In keeping with its image as a second rate force, the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) plans to upgrade its ageing Challenger 2 tanks to Challenger 3 specifications. The modification is similar to the German KF52 Panther upgrade of the Leopard 2 tank in that the chassis remains unchanged while the electronics and firing systems are updated.
The MoD reported on February 9 that the Challenger 3 Delivery Team is still on track and under budget, as Challenger 3 passed the Critical Design Review. According to the MoD statement, the Challenger 3 teams from DE&S’ Land Equipment Operating Centre, the British Army, and industry players Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) have been working to accelerate the CR3 programme. This comes after the Initial Design Review (IDR) in March 2022 and results from a massive amount of collaborative work.
The CDR signifies that the tank design has been agreed upon, and RBSL can now begin producing the CR3 prototypes.
The work was completed under an £800 million contract awarded to RBSL in 2021 to deliver 148 modernised, fully digitalised battle tanks to the British Army beginning in 2027.
The supply-chain subcontracts have now been given to UK supply chain companies, helping the government level the goal. Work to modernise and expand RBSL’s Telford production facility, which will also manufacture Boxer vehicles, is nearing completion after two important design reviews.
The team has also successfully tested a new armour system, a UK sovereign capability based on a Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL design) and manufactured by RBSL. Parallel to and in response to the Secretary of State for Defence’s acceleration challenge, work is underway to deliver Main Battle Tanks sooner.
The contemporaneous integration of the Trophy MV Active Protection System (APS) is not part of the main contract, but it is a vital future enabler. This is making good progress through the Concept and Assessment phases, with a successful demonstration planned for November 2022, adds the release.
The Challenger 3 upgrade
A significant update to the British Army’s main battle tank, including increased firepower and cutting-edge defensive technologies, will guarantee that the UK remains at the forefront of tank design, ready to respond to future global threats and challenges, mentions the MoD website.
A contract with Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) to deliver 148 Challenger 3 tanks pushes the platform’s retirement date to 2040. At RBSL, it will create 200 skilled positions, including 130 engineers and 70 technicians. An additional 450 jobs will be created across the West Midlands, Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne, and the Isle of Wight on the broader supply chain.
It will provide export prospects and strengthen the case for the United Kingdom’s participation in future international tank programmes.
The upgrade will include a new 120mm smoothbore gun that uses advanced globally available ammunition, a new suite of sights that provide tank commanders with enhanced day and night targeting abilities, new modular armour, an active protection system, a turret that can be fitted to allies’ and global partners’ tanks and improved mobility through an upgraded engine and new hydro gas suspension.
As part of Challenger 3’s layered Defence, the fleet will be fitted with Trophy MV APS, allowing it to detect and neutralise incoming threats. The tank will be subjected to extensive electromagnetic testing to verify its viability in the most sensor-rich battlefields.
The new modular armour was created using breakthroughs in armour technology given by Dstl’s in-house Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) sponsored armour expertise. This Dstl-owned Intellectual Property (IP) has sparked tremendous interest and is being exploited due to Dstl’s close relationships with MOD and industry.
The tank commander will now have an independent day/night all weather hunter killer capability, allowing him to collect and engage targets faster than possible enemies.
The tank has also been designed to help the Future Commando Force in multidomain combat while remaining capable of operating in the littoral environment (between land and sea).
The Challenger 3 will be outfitted with a digitised backbone that will connect it to the other combat vehicles that comprise the fighting Brigade, enabling data sharing across domains to give information advantage, multidomain integration, and an edge over opponents.
Its modular design provides operational commanders with an increased survivability suite capable of dealing with any battlefield dangers it is likely to face around the world.
Overall, the British Army’s new and enhanced Main Battle Tank offers a significant generational capabilities boost. It will be Defence’s only 24 hour, all-weather, mobile, shielded, precision, direct fire, anti-armour manoeuvre capability, and it will be crucial to Defence’s ability to deliver hard power, although in a limited capacity.
The MoD is currently reviewing the tank numbers after the Chief of the General Staff of the United Kingdom, General Sir Patrick Sanders, issued a warning that the deployment of Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine will “temporarily weaken” Britain
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