In service since 1998, the British Army's Challenger 2 main battle tank is reaching middle age, and the Ministry of Defence is looking to extend its life until 2025. BAE Systems originally built the Challenger 2 and has put in a bid for replacing many of the key systems, which gives us a look at what the British tank of the next decade could look like.
Originally conceived during the Cold War days of the 1980s as a replacement for the Challenger 1, the Challenger 2 is in service with the British Army and the Royal Army of Oman. Though it had previously been used in peacekeeping missions, it first saw combat during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where it gained a reputation for survivability thanks in part to its Chobham armor. No Challenger was lost in battle and some survived up to 70 rocket grenade hits in a single action only to go back into service in a matter of hours.
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The challenge for the British Army is deciding what comes next. Back in 2001, with the Cold War behind and 9/11 still ahead, the government had no strategy about what to do when it came time to replace the Challenger 2. What would replace them? Would their life be extended? Would they be replaced at all? Was it time to rethink armor strategy altogether?
This changed with the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, which identified the new Russian T-14 Armata main battle tank as a serious potential threat and stated that Challenger's L30A1 120 mm rifled gun was now obsolescent. Since the Challenger 2 was still a highly effective vehicle, and the economics of replacing over 400 tanks that originally cost £4,217,000 each was prohibitive in an age of austerity and political uncertainty, the Ministry of Defence decided to upgrade the existing tanks and began soliciting bids.
The goal of the upgrade program is to extend the life of the Challenger 2 to 2025 and to replace key technology systems with more advanced designs. The BAE Systems bid, which includes seven partners, is likely to be one of several proposals and could change before the final selection, but it gives an idea of what the tomorrow's main battle tank could look like.
Since the armor and powerplant of the Challenger 2 are already top tier, the upgrades envisioned by BAE and its partner companies focus on more turret-based technologies. For example, the Commander's primary sight will provide a 360⁰ view of the vicinity and the ability to electronically hand off targets to the gunner. In addition, it will integrate with a new thermal imaging system for day and night surveillance and target engagement that the company says will allow for 24-hour operations.
Another upgrade is the gun control system, which moves the turret and aims the gun under the command of the fire control system. BAE says the new systems will improve speed and accuracy while future-proofing the technology.
The Challenger 2's subsystems will be controlled by a new electronic architecture that includes a new Commander's crew station, as well as the capacity to easily expand and allow for new interfaces, reconfigurable displays, and controls.
BAE says that if it wins the contract, the Challenger 2 Mark 2 standard will be converted at the General Dynamics' factory in South Wales.Source: BAE Systems View gallery - 6 images