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Challenger 2 Tank

The UK's most modern tank, also exported to Oman. UK Challenger 2s are equipped with DU ammunition

Challenger 2 Tank

The Challenger 2 is the most modern British tank. It was first produced in 1993 and had completely replaced the Challenger 1 in the UK's armed forces by 2001. Oman were sold 38 Challenger 2s in the 1990s, but was not supplied with DU ammunition.

The Challenger 2 is equipped with a 120mm rifled gun, known as the L30. This is unusual for the 120mm calibre. Another distinctive feature of the Challenger 2 is that the ammunition is comprised of a separate projectile and charge. Projectiles available for the Challenger 2 include:

  • L20 Discarding Sabot Training (DS/T) round
  • L23 Armour Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) round with a tungsten penetrator
  • L26 APFSDS round with a depleted uranium penetrator (also known as CHARM 1)
  • L27 APFSDS round with a depleted uranium penetrator (also known as CHARM 3)
  • L28 APFSDS round - this is a tungsten version of the L27, not thought to have been produced in bulk
  • L31 High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) round
  • L32 Squash Head Practice (SH/Prac) round
  • L34 White Phosphorus (WP) smoke round

The L26 has been discontinued, so the L27 is the only DU ammunition currently in service for the Challenger 2. The separate charge and projectile design limits the maximum penetrator length, and prevented armour piercing ammunition from being upgraded by simply changing the dimensions of the penetrator. As such, an upgrade for the L27 would need to involve more comprehensive re-design of the ammunition, and possibly changes to the tank itself. This is one of a number of pressures meaning that any upgrade would require significant investment.

From 2003 through to 2007, the UK maintained a research programme testing whether a L55 gun (found on the German Leopard 2 tank) could be fitted to the Challenger 2. It appears that the programme was successful, and the German tungsten ammunition fired from the L55 was better at penetrating armour than the L27 fired from the L30 barrel. However, money to install the L55 on the existing Challenger 2 fleet was not found, and the current status of the programme (part of a number of measures called the Challenger Capability Sustainment Programme or CSP) is unclear.

In 2010 the UK government announced, as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) that the UK Challenger 2 fleet would be cut by about 40% to around 230. There have also been suggestions that further cuts to the fleet may be made in the future. As the Challenger is expected to remain in service until around 2035, it is expected that improvements and upgrades will be made during that time, but whether this will include the CSP being implemented is not currently known.