Rheinmetall-BAE unveils final prototype of UK’s premier tank

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The British Army’s newest tank, the Challenger 3, has just crossed a significant milestone with the completion of its final, eighth, prototype. This key development was unveiled by Great Britain’s Ministry of Defense via an official press release. In a series of glowing terms, the document described the tank as an ‘advanced armor’ beast that boasts ‘devastating power’, an ‘impressive range’, and comes packed with ‘state-of-the-art technology’, making it the British Army’s ‘most lethal and survivable tank’. 

Photo credit: Telegram

The grand unveiling took place at the Telford-based Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land [RBSL] facility. The occasion was so monumental for the British military that it beckoned the presence of Defense Secretary Grant Shapps. Marveling at the culmination of the Challenger 3 production line, Shapps underscored the tank’s critical role as the cornerstone of Britain’s land forces. He asserted that the tank was essential in addressing the evolving threats faced by the UK.

When the British government decided to upgrade the Challenger from version 2 to 3, it was determined that Rheinmetall BAE would develop eight prototypes before embarking on mass production. The recent unveiling of the eighth prototype indicates that all modifications, innovative technologies, and new solutions have been refined based on feedback from British soldiers. Additionally, it signals that a series of tests to validate the features and capabilities of the model have been successfully completed. This final prototype will now enter a phase of comprehensive evaluation to further validate its claimed features and capabilities. 

Photo credit: Telegram

As BulgarianMilitary.com reminded us earlier this year, the first prototype of the Challenger 3 was transported to Germany for testing—a topic that arose during legislative discussions. Defense Procurement Minister James Heappey clarified this strategy by stating that the tank was in Germany for specialized testing with Rheinmetall’s ammunition. Meanwhile, in the UK, the remaining Challenger 3 prototypes underwent comprehensive assessments, including firing trials.

But the question on everyone’s mind – has the Challenger 3 incorporated any lessons learned from its predecessor, the Challenger 2, which has been aiding Ukraine’s military forces in their ongoing battle against Russia’s 2022 invasion? The UK Ministry of Defense asserts that the tank is more destructive, harder to destroy, better armored, and so on. However, there’s a lingering question – is the tank’s undercarriage and chassis now better equipped to handle harsher environments beyond ordinary off-road terrains or desert sands? 

Back in March, The Sun released a quite damning video showcasing the inability of the British Challenger to effectively maneuver through Ukraine’s muddy terrain, specifically the rich, black Ukrainian chernozem. This isn’t simply hearsay – the footage clearly documents these mammoth British tanks sinking into the fertile, dark soil. Any attempt to ascend a slope requires the engine to exert more power to progress, but this added thrust often comes too late as the tank’s tracks are already deeply embedded in the challenging Ukrainian landscape.

Photo credit: Twitter

It’s more than just a mere concern – it’s truly unnerving. A report from The Sun yields a gripping account, explaining that “The most significant obstacle for the Challenger 2 in Ukraine appears to be the muddy terrain.” The fertile yet soft and deep expanses of black soil have, according to this report, transformed the terrain into a considerable impediment amidst the ongoing conflict. To stress the point, he progressively details how the tank starts sinking ever deeper into the unyielding soil.  

As the forthcoming months pass, we will be in an optimal position to scrutinize what the upgrade to the Challenger 3 entails. Nonetheless, we already have a wealth of specifics. Think about the Challenger 2, for instance. It has been actively in service since the 1990s and is applauded for its sturdiness and reliability. Equipped with a 120mm rifled gun and a second-generation Chobham armor, this tank has repeatedly proven its effectiveness across a variety of battle situations. 

On the other hand, the Challenger 3 is undergoing a myriad of contemporary enhancements and upgrades. The most significant alteration is replacing the Challenger 2’s rifled gun with a smoothbore 120mm L55A1 gun. This newer feature, widely used in other NATO tanks, allows the Challenger 3 to launch a broader range of ammunition, thereby increasing its overall firepower. 

