Challenger 1

The British FV4030/4 Challenger 1, was the
main battle tank of the British Army from 1983 to the mid-1990s, when it was superseded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. History
The Challenger design by the former Military Vehicles and Engineering Establishment 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 1 and 4030/3 Shir 2. With the fall of the Shah of Iran and the collapse
of the UK MBT90 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 the Cruiser Mk VIII Challenger
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, 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 Challenger was built by the Royal Ordnance Factories. Challenger 1 entered service with
the British Army in 1983 and production ceased in 1990 at a cost of around £2 million each.
In 1986, ROF Leeds was acquired by Vickers Defence Systems. Jordan initially purchased
274 Challenger 1 tanks. Under an agreement signed in March 1999 another 288 surplus Challenger
1’s were supplied to Jordan over a three year period, which enabled the Jordanian Centurion
Fleet to be replaced. The Ministry of Defence were keen to show
off the capabilities of the Challenger 1 in the Canadian Army Trophy Competition, 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, 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, instead of training with Challenger 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.
Withdrawals of British Army Challenger 1 began in 1998 and it had been completely replaced
by Challenger 2 by 2001. There was also a Challenger Marksman SPAAG
version, equipped with the Marksman turret. Operational service
221 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 57 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 explosive reactive
armour on the nose and front glacis plate. Modifications also included the provision
of extra external fuel drums and a smoke generator. There were major concerns about the reliability
of the vehicle. In addition there were serious worries about how a tank designed to perform
in temperate climates would stand the rigours of desert warfare. Before the commencement
of the Gulf War deployment only 22% of Challenger 1’s were operational because of faults and
lack of spares. On 22 November 1990, it was decided to add
the 4th Mechanized Brigade to the force, under the umbrella of 1st Armoured Division. The
new brigade had a single Challenger regiment, 14th/20th King’s Hussars, equipped with 43
Challenger 1 tanks and 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 mm charges as well as the additional armour fitted to the Mark 3’s.
During Operation Desert Shield it was decided that the 1st Armoured Division would be placed
under the command of the US VII Corps. This corps would form the armoured fist of the
Coalition forces, tasked with destroying the bulk of the Iraqi forces retreating from Kuwait.
The forces of VII corps would cross the Saudi Border into Iraq, and then cross into Kuwait.
The 1st Armoured Division and was assigned to be the easternmost unit in VII Corp’s
sector, it’s Challenger tanks forming the spearhead of the advance. The division advanced
nearly 350 km within 97 hours, destroying the Iraqi 46 Mechanised Brigade, 52 Armoured
Brigade and elements of at least three infantry divisions belonging to the Iraqi 7th corps
in a series of battles and engagements. They captured or destroyed about 200 tanks and
a very large number of Armoured Personnel Carriers, trucks, reconnaissance vehicles,
etc. 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 during the course
of the Coalition’s ground campaign none were encountered as the division was withdrawn
beforehand. In action, the Global Positioning System and
Thermal Observation and Gunnery System fitted to the Challengers proved to be decisive,
allowing attacks to be made at night, in poor visibility and through smoke screens. In total,
British Challengers destroyed roughly 300 Iraqi tanks without suffering a single 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.” A Challenger achieved the longest confirmed
kill of the war, destroying an Iraqi tank with a DU round fired over a distance of 5,100
metres—the longest tank-on-tank kill shot recorded.
Challengers were also used by the British Army in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Operation
Joint Guardian, the NATO-led drive into Kosovo. Operators
Current Jordan, 392 Challenger 1, known locally as
al-Hussein. Multiple local variants. Former
United Kingdom, replaced by Challenger 2. Gallery See also Main battle tank
Challenger 2 Tanks of comparable role, performance and
era T-80: Approximate Soviet equivalent
Bibliography McManners, Hugh, Gulf War One Real Voices
From the Front Line, Ebury Publishing, 2010, ISBN 9780091935986
References External links

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