Challenger 2, aka the FV4034, is the UKs Main Battle Tank (MBT). Other world powers across the globe also use MBTs in their armies. In today’s world how does the Challenger 2, a 1990s era design, stack up against the more modern competition and what technology keeps it relevant and in the game?
The FV4034 Challenger 2, is the UKs Main Battle Tank and operates across the globe from exercises with allied countries to theatres of war like Iraq. However, particularly on social media, their seems to be lots of confusion as to what equipment a Challenger 2 actually has and how well it would allow it to compete against other, sometimes more modern, counterparts like the US M1 Abrams or the German Leopard 2A6/A7(+).
Before we look at it’s performance stats, what really is a Challenger 2 and why does it exist?
Challenger 2 is a third generation MBT, the same generation as the Russian T-80 & T-90, German Leopard 2 and US M1 Abrams. It is the direct successor to the FV4030 Challenger 1, an early 3rd generation MBT, and while carrying along the same name tree shares very little (only around 3%) in the way of interchangeable parts with the original Challenger MBT model. Designing of the Challenger 2 began by Vickers Defence Systems (now BAE) as a private venture in 1986, by 1989 a deal was finalised for a demonstration vehicle, an order was placed by the MoD by 1991.
For this comparison we will mainly focus on what the Challenger 2 is equipped with and will compare the equipment to the US M1A2 Abrams, the German Leopard 2A6 and the Russian T-90.
The two main parts of a MBT are the Gun and the Armour. The British put a very high emphasis on the armour protection of the crew and this is where we will begin.
The armour of the Challenger 2 is among the best in the world. It is equipped with second generation Chobham armour (this generation known as Dorchester) which is said to be around two times stronger than steel. During conflict it can also have even more armour added with Explosive Reactive armour kits and additional bar armour can also be fitted.
Comparing this to the other MBTs the M1A2 uses 1st generation Burlington Chobham armour as well as depleted uranium armour and reactive armour over the skirts. In comparison the T-90 has a two tier armour protection consisting of composite armour and explosive reactive armour. Differing again is the Leopard 2A6 which has core spaced armour and composite armour rumoured to be based off Chobham armour. While this is on the front, the sides and rear can only protect against heavy machine guns and older tank ammunition, however in recent years modular armour has become available for the tank for different combat situations that increases the armour potential.
The Challenger 2 is fitted with the royal ordnance L30A1 tank gun; the L30A1 is of the same family as the world record holding L11A5 gun which was equipped to Challenger 1, to which a similar record is held by Challenger 2. The L30 is 120mm in diameter and 55-calibers long, made from high tech steel with a chromium alloy lining. This is the only gun fitted to a NATO tank that is rifled. Other features include a thermal sleeve, fume extraction and and an all electric stabilisation.
The reason for the rifling is because the British Army places a premium upon the use of HESH ammunition as well as armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding-sabot rounds (APFSDS). The hesh rounds have a much longer range (up to 5 miles further) than APFSDS and are much more effective against buildings as well as thinner skinned vehicles. Challenger 2 can carry 49 main armament rounds, a mixture of the aforementioned HESH and APFSDS as well as white phosphorus smoke rounds.
In comparison the M1A2 Abrams is equipped with a 120mm L/44 M256A1 smoothbore gun of which 42 rounds can be carried. Like Challeger 2 APFSDS rounds are used. Unlike Challenger 2 it can also be used with anti-personnel canisters and HEAT rounds.
The Leopard 2A6 uses a very similar gun to the Abrams, the L55 which is slightly longer. It also incorporates a newer APFSDS round and a Mulitpurpose anti-tank projectile (MPAT). Rheinmatall the manufacturer have also developed an upgrade that allows the gun to fire anti-tank guided missiles. Like the Challenger 2 it also has a chromium lined barrel.
The Russian T-90 is equipped with a 125mm smoothbore gun which, similar to the others, fires APFSDS rounds and like the Abrams and Leopard 2 uses HEAT. The T-90 can also use high explosive fragmentation ammunition and anti-tank guided missiles.
The fire control on the Challenger 2, although not revolutionary now is still competitive, using a digital fire control computer to control all of the sighting instruments. The commander has a panoramic gyrostabilised sight with laser rangefinder as well as eight periscopes giving 360 degree vision. Challenger 2 is also fitted with Thermal observation and Gunnery Sight (TOGS II) which provides nightvision and thermal imaging which is displayed on the commanders and gunners monitors, combined all this is called hunter killer optics. While the gunner is engaging the target the commander designates another, when the original target is destroyed the turret turns automatically and the process begins again.
Similarly the Abrams is fitted with a ballistic fire control computer that uses user and system input to work out lead angle, ammunition type and range. Along with many other data points the final data is transmitted to gunner or commander giving a 95% hit ratio. Furthermore Abrams is also fitted with hunter killer optics. In this year (2017) the Abrams sights are receiving an upgrade.
The fire control systems in the T-90 and Leopard 26 are very similar to that of both Challenger 2 and the M1A2.
The Challenger 2 is fitted with a Perkins 26.6 litre Diesel engine which has 1200bhp.
This goes through an 8 speed gear box (6 fwd, 2rev.). It travels on second generation hydrogas suspension with a hydraulically adjustable double-pin track. All this gives it a maximum speed on road of 36mph and 25mph off road. The range of Challenger 2 has recently been stated as 550km by the British Army, this is however only on road.
The T-90s prime mover is the B-92C Diesel engine which produces 1000 hp. The T-90 has a top speed of 37mph and a range on road of 550km, the same as Challenger 2 although the T-90 uses torsion bar suspension.
The Leopard 2A6 also uses torsion bar suspension but has a much more powerful engine at just over 1450 hp. This engine is also diesel powered but has multifuel capability. Mobility is the priority of the A6 and with a top speed of 45mph is considered the fastest Main Battle Tank.
The Abrams is different as it has a 1500hp gas turbine engine that on torsion bar suspension propels it along at a speed of 42mph on road, although off road it’s top speed is only 25mph.