BAE Systems has rolled the first working example of its upgraded Challenger 2 main battle tank. Designed to extend the service life of the Cold War battle wagon until 2035 as part of the British Army’s Life Extension Project (LEP), the “Black Night” upgrade boasts a state-of-the-art thermal imaging system as well as improved defensive systems.
Originally conceived in the 1980s during the last decade of the Cold War, the Challenger 2 entered service in 1998 and has seen active service in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as in NATO operations. Though it only saw combat first in 2003 during the Iraq Invasion, it quickly gained a reputation for survivability, as none were lost in battle and some survived up to 70 rocket grenade attacks in a single engagement only to go back on the line within hours.
However, with new advances in armor technology and the fact that its L30A1 120mm rifled gun is now obsolescent, the British government was faced with either replacing the 400 tanks, coming up with a light-armor alternative, or extending the Challenger 2’s service life until 2035. In the end, the government opted for an upgrade and solicited bids, of which Black Night is one of the front runners.
According to BAE, the name reflects the tank’s enhanced night vision system, which forms the centerpiece of the upgrade. Developed by BAE and its partners under the banner Team Challenger 2, the upgrade includes an dual infrared imaging system using front and rear cameras that is not only effective in both day and night conditions, but for the first time allows the Commander and Gunner to use the system to look at different targets simultaneously and to hand off images to one another on the go.
Other improvements include the Active Protection System, which can detect incoming anti-tank projectiles and counter them with neutralizing explosive round launchers, and a Laser Warning System that detects enemy laser lock-ons and automatically aims the gun at the threat for faster counterfire. This is aided by new computerized equipment that speeds up the tank’s weapons and allows for faster identification, targeting, and shooting.
In addition, Black Night offers a regenerative braking system that recycles the power used to slow down the turret.
“The UK is home to some of the world’s finest engineering companies, who have pushed the boundaries of combat vehicle design with Black Night,” says Simon Jackson, Campaign leader for Team Challenger 2 at BAE Systems. “We are providing the bulk of this upgrade from home soil, however, we have chosen the best defense companies from around the world to collaborate with also, including names from Canada, France and Germany who bring unique skills and proven technology. The British Army has our commitment that we will deliver the most capable upgrade possible, and the best value for money.”
The video below shows off the new features of Black Night.