From Sniper Tank to Infantry Support: Challenger 2s Adapt to Ukraine’s War

The famed Challenger 2 tanks demonstrated their deadly "sniper-like" rifled weapons in Ukraine. However, mobility limitations in loose terrain, maintenance issues, and a scarcity of specialised ammunition limited their potential as "game-changing" assets.

Must Read

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 transfer of 14 British Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine marked Western Main Battle tanks’ first arrival in Kyiv. This move opened the path for Germany and the United States to follow suit with Leopard 2 and Abrams tanks, respectively. However, according to a report on March 10th by the Ukrainian portal Defence Express, the limited number of Challenger 2s supplied, despite discussions of potentially doubling that number, as well as their tactical and technical specifications, are unlikely to be a true “game changer” capable of significantly changing battlefield dynamics.

Regarding the Challenger 2’s battle realities, Ukrainian tank personnel spoke with the British tabloid The Sun. They emphasised the tank’s rifled 120mm L30A1 cannon as its greatest advantage, stating that it is still unique, as all other Western and Russian tanks use smoothbore guns.

The Ukrainian tankers lauded the gun’s precision, calling it “sniper-like.” They emphasised that the gun’s exceptional accuracy and range are due not only to its design but also to its superior firing control system. In practical terms, this allows the British tank to efficiently engage targets at distances of up to 4.5 kilometres, which Ukrainian personnel frequently operate at. The record shot from a Challenger 2 during the Gulf War in Iraq was 4.7 kilometres.

However, the Challenger 2’s main advantage is mostly limited to its accurate rifled cannon. While it provides traditional Western benefits such as improved interior space, crew comfort, and strong armour protection, these advantages have drawbacks in actual battlefield conditions.

What is impressive on paper might not necessarily reflect a unique battle reality. For example, the Challenger 2’s high 64-ton weight, comparable to the latest Leopard 2 and M1A2 Abrams derivatives, is attributable to strengthened armour. However, the German and American tanks have 1500 horsepower engines, whilst the British tank has just 1200 horsepower. During a demonstration event for The Sun journalists, the Challenger 2 became stuck in loose soil, according to the tabloid.

The hefty weight enhances armour protection but also reduces mobility, particularly in loose or soft soil conditions where the tank sinks and becomes stuck.

The Dorchester 2 armour, also known as Chobham armour, used on Challenger 2 tanks is believed to be superior to the armour found on Russian tanks such as the T-72. This sophisticated armour system improves crew survivability as compared to its Russian counterparts, providing better protection for tank crews in combat scenarios.

The improved protection is critical for tank duels, although Ukrainian crews did not highlight any such instances because the terrain is not conducive to those conditions.

According to Ukrainian tank crews, the Challenger 2 typically engages infantry positions, fortified regions, and light enemy armoured vehicles in most tactical circumstances. However, they pointed out a significant flaw: the British tank lacked specialised ammunition designed for infantry fighting. This issue results from Western main battle tanks being built as mobile anti-tank assets rather than universal assault platforms. As a result, employing them in tasks that were theoretically secondary or not anticipated becomes challenging.

Long-range bombardment missions are more expensive with MBT’s than with specialist artillery systems. Artillery pieces are frequently quicker to deploy, can fire at higher rates, and use less expensive ammunition developed specifically for indirect fire missions. Repeatedly firing a tank’s main gun can strain its mechanical components, necessitating more frequent maintenance. While MBTs can provide useful mobile direct-fire support, their weapons lack optimised high-angle firepower, sustained fire rates, and specialised ammunition for classic artillery operations like counter-battery fire, airburst rounds, smoke/illumination, and so on.

Using contemporary and expensive MBTs primarily as improvised artillery pieces may be an ineffective use of these highly competent but costly weapons systems with limited stockpiles. Relegating main battle tanks to artillery missions fails to properly capitalise on their combined strengths of potent direct-fire capabilities, solid armour protection, tactical mobility, and battlefield shock action – the exact characteristics that set them apart. Excessive artillery use degrades MBTs’ intended purpose as mobile, shielded, and hard-hitting direct-fire vehicles capable of manoeuvring and engaging opposing forces.

According to The Sun, only seven of the 14 Challenger 2 tanks provided to Ukraine’s Armed Forces are currently operational and combat-ready.

Concerning battle losses, Defence Express notes that the problem is not that the Russians are destroying them. Only one tank was severely damaged, especially by a ‘Lancet’ (attack drone) strike that caused it to catch fire; nevertheless, the crew escaped, and the tank was evacuated for repair. Two more tanks suffered damage but were also repaired. Another one remained as a training unit.

However, only 50% of the Challenger 2s are combat-ready due to difficulty keeping up with routine maintenance and repairs. Ukrainian tank soldiers stated that the turret components and aiming systems were faulty. Spare parts deliveries can take months, and there is a shortage of qualified mechanics on-site. As a result of the lack of combat-ready vehicles, trained crews are frequently left without operating tanks, forcing them to perform jobs such as trench digging.

According to reports from December of last year, Russian soldiers operating in the combat zone destroyed a third British Challenger 2 tank belonging to the Ukrainian military. This reduced the number of tanks remaining in Ukraine’s inventory to just 11 units.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This