Challenger 3 is a new main battle tank (MBT) being developed by Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL), a joint venture between UK-based BAE Systems and Germany-based Rheinmetall.
The new tank will be an upgrade of the Challenger 2 MBT, which has been in service with the British Army since 1998. Equipped with the latest digital enhancements and weaponry, the new tank will be at the forefront of the army’s ground force deterrent.
Challenger 3 MBT will modernise the UK land forces through its lethality. The new technology to be incorporated within the tank will deliver immense warfighting capabilities in battlespaces filled with a range of threats.
The UK Ministry of Defence placed an £800m ($1.11bn) contract with RBSL for the conversion of 148 Challenger 2 tanks into Challenger 3 configuration, in May 2021. Initial operating capability (IOC) is expected in 2027, while full operating capability is scheduled in 2030.
The new and improved main battle tank will be the British Army’s only 24-hour, all-weather, protected tank with accuracy, direct fire and anti-armour manoeuvre capabilities, playing a critical role in the UK’s ability to deliver hard power.
Challenger 3 MBT’s design and features
The Challenger 3 MBT features a generic vehicle architecture and new digital crew stations. It will have a gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 66t, which is 1t more compared to its predecessor. The tank will be manned by a crew of four including a commander, a gunner, a loader, and a driver.
The fully digitised tank will enable interoperability with other combat vehicles in combined arms battalions while enabling multi-domain integration for data sharing across domains.
Designed to handle multi-domain warfare, the tank retains its ability to operate in coastal environments to support Future Commando Force of the Royal Marines.
Observation and targeting systems
The main battle tank will be fitted with improved long-range commander and gunner primary sights with automatic target tracking, wide-area search and detection (WASAD) capability and day and thermal modes for operations during day and night.
The electronic and electrical architectures of the MBT will further support future upgrades to provide significant growth potential over the coming decades.
RBSL placed a £90m ($121.9m) subcontract with Thales Group, an aerospace and defence services provider based in France, for panoramic and fixed azimuth weapon aiming sights for both the commander and gunner of the Challenger 3 tank.
Thales will also supply a signal processing system (SPS), which will provide state-of-the-art video tracking and WASAD capabilities to the tank.
Challenger 3 will be installed with Rheinmetall’s latest generation L55A1 120mm smoothbore gun. The high-pressure cannon can fire temperature-independent kinetic energy (KE) rounds, and new-generation programmable multipurpose ammunition including high-velocity ammunition such as high-explosive projectiles. The latest gun and fire control technology will further optimise the tank’s firepower.
The Rheinmetall 120mm smoothbore is considered to be a key upgrade to Challenger 3 as it will increase accuracy, penetrating power and lethality while placing the tank at the forefront of other tanks deployed by Nato member states.
Challenger 3 self-protection
The new turret structure and armour of the tank are expected to offer superior protection to the crew. Challenger 3 will also be equipped with a laser warning system, and an active protection system (APS), a layered protection that will allow it to identify incoming threats and neutralise them.
Furthermore, the tank will undergo a full electromagnetic testing campaign to ensure its survivability in the most demanding battlefields saturated with sensors.
The turret subsystems are being manufactured by Pearson Engineering, a defence manufacturing services provider based in the UK. The work is being performed as part of a £25m ($32.9m) supplier contract signed by RBSL and Pearson.
Engine and mobility
Challenger 3 will be equipped with an upgraded and more powerful engine and an improved engine cooling system. It will feature a third-generation hydro-gas suspension system, which will increase the firing accuracy on the move.
The new battle tank will be able to attain a maximum speed of 60km/h.