Confirmation late Friday that MOD contracts worth £800 million have now been awarded to Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land Defence (RBSL is a joint venture formed in 2019 between Rheinmetall and BAE Systems) covering upgrade and significant capability enhancement of 148 British Army Challenger Main Battle Tanks is superb news for the Telford based manufacturing facility, other RBSL UK sites in Washington, County Durham, Bristol and for the wider UK supply chain that includes companies in the West Midlands, Glasgow, Newcastle upon Tyne and the Isle of Wight.
Equally important is that the Challenger 3 Main Battle Tank (MBT) award to RBSL is hugely important in respect of enhancing UK defence land systems sovereign capability and for part that it will play within the UK government prosperity agenda.
The upgraded and much enhanced capability will provide the British Army with network-enabled, digital tank, one that will have state-of-the-art lethality, upgraded survivability combined with world-class surveillance and target acquisition capabilities.
RBSL has confirmed that 450 jobs will be created and sustained within the UK supply chain, and that a further 200 jobs will be created and sustained within RBSL, including 130 engineers and 70 technicians. RBSL has also said that Challenger 3 will provide work and training opportunities to 60 apprentices over the next five years and that the company will work with suppliers across the UK, further contributing to levelling-up of regional economies.
The programme which will play a vital role protecting the UK defence land systems engineering skill base has prompted a £20m inward investment to RBSL’s Telford facility, ensuring world-class manufacturing equipment and training for employees and apprentices. The Challenger 3 programme will commence this year with an expected in-service date of 2027.
Work on the design of the Challenger 3 Main Battle Tank upgrade has been going on for several years and the MOD award is significant not only in respect of the capability to be provided to the Army but also in respect of providing a much-needed boost to UK based armoured vehicle engineering. The hope too is that Challenger 3 programme will not only demonstrate the UK being at the forefront of armoured fighting vehicle capability development and build will provide the UK with the ability to explore new technologies for integration in future land systems capabilities and increase the potential for UK exports.
In respect of technical specification, Challenger 3 which will be able to travel at speeds of up to 60 mph will be equipped with the latest 120mm High Pressure L55A1 main gun, firing the latest kinetic energy anti-tank rounds and programmable multipurpose ammunition. The gun is also complete with increased first-hit capability and the latest fire support technology.
The new turret structure and improved survivability systems provides the highest standard of protection for the crew. The long-range commander and gunner primary sights will also be improved with automatic target detection and acquisition. This solution also provides significant growth potential in all Main Battle Tank key capability areas with the new physical, electronic, and electrical architecture.
The new tank will carry additional high velocity ammunition able to travel at faster speeds with an increased range. Ammunition will also be programmed digitally from a new turret with a 120 mm smoothbore gun. Challenger 3 will have upgraded engine capability that includes new cooling systems and suspension, the latter in order to improve accuracy when firing in transit. The new automatic target detection and tracking system will be used to identify threats, whilst new thermal long-range cameras will be fitted as part of a day/night image system.
Confirming the Challenger 3 contract award to RBSL, UK Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace said:
“This represents a huge shift in the modernisation of our land forces through the increased lethality of Challenger 3. This pioneering new technology allows us to deliver immense warfighting capabilities in battlespaces filled with a range of enemy threats. The £800m investment will also create hundreds of highly-skilled jobs across the country ensuring our soldiers benefit from the very best of British engineering.”
The 148 Challenger 3 tanks will ultimately replace the remaining fleet of 77 Challenger 2 tanks which have been in service with the Army since the 1990’s. Full Operating Capability of Challenger 3 is planned for 2030, with initial operating capability anticipated by 2027.
Just as the Integrated Review (IR) provided confirmation of the crucially important ongoing UK maritime surface, sub-surface programmes including Type 26, Type 31, Astute, Dreadnought, Support vessels and a proposed Type 32 vessel, so too was confirmation that 148 Challenger Main Battle Tanks will be upgraded to state of the art Challenger 3 capability. That the award has come so soon after the publication of the IR is both welcome and hugely important not only in respect of the capability to be provided but in respect of maintaining UK sovereign capability.
But as a final word, it cannot hide ongoing concerns that in a few more years from now the MOD decision not to go ahead with Warrior CSP upgrade will be seen as a grave error of judgement.
CHW (London – 10th May 2021)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785