Photo credit: Twitter

When it comes to the cutting-edge digital capabilities lodged within this underwater beast, there’s a lot to unpack. The Challenger 3 boasts an impressive set of digital tools designed to propel its operation into the future. Features include panoramic sight for the commander, onboard thermal imaging, and a fully integrated information system for improved tactical maneuvering. The goal of the upgrades is to enhance the tank’s situational awareness, expedite target identification, and streamline communication processes. 

Yet it doesn’t end there. The Challenger 3 showcases an advanced assortment of protective measures, taking tank armor up a notch. In addition to the modular composite armor, there’s an active protection system at the ready to identify and neutralize threats before they can even leave a mark on the tank’s surface. 

Now, let’s shift our attention to the crew. Tanks are rarely synonymized with vacation spots, but the Challenger 3 strives to redefine comfort under the sea. From upgraded seating to advanced climate control and reduced noise levels, every detail is designed with crew comfort in consideration, an emphasis driven by the mission to increase their efficiency and fortitude, especially during extended deployments.

Photo credit: Telegram

Through its Challenger 3 program, RBSL stands out as a significant contributor to the implementation of the Land Industrial Strategy. This essential program demonstrates the superior quality of British engineering and manufacturing while helping to preserve critical skill sets across the nation. 

The commencement of trials and successful delivery of the first Challenger 3 pre-production model marks an important step towards equipping the British Army with an unparalleled Main Battle Tank, built entirely in the UK. 

The substantial £800 million contract to deliver the Challenger 3 falls under the responsibility of Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land [RBSL]. The project creates nearly 300 jobs within RBSL, including 130 engineering and 70 technician positions, and provides an additional 450 jobs nationwide, thereby stimulating the UK economy.

Photo: Reddit

As part of the agreement, there’s a proposed £40 million investment heading towards RBSL’s Telford facility. The backbone of this investment is a UK supply chain that includes businesses from diverse locations such as the West Midlands, Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne, and the Isle of Wight. 

Reports indicate an urgent need for the British Army’s Challenger 3 to replace its existing main battle tank. Some sources suggest this upgrade is overdue, while others express concerns about the conditions of the current fleet of Challenger 2 tanks. Over the years, the Challenger 2 fleet has suffered significant losses, including one instance of a tank being destroyed and subsequently decommissioned in Iraq. Between 2010 and 2014, an alarming 43 tanks were deemed incapable of renewal due to severe damage and heavy wear, leading to their elimination. Fast-forwarding to 2023, Britain gifted 14 more Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine as military aid, with one unfortunately succumbing to combat.

Judging from these figures, the British Army likely possesses approximately 328 Challenger 2 tanks. Of this total, 227 are active, while the remaining 101 are packed away in storage. Out of the active fleet, there are plans to upgrade only 148 tanks to the superior Challenger 3 model. This indicates that, even after the anticipated upgrade, approximately 180 Challenger 2 tanks should remain in reserve. 

Photo credit: MoD

In the middle of last year, The Daily Mail, a trusted British news source, released alarming reports that shed light on the unsettling state of the UK’s military readiness. Only 40 tanks and a sparse dozen of the nation’s frigates and destroyers were battle-ready. These disconcerting revelations were made by the UK’s Chief of Defense Staff, Admiral Anthony Radakin, during an address to Parliament.

In his enlightening address, Admiral Radakin shared that although the country’s military roster lists 200 tanks, only 20% are in battle-ready condition. The naval sector paints a similarly bleak picture, with just 11 to 12 of the 17 frigates and destroyers primed for combat. This is a hard pill to swallow, considering the UK’s historical ‘Queen of the Seas’ status. 

It’s widely acknowledged in British media that the current size of the country’s military forces is the smallest since the Napoleonic Wars. To combat this, London is investing substantially in defense, including the craftsmanship of innovative armored vehicles. However, the fruits of these investments may not grace the nation’s arsenals until we’re on the other side of this decade.

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