As the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine nears its one-year anniversary, Western allies have stepped up military aid to Kiev. Germany, France and the United States have committed to sending modern armored fighting vehicles to bolster Ukraine’s military in its fight. While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has expressed his nation’s gratitude for the aid, he and other government representatives have remained steadfast in their request for main battle tanks. On January 17, 2023, Britain answered that request.
In addition to AS-90 155mm self-propelled artillery and thousands of rounds of cannon shells, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Minister, James Cleverly, announced that 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks would be sent to Ukraine. “We believe the introduction of NATO main battle tanks will be decisive in expected fighting this spring,” Cleverly said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The FV4034 Challenger 2 entered service with the British Army in June 1998. Although the Challenger is slower than the American M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2 main battle tanks, its gun gives the British tank a distinct fighting advantage. Whereas the Abrams and Leopard 2 have smoothbore guns, the Challenger 2’s traditional rifled-barrel gun provides greater range.
To compliment its long-range gun, the Challenger 2 is heavily armored and well protected. It features composite ceramic Chobham armor, the same type used on the M1. Explosive reactive armor can also be fitted to improve the tank’s survivability. As with every British tank since the post-WWII Centurion, the Challenger 2 is also equipped with a boiling vessel to heat food and make tea.
The Challenger 2 was first deployed on peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo. In March 2003, it saw its first combat in Iraq. During the 2003 invasion, Challenger 2s suffered zero losses to Iraqi fire. One tank was hit by 14 RPGs at close range and an anti-tank missile. The crew remained safe inside the tank until it was recovered. Incredibly, it was serviced and returned to action just six hours later. Another Challenger 2 reported being hit by 70 RPGs without any loss of crew. The only operational loss of a Challenger 2 was due to friendly fire from another Challenger 2, resulting in the deaths of two of the four crew members.
Although Poland has delivered over 260 Soviet-era T-72 main battle tanks to Ukraine, Britain’s commitment of Challenger 2s represents the first contribution of a Western BMT to Ukraine. It is still unknown whether or not the United States and Germany will follow suit with their own MBTs.
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