RBSL unveils comprehensive Challenger 2 modernisation

By Ian Kemp

Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) unveiled at DSEI 2019 its advanced technology demonstrator for the British Army’s Challenger 2 Life Extension Project (LEP). The newly formed joint venture is now the only contender for the project.

The UK Ministry of Defence awarded separate £23 million contracts on 22 December 2016 to BAE Systems and Rheinmetall Land Systeme for the assessment phase of the Challenger 2 LEP originally intended to address obsolescence issues to extend the service life of the main battle tank beyond 2035. BAE Systems unveiled its upgraded Challenger 2 in October 2018 which adhered to the MOD’s request and retained the tank’s L30A1 120m rifled gun.

However, Rheinmetall proposed a more extensive modernisation that includes the Rheinmetall L55 120 mm smoothbore gun. In 2006, a single Challenger 2 was fitted with the L55 for trials under the Challenger Lethality Improvement Programme and although the army was impressed the project proceeded no further as funding was prioritised to meet immediate operational requirements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

On 1 July 2019, RBSL was formed between Rheinmetall Defence UK (55%) and BAE Systems Land UK (45%) combat vehicle business. Headquartered at the BAE Systems factory in Telford, the joint venture intends to play a major role in other British Army combat vehicle projects including the manufacture of the Boxer 8×8 vehicle for the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) programme.

The Challenger 2 advanced technology demonstrator unveiled by RBSL at DSEI features a new Rheinmetall turret armed with the L55 gun, a new Thales commander’s and gunner’s stabilised day/night sights, a computerised fire control system, and all-electric gun control equipment. Installation of the L55 will enable the tank to fire the latest Rheinmetall ammunition including the DM63A1 APFSDS-T and the DM11 programmable air burst round.

The MoD indicated earlier this year that it would delay the Challenger LEP main gate decision for two years until early 2021 to study a comprehensive modernisation package that as well as addressing obsolescence issues would considerably improve lethality and survivability. It is expected to award RBSL a 12-month Assessment Phase 2 contract which is planned to lead to a production contract in the first half of 2021. When the Challenger 2 LEP was first launched, the army’s Challenger 2 fleet numbered 227 tanks sufficient to equip three Type 56 armoured regiments, one in each of the three armoured infantry brigades, plus tanks for training in the UK and at the British Army Training Unit Suffield, Alberta, Canada.  However, the Army 2020 Refine force structure announced in 2016 reduced the number of tank regiments to two and only about 150 Challenger 2s are now expected to be modernised. This smaller number will free funds for the more extensive modernisation now planned for the remaining fleet.

Photos by RBSL and Ian Kemp