The British Army will only be able to upgrade two-thirds of their current fleet of Challenger 2 main battle tanks due to rising costs.
Britain has a plan to upgrade the Challenger 2 tank and extend its life for another 20 years. Initially introduced in 1998, the Challenger 2 has served faithfully in armed conflicts (mostly in the Middle East) and safeguarded Britain's interests abroad.
Tanks are a little different from cars in that they’re both A.) extremely well armed, and B.) extremely expensive. For this reason, they tend to stick around a lot longer without a refresh than most automobiles. The current plan is to upgrade the Challenger 2 with a new turret, engine, main gun, night vision gear, communications equipment, and an active protection system that shoots down incoming rockets.
However, that stuff is also incredibly expensive, and so the British army can only afford to upgrade 148 of their current fleet of 227 tanks with the remainder likely to be mothballed or cannibalized for parts. According to the Times of London, that puts Britain just behind Cambodia in terms of tanks fielded (although the Challenger 2 is worth many times more than the Soviet-era T-55 tanks that Cambodia uses).
The Challenger 2 is currently equipped with a 26.1-L Perkins V12 diesel engine producing 1,200 horsepower. It also weighs almost 83 tons, so even with 1,200 horses it’s still not winning any drag races. It’s also armed with a 120mm rifled cannon and armored using Dorchester 2 armor, the exact nature of which remains classified.
We know that the Challenger 2 is an incredibly tough tank. During the 2003 Iraq invasion, only one Challenger was lost and that was due to an IED. One story reported by the BBC recounted a Challenger in an urban environment that lost its periscopes in an enemy ambush and then fell into a ditch. It was hit by 14 RPGs and a MILAN anti-tank missile, all of which failed to penetrate the Challenger’s armor. The entire crew survived and the tank was put back into operation just 6 hours after the incident.
In fact, the only Challenger 2 that has been lost in combat was due to another Challenger 2 accidentally mistaking it for an enemy combatant. And then it was only destroyed because the commander’s hatch was open, which allowed shrapnel from the cannon blast to ignite a fire inside the tank that eventually cooked-off its stored ammunition.
With just 148 tanks, the Brits are now down to just three armored regiments, but that’s unlikely to concern politicians all that much. Most combat today is fought in small-scale engagements against enemy insurgents where the power of a main battle tank isn’t called for.