Challenger 2 Main Battle Tank
In 1999 Forecast International rated the world’s tanks, and the fifth place finish [after the Leopard 2, M1A2 Abrams, Japanese Type-90 and the Leclerc] was the Challenger 2. Aside from a new gearbox, the hull of the new Challenger is similar to the hull of the Challenger 1, but the turret is so vastly improved that the Challenger 2 could be called a new tank, according to the report. “The tank was lacking in the all-important area of fightability, mainly due to the poor design of the turret and some problems in fire control components. These problems have been more than put right in the Challenger 2 turret.” The new design includes a data buss, new electronic components, and fire control components similar to those on the M1 and the Leclerc. Armor is second generation Chobham, the layered armor system originally developed by the British. The Challenger 2’s high pressure gun is rifled, and all ammunition is stored below the turret ring. The report notes that the Challenger gun claims the longest-distance tank kill in history, a shot of over 4,000 meters in the Gulf War.
By the late 1980s Chieftain tanks of various modifications had been operational with the British Army for more than 25 years. The question of replacing some 600 such vehicles with a more up-to-date model was being decided during 1988. The Department conducted an assessment of the available tank options. The three main contenders are an improved version of the Leopard 2, manufactured by Kraus Maffei of Germany; an improved version of the Abrams M1, manufactured by General Dynamics of the United States; and the Challenger 2 Mk 2 proposed by Vickers Defence Systems, which is an improved version of Challenger 1. The assessment was complicated by the fact that the three tanks are not all at the same stage of development. All three contenders had the potential to meet the Army's requirement. Our assessment took account not only of that factor but of technical merit, risk, time scale, cost, reliability, stretch potential, interoperability with allies, logistic implications and the prospects for overseas sales.
The size of the investment in a new tank made it essential to conform to sound procurement practice and to minimise risk. After the most careful consideration, therefore, the Ministry decided to give Vickers Defence Systems an opportunity to demonstrate that it is able to deliver Challenger 2 Mk 2 to specification, to time and to cost. Subject to the agreement of satisfactory contract terms, the Department funded the company to undertake a demonstration phase which will last until the end of September 1990. This would require it to demonstrate within the contracted time that Challenger 2 Mk 2 can meet the staff requirement and can be successfully developed and produced to the required standard so as to achieve the required in-service date, and at a price which the company has already offered us. Precise criteria for performance and technical achievement have been established against which the success of the demonstration phase will be measured. By the end of 1990 it was planned to fabricate nine prototypes, three of which would undergo troop tests and six will undergo technical tests. It was planned to begin producing these tanks in 1992.
The Challenger 2 Mk 2 had the tracked chassis of the Challenger 1 tank and a new turret. The hull and turret are fabricated out of the latest development in multilayered Chobham armor. The tank uses the L30 120-mm rifled gun stabilized in two laying planes as the main armament. The Challenger 2 Mk 2 tank was fitted with the latest fire control system, which includes a stabilized gunner's main sight with laser rangefinder and thermal imaging unit; and a second-generation electronic ballistic computer.
The original specification for the Chieftain replacement included an inertial navigation system which we believe FIN 11–55 would have met. However, experience of operating Challenger 1 in the Gulf using a much simpler global positioning system—GPS—demonstrated that an inertial navigation system would not be essential to meet our operational needs and therefore, on cost grounds, could no longer be justified. Challenger 2 will therefore be fitted only with the GPS.
The Challenger 2 was the first British Army tank since World War II to be designed, developed and produced exclusively by a single prime contractor, Vickers Defence Systems, with set reliability goals laid down in the fixed price contract. The hull and automotive parts of the Challenger 2 are based upon its predecessor Challenger 1, but Challenger 2 incorporates over 150 improvements aimed at increasing reliability and maintainability. The turret of Challenger 2 is a totally new design. Armor is an uprated version of Challenger 1's Chobham armour. The Challenger 2 is the best protected tank in NATO (10) incorporating Chobham second-generation armour plating. Its NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical protection) system is capable of dealing with all known threats and, for the first time in any British tank, the crew compartment has both a heating and a cooling system.
The main armament consists of a Royal Ordnance 120 mm rifled tank gun designated the L30. It also incorporates a McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems 7.62 mm chain gun, which is already in service in the British Army, being installed in the GKN Defence Warrior mechanised combat vehicle, and a 7.62 mm anti-aircraft machine gun. The Challenger 2's fire control system is the latest-generation digital computer from Computing Devices Company (CDC) of Canada and is an improved version of that installed in the US M1A1 Abrams tank. It also has growth capacity for future enhancement such as a Battlefield Information Control System and navigation aids. The Challenger 2 carries a crew of 4 and has a combat weight of 62.5 tonnes. It has a maximum road speed of 56 km/h and a range of 250 km cross country and 450 km on the road.
