TechChallenger 3 prototype unveiled: a revolution in British tank armory set to bolster military power

Challenger 3 prototype unveiled: a revolution in British tank armory set to bolster military power

Challenger 3
Challenger 3
Images source: © Licensor
10:41 AM EST, January 26, 2024

This latest British vehicle, signified by the number, carries on the legacy of the Challenger tank family that has been under production since the 1980s. These tanks, whose design roots can be traced back to the even older Chieftain tank, demonstrate the evolution of armored weaponry through gradual development that builds upon prior, proven solutions.

The predecessor of this new tank, the Challenger 2, holds high regard in Ukraine and, during the Second Gulf War, successfully withstood the impact of 14 RPG-7 anti-tank grenade projectiles and MILAN anti-tank guided missiles. This exact vehicle also holds a unique record - it annihilated an Iraqi tank from a staggering distance of about 3.17 miles. Will the Challenger 3 surpass its predecessor?

Although the new tank is an evolutionary solution, it also represents a revolution in at least one aspect: its armament. For the first time in over 50 years, it does not employ a rifled gun (like the L30A1 from the Challenger 2). Still, a smoothbore German Rh120/L55A1 (Rh120/L55A1CR3 variant), sanctioning standard, NATO, unified 120 mm caliber ammunition.

Muzzle departure of Challenger 2
Muzzle departure of Challenger 2© Licensor | Crown Copyright

Employing this gun not only results in standardizing the armament to match the latest versions of Leopard 2 tanks but also allows savings, as Britain was, until recently, burdened with developing its unique ammunition.

The new gun indicates the radical change - and the uncommon solution - that the British have been using for years. The Challenger 2 gun is loaded in three parts: the projectile, the propelling charge, and the fuse.

This loading method reduced the loader's weight but made the loading process more complex. Additionally, it was entirely incompatible with solutions used in NATO allied tanks, which use 120 mm unified ammunition.

So, what additional changes does the Challenger 3 introduce compared to the currently used Challenger 2?

New turret, old hull

Apart from the armament, the most significant change is an entirely new turret. Taking a cue from the Abrams, a magazine with blow-off panels is employed. Therefore, when hit, the explosion is directed outside the tank. However, unfortunately, not all ammunition can be isolated from the crew.

The new turret utilizes newly developed composite Farnham armor and includes elements of the new modular Epsom armor, which can fortify the tank's protection level if necessary.

The Israeli active defense system Trophy is also mounted on the turret. Given the Trophy's increasing usage, despite the existence of competitive solutions, it is slowly becoming the Western standard.

Significant changes were also made to the interior of the hull. Although it is an upgraded Challenger 2 hull, its critical subsystems have been updated. The tank now comes with an improved engine (the increased power has yet to be revealed), transmission, and a new suspension. Other changes include digital fire control systems and sensors.

The implemented solutions have slightly increased the weight of the tank. The new Challenger 3 will resemble the size of the latest versions of Abrams or Leopard 2. Still, considering the potential for adding additional armor, 145,505 lbs might not be the final weight of the Challenger 3.

The new tank is needed now

Especially in comparison with the Franco-German MGCS initiative, the Challenger 3 exemplifies pragmatism.

While Germany and France have been nursing ambitious plans to craft a future super tank for ten years and are still struggling to devise a joint concept, the British have produced a "sufficient" tank here and now for a reasonable cost, thanks to their partnership with Berlin.

Challenger 3
Challenger 3© Licensor | Corporal Adam J Wakefield, RLC

The Challenger 3 is neither a revolutionary nor particularly futuristic design. Although its creators label it the "best tank in NATO, " it's hard to identify any significant edges that the British construction holds over the latest Leopard 2 or Abrams versions. Nevertheless, the new tank undeniably marks a leap forward from the Challenger 2.

A few years ago, given its performance in Iraq, the latter was acclaimed as impeccably armored. However, over two decades of advancement in tank protection have passed since then, resulting in outstanding developments such as the Farnham and Epsom armors.

Compromise, but indivisible

The Challenger 3 serves several tangible benefits for Britain. Instead of purchasing a new Leopard 2 in Germany, as most European countries do, they opted for a more challenging route. This decision enables them to maintain and revive the capacities of the British industry in constructing armored weaponry. The German-British joint venture, RBSL, will manufacture these new tanks.

Challenger 3
Challenger 3© Licensor

Compared to the prospective "euro tank", the Challenger 3 has one huge advantage - it exists. Following the technology demonstrator, the prototype has now been released and should significantly augment the potential of the British armed forces soon.

The new tank also signals the final relinquishment of a controversial idea under consideration just a few years ago - scrapping the British armored troops entirely.

Although London's plan to acquire (or rather refurbish their own Challenger 2s) 148 tanks seems modest compared to Polish orders, this action will undeniably bolster the capabilities of the British Armed Forces. The tanks retrofitted to the new standard are projected to be declared operationally ready by 2027.

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