The British FV4030/4 Challenger 1, was the main battle tank (MBT) of the British Army from 1983 to the mid-1990s, when it was superseded by the Challenger 2. It is also currently used by the Jordanian Armed Forces as their main battle tank after heavy modifications. The variants for the Jordanian military are upgraded using an unmanned turret called the Falcon Turret.
HistoryEditThe Challenger design by the former Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment (MVEE) near Chobham in Surrey originated in an Iranian order for an improved version of the Chieftain line of tanks in service around the world. These were the Chieftain Mk5(P)- FV4030/1, FV4030/2 Shir (Lion)1 and 4030/3 Shir 2. With the fall of the Shah of Iran and the collapse of the UK MBT80 project, the British Army became the customer and the tank was further developed by MVEE to meet Western European requirements. For a short time the tank was named "Cheviot" before becoming "Challenger", a name reused from a cruiser tank of the Second World War.
The most revolutionary aspect of the Challenger 1 design was its Chobham armour which gave protection far superior to any monolithic Rolled Homogeneous Armour (RHA), which was the then standard of tank armour material. This armour has been adopted by others, most notably the American M1 Abrams. Additionally the Hydrogas suspension fitted provided outstanding cross-country performance through the long suspension arm travel and controlled bump and rebound behaviour offered.
The Ministry of Defence were keen to show off the capabilities of the Challenger 1 in the Canadian Army Trophy Competition (CAT '87), held at Grafenwöhr, West Germany in June 1987. The best performing team in preparatory competitions had been the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, however their Challengers had not been fitted with Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight (TOGS), which would put them at a disadvantage. The Royal Hussars had a squadron fitted with TOGS, however, they had been training at BATUS in Canada with Chieftains, when they should be training with Challengers and TOGS for CAT '87. Twenty two new Challengers with TOGS were specially diverted from the production line for the competition, resulting in teething problems. At the competition itself, the Hussars managed some creditable scores but overall, their three "platoons" were placed last in the league table. In a statement to the House of Commons on 14 July, Mr Ian Stewart, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, said; "I do not believe that the performance of tanks in the artificial circumstances of a competition, such as the recent Canadian Army Trophy, is a proper indication of their capability in war." Following poor results in 1985 with Chieftain, and in 1987 with Challenger, the British Army decided in December 1987 to withdraw indefinitely from the competition.
A requirement for a new MBT was later issued. Proposals put forward for the new specification included an improved Challenger from Vickers, the American M1 Abrams, the French Leclerc, and the German Leopard 2. The Vickers Defence Systems design, designated Challenger 2, was eventually selected. This tank was significantly more capable than its predecessor, based on the same basic MVEE-designed hull but with a new turret based on the Vickers Private Venture Mk7 design and improved Chobham armour.
180 Challenger tanks were deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Granby, the UK operation in the Persian Gulf War. In the original deployment, the 7th Armoured Brigade included two armoured regiments, the Queen's Royal Irish Hussars and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, both equipped with almost 60 of the latest Mark 3 version of the Challenger 1. They were modified for desert operations by a REME team and civilian contractors at the quayside in Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia. This fit included additional Chobham Armour along the hull sides and reactive armour on the front glacis plate, also extra external fuel drums and a smoke generator. On 22 November 1990, it was decided to add a the 4th Mechanized Brigade to the force, under the umbrella of 1st (UK) Armoured Division. The new brigade had a single Challenger regiment, 14th/20th King's Hussars, reinforced by a squadron of the Life Guards. They were equipped with the Mark 2 version of the tank, which was upgraded by armouring the storage bins for the 120 mmm charges as well as the additional armour fitted to the Mark 3s. The main threat to the Challenger was deemed to be the Iraqi Republican Guard's T-72M tanks; each British tank was provided with twelve L26A1 "Jericho" depleted uranium shells specifically for use against T72Ms, but in the event, none were encountered.
In action, the Global Positioning System (GPS) and Thermal Observation and Gunnery System (TOGS) fitted to the Challengers proved to be decisive, allowing attacks to be made at night, in poor visibility and through smoke screens. British Challengers destroyed roughly 300 Iraqi tanks without loss in combat. The Challenger, in comparison with the M1A1 Abrams tank deployed by the US Army, was more fuel efficient and achieved far greater serviceability. Brigadier Patrick Cordingley, the commander of 7th Armoured Brigade, said afterwards that “Challenger is a tank built for combat and not competitions.”
- Jordan, 392 Challenger 1, known locally as al-Hussein. Multiple local variants.
- United Kingdom, replaced by Challenger 2.
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