What impact could the Challenger 3 Tank have on British military capability?

The Challenger 3, which, according to the UK MoD, is the ‘most lethal and survivable tank ever operated by the British Army’, is an upgrade of the Challenger 2.

On 18 April 2024, the latest of eight Challenger 3 prototypes rolled off the Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) factory production line in Telford, United Kingdom. These eight prototypes are the first of the 148 Challenger 3 Tanks that RBSL will develop, after the company was awarded an 800 million pound contract by the UK Ministry of Defence (UK MoD) in 2021.

The Challenger 3, which, according to the UK MoD, is the ‘most lethal and survivable tank ever operated by the British Army’, is an upgrade of the Challenger 2, which served as the British Army’s Main Battle Tank (MBT) since 1998.

But what is the Challenger 3, and what impact could it have on Britain’s land warfare capabilities? These are some of the questions this article seeks to examine.

Background and Features:
Tanks, a British invention, were first used in 1916, before thousands were deployed in 1918 on the Western Front to counter trench warfare during World War 1. Since then the UK has been a major tank producer, and in 1994, it introduced the Challenger 2, which was one of the most modern and lethal tanks in NATO. But developments in technology and a failure to upgrade meant that the Challenger 2 gradually became more obsolete and outdated, especially in comparison to the American Abrams and German Leopard 2 tanks. The Challenger 3 provides this much needed update, once again bringing Britain’s MBT on par with its NATO counterparts.

The Challenger 3, which is supposed to attain full operating capability in 2030 and then serve as the British MBT till at least 2040, redresses a lot of the shortcomings of the Challenger 2 and has a few interesting additions of its own.

One of the greatest drawbacks of the Challenger 2 was its rifled gun, the L30A1, which no other NATO army operated. The Challenger 3 will use a German 120mm smoothbore cannon, which is compatible with the ammunition used by other NATO nations, facilitating a possible exchange of ammunition between the UK and other NATO allies in the event of a conflict. Apart from meeting NATO standards, the new gun will also be superior to its predecessor and will allow the Challenger 3 to penetrate heavier armor from greater distances.

According to Richard Thomas, the editor-in-chief for defence and transport at GlobalData, ‘The other main upgrade to the Challenger 2 to create the Challenger 3 variant is the new turret to house the Rheinmetall main gun, which introduces new and improved sensors across the spectrum to aid in battlefield awareness and capability.’ The new turret is also expected to offer more protection to the crew of four that would man the tank.

Apart from having an upgraded cooling system and a better engine than its predecessor, the Challenger 3 will also be equipped with Israel’s Trophy Medium Variant Active Protection System (APS), which can detect and destroy incoming rockets and anti-tank missiles. The APS- which is already fitted into Leopard 2 and Abrams Tanks- could, along with the upgraded armor and turret, make the Challenger 3 one of the ‘best protected tanks in Europe’.

The Challenger 3, which should reach speeds of 60km/hr, will also have a new suite of sights, which should aid the tank commanders with ‘enhanced day and night targeting abilities’ and greater ‘situational awareness’.


The Challenger 3, with its additions, presents a marked improvement on the Challenger 2, and brings the British MBT up to date with other NATO tanks. The smoothbore gun and the possible exchange of ammunition that it facilitates could be crucial in a war setting where NATO is called into action.

In addition to these technological advantages, the Challenger 3 also presents opportunities for economic gains, which is why the British MoD has chosen to upgrade the Challenger 2 rather than purchase an existing modern tank like the Leopard 2. One, the British Army could potentially export its Challenger 3 to Oman, which currently uses 40 Challenger 2s and is a leading purchaser of British arms. Two, purchasing a new tank with a new design like the Leopard 2 would have resulted in increased costs in retraining the existing British crew, who are used to the Challenger 2. Three, if an 800 million pound contract is divided by 148 Challenger 2s, the cost of upgrading each tank will roughly be 5.4 million pounds, which is much more economical than purchasing a tank like the Leopard 2. Four, upgrading an existing British tank retains British prestige as a leading tank manufacturer in the world. Five, the RBSL contract and in-nation production of Challenger 3s will create more jobs in the UK.

But it is important to not get too carried away with the promise of the Challenger 3. The Challenger 3, while certainly modern and an improvement on the Challenger 2, is no revolutionary tank that is going to change the style of modern warfare. Out of 227 Challenger 2s, the British Army will upgrade only 148 tanks to Challenger 3s, which is a paltry number considering the Russians have lost approximately 3000 tanks in the two years of fighting in Ukraine. This number is also one of the lowest among NATO nations, and if called to action, Britain might be expected to financially compensate other nations for its fewer tank numbers. Apart from this, the new German smoothbore gun also features a long barrel, which could be an obstacle while navigating through dense forests. Also, the APS system is planned to be fitted onto only 60 Challenger 3s, and could potentially leave the remaining MBTs vulnerable to drone and missile attacks. The tank could also need to shore up its defences against smaller drones and grenades from directly above, despite APS protection against anti-tank projectiles. And despite an upgraded engine and an approximately 3 ton increase in body weight, the Challenger 3 will still operate at the 1200 horsepower of the Challenger 2, which is significantly lower than 1500 horsepower of its Leopard and Abrams counterparts, thereby raising questions about the tank’s mobility. The Challenger 3, despite its potential receptivity in Oman, also does not present much export potential: a Challenger 3 is an upgrade on a Challenger 2, so only nations with existing Challenger 2s- Britain, Oman, and Ukraine- could be eligible for a Challenger 3 upgrade.


The Challenger 3, despite its technological advancements, could face issues due to its mobility and low numbers. Despite its new gun and the addition of the APS, the tanks could be wiped out if Britain chooses to engage in a solo war. The biggest takeaway is in fact not the tank at all. It is that Britain needs its allies now more than ever before. Though, one thing is certain: if deployed along with the rest of NATO’s firepower, the Challenger 3 could be a deadly machine capable of inflicting heavy damage on its enemies. To put it succinctly, the Challenger 3 is equipped to win battles, but Britain will need more if it is to win a war.

Swaraj Parameswaran
Swaraj Parameswaran
I have an MA in International Relations from King's College London, and am interested in the spheres of geopolitics, armed conflicts, and human rights. I have written essays for organisations like Action on Armed Violence, Global Strategic and Defence News, and International Affairs Forum.