Great Britain is delivering modern Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Kyiv. This MBT has an accurate gun and is extremely well protected – but only 14 will come.
Great Britain delivers the Challenger 2 to Ukraine. Like more or less all main battle tanks, the Challenger 2 dates back to the Cold War and has been modernized regularly. Simply put, it’s roughly the same as the Leopard 2 since the A6 configuration – meaning it’s one of the most modern and best tanks in the world. In general, the Challenger 2 is only 20 years old, the Leopard 2 has almost twice as many years under its belt. Although it is based on the predecessor Challenger 1, the similarities are few. Only three percent of the parts should be identical.
It is armed with a 120mm caliber armored car cannon. But unlike the Leopard 2, no smoothbore was used. The 55 caliber L30A1 tank gun uses rifling in the barrel because the British want to continue using HEAT ammunition. The basic decision between a rifled barrel and a smoothbore can be debated at length, but the British way has one disadvantage in the field. The weapon does not accept standard ammo.
The secondary armament consists of a machine gun and a chaingun – both in 7.62 mm caliber. The “chain gun” does not derive the power required for automatic firing from the gas pressure of the shots. It is driven by a chain – like a bicycle. In addition, a remote control system can be mounted on the turret, which can be equipped with a heavy machine gun.
The Challenger is fitted with second generation Chobham armor and is considered to be very well protected. This layered armor should achieve twice the protective effect compared to steel with the same thickness. Protection of the crew of four was a priority of the design. As a dueling tank, the Challenger 2 should be superior to all T-models used in Ukraine. Especially if he is used in the defensive role according to the original NATO scenario.
Protection and firepower come at a price, though. The tank already weighs 64 tons “bare”, with modules the weight increases to 75 tons. This makes the Challenger 2 the heaviest main battle tank in the world. The Russian T-90 weighs less than 50 tons. While the T-90 mobilizes 21.5 hp per ton, the Challenger 2 can shrink this value to a worrying 16 hp. Off-road, the top speed is just 40 km/h, and it drops when the ground conditions are difficult.
High and accurate firepower
British military expert Justin Crump has served in a Challenger 2 himself. He said: “The Challenger 2 was designed to do exactly the job that the Ukrainians want this tank to do. Our tanks are certainly far better than anything the Russians have, for anything we designed during the Cold War – so Challenger 2, Leopard 2, M1 Abrams in the US – all these vehicles were designed to be significantly better than the Russian equivalent.” Target acquisition and fire control system are considered excellent – reliable hits are achieved up to two kilometers. In the 1991 Gulf War, a Challenger 2 reportedly knocked out an Iraqi tank from nearly 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.
The UK is in a comparatively fortunate position to currently have “too many” Challenger 2s. In this way, vehicles can be delivered to the Ukraine that are up-to-date and do not have to be extensively restored. London has decided to have only part of the 2 fleet upgraded to the Challenger 3 level. Out of 227 active Challenger 2, only 147 will be upgraded to Challenger 3.
Hard times for all battle tanks
Despite the above merits, don’t expect miracles from the western tanks. In general, they are better protected and also have more firepower than the Soviet tanks. However, this comes at the price of significantly higher weight, more complicated logistics and limited mobility. With the current mud formation and temperatures around freezing, heavy main battle tanks can hardly be used outside the road network. That being said, the weight of the tanks hampers movement. The bridges in the Ukraine are designed for the weight of the lighter station wagons.
In the Ukraine war, the heavy tracked vehicles encountered problems that were known before, but which had never occurred before in such a large concentration. These include the following factors. Today the infantry is equipped with effective anti-tank weapons on a large scale. From simple tank busters like a Panzerfaust 3 to man-portable guided missiles. The use of drones makes it possible to track down heavy equipment, which often leaves clear tracks, even deep in the hinterland. In combination with artillery, armored formations are already combated during deployment. And finally, the struggles in Ukraine are shifting to cities and urban areas. This is the domain of the infantry, armored vehicles only provide mobile fire support. Main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers and grenadiers cannot develop their actual impact or shock effect in these debris fields.
Far fewer models of the Challenger were built than the Leopard 2 or the US tank Abrams – not to mention the T-72. GB got about 350 pieces. The theoretically conceivable dimensions of a delivery are therefore more limited than with the Leopard 2, of which more than 3000 pieces were manufactured.
The amount matters
But nobody is thinking about big numbers at the moment. GB has promised delivery of 14 tanks. The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, General Valery Saluschnyj, on the other hand, considers the following quantities necessary to go on the offensive again. Even for a limited operation like last fall, the supply of 300 battle tanks, 600-700 armored personnel carriers and 500 artillery systems is necessary.
The previous commitments are absurdly far away from this. But if – as expected – the other allies follow suit and Berlin approves the delivery of Leopard 2, the total can be a halfway impressive number. However, few allies are as capable as Britain. They don’t have 70 modern operational main battle tanks that they could send to Ukraine instead of retiring. In the Bundeswehr, the picture looks like this: The army already has too few operational Leopard 2s in relation to the tasks. But if the Ukraine is to receive some in the spring of 2023, they would have to be removed from the active stock. Rebuilding the old Leo cases would take about two years.