After Challenger 2 failed in Russia, UK gears up to test Challenger 3 tanks

The UK is upgrading its Challenger 2 tanks to the Challenger 3 model, with 8 prototypes already built and undergoing military trials for a planned delivery of 140 units to the British Army by 2030.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The first footage of the destruction of a British Challenger 2 tank in the combat zone of eastern Ukraine surfaced in September 2023. After that, this tank vanished from the frontlines. According to Ukrainian operators, the main advantage of the Challenger 2 is primarily its accurate rifled cannon. Although it offers conventional Western benefits such as enhanced interior space, personnel comfort, and robust armor protection, these merits are compromised when applied to real-world battlefield circumstances. As per British assertions, the tank is antiquated, and upgrades were contracted.  

The Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) production line in Telford, UK, has already seen eight pre-production Challenger 3 tanks roll out in April 2024. These will now undergo rigorous military trials. The Challenger 3 is currently the most modern European tank and will form the core of the British ground forces.

British Defence Minister Grant Shapps commented on producing the final eighth prototype. In a statement on X Network, he proudly announced that these were the first tanks manufactured in Great Britain.

All eight prototypes/pre-production Challenger 3s will undergo meticulous military trials. These tests, conducted in various operational environments where the British Army operates, including the Arctic and the Middle East, will ensure the tanks’ readiness and reliability. The first prototype has already completed shooting trials in Germany, setting a promising precedent for the rest of the trials.

RBSL (Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land) announced in January that this initial prototype, along with the rest that will be closely followed, will soon exhibit its capabilities during trials. These trials will involve testing the prototypes under operational conditions to verify their performance and make improvements before the delivery of another 140 units to the British Army.  

If the military trials go well, the Telford factory will deliver another 140 Challenger 3s to British soldiers by 2030. However, as demonstrated by the challenging case of the British armored vehicle Ajax, which is a separate project, smooth military trials are not guaranteed. The initial plans were to introduce Ajax into service as early as 2017, but Ajax testing is still ongoing. They passed tests in the Arctic recently, facing temperatures nearly -40° below zero.

Nevertheless, Ajax will eventually enter the British Army: By 2028, the army will receive 446 Ajax machines out of 589 ordered. This year, 93 Ajax vehicles will be ready for operation, followed by 89 in 2025, 66 in 2026, 125 in 2027, and 73 in 2028. The number of vehicles delivered in 2029 and 2030 is not yet known.

The Defence Minister underscored the pivotal role of the Challenger 3 in the British Army’s warfighting capabilities and its integral part in the United Kingdom’s deterrence strategy. He stated, ‘In a more dangerous world, vehicles like the Challenger 3 are essential because the threats faced by the United Kingdom are evolving.’

Challenger 3, weighing 66 tons, is armed with a 120mm Rheinmetall L55A1 smoothbore gun. The gun can fire the latest German tank ammunition, including programmable rounds. The British Army also mentions the development of an entirely new British-German sub-caliber munition, EKE (Enhanced Kinetic Energy).

Challenger 3 has an upgraded and more powerful engine, CV12-9A (Challenger 2 CV12-6A), which can produce up to 1120 kW (1500 horsepower). A vital element of the Challenger 3 is the active protection system of Israeli origin, the Trophy.

The first units equipped with Challenger 3 tanks are projected to achieve initial operational capability by 2027 and full operational capability by 2030. The Challenger 3s are expected to remain in service until at least 2040.

“Challenger 3, along with Ajax and Boxer, will form the backbone of the Army’s Armoured Brigade Combat Teams and is of paramount importance for the Army’s capability and the UK’s contribution to NATO deterrence,” wrote Major General Jon Swift, Army Director of Programmes.

London will reduce the Challenger tank fleet from 227 to 148 (140 serial and eight prototypes). The conversion of 148 Challenger 2 tanks to the “3” version will cost £800 million. Overall, the United Kingdom has 328 Challenger 2 tanks in active service and storage, with an additional 14 Challenger 2 tanks donated to Ukraine. After the anticipated modernization, approximately 180 Challenger 2 tanks will remain in reserve.

Of the upgraded Challenger 3s, 56 will be retained by the Queen’s Royal Hussars and the same number by the Royal Tank Regiment. The remaining enhanced tanks will serve for training and as a combat reserve.

As part of the Future Soldier transformation program, the British Army will have two Armoured Brigades—the 12th Armoured Brigade Combat Team and the 20th Armoured Brigade Combat Team. Both fall under the command of the 3rd Division. Each brigade will have one of the regiments mentioned, with 56 Challenger 3 tanks.

As part of the Future Soldier program, the British Army is undergoing significant organizational changes and changes in its vehicle fleet. In addition to Challenger 3s and Ajaxes, the British Army will receive 623 Boxer armored transporters. Additionally, it will acquire 70 more Jackal 3 multi-purpose utility vehicles this year. There’s potential talk of delivering up to 240 units.

Under the Land Mobility Programme (LMP), thousands of new wheeled vehicles in three versions will be procured: light (Light Protected Mobility) and medium armored vehicles (Medium Protected Mobility), plus a light utility platform (Light Utility Platform).

By 2030, LMP will replace as many as ten types of vehicles, including Land-Rover, Pinzgauer, Mastiff, Coyote, Jackal, Ridgeback, Wolfhound, Foxhound, and the tracked air defense vehicle Stormer.


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