The UK has formally updated its inventory of Challenger 2 main battle tanks (MBT) following the granting of 14 vehicles to Ukraine earlier this year, which are now thought to be operational in Kyiv’s ongoing counter-offensive against Russia.

In a parliamentary written response, UK Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence (MoD), James Cartlidge, stated that 213 Challenger 2 MBTs were “in service” with the British Army, which reflected “a reduction in platforms from the number quoted in the annual published statistics following [the provision] of 14 Challenger 2s to the Armed Forces of Ukraine”.

The UK’s commitment to the provision of Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, the first Nato country to provide heavy armour to Kyiv at the time, pushed US and European allies to pledge their own support in the form of US Abrams A2 (later downgraded to the older A1 variant) and Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 from a number of countries in Europe.

In April this year the UK completed delivery of Challenger 2 MBTs and other promised armoured vehicles to Ukraine following a training programme undertaken within the United Kingdom.

The commitment of the Challenger 2s was the latest step in the UK’s escalation of defence equipment support, having earlier provided 32 AS90 self-propelled 155mm guns, a small number of M270 GMLRS systems, more than 150 armoured and protected vehicles such as the Bulldog and CVR(T), and hundreds of additional missiles, including the Storm Shadow cruise missile.

How many UK Challenger 2s are operational?

However, the updated strength of the UK’s Challenger 2 fleet is likely far lower than the 213 quoted.

In March this year it was revealed that the UK had just 157 Challenger 2 MBTs available for operations, with the overall fleet having been reduced due to cannibalisation of platforms for spares, raising further concerns over the size of the UK’s land forces.

The UK has committed to the upgrade of the Challenger 2 tanks to the Challenger 3 variant, which will see the integration of improved power generation, sensors and optics, as well as a new turret with the Rheinmetall L55A1 120mm smoothbore gun. The main gun is the same as the armament used on the Leopard 2 MBTs, operated across Europe.

Although the current programme of record calls for the upgrade of 148 Challenger 2s to the Challenger 3 variant, it was hoped that the coming refresh of the MoD’s Defence Command Paper, due to be published before the UK parliamentary recess, would increase this number.

However, with the fleet already at around 150-160 useable vehicles, and few platforms available in the international market (the Sultanate of Oman being the only export customer) any UK increase from the planned 148 Challenger 3s will likely be minimal at best.