Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land Group Unveils First ‘Challenger 3’ Prototype at IAV2024 Conference

UK's 'Challenger 3' Tank Project Gains Momentum with Prototype Launch."

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

At the International Armoured Vehicles Conference 2024 (IAV2024), 22-25 January 2024, Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land Group (RBSL) and the UK Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) announced that the “Challenger 3” main battle tank project had reached a new milestone, with the official unveiling of the first “Challenger 3” prototype, P1, from the Telford factory.

The UK military has always been keenly observed as a vital European military force. However, the United Kingdom’s military commitment and readiness have dwindled over time. Today, with complicated international crises and security difficulties, the UK’s military forces look to be stretched thin. Looking back thirty years, the UK maintained a substantial army consisting of about 1000 “Challenger 2” main battle tanks, FV510 “Warrior” infantry fighting vehicles, and over 1000 FV432 “Bulldog” armoured transport and reconnaissance vehicles for support.

Surprisingly, from 1997 until 2020, the UK did not deliver a single new armoured vehicle to the army. The British Army’s size continuously declined as defence spending was lowered further. As early as 2010, the British Army had reduced its “Challenger 2” main battle tank strength to 227. Ten years later, in 2021, the British Army opted to cut 89 “Challenger 2” tanks, leaving only 148 “Challenger 2” tanks for the future. This fact has received extensive coverage and criticism, but it has also presented an opportunity for the British Army to modernise and enhance its armoured units.

This week’s launch of the “Challenger 3” main battle tank project is intended to address this demand. The British Army’s 148 “Challenger 3” tanks will completely replace the “Challenger 2.” To guarantee that the project runs well, the UK purposefully created a fresh prototype of the “Challenger 3.” The P1 presented is the first of eight prototypes, with seven more to be built later for comprehensive testing. Following extensive testing, the “Challenger 3” will proceed to the Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) and Full-Rate Production (FRP) stages, with a total of 140 “Challenger 3” production units.

The turret design of the “Challenger 3” prototype is painstakingly built by RBSL, demonstrating great technological ability. The turret is outfitted with tough “Epsom” armour, considerably improving its defensive capabilities. A powerful 120mm L55A1 smoothbore gun is securely installed, providing significant firepower. In addition, the turret houses a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun for close-range defence. Notably, the turret is outfitted with an advanced computerised fire control system. Based on Thales’ DNGS-T3 and ORION targeting systems, this system allows for precision targeting of distant objects. Adding the commander’s panoramic sight and the gunner’s stabilised targeting sight improves battlefield awareness and shooting stability. Modifying the vehicle’s electronic architecture ensures the tank’s competitive advantage in information warfare.

The “Challenger 3” prototype P1 has an innovative turret design that is broader and longer than previous models. This design not only improves the tank’s combat effectiveness but also has the potential to be included in an update package for other main battle tanks, such as early “Leopard 2” tanks, extending their service life. The “Challenger 3” P1 prototype clearly shows the unusual design of the new turret’s frontal armour and the enhanced hull’s stronger armour belt. These enhancements are designed to withstand opposing firepower better. Furthermore, the close collaboration between RBSL and DE&S suggests that the development of a new modular armour (NMA) system is gaining momentum. This armour system incorporates “Epsom” and “Farnham” armours, which replace the “Chobham” and “Dorchester” armour packages, respectively.

An enhanced driver multi-channel observation system, the “Pathfinder” system, was successfully integrated into the modified hull. This technology provides the driver with outstanding day and night observation capabilities, providing good situational awareness in weather circumstances. New driver cameras are intelligently put at the front and back of the tank, increasing this capability and allowing the driver to operate the tank more safely and efficiently.

The early “Challenger 3” ATD demonstration vehicle had an innovative turret configuration. This innovation is primarily reflected in using 120mm fixed ammunition, which eliminates the turret cooling unit compartment for the previous bustle-mounted thermal imaging system. In terms of ammunition storage, all of the individual loading ammo boxes formerly stored in the turret ring have been relocated to the rear compartment on the left side of the turret, which is provided with pressure relief valves. This arrangement allows for 16 ready rounds in the turret rear compartment, with the remaining 15 rounds housed in the concentrated front left side of the vehicle, resulting in a more logical ammunition configuration. This design is continued in the new “Challenger 3” prototype.

The “Challenger 3” prototype’s chassis will be powered by a CV12-9A diesel engine developed by the Heavy Armour Automotive Improvement Project. This powerful engine will easily connect with the updated TN54 gearbox system, producing up to 1200 horsepower. The improved chassis also includes new radiators and cooling systems, a third-generation hydro-gas suspension system, and a new hydraulic track tensioning device to ensure the tank’s exceptional manoeuvrability in a variety of battlefield environments.

Looking ahead, the “Challenger 3” will be outfitted with Rafael’s “Trophy” MV hard-kill active defence system, as well as the Elbit Laser Warning System (ELAWS), to increase battlefield survivability even more. This forward-thinking design philosophy is apparent in the equipment selection and careful consideration of future combat. Currently, the “Challenger 2” tank has only one export customer: Oman. However, as the “Challenger 3” project advances, global interest in this sophisticated tank continues to rise. As an existing customer, Oman has closely followed the project’s newest progress.


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