The Challenger 2 (CR2) project includes the development and production of 386 CR2 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), 22 Driver Training Tanks (DTTs), CHARM 3 ammunition and a full support package including training equipment and initial spares.
Prime Contractor is Vickers Defence Systems plc. Vickers Defence systems started work on the Challenger 2 in November 1986 as a private venture and shortly afterwards, in March 1987, made its first presentation of the vehicle to the British Ministry of Defence. In February 1988, Vickers submitted a formal proposal regarding the tank to the MOD following the issue of the staff requirement. In December 1988 it was announced that Vickers Defence Systems was to be awarded a £90 million contract to undertake a demonstration phase (also referred to as the proof of principle phase) which lasted until September 1990.
In June 1991 the British Government selected the Challenger 2 and placed an order worth £520 million for 127 Challenger 2 MBTs and 13 driver training tanks. Production began in 1993 and the first vehicles were delivered in July 1994. The Challenger 2 is produced at the Vickers Defence Systems plants in Leeds and Newcastle.There are over 250 subcontractors (both UK and Overseas) involved at some point in the manufacturing process. Among the most significant are: Royal Ordnance (Main and Secondary armaments); Blair Catton (Track); and GEC-Marconi (Gun Control).
The requirement to replace Challenger 1 (CR1) MBT led to the placement of a follow-on order with Vickers Defence Systems. In July 1994, Vickers Defence Systems received a further order from the UK MOD for the supply of 259 Challenger 2 and nine driver training tanks plus training and logistic support. The total value of the contract is £800 million and means that production of the Challenger 2 will continue at least until the year 2000 and that the British Army will be equipped with Challenger 2s while the Challenger 1 will be phased out.
The CR2 In-Service Reliability Demonstration (ISRD) milestone was successfully achieved in January 1999. The ISRD took place from September to December 1998 and trialled 12 British Army crewed MBTs at the Bovington test tracks and Lulworth Bindon Ranges. The ISRD was a great success in that CR2 not only achieved the targets but exceeded them in all areas set by the Customer's Staff Requirement.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Germany, the first of six post-SDR Armored Regiments, started to take delivery of CR2 in January 1998 and received the 38th in time to meet the June 1998 in-service date. Deliveries of CR2 are continuing and it was planned that each of the six Armoured Regiments would be fully equipped with their tanks and associated logistic support package by end of 2000.
The conversion from CR1 to CR2 Regiments was assisted by a comprehensive suite of training aids, ranging from simple wall charts to highly sophisticated, computer-based gunnery simulators. A range of CR2 training aids and support equipment are also being provided for the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) to assist the task of fault diagnosis, test, repair, calibration and system performance monitoring.
Challenger 2E was specifically designed for demanding environmental and climatic conditions and represents the latest evolution of the highly effective family of Challenger vehicles.
Total coalition tank strength was roughly 450 vehicles at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The 3d Infantry Division included over 200 M1A1s in its tank battalions and cavalry squadron. The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force had two tank battalions (virtually all the tanks in the active Marine Corps), with some tanks being provided to each of the three RCTs of 1st Marine Division. Additionally, one company of Marine Corps Reserve tanks was activated to support Task Force Tarawa. The British Army deployed two tank battalions in 7th Armored Brigade with a total of 116 Challenger 2 tanks.
The U.S. and British armies both augmented their light infantry with armor. The British stated that their light infantry in 3d Commando and 16th Air Assault Brigades always wanted support from Challenger tanks and Warrior infantry fighting vehicles from 7th Armored Brigade. Challenger 2 tank platoons and companies were attached to light infantry battalions, especially when required to enter urban areas where heavy resistance was expected.
UK equipment performed well in the Gulf, even with the inherent difficulties presented by desert operations. Equipment availability was generally high: 90 percent for the Challenger 2 main battle tank, and 95 percent for the AS90 self-propelled gun. A total of 279 powerpacks were changed during the deployment of Challenger I to the Gulf. The majority of engine failures were caused by dust ingestion.
Tanks were highly resistant to fire. The most common Iraqi antiarmor weapon was the rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), especially the Soviet designed RPG-7. This weapon has both high explosive and shaped charge warheads. The antiarmor shaped charge can penetrate up to 300 millimeters (nearly 12 inches) of solid, rolled homogenous armor plate under optimal conditions, but still failed to penetrate the advanced armor of the Abrams and Challenger 2 in most locations. British army sources stated that one of their Challengers operating near Basra absorbed 15 hits by RPGs with no penetration. The only British Challenger knocked out during the war was accidentally hit by another British tank. Two British soldiers were killed when their Challenger II main battle tank was destroyed by another Challenger II during a fight with Iraqi forces in the battle for the southern Iraqi city of Basra. At least one, and possibly two, US Army M1 tanks were destroyed by fire from Army M2 Bradley fighting vehicles.
