FV4034 Challenger 2 is a main battle tank (MBT) currently in service with the armies of the United Kingdom and Oman. It is built by the British company Vickers Defence Systems (now part of BAE Systems Land and Armaments). The manufacturer advertises it as the world's most reliable main battle tank As of January 2008, two Challenger 2s have been damaged and one destroyed (by a friendly fire engagement with another Challenger 2) in combat.
Challenger 2 is an extensive redesign from Challenger 1, the MBT from which it was developed. It uses the basic hull and automotive parts of its predecessor but all else is new. Fewer than 5% of components are interchangeable. It is armored with a second generation of Chobham armour called Dorchester, just as the Challenger I was armored with the first generation of Chobham armour.
Challenger 2 has now replaced Challenger 1 in service with the British Army and is also used by the Royal Army of Oman. The UK placed orders for 127 Challenger 2 tanks in 1991 and an additional 259 in 1994. Oman ordered 18 of the tanks in 1993 and a further 20 in November 1997. Challenger 2 entered service with the British Army in 1998, with the last delivered in 2002. It is expected to remain in service until 2035. Deliveries for Oman were completed in 2001. Challenger 2 has seen operational service in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq (2003–present). During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, this was the only tank operating in the Gulf that did not suffer a single loss to enemy fire. In one engagement a Challenger took multiple hits from rocket propelled grenades and from one Milan anti tank missile.
Vickers Defence Systems (later Alvis Vickers, now BAE Systems Land Systems) began to develop a successor to Challenger 1 as a private venture in 1986. Following the issue of a staff requirement for a next-generation tank, Vickers formally submitted its plans for Challenger 2 to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). They were awarded a £90 million contract for a demonstrator vehicle in December 1988. In June 1991, after competition from other tank manufacturers designs (including the M1A2 Abrams, the Leopard 2 (Improved) and the Leclerc), the MoD placed a £520 million order for 127 MBTs and 13 driver training vehicles. This was augmented in 1994 with an order for a further 259 tanks and 9 driver trainers (worth £800 million). Oman ordered 18 Challenger 2s in 1993 and a further 20 tanks in November 1997.
Challenger 2 successfully completed its Reliability Growth Trial in 1994; Three vehicles were tested for 285 simulated battlefield days. Each day is known to have consisted of:
An equally important milestone was the In-Service Reliability Demonstration (ISRD) in 1999. 12 fully crewed tanks were tested at the Bovington test tracks and at Lulworth Bindon ranges. The tank exceeded all staff requirements.
The tank went into service with the British Army in June 1998 with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards in Germany and the last vehicles were delivered in 2002. Oman received its last tanks in 2001. It is expected to remain in service until around 2035.
The Trojan minefield breaching vehicle and the Titan bridge-laying vehicle based on aspects of the Challenger 2 were shown in November 2006; 66 are to be supplied by BAE Systems to the Royal Engineers, at a cost of £250M.
Challenger 2 is equipped with an 120 mm/ 55 (in barrel length) calibre/4.724" , L30A1 tank gun, the successor to the gun used on Chieftain and Challenger 1. The gun is made from high strength electro-slag refining (ESR) steel with a chromium alloy lining and, like earlier British 120 mm guns, it is insulated by a thermal sleeve. It is fitted with a muzzle reference system, fume extraction and is gyro-stabilised. The turret has a rotation time of 9 seconds through 360 degrees. Because the British Army continues to place a premium on the use of high explosive squash head (HESH) rounds in addition to saboted rounds, Challenger 2's cannon is rifled, making it unique among the NATO MBTs. HESH rounds continue to be used by the British for three reasons: they have a longer range than saboted penetrator rounds, they are more effective against buildings and thin-skinned vehicles, and are also cheaper than the CHARM 3.
Forty-nine rounds can be carried from a selection of APFSDS, HESH or smoke. A depleted uranium APFSDS round known as CHARM 1 (Challenger Armament) was produced, later replaced by the improved CHARM 3. As with earlier versions of the 120 mm gun, the rounds are in two parts, a charge and a warhead. Contrary to speculation, this does not reduce the rate of fire of Challenger 2; in fact, a loader can often sustain a higher rate of fire than auto-loaders with single-piece ammunition. Further, separate charge sticks reduce the likelihood of enemy fire igniting the ammunition.
The gun is controlled by an all-electric control and stabilisation system. An L94A1 EX-34 7.62 mm chain gun is fitted to the left of the main gun. A 7.62 mm L37A2 machine gun for anti-air defence is mounted in front of the loader's hatch. 4,200 rounds of 7.62mm ammunition are carried.
The digital fire control computer from Computing Devices Co of Canada contains two 32-bit processors with a MIL STD1553B databus, and has capacity for additional systems, for example a Battlefield Information Control System.
The commander has a panoramic SAGEM VS 580-10 gyrostabilised sight with laser rangefinder. Elevation range is +35° to -35°. The commander's station is equipped with eight periscopes for 360° vision, and it takes only nine seconds (+/- 2 seconds) for the turret to make a full rotation
The Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight II (TOGS II), from Thales, provides night vision. The thermal image is displayed on both the gunner's and commander's sights and monitors. The gunner has a stabilised primary sight using a laser rangefinder with a range of 200 m to 10 km. The driver is equipped with a Thales Optronics image-intensifying Passive Driving Periscope (PDP) for night driving.
Like every British tank since the Centurion, Challenger 2 contains a boiling vessel (BV) also known as a kettle for water which can be used to brew tea, produce other hot beverages and heat "boil-in-the-bag" meals contained in ration packs. Most other British AFVs also have BVs.
In one encounter within the urban area a Challenger 2 came under attack from irregular forces with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. The drivers sight was damaged and while attempting to back away under the commander's directions, the other sights were damaged and the tank threw its tracks entering a ditch. It was hit directly by eight rocket propelled grenades from close range and a MILAN anti-tank missile, and was under heavy small arms fire for hours. The crew survived remaining safe within the tank until the tank was recovered for repairs, the worst damage being to the sighting system. It was back in operation six hours later after the repairs. One Challenger 2 operating near Basra survived being hit by 70 RPGs in another incident.
There have been only two Challenger 2s damaged in combat and one destroyed:
The BBC quotes a British MoD spokesman as saying Challenger 2 was:
The power pack has been replaced with a new 1500 hp (1100 kW) EuroPowerPack with transversely mounted MTU MT 883 diesel engine coupled to Renk HSWL 295TM automatic transmission. The smaller but more powerful engine allows more space for fuel storage, increasing the vehicle’s range to 550 km.
BAE announced in 2005 that development and export marketing of 2E would stop. This has been linked by the media to the failure of the 2E to be selected for the Hellenic Army in 2002, a competition won by the Leopard 2.
The size and performance are similar to the MBT, but instead of armament it is fitted with: