Qioptiq logo Raytheon

UK Defence secretary denies plan to mothball Challenger 2

12 Sep 20. The BBC reported today that UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has quashed speculation that the Army will mothball all its tanks. Last month, the Times reported military chiefs were considering the idea, under plans to modernise the armed forces.

But Mr Wallace told the BBC “the idea that tanks won’t be there for the Army, upgraded and modernised, is wrong”.

However, he admitted a government review would mean “letting go” of some military equipment to invest in cyber, space and other new technologies.

Speaking on a visit to the Middle East, Mr Wallace said there would be a shift to forward-deploy British military forces around the world to protect UK interests and its allies.

Mr Wallace said a joint squadron of RAF and Qatar Typhoon jets would be based in Qatar for football’s 2022 World Cup. He announced a £23.8m investment in a UK logistics hub in the Port of Duqm to support more British army training in Oman, and which could be used to base the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers.

He also confirmed that RAF jets would continue to target the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, with 23 strikes against extremist targets since March 2020.

The RAF are continuing to take the fight to Daesh in Iraq and Syria.


  • Thursday 20 August – an RAF Reaper struck a Daesh command post in a cave in northern Iraq.
  • Wednesday 26 August – an RAF Reaper attacked a second Daesh position and provided surveillance support to a coalition air strike in northern Iraq.


As part of the UK’s contribution to the Global Coalition in the fight against Daesh, the Royal Air Force continues to fly daily missions against the terrorist movement in Syria and Iraq. Our aircraft conduct strikes on terrorist targets when required.

Intelligence analysis confirmed that a Daesh leadership group had established a cave network 85 miles west of Kirkuk in northern Iraq. An RAF Reaper kept a close watch on the location during the early hours of Thursday 20 August. When terrorists were identified at the cave entrance, the Reaper’s crew conducted an attack with a single Hellfire missile, having first swept the area for any signs of civilians who might be placed at risk. The missile struck the target accurately, and the blast was observed to emerge from another part of the cave network, indicating that weapon’s effect had reached deep inside the caves.

In addition to this, an RAF Reaper maintained surveillance on another set of caves in the area on Wednesday 26 August, which confirmed the presence of a number of Daesh extremists at the site. When terrorists were observed at the mouth of one of the caves, the Reaper’s crew engaged successfully with a Hellfire missile, then provided surveillance support to a follow-up attack by two coalition fast jets which struck the rest of the Daesh position.

Previous update

As part of the UK Armed Forces’ contribution to the global coalition against Daesh, our aircraft have continued to fly armed reconnaissance patrols in support of the Iraqi security forces, striking terrorist targets as necessary.

A Royal Air Force remotely piloted Reaper investigated on Sunday 31 May a location in northern Iraq, some seventeen miles west of Tuz Khurmatu, where a Daesh group had been identified as having established themselves at a bunker situated in the mountains. The Reaper’s crew conducted a thorough check of the area, finding no signs of any civilians nearby, but confirming the presence of several terrorists close to the bunker itself, who were attempting to conceal themselves in heavy foliage. The Reaper therefore conducted two attacks in succession, destroying the bunker with a GBU-12 guided bomb, then hitting those terrorists who were outside the bunker with a Hellfire missile.

On Wednesday 3 June, a pair of Typhoon FGR4s, supported by a Voyager air refuelling tanker, joined other coalition aircraft in an operation against Daesh positions which had been identified on a mountainous ridge some thirty-five miles north-west of Kirkuk. Having confirmed that there were no signs of civilians in the area, the Typhoons provided surveillance support to a strike by coalition jets, and were then allocated a cave, occupied by Daesh, as their own target. This position was struck with a single Paveway IV guided bomb, and Iraqi ground forces subsequently confirmed the attack to have been a success.

A further group of caves, situated thirty miles north-west of Tikrit, were confirmed as being used by Daesh both as accommodation and storage for improvised explosive devices. Two Typhoons were accordingly tasked to attack the terrorist position on Monday 22 June. Having checked the area for any civilians who might be at risk, four Paveway IVs were successfully used to strike four carefully selected targets within the cave network.

Intensive coalition surveillance efforts were able to confirm that another group of Daesh terrorists had established themselves in a cave network in the Makhmur mountains of northern Iraq. RAF Typhoons were therefore tasked with the destruction of this terrorist base on Wednesday 24 June. After the usual precautionary check of the area for civilians, our aircraft attacked with four Paveway IVs, all of which struck their targets successfully.

‘Overmatched by adversaries’

Last month, the Times reported on plans to mothball the Army’s ageing 227 Challenger tanks as part of the government’s integrated defence and security review – described as the most important defence review since the end of the Cold War.

Mr Wallace confirmed the review would mean “letting go of some equipment that isn’t serving any purpose or overmatched by adversaries”.

He said that would mean investing in new equipment for the RAF, Royal Navy and the Army. But he signalled that any cuts would not be as dramatic as some have reported.

That still leaves open the possibility of a reduction in the number of tanks. But Mr Wallace said that getting rid of all of them was not going to happen.

“We’re going to make sure we have an armed forces fit for the 21st Century and meets our obligations to Nato and elsewhere…

“We are not scrapping all the British army’s tanks and we will make sure the ones we maintain are up to date, lethal and defendable.”

Mr Wallace said Britain also needed to meet the threat of long-range artillery and drones, which have recently been used by Russia against Ukraine to destroy its heavy armour.

Ben Wallace said his first duty was to make sure he delivered up-to-date equipment

The new port facilities at Duqm will triple the size of the existing UK base in Oman. They will also be used for British army training in Oman.

There’s been speculation that the Army could switch its training for tanks from Canada to the Gulf state.

While in Qatar, Mr Wallace also visited the US-led coalition headquarters co-ordinating the air campaign against the group calling itself the Islamic State.

Despite IS losing most of its territory in Iraq and Syria, Mr Wallace said the threat was “not going to go away”.

BATTLESPACE Comment: BATTLESPACE had reports on Friday of heated discussions between Dominic Cummings and senior Army and MoD officials about the upcoming Defence Review and future structure of the armed forces. Dominic Cummings is believed to have tabled the proposal to cut all armoured vehicles including Challenger 2 to concentrate on attack helicopters and cyber. This was seen a step too far by the MoD and the Army who saw the loss of its prestigious Challenger 2 fleet as a step too far. An agreement is believed to have been reached to allow the Challenger 2 Life Extension programme to proceed in with the numbers we suggested in July, 148, with a cancellation of Warrior CSP and some Ajax variants along with the ageing 430 Series. AS part of the compromise, Cummings is believed to have stated that certain individuals in the Army and MoD would be ‘named and blamed’ for delays in the implementation of the new armoured vehicle fleet. No mention of the CT40 fiasco and its huge costs to the taxpayer which has been one of the main contributors to the delay to WCSP and Ajax of which GDUK is yet to deliver a turreted variant given reports of ‘turret wobble’ due to the massive 20,000lbs recoil of the CT40 canon.

Given the threat to the defence supply chain and Union demands that WCSP progresses to contract if Warrior is canned completely, BATTLESPACE has long speculated that Warrior would then progress to the ABSV/Warrior SV variant to replace the FV 430 Series on the battlefield.

On Jul 13th BATTLESPACE gave a UK military vehicles update. The UK Government Infrastructure & Projects Authority published a figure of £1.3bn for Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP) on Thursday. This figure takes into account a new turret, VAT, MOD and support costs.

The numbers required range from 148 to less than 200, down from the original figure of 227, 3x type 55 Regiments. The bid from RBSL was believed to have been submitted in August.

The Life Extension Programme includes:

  1. A new turret and smooth bore gun.
  2. A new Kinetic Energy (KE) Round bought from the US or Germany.
  3. A new Day/Night Hunter Killer capability which will include greater range requirements for the new round and a new more powerful gunner’s/commander’s display to give better target definition at longer ranges to accommodate the 120mm smooth bore gun.
  4. A new upgrade card for the ballistic computer.
  5. New Frontal Modular Armour (NMA).
  6. An Active Protection System (APS)either Trophy or Ironfist. Sources suggest that Trophy Medium Vehicle (MV) has been selected. This variant has also believed to have been purchased by Singapore.
  7. Upgrade of the Base Platform
  8. War stocks and Rheinmetall ammunition qualification.

The armour and APS need to get through development integration critical design review and the NMA needs to complete development, all this before 2022 Quarter 3 review note proceeds.

CDS General Sir Nick Carter commented last week that the final structure of the UK’s Strike Brigades is predicated on the Internal MoD Review currently being carried out.

Sources close to BATTLESPACE suggest that to achieve the required upgrades for Challenger 2 LEP and to introduce Ajax and Boxer that severe cuts will be introduced to the legacy fleet including, as reported last week (See: BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.22 ISSUE 27, 05 July 2020, MILITARY VEHICLE NEWS, Out go the MRAPS!)  Mastiff, Wolfhound and Ridgback, although not Panther, but to include Husky, FV430 and CVR(T). FV 430, of which there are still 900 in service, is still in use for Brigade Ops for mortar, Command Post and ambulance variants whilst CVR(T) is still in service for a variety of Recce roles.

Should FV 430 and CVR(T) be mothballed or sold, this will impinge on the workload of RBSL and DSG who currently manage the fleets.

Other sources suggest that in addition to the severe cuts being worked up, that Warrior WCSP will not be affordable and an AJAX variant could also go. Warrior would be kept in its current form until 2025 and possibly some variants converted to ABSV. WCSP would be replaced by another variant of Boxer with a Rafael CT40 or 30mm customised turret as chosen by Lithuania.

In the longer-term sources suggest that there will be closer cooperation with Germany and the use of more German equipment by the British Army including Puma or the Rheinmetall K41 Lynx. (See: BATTLESPACE UPDATE Vol.22 ISSUE 29, 20 July 2020, UK military vehicles update)


Back to article list