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.

A Challenger 2 during Exercise Prairie Lightning

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.

Fire Control

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.

2 Royal Tank Regiment prepares to deploy to the Gulf.

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.

2 6 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Barry Larking

Thank you for facts. Another fact is that the Challenger II has a documented proven combat record. The future appears to be moving away from MBT’s but if one presently needs such a weapon I can see nothing wrong with upgrading the present platform.


As with defence trends, the main battle tank is once again back in focus. In truth, it never went away and remained as the elephant in the room. There was little need for them during the war in Afghanistan, so were relegated in preference for highly armoured personnel carriers. Though I don’t in anyway condemn the then government’s priorities, conventional land weapons such as the CH2 and AS90’s had little if any upgrade apart from a few demonstration vehicles. However, matters in outer Europe are a new cause for concern and CH2 needs to be quickly upgraded to meet the… Read more »


The problem with MBT is they are canon fodder to helicopters/jets if not properly protected, which requires a combination of land and air based assets. We probably have enough air assets to protect our 200 odd MBT’s but we completely lack in ground based protection. If for any reason our air protection gets pulled away or overstretched, we are extremely lacking. Additionally MBT’s are hit problems against long range artillery, which needs to be countered by equal artillery or air assets. When it comes to any warefare where a MBT is needed, combined warfare is needed and we lack in… Read more »


The MBT argument has raged since its inception. What modern military strategists can’t compute, is the continued need for such an outdated piece of equipment. I still believe the MBT is a vital element as witnessed in Iraq. There presents as a visual deterrent still works especially, when deployed within cities to dissuade unruly elements. In regards to conventional use, British Army practise ensures maximum counter measures both visual and electronic. Tank Killer helicopters are a real and effective threat, but can’t totally eliminate the need for MBT’s. In regards to our geographical situation, the MBT has always been a… Read more »


Whilst i agree that MBT have a need, the Iraq war also showed where there weakness is. Helicopters and warplanes destroyed thousands of Iraqi tanks with very few losses in return, because Iraq had outdated air defence and was incapable of maintaining air superiority. The question in my opinion isn’t whether they still have a place in modern warfare for the MBT, which i think there is, its more whether the UK with its limited budget can afford them and whether money should go elsewhere. Cold war thinking was that we had all our tanks positioned on the eastern front… Read more »


In terms of thousands of tanks in mainland Europe, there are not. Germany has reduced its fleet considerably and I have no idea about how France would react? The MBT is as relevant now as its always been, hence the urgency to build new ones to counter Russia’s latest creation. Those countries you mentioned may not be willing to contribute. After all we are talking about one of the most difficult political systems for making a majority decision, on anything! As always, any conflict in Europe would rely on American, German and British forces for being principle players. Logistically UK… Read more »

David Southern

Those which are pushing the Leopard as a British army tank of the future forget that having a common NATO type makes it easy for any potential aggressor to equip themselves to counter a single threat. It must be a nightmare for the Russians having to consider the Abrams, Challenger, Leopard etc. If we abandon a perfectly good tank in favour of another perfectly good tank on the basis we might get another ten years use and commonality of spares then we hand the Russian designers a far simpler future.

Richard Hill

Completely agree. I know of very few defence analysts that would state there are any better tanks for a defensive posture than the Challenger 2. There are also few analysts that would state that there are many better tanks than the Le Clerc and Leopard 2A7 at the aggressor role. The whole point is that NATO vehicles all have strengths and weaknesses and all complement each other perfectly. If we can use them together effectively, then we’re pretty secure.

