ZULU