Tank-on-tank exchanges are rare in modern warfare, but it was in that conflict in 2003 that the Challenger 2 had its proudest moment. A squadron of 14 tanks from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards confronted a similar number of ageing Soviet-era T-55 tanks. Every Iraqi tank was destroyed and every British tank untouched in a battle that one cavalry officer said 'was like the bicycle against the motor car'.
By the time of the war, there were initial moves towards the lightening of units. The British had begun to look at replacing the new Challenger 2 MBT in 25 years with the Future Rapid Effect System, initially projected to weigh less than 20 tons [by the year 2010, FRES had grown to 40 tons]. This would form part of what had become termed the Ground Medium Force, operational from 2025 onwards, similar to US studies. However, only the United States and Britain, within NATO, were studying a replacement tank. A number of other states were looking to replace their existing tracked infantry fighting vehicles with wheeled variants.
The digitisation of Challenger 2 would be achieved through the installation and integration of Bowman radios, Platform Battlefield Information Systems Application (P BIS A) and the Commander's Crew Station Screen with the current fire control and sighting systems within the tank. This work would be completed by the Design Authority Alvis Vickers Ltd. The approved cost for the Bowman project is £2.073 billion (resource cost, VAT inclusive, for the Demonstration and Manufacture phases) and the approved cost for the Combat Infrastructure and Platform BISA (CIP) project is £410 million (P BISA is an integral part of the CIP project). Both projects involve digitisation of a number of platforms over-and-above Challenger 2, it is therefore not possible to determine the elements attributable to a specific platform.
Britain, which used the world’s first tanks in the Battle of the Somme during the Great War, lost its last armor assembly line with the shuttering of an historic BAE plant in Newcastle upon Tyne in the second half of 2013 following final deliveries of Terrier combat-engineer vehicles. That cast doubt on further development of the Challenger 2, a model that’s intended to see service until 2035.
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt, warned in 2019 that the “Challenger 2 has been in service without a major upgrade since 1998. During this time the US, Germany and Denmark have completed two major upgrades, whilst Russia has fielded five new variants with a sixth pending ... Warrior is even more obsolete, and is 20 years older than those operated by our key allies. Since Warrior’s introduction in 1988, the United States and Germany have conducted four major upgrades and Russia has invested in three new variants.”
Abandoning heavy armour would reduce the combat power of the Army. Its abilities to counter enemy armour would reduce, reducing its chances of success against an armoured opponent. The Army would also become less effective in urban warfare, with urban operations taking longer and incurring more casualties. It would be quite difficult to explain to the NATO military structure and key UK allies, including the US, France, Germany and our eastern European allies like Poland and Estonia. It would also be difficult to explain to smaller allies that retain tanks: Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Norway.
The British Army released a video on 22 January 2020 showing its new concept for the Challenger 2 main battle tank designed for urban operations. Named Streetfighter II, the blocky camouflage scheme of brown-white and bluish gray appears similar to the old school tanks stationed in Berlin in the final days of the Cold War, building on prototypes the British Army unveiled just over a year ago.
"One of the primary goals of Streetfighter is to identify capability gaps between ourselves and potential enemies and then to recommend technical solutions for those areas of possible tactic overmatch," a member of the Royal Tank Regiment, who identified himself as Captain Quant, said in the official video presentation. "These are in areas like lethality, survivability, [and] situational awareness", he added.
The new vehicle includes an Israeli-constructed IronVision system - first released in 2018 by Israeli defense contractor Elbit - which gives the tank crew the ability to see in all directions even when inside the body with the hatches entirely closed, and a mock-up of a Brimstone anti-tank missile launched on top of the turret.
Ebit has been working alongside the British Army to bring IronVision to the Streetfighter II vehicle since January 2019. IronVision consists of a camera on top of the vehicle which eliminates all blind spots and offers a total 360 situational awareness for the turret crew inside the tank through a specialised helmet-mounted display. The original concept for Streetfighter did include a 360-degree camera on top of a mast protruding from the turret, but this only permitted fixed fields of view rather than the natural freedom to observe all surroundings.
Brimstone is already being used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and will be included in Armament options on soon to be released AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for the British Army. The weapon is quickly increasingly in popularity globally as an option for surface-launchers, including for ground vehicles and boats.
The British Army can’t afford a new version of the Challenger 2. Instead, the army is planning a separate set of upgrades for 148 of the 227 Challenger 2 tanks.
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