John Stevens

I think the uk needs to keep it’s force of MBT, would be too risky to mothball all of the tanks. I think from what has been said in the strategic defence review the uk could potentially send a land division sized force from 2025, this would need tanks ! Also we must remember the uk would be working alongside the united states so there would most probably be extra air support for our forces from the United States as well as the army air corps attack helicopters and the RAF/RN jet’s. I think we sometimes we look at ourselves… Read more »

John Stevens

oops apologies for my grammer


Your grammar…;)

Mr J B

The Challenger tank is still a world class fighting vehicle- all talk of abandoning it or trying some hair brand scheme to switch to the Leopard is just nonsense. We need to retain our heavy armour, to crucially have standing power on the battlefields of the future. The challenger 2 with its advanced armour and sheer weight give it standing power in offensive and defensive engagements The Russian Aramata series tank represents a serious threat to most NATO countries tanks- I think probably the only tank in the world likely to be able to stand up to it currently is… Read more »


Recent news out of Syria shows Turkey losing Leopards in battle with Isis forces. Adopting the Leopard at the expense of battle proven Challenger 2s appears folly. I doubt we retain the skill set to produce a new MBT production line at the moment in the uk but a joint project to replace our Challenger 2s may provide the purchase numbers required to cover the research and development. I believe it’s a mistake to rely totally on equipment from other powers. We need a uk industry able to produce a full range of vehicles, armoured or otherwise, and retain a… Read more »

John Stevens

I for one totally agree with you Mr J B

The Ginge

The problem is that without Depleted Uranium tank ammunition it is possible the Armarta could withstand most if not all Nato tank shells. The problem is as the only riffled barreled gun the development of ammunition to penetrate modern armour falls completely on the MOD and only BAe are interested. So we pay through the nose for Tank Ammunition. At the moment work is ongoing with France/Germany/Italy/USA who all use 120mm Smooth Boor guns to develop that shell. Secondly with the removal of 12th Armoured Brigade Tanks of Kings Royal Hussars it only leaves the UK with 2 Armoured Regiments… Read more »


Really good points raised there..


The thorny issue is the ammunition, the three piece ammunition CR2 uses is an evolutionary dead end. Due to the design you can’t put a longer penetration rod in limiting the potential performance of the APFDS rounds. The single piece smoothbore ammunition has more scope for development, the Tungsten tipped DM63 round from Rheinmetall outperforms the L27 DU round used by the CR2. The value put on HESH rounds with their greater range is understandable under Cold War battle in Germany conditions against Warpac forces but that is outweighed by the greater versatility offered by recent 120mm smooth-bore rounds like… Read more »


The current version of the m1a2 v3 and now v4 are a step up.the v4 will have an active protection system,most likely isreals.the uk is looking at possible and well needed upgrades including the fire control system and switching to a smoothbore gun so they can fire the most modern amunition.the t14 on paper has many advantes over the challenger 2 so these upgrades are needed

Gordon Mac

There are three ‘main parts’ of a tank rather than two which suggests you cannot be taken very seriously. Up to the challenge of reviewing a tank? Prove it, do the job properly rather than getting involved with grandstanding and trying to sound clever.
Are you able to guess the thgird ‘main part’ of a tank yet? No? Did not think so.

D.V. Wilcox

Great discussion. Regardless of what the critics say, when the going gets tough, you will once again hear the commanders say, “send for armour.”



hesh 5 mile range. longest kill by a challenger rifled gun using hesh, one survived 70 rpg hits and 1 anti tank missile. was back in action a few days later?only 1 challenger loss, hit by another challenger tank. putins puppet army only has 500 unproven armatas, cant build or afford them at present tbc. rest of army is t80 t 90, both poor to infantry as they lost over 200 in chetchen? offensive. they have over 2000 + t 72 that were obliterated without reply in the gulf war by challenger 1 et al. lepoard 2 is rubbish, sides… Read more »


hesh 5 mile range. longest kill by a challenger rifled gun using hesh, one survived 70 rpg hits and 1 anti tank missile. was back in action a few days later?only 1 challenger loss, hit by another challenger tank. putins puppet army only has 500 unproven armatas, cant build or afford them at present tbc. rest of army is t80 t 90, both poor to infantry as they lost over 200 in chetchen? offensive. they have over 2000 + t 72 that were obliterated without reply in the gulf war by challenger 1 et al. lepoard 2 is rubbish, sides… Read more »


What a load of badly written tosh! I take it the author is not a native English speaker? And Challenger can fire HEAT rounds.