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The Challenger II, the main battle tank in service with the British Army, was designed and manufactured by BAE Systems. This military beast has a 12-cylinder, 1,200hp Caterpillar CV12 diesel engine, which can propel the 62,500 kg tank at up to 59 kph.

In a recent contract awareded to BAE Systems, the Ministry of Defense is extending service of these tanks until 2035. Under the ‘Life Extension Project’, updates will create the Challenger II Mark II. Just some of the proposed changes include upgrades such as increased survivability, improvements to the gun-control-equipment and a new thermal-imaging system. We spoke to former tank commander and team leader for the Challenger II Life Extension Project, Simon Jackson who has witnessed first hand the transformative growth of these armoured giants. Jackson says, “I did all the trials for Challenger II originally, so I have an intimate understanding of the platform and how it’s used, and what needs to be done to it.”

“For any main battle tank, it’s about a balance of firepower, protection and mobility. The WW1 Mark IV tanl was based really around mobility to get across trenches; therefore it had to have some protection. They gave it some firepower to fire into the trenches as they drove over them, but addressing that capability-balance between firepower, protection and mobility has been a constant development theme of the last 100 years.”

What are the objectives or aims moving on in development?

“The emphasis is between firepower, protection and mobility changes over the years and there is another couple of factors that have been brought in. We are talking about the balance of firepower, protection and mobility AND fire control communication and information.

What we are doing in Challenger II is delivering the optimal capability balance between those five factors and as part of that the emphasis between the three has changed in a 100 years. Now the focus is much more on firepower, and clearly because it’s firepower everybody is trying to improve  – but with greater emphasis on protection.

The objective for project is to deliver a Challenger II Mark II as an upgraded Challenger. Our solutions will enable the UK MOD to add capability in the future as well; for example if the MOD wants to add Defence Aids Systems (DAS), then the architecture that we will deliver with the Mark II will enable that.”

At what stage is the Life Extension project?

“We are in the design phase now. We are putting in the latest technology sighting systems, the latest fire control and weapon control systems. We are upgrading the fire control, that’s the fire control computer and the weapons control systems that aim the gun at the target. Also a new electronic architecture which will be brought across from the M1 Abram tank made by General Dynamics, and which provides the backbone of the system for transferring data and information around the vehicle platform